May 15, 2018
ENERGY WATCH #1 by Karel Beckman
Beyond solar and wind: the many climate options that are being ignored
May 15, 2018
- One: promote solar and wind power to the hilt.
- Two: electrify everything.
- Three: radically improve energy efficiency.
That, in a nutshell, is what climate and energy policy looks like for many people.
Nothing wrong with these three policies, but most experts would probably agree that the first two won’t be sufficient to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees. Even if they lead to sufficient greenhouse gas emission reductions in the long term, it won’t nearly be quick enough. As to energy efficiency, this remains difficult to achieve at the levels needed.
So what else can we do? Well, there is certainly no lack of alternatives out there. Some more realistic than others.
An example of one of the more outlandish ideas: a group of geneticists from Harvard are working on a plan to re-introduce mammoths to the Arctic region. Seriously. They are hoping to clone living elephants cells containing synthesized mammoth DNA. The idea is that the mammoths, by trampling on mosses and shrubs and uprooting trees, can act as “natural geo-engineers”, maintaining “highly productive steppe landscapes full of grasses, herbs and no trees”, writes Paul Mann of Northumbria University on the Conversation. This would stop the release of greenhouse gases from the permafrost, which contains vast amounts of carbon.
Do we really need mammoths for this, Mann wonders? Well, presumably other large herbivores would also do the trick. But it’s surely an intriguing idea, which would focus the world’s attention on the Arctic region.
There are other audacious ideas out there. For example, China is launching a huge “weather-control machine”. China’s state-owned Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is “implementing a plan to send thousands of rain-inducing machines across the Tibetan Plateau to increase rainfall along the region”, explains geologist Trevor Nace on Forbes.com.
The massive effort, which would affect the weather in an area the size of Alaska, is part of the Sky River Project which is aimed at increasing China’s water resources. In other words, it is not aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but still, if it works, it would be a demonstration of a successful geo-engineering project, which could serve as a model for other such projects.
Geo-engineering is one alternative that could be pursued in addition to promoting renewable energies and energy efficiency. It won’t come as a surprise to you that China actually has one of the largest geo-engineering research programmes in the world.
A recent article on Carbon Brief describes “Six ideas to limit global warming with geo-engineering”. They are:
- Aerosol injection
- Marine cloud brightening
- High-albedo crops and buildings
- Ocean mirrors
- Cloud thinning
- Space sunshades
None of this is simple. The article, which “outlines the possible uses, shortcomings, costs and feasibility of the six most commonly proposed solar geoengineering technologies”, notes that “there is currently no clarity among policymakers over whether any technology, or combination of technologies, should one day be used to address global warming.”
One question is “how solar geoengineering could sit alongside mitigation efforts. Some scientists and campaign groups believe that solar geoengineering could be viewed by politicians as a quick ‘technofix’ to climate change. If more research and development is channeled into these techniques, they argue, politicians may start to backpedal on their promises to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.”
However, “other scientists say that solar geoengineering should be considered as a supplement rather than a quick fix.”
Another unresolved aspect of geoengineering research, notes Carbon Brief, “is the issue of governance. Though ideas are beginning to emerge, it is still not clear who could be responsible for carrying out and regulating solar geoengineering.”
Nonetheless, don’t be surprised if countries like the U.S. and China will decide on large geoengineering projects if they believe they could gain a competitive advantage in their rivalry for global domination.
But cloning mammoths and changing the weather are by no means the only options we have. In an article on Vox, “What genuine no-bullshit ambition on climate change would look like”, David Roberts discusses three recent publications that contain scenarios that show how we can keep temperature rise as close to 1.5 degrees as possible:
- “Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050,” by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), is a plan that targets a 66 percent chance of staying below 2 degrees, primarily through renewable energy.
- The analysts at Ecofys recently released a scenario for zeroing out global emissions by 2050, thus limiting temperature to 1.5 degrees and eliminating (most of) the need for negative emissions.
- A group of scholars led by Detlef van Vuuren of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency published a paper in Nature Climate Change investigating how to hit the 1.5 degree target while minimizing the need for negative emissions.
