Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gloves come off as Copenhagen nears

Computer files were delivered to a climate change sceptic, BBC weather personality Paul Hudson. These files - it was claimed - are evidence of malfeasance by scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit.

For example in one of the files the writer, allegedly a CRU scientist, talks about using a "trick" and also refers to "hiding" some values.

The story first unfolded on Hudson's blog where he says he can confirm that some of the files are actual East Anglia CRU emails, because he was involved in those email conversations.

Although he received the files on the 12th of October, suddenly with Copenhagen around the corner the apocryphal files have been beaten up in the last 48 hours, into a smoking gun, 11th hour expose by this tawdry conspiracy anorak Hudson and a handful of other journalists who ought to have known better.

Hudsons involvement and the provenance of these files reeks. Any ethical journalist would not have touched the affair with a barge pole.

Note that these are not paper documents, they're electronic files. Already if one follows the link from Hudson's blog to the small sample of the alleged emails it can be seen that the emails have been altered by replacing the authors email addresses with xxxxxxx.

Clearly any of the text of the alleged emails could easily have been altered in subtle ways to make the contents appear suspect. Certainly East Anglia University has not verified that the alleged emails are true and correct, and without alteration.

What makes this appalling lack of journalistic rigour by those promoting this beat-up even worse is that there is no global warming conspiracy in these emails, even if they were true.

As the RealClimate web forum puts it:
More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, ... no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords.
These files are not even close to any smoking gun, and just amount to the same back-and-forth that you'd find in the email servers of any professional organisation.

As RealClimate points out - a trick does not mean something underhand. If you're a professional in any sphere, a handy technique that quickly gets the job done but produces valid and ethically sound results can be called a "trick" - a valuable nugget of experience.

Everyone from surgeons to auto-electricians have handy tricks they use to get their job done, without any implication of malfeasance.

Certainly cherry-picking the computer files for phrases that could imply anything is meaningless without reading all the files in context.

I write software for a living and there are often vigorous disagreements both within our company and between members of the software engineering community and our own engineers about the quality of code, the viability of our approaches and a range of other topics. But none of this detracts from the fact that we produce the deliverables, and the results are well engineered and professionally sound.

Just the IPCC report - the work of several hundred scientists from all over the world - is sound and so and the science behind it and other peer reviewed studies which reach the same conclusions.

A few dozen emails out of months and months of correspondence of one research center and all they could come up with is a "trick" being used?

Don't worry - there will be more dirty tricks from the right wing media and their mud slinging brigade in the lead up to Copenhagen.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Future of Energy

In a very timely conjunction, I went to a great panel discusssion of five experts, all of whom were speakers at the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering 32nd Symposium held just recently in Brisbane. The title of the symposium was Future-Proofing Australia - Rising to the Challenge of Climate Change.

I say timely because the panel discussion was a face-to-face demonstration of a real conviction in the scientific and engineering community that ways are immediately available to move forward into cleaner energy for Australia.

Perhaps for me one of the most surprising moments in the proceedings were when a straw poll was taken of the audience on whether they would support nuclear power generation in Australia: the result was a resounding "yes".

Myself I'm used to being in the minority especially amongst my greenier friends when I advocate for nuclear power.

After the event I talked to one of the panelists, Peter Meurs, about his Blade EV which Peter charges from a very impressive solar array at his home. A real world example of zero emissions EV driving.

Of course if you have read my previous posts, a future of greener power generation has great implications in electric vehicles. If EV's have only relatively small takeup - and optimistic projections say 20% by 2030, then the impact on the grids emissions will likely be negligible.

But with clean power we can look to a future with close to 100% EV penetration in the national fleet - with all the zero tailpipe emissions that that would entail - without having a coincident increase in emissions from coal fired power plants.

Why this is critical is that many EV manufacturers are only going to deliver their limited EV production to countries that provide decent governmental support, with infrastructure spending if possible, but also with taxes or other incentives that make the EV's competitive with petrol powered cars. And governments will do that if they know that EV's will definitely reduce greenhouse gases.