These scenarios agree on a number of key things that need to be done, including the three familiar ones: to “radically increase renewable energy”, “electrify everything” and “radically increase energy efficiency”.
The fourth “policy recommendation” the three scenarios have in common is: negative emissions.
According to Roberts, the “primary instrument of negative emissions is expected to be BECCS: bioenergy (burning plants to generate electricity) with carbon capture and sequestration. The idea is that plants absorb carbon as they grow; when we burn them, we can capture and bury that carbon. The result is electricity generated as carbon is removed from the cycle — net-negative carbon electricity.”
“Most current scenarios bank on a lot of BECCS later in the century to make up for the carbon sins of the near past and near future”, writes Roberts.
The problem is, however: “There is currently no commercial BECCS industry. Neither the BE nor the CCS part has been demonstrated at any serious scale, much less at the scale necessary. (The land area needed to grow all that biomass for BECCS in these models is estimated to be around one to three times the size of India.)”
“Maybe we could pull off a massive BECCS industry quickly”, writes Roberts. “But banking on negative emissions later in the century is, at the very least, an enormous, fateful gamble. It bets the lives and welfare of millions of future people on an industry that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t yet exist.”
This means we need to think not only beyond renewables and efficiency, but also certainly beyond CO2 removal.
The Nature Climate Change paper by Detlef van Vuuren and his group from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, notes Roberts, does include a number of other policies. Like most climate-economic modelers, the Dutch researchers use “integrated assessment models” (IAMs) to generate their scenarios, but they also point to some of the limitations of these IAMs. “As IAMs select technologies on the basis of relative costs, they normally concentrate on reduction measures for which reasonable estimates of future performance and costs can be made”, they write. “This implies that some possible response strategies receive less attention, as their future performance is more speculative or their introduction would be based on drivers other than cost, such as lifestyle change or more rapid electrification.”
The researchers attempt to model “some of these more ambitious, uncertain, or non-cost-driven strategies, assembling a whole suite of decarbonization scenarios in different combinations.”
The alternative options they came up with include the following:
Agricultural intensification: “High agricultural yields and application of intensified animal husbandry globally.”
Low non-CO2: “Implementation of the best available technologies for reducing non-CO2 emissions and full adoption of cultured meat in 2050.” (Non-CO2 greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, black carbon, fluorocarbons, aerosols, and tropospheric ozone. Cattle are a big source of methane, thus the cultured meat.)”
Lifestyle change: “Consumers change their habits towards a lifestyle that leads to lower GHG emissions. This includes a less meat-intensive diet (conforming to health recommendations), less CO2-intensive transport modes (following the current modal split in Japan), less intensive use of heating and cooling (change of 1°C in heating and cooling reference levels) and a reduction in the use of several domestic appliances.” Though they don’t call it out specifically, this would very much involve less flying, one of the most carbon-intensive habits of the affluent.
Low population: “Scenario based on SSP1, projecting low population growth.” Population growth can be curbed most effectively through access to family planning and education of girls (which, notably, would have many other benefits as well).”
Reducing non-CO2 GHGs and widespread lifestyle changes have the most short-term impact on emissions according to the researchers. However, “by 2100,” they write, “the strongest reductions are found in the renewable electrification and low population scenarios.”
The ideas suggested by the Dutch researchers resemble some of the options put forward by independent Norwegian researcher Schalk Cloete.
Cloete is a critic of what he calls “green technology-forcing”, i.e. policies aimed at promoting renewable energy. He favours “technology-neutral” policies, such as a carbon tax, which would leave the market, or society, to figure out the best (most efficient) ways to reduce emissions.
According to Cloete, there are a great many alternatives to renewable energy and electric cars, which have more potential, but are all too often ignored.
They include (in addition to energy efficiency):
- improved “life efficiency”
- virtual mobility
- healthy lifestyle choices
- CCS and bio-CCS
- small electric vehicles
- sustainable fuels
- nuclear energy
By improved “life efficiency”, he essentially means that we should consume a lot less – a “simple” solution that usually does not get much attention from policy makers or climate modelers!
“Virtual mobility” essentially means “working from home”. Healthy lifestyle choices includes living without a car and creating environments conducive to bicycling and other forms of transportation.