While at the panel discussion I also spoke to another of the experts, John Loughhead of the UK Energy Research Center, who told me about the UK system of incentives and programmes for low-emissions vehicles in the UK. John told me about the UK excise on vehicles that have higher emissions of greenhouse gases, which as an example usage of the VED calculator places a duty of 405GBP (around $730 Australian) on the 4.2l V8 Ranger Rover for its 376 g/km.

When vehicle buyers are paying for their polluting ICE vehicles at a rate that reflects their actual cost to the environment it makes the extra upfront costs of zero emission EV's and low emissions PHEV's comparable on a level playing field.

The aim of the long tailpipe crowd is to spread confusion and disinformation in order to derail that message and kill off the electric car by making ICE's stay at their artificially cheap current day prices.

I'm seeing a lot of activity around the "long tailpipe" issue at present. Of course there is the E&T report which I critiqued in my last post, and before that the GAO report in June. I dismissed that report at the time as it made no negative findings about EV's.

However it was quoted in a number of articles since under headlines like "GAO: Electric Cars Won't Reduce Carbon Emissions". This is a bit of a stretch from what the report actually says which is that electric vehicles charged from coal fired power will only be 4-5% better.

Update: I contacted Mark Gaffigan (Director of the Natural Resources and Environment Team at the GAO, and lead author of the report) for comment:
The bottom line regarding your questions, per our report, is that plug in electric vehicles could result in reduced emissions of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants but the environmental benefits depend upon whether the electricity used to power plug ins emits fewer greenhouse gases and pollutants than the fuel it replaces.
What Mr Gaffigan is carefully saying is that EV's could result in reduced emissions - not that they definitely won't - and that whether they do or not depends on the grid.

I am at a loss to understand the cynicism of attacks on the EV, which wilfully misquote reports and studies, and use other dirty tricks.

Do these people really believe that we can just keep driving in petrol powered cars?

We should have fixed this 30 years ago when the first oil shock occurred, when we realised the dangers of being hooked on oil and beholden to its curators, a who's who of enemies of reason and western democracy.

Here is some good science that provides yet another example of how personal management of EV charging provides the opportunity for great reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. There is no such opportunity with petrol powered cars, including conventional hybrids.

Its great to see some real science and engineering working on getting solution that work now rolled out for the benefit of all our futures.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

EVs Speed Climate Change? WTF??

Now that climate change is firmly on every country's agenda, lobby groups and think tanks everywhere are jumping on the band-wagon.

It seems like there are million of these wise-ass organizations trumpeting green advice for public consumption, and producing policy statements and reports for government.

A very common factor in many of these statements and reports is the well-to-wheel analysis which talks about electric vehicles producing greenhouse gases. Below I go into a detailed discussion of why this type of analysis and its conclusion (EV's produce greenhouse gases) are just plain wrong.

But first a prime example of how misleading this type of "report" can be.

Clean vehicle website Autoblog green is carrying a press release from the Environmental Transport Association, quoting from a new report by a group called Transport & Environment stating that:
Switching to electric cars could speed climate change
There are other groups such as the National Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center saying:
Wait!! Oh, my God!!

You mean my electric car, which I thought was definitely clean and green, could actually bring on climate change? Panic! Hold the presses!!

Could, might? Its lurking down there in my garage, and on the toss of a coin, the roll of a dice, it might decide to start spewing greenhouse gases into the environment! There's a chance??


So what the hell are they talking about then?

Are these guys some sort of oil industry goons, talking down EV's?

No, they're mostly not - but they're also not scientists (like the IPCC) or governmental agencies (like the US Department of Energy). They have their own particular hobby-horses to ride.

The ETA for example is a company that makes its living in the United Kingdom by selling green transport services, like insurance and roadside assistance. Its name - Environmental Transport Association makes it sound official, but its a commercial organisation, and it has to pay the rent just like any commercial organisation. Every EV owner who believes that their vehicle generates no emissions is one less customer for ETA's carbon offset service.