Clean fuels include: next-generation biofuels, “synfuels” (hydrogen) from wind and solar, “synfuels” from nuclear, “synfuels” from fossil fuels with CCS.
According to Cloete, “we have plenty of highly attractive alternatives that are being neglected within current technology-forcing policy frameworks. Technology-neutral policies (primarily a carbon tax) will automatically activate all of these pathways, greatly accelerating the journey to sustainability without hurting economic development.”
He has summarized his vision in this chart:
A different question is what policies should be adopted to trigger any of these options. Pricing carbon is universally recommended in this context. Direct subsidies for technologies or for research are also an obvious method.
Another approach, increasingly pursued, is, as an article in Wired put it recently: “Figure out who’s to blame and sue them”!
We have paid attention to the trend of “climate lawsuits” on Energy Post Weekly before, for example, see here.
What is new about the Wired article is that it discusses the latest developments in the science of “climate attribution”.
Author Joe Raedle notes that until recently, scientists were unable to attribute any particular extreme weather event to human-induced climate change. But this is starting to change.
He notes that “since at least 2004, they’ve been developing a science of attribution.” And they are making progress.
“At the end of 2017, three journal articles modeled Hurricane Harvey—the largest rainfall of any US hurricane on record, somewhere between 24 trillion and 34 trillion gallons of water—and concluded that human-caused climate change had made it about four times more likely than it would have been in the middle of the last century. Then, in January, an annual special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society dedicated to event attribution included three papers asserting that without human-caused climate change, three recent meteorological anomalies simply would not have happened: 2016’s global heat wave, the 2016 Asia heat event, and a ‘blob’ of weirdly warm ocean off Alaska.”
Raedle concedes that “Not every researcher agrees that attribution science can pull off both magnitude and probability calculations. ‘The kind of statement that says y percent of x event was caused by climate change, or event x was made y percent worse—that’s controversial,’ says Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at MIT and author of one of the three Harvey attribution papers. ‘I have been told by folks who specialize in communication that we need to be less equivocal. I don’t like that, because first of all it borders on being dishonest, and second it makes us sitting ducks for a sufficiently intelligent person who wants to show these changes aren’t happening’.”
Some weather events are easier to attribute than others, writes Raedle: “As a 2016 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report on attribution science said, the events easiest to study are ones for which researchers have a lot of observational data, that computational models can understand, and that aren’t complicated by other factors like infrastructure and resource management. Wildfires are a tough one. Heatwaves, they pretty much have figured out. ‘Hurricanes, we’ve really been working hard to get those error bars down and increase the confidence,’ Herring says. ‘Tornadoes, we have no confidence. We’ve never seen an attribution paper on tornadoes and I don’t expect to see one in the future’.”
Naturally it is by no means clear yet whether courts will hold carbon emitters accountable for climate change-related damages. “It’s a tough case to make”, writes Raedle. “In a climate tutorial that was part of the California cities’ lawsuit in March, Chevron’s attorney Ted Boutrous didn’t attempt to deny a single thing about the physics and chemistry of climate change, or even that human activity caused it. He just said it didn’t make sense to blame oil companies. Burning hydrocarbons doesn’t kill people; people burning hydrocarbons kills people.”
However, “Part of the cases against the oil companies will be that they knew about the bad effects of their products and sold them anyway; that worked against tobacco companies. Another part might rely on the so-called Carbon Majors study, which in 2014 calculated the exact amounts of all carbon emissions any of the top 20 oil companies were directly responsible for having extracted. Whether that’ll hold up in court (alongside the NAS study affirming that attribution science as a whole is real and a generally accepted methodology) is the crux. ‘We don’t know what will happen, but no one thought tobacco litigation would succeed, and that completely changed public health policy,’ says Sophie Marjanac, an attorney with ClientEarth.”
There are also political and ideological dimensions around climate change policy which need addressing to make any kind of climate policy a success.
Auhtor Kurt Lowder writes on Cleantechnica that climate change activists would do well “to be humble in our environmental advocacy”. He believes a humble approach will win more converts than an aggressive approach. He also recommends emphasizing the economic and health benefits of climate policies.