NRDC does not like coal, and - rightly so - is keen to jump on any chance to point out that increasing dependence on electricity in states that depend on coal has to be coupled with a corresponding commitment to reducing the use of coal in its power generation mix. As the NRDC rightly points out so-called carbon capture and sequestration is not a "technology" it is a branch of science fiction, and is not to be relied apon to clean up coal-fired power generation.

And of course since most of the states in the mid-west rely on coal for power generation (see table A1 in the DOE's figures), the ELPC (a mid-west specific environmental organisation) is keen to see that the new-found governmental interest in EV's does not push aside concerns about pollution from coal fired power generation.

There is a completely valid point to be made here that coal fired power generation is an environmental hazard, and that clean power generation has to be a top priority in the fight against climate change.

What is not valid is to connect uptake of EV's to an increase in coal fired power generation.

See the could here, is not that there is some chance or possibility. Green EV's are not suddenly going to start producing greenhouse gases on some percentage outcome.

Electric Vehicles never ever produce greenhouse gases.

All of this confusing scare mongering is just another repackaging of the good old long tailpipe argument that we've heard so many times before.

Let me just say this again slowly.

Some power plants produce greenhouse gases. Not EV's - power plants.

An EV is not a power plant, and EV's don't have tail pipes at all, or chimneys, or in fact any way at all to produce smoke or pollution.

Well-to-wheels - in depth discussion

How this mischief has come about is that the good ol' boys that we love for coming up with the "Hummer is more economical than the Prius" and other great "analyses" and "reports", just could not except that EV's produced no pollutants. They said "You have to look at the big picture - you have to do a well-to-wheel analysis".

As a result the EPA and also european equivalent organizations have come up with measures based on gCO2e - which means in English grams of CO2 equivalent, used to analyse things like the total impact of renewable fuels. Stretch that analysis over vehicles and you have gCO2e/km, which results in completely bizarre statements like the GM claim of 230 miles per gallon for the Volt PHEV.

Don't get me wrong - the Volt is a great design and will be a great vehicle for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But 230mpg is rubbish - its meaningless. Why? Because equivalents just do not work when you start powering vehicles with electricity.

How you drive, when you drive, when you charge, how you charge - all of these things are drastic game changers for the sums behind the report that the ETA is quoting from.

I contacted the ETA's press officer and on request was promptly given a copy of the 51 page report. The report is actually written not by the ETA, but by the European Federation for Transport and Environment. Yet another official sounding group, T&E is actually an industry organisation representing around 50 different bodies mostly with a environmental focus. The report is not new facts - it is an analysis of existing studies and of yet more reports. The main focus of the report is on the European Emissions Trading Scheme and the impact of European government taxation schemes on electricity generation for EVs.

The T&E group wants stronger government action to tighten taxes and legislative incentives to produce cleaner power - something we all should wholeheartedly support. But since EV's are so high on the agenda of governments, T&E is hitching their message about cleaner power to EV's by saying EV's could "produce more emissions" unless power is cleaned up first.

This is where T&E stretches the friendship, by making claims that there is no science to support.

So what does T&E base its claim on, if its so wrong?

Well, the sound bite that heads up ETA's press release, and which is trumpeted in the introduction to T&E's report is referenced (on pg 27) to a study by Kromer & Heywood. In fact several large portions of the T&E report are verbatim from Kromer & Heywood's study.

Take note before going on, that the plugins could speed climate change statement has actually lost some context as it appears in the sound bite: the Kromer study is actually saying that if power is coming from coal, PHEV's like the Chevy Volt will be marginally more emissive than a hybrid vehicle like the Prius.

I think you'll agree that this is far from saying that EV's will increase climate change, but its still wrong, and its potential for misquoting means that it must not be left to stand.

The Kromer study was funded by companies including Shell, and the Ford Motor company. The latter via yet another research group called the Alliance for Global Sustainability. It is wonderful that Shell and Ford are getting involved in funding research into sustainability, and not for a minute do I suggest anything but the highest standard of intellectual rigour in the methods of Kromer's study but again it is not new science. The methodology is to take existing figures and using a computer model develop a number of scenarios to predict future figures.

All of these scenarios are based on the idea that CO2 equivalents can be fairly calculated for the electricity used to charge EV's. In fact the methodology uses a straight energy content calculation, and goes further by doing such things as adjusting to allow for transmission losses via the grid, comparing these to the plant-to-tank costs for transporting conventional fuels.

These foundation assumptions for the well-to-wheel (WTW) methodology employed are just plain wrong. WTW is the long tailpipe argument in academic guise. The methodology comes from an existing energy sector that is clinging to its existing structure with oil refineries as central points of distribution.

But notice that while no company, save the oil companies, can currently refine their own petroleum to drive their cars, everyone has the potential to generate their own power to power EV's.

This is the first breakdown in the WTW assumption. Electric grids world wide are right now being transformed by local power generation from a vast number of solar panel installations. Solar panels are going on rooftops all over the world.

While I was working at Google last year, the many electric vehicles on the campus were being charged from the solar array on the Google rooftop. Here in Australia houses all over are sporting solar rooftops thanks to the governments incentives.

There are zero transmission losses here - the power is generated right where it is used, and that power is 100% clean.

Oh, but wait - those amounts of power are still tiny compared with total electricity consumption!

Yes - but so are the amounts of power being used by electric vehicles! EV's require very small amounts of power to run, and we have so few EV's that the process of renovation of the grid is more than keeping pace with EV uptake.

While many of these environmental reports are talking about "technologies" such as carbon capture which are right now just science fiction, EV's and local power generation is here and now. Its already working.

Along with local power generation from solar panels, there is also a large amount of activity in co-generation, demand side response and active power market participation.

When I was at the AEVA Electric Vehicle Festival in October I met and talked with Dean Spaccavento, Enabling Technology Manager with Energy Response. Their service involves enabling companies to take an active part in the National Energy Market, by responding to energy demand as reflected in real-time updates of energy costs via DSR. The software and hardware systems that Dean is involved in building go into Australian industries and reduces their total energy bill, whilst at the same time reducing the impact on total energy generation capacity requirements and the environment.

Companies that produce energy as a by-product of their operations can generate electricity on site, to both provide their onsite electricity requirements, and also sell back into the grid. There are a increasing number of co-generation sites in Australia right now, such as Coopers Brewery in South Australia. Power companies are getting into the act, enabling and welcoming co-generation as a way to reduce load on power generation capacity and also reduce environmental impact. Using software like that produced by Dean Spaccavento's company they can benefit financially by responding to the local market with their co-generation capacity.

This is working, right here, right now. Zero transmission losses with power being used on site, and with EV's in that companies fleet parking lot their charging is not reflected at all in any central coal fired power station.

The future for co-generation has much greater promise, with waste products being used for domestic level power generation instead of going into landfill. South Australian company Micro-Cogen have developed a small scale cogen unit suitable for the basement of your house which they say will be shipping in 2010.

Smart grid technologies also have matured and will form an integral part of the EV take-up phenomenon. As we see our grid as mentioned above becoming cleaner, it will also become smarter with software and hardware from a whole range of companies, including industry giants IBM, and other new startups competing to provide the best savings in electricity generation capacity.

EV's are inextricably bound up with this future since they are ideally situated to be charged at times when it is cheapest for their owners, and also lowest impact on the grids generation capacity.

When the dinosaurs of the energy world, the oil companies threw up their hands in horror at being compared to EV's they were right to be afraid. Their well-to-wheel analysis tries to portray a negative impact via the long tailpipe argument for EV's on the basis that a "whole lifecycle" model is the only fair way to compare EV's with internal combustion engines (ICE's).

But we have had 100 years of internal combustion engines, and now the landscape is covered with petrol stations, pipelines and petrol tankers - the infrastructure to support the plant-to-tank mentality that the dinosaurs are still clinging to.

The only fair way to compare EV's to ICE's is to look at what the energy distribution network will look like with these real current technologies - smart grids, solar, co-gen and local power generation - feeding into the EV picture.