Australian psychology professor Matthew Hornsey has done research which shows that opposition to climate change policy is wedded to conservatism, but only in the United States and to some extent in Australia. In other countries this is not the case.
Hornsey recommends using “what I call ‘jiujitsu’ persuasion techniques; to talk about climate mitigation in a way that aligns with people’s underlying ideologies rather than competing with them. There’s already evidence that if you frame climate change mitigation as something that’s sympathetic to free markets, or as a patriotic act designed to maintain energy security, or as a chance to generate green jobs, then conservatives are less likely to resist the science.”
ENERGY WATCH #2 by Karel Beckman
The dream of advanced biofuels is dead – and may stay dead
May 15, 2018
When it comes to alternative options in climate and energy policies, one of the great hopes of the past was advanced biofuels. Today, these are barely talked about anymore.
As an article in MIT Technology Review makes clear: “a decade of investment in advanced biofuels has led nowhere”.
The idea of advanced biofuels was to use feedstock that can’t be used for food for energy production. The article by James Temple describes the efforts of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) in the U.S., led by scientist Jay Keasling, who is depicted as the last of the Mohicans: “The scientist still fighting for the clean fuel the world forgot”.
“The mission of JBEI (pronounced ‘jay-bay’) was to produce cheap biofuels from cellulosic sources, meaning the leaves and stems of plants like switchgrass rather than the grains of food crops like corn. The lab aimed to move beyond ethanol, striving to create carbon-neutral fuels that could fill the tanks of standard cars, planes, ships, and trucks. If they succeeded, it promised to dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and US dependence on oil.”
“Keasling did as much as any single individual to advance the field and sell the promise of such fuels. In addition to running JBEI, he cofounded several well-funded startups, including LS9 and Amyris Biotechnologies, to turn that vision into reality.”
But a decade later, writes Temple, “the field is in shambles. JBEI and other federally funded bioenergy labs still survive, but most advanced biofuels companies, including Keasling’s, have given up on the dream.”
“JBEI has made scientific strides”, notes Temple, “but if the institute’s crops, techniques, and bugs were rolled out on a commercial scale today, a gallon of the resulting fuel would cost 14 times what we pay at the pump. Producing cheap advanced biofuels simply ended up being a far harder problem than expected. ‘We probably underestimated it and probably oversold it, too’, Keasling acknowledged last month, during an interview in his office at JBEI.”
Why has the effort failed so far? “Despite all the enthusiasm a decade ago, producing affordable advanced biofuels was always an audacious idea,” Temple observes. “For starters, you have to plant, harvest, dry, and ship massive volumes of crops, in as clean and sustainable a way as possible. And then the hard part begins. Teasing out fuels from stems and leaves requires separating the energy-packed carbohydrates in the plant’s cell walls from the woody lignin molecules that bond tightly around them, typically using acids, pressure, and heat. Then you need microbes that can consume those carbohydrates, mostly cellulose, and poop out fuels. But no naturally occurring bugs are known to produce the type that can directly fill the tank of existing cars, so scientists need to genetically engineer ones that can.”
Most scientists agree that there hasn’t been much real progress made on these challenges during the last decade or so. “The broad view is that not much has changed,” says Gregory Stephanopoulos, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT. “The path from cellulose to sugars to fuel does not seem to be anywhere more promising today.”
Keasling, however, disagrees. He maintains that “JBEI and other labs have made significant scientific strides. Researchers at the California institute, which serves as the hub of a collaboration between six research labs and universities, have published nearly 700 peer-reviewed papers, earned nearly 30 patents, and launched six startups. JBEI’s researchers have genetically altered types of switchgrass and sorghum so that they produce far more sugars, and much less lignin, than standard plants. They’ve also developed a process for converting lignin into ionic liquids, which are salts that break down biomass, turning a waste product into an effective tool for plant deconstruction. Finally, scientists there have engineered microbes that can produce several types of ‘drop-in’ fuels from these plants, including pinene, a precursor to jet fuel; isopentenol, which could work as a gasoline replacement; and bisabolene, which produces ‘a darn good diesel,’ Keasling says.”