Forget about gCO2 equivalents which assume the moment you plug your EV into the wall, a power station somewhere is instantly going to produce smoke directly in proportion to the energy used at the socket.

Those analyses were bogus when the oil companies first proposed them, and they are bogus now, even though many producers of reports who ought to know better have swallowed their marketing story.

But surely all these smart grids and co-generation are going to take time to ramp up, and in the meantime if every body goes out and buys EV's isn't that going to put pressure on the existing electrical grid causing more pollution from coal fired power stations?

But the reality is EV uptake is going to be slow. It will take years for early adopters to convince the middle of the normal curve that a switch to an EV is a good idea. Even with Nissan producing its new Leaf EV in production volumes next year, going forward EV's as a percentage of the national fleet will by even the most optimistic of projections still be down at %15 by 2030.

And the good news is that our existing grid infrastructure can easily accommodate the loads generated by these levels of demand without generating any new pollution at all. The charging can be done out of surplus capacity, meaning that even in places where coal is being used for generation, no extra generation will be done as a result of the EV's plugging in.

A study in 2007 by the Pacific National Northwest Laboratory found that surplus generation capacity in the USA could support 43% market penetration of electric vehicles, based on charging being done during the night. Interestingly this same information is actually quoted by Kromer, and Kromers quote is produced verbatim in T&E's report, yet they both fail to draw the obvious conclusion that projected levels of EV uptake are not going to have an impact on power generation. The PNNL report mentions a case study of San Diego where night time charging would allow up to 60% of the San Diegan's becoming EV drivers before any generation impact was felt.

Of course the T&E report claims (page 30 and 31) that as EV ownership increases, quick-recharging facilities are demanded and
"...substantial daytime charging will also occur..."
however they offer no support whatsoever for the claim of substantial daytime charging. Whereas the PNNL study examines night time charging as the obvious mode, there is no support in any actual studies for T&E's claim.

Does it make sense then? Will people charge during the day rather than at night?

You can only charge a battery if it is empty, or partly empty. And EV's are always plugging in where-ever they go. You arrive home from work in the evening, plug into the wall socket, and during the night the battery is topped up to full on cheap night-time rates.

Then during the day you head out to work, and maybe your employer has a charge point to plug into. If you're an EV owner you definitely have a charge point at home, but maybe your employer has one for the EV owners on staff. Then on the way home you stop at the supermarket for 30 minutes, and maybe there is a charge point in their car park.

And of course since the majority of drivers make relatively short trips, their EV's are going to be nowhere near empty when they plug in during the day.

Also day time charge points are going to be supplied by a company like Better Place, and will involve a charge via your credit card. Even if its like iTunes, where you make micro-payments for the small amounts of electricity topped up into your EV's its going to be much more attractive for most consumers to get their power from the socket at home where it just appears on their power bill. Or doesn't appear, if they have a solar panel or co-gen.

So these day time charges are going to happen, but due to:
  • cheaper night time rates
  • ubiquity of home chargers
  • slower rollout of charging points at other locations
  • small trips by driving majority meaning day time battery levels are high
  • charging account costs with daytime power compared to home charging
all meaning that the claim that daytime charging is going to be substantial does not make sense.

I am sure daytime charging at Better Place style charge points will be a very important part of the EV landscape, especially when EV ownership levels are as high as 20%, but even then daytime charging will not represent a substantial amount of kilowatt/hours put into EV batteries.

Instead daytime charging will be a part of the modality of EV usage, that you top up in small amounts so that you never have to worry about being low on juice.

Conclusions - EV's (still) do not "produce" greenhouse gases

Current levels of EV usage do not impact at all on coal fired power generation, and so EV's being charged today, are thus not generating any additional greenhouse gases.

By the time the EV landscape has progressed to 30% ownership, for the range of reasons discussed above, power generation will have changed how electricity delivery takes place to the point that EVs will still not require any additional power generation from coal fired or other centralised power generation sources associated with greenhouse gases.