“These collective advances have driven down the cost of a gallon of next-generation biofuel from around $300,000 when they started to about $35, at least if they were produced at commercial scale, Keasling says.”
But that is still about twelves time as much as the price of petrol at the pump. “So now the lab is shifting into a new stage of research, with the specific goal of narrowing that gap. Last July, JBEI and other federal bioenergy research centers secured renewed federal funding at $25 million a year, the same level the institute has received from the start.”
“The stated target in JBEI’s application for the funding was to develop biofuels that could be produced for less than $3 a gallon in the next five years, Keasling said. “I don’t know that we’re going to get there in five years,” he says. “I’d be fine if we get that in 10 years, frankly.”
Note, though, that even if Keasling and others succeed in reducing the cost that much – a big if – then the next challenge would be “scaling up advanced biofuels in a way that significantly reduces total greenhouse emissions”.
Researchers worry “that if the market ever does take off, it could create perverse incentives, like encouraging farmers to raze forests, which are huge carbon sinks, to make way for these sorts of crops.”
According to Temple, “there are clear reasons many have long believed that biofuels will play a big role in cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. In the United States, more than half of this pollution comes from transportation uses like cars, trucking, shipping, and planes. Despite some notable gains in battery-powered electric vehicles, much of this sector can still only be powered with fossil fuels. When it comes to mobile, dense energy storage, liquid fuels are simply very hard to beat, particularly since so much of the world’s energy infrastructure is built around them …”
“Liquid fuels are going to continue to be a large part of the energy system going forward, especially in transportation, and I do expect bio-based fuels will be part of that sector,” says Hanna Breetz, a political scientist focused on alternative fuels and vehicles at Arizona State University.
But is that really true? It looks like people like Keasling and Breetz are underestimating the advances being made in electric transportation. The dream of “advanced biofuels” may well remain a dream forever.
ENERGY WATCH #3 by Karel Beckman
Renewable energies: macro-economic threats emerging, but they could come out stronger
May 15, 2018
Although the prospects for renewables (and electric transport) are, on the whole, positive, it would be a mistake to take their success for granted. Yes, they are growing – but the question is, how much, and for how long?
In fact, even in recent years, the growth of renewables has been uneven, as we have noted in Energy Post Weekly more than once.
Just recently, a publication from the IEA and a number of other prominent organisations showed that the relative share of renewable energy is declining in quite a few countries.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on 11 May reported that “countries in and around the Middle East are adding coal-fired power plants”. Quite a lot, in fact: 41 GW over the next decade, including “announced projects and projects currently in the permitting process”, but excluding 3 GW that is currently under construction.
The EIA notes that “About 12 GW of coal-fired generating capacity—or about half of the region’s coal-fired generating fleet—has come online since 2006”, which shows that the region is quite new to coal power.
Turkey is the heaviest user of coal-fired power among these countries with a capacity of approximately 18.5 GW, followed by Israel (4.9 GW) and Pakistan (2.5 GW). Turkey and Pakistan both plan to add more coal capacity over the next decade.
“Egypt, Oman, Iran, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have no current coal-fired electricity generation, but they each plan to build coal capacity in the near future”, reports the EIA. “New coal capacity is currently under construction in the UAE, Iran, and Jordan. In addition, Egypt and Oman have announced plans for new coal-fired generators.”
In the UAE, “new coal-fired capacity will come from Dubai’s Hassyan Project. The project consists of 3.6 GW of ultra-supercritical generating capacity, 2.4 GW of which is currently under construction and expected to become operational between 2020 and 2022. Another 1.2 GW was announced for a total of 6 units (with an average size of 600 megawatts (MW) expected to come online in 2023. The $3.4 billion project is sponsored by several investors, including Chinese and domestic banks.”
True, the UAE’s new coal plants are “ultra-supercritical coal plants”, which “are required to be compatible with carbon capture and sequestration technologies and to employ highly efficient technologies to mitigate emissions.” But the same can’t be said in most of the other countries.
In Iran, the “Tabas power station, sponsored in partnership with MAPNA Group and China’s Shanghai Electric, will provide 650 MW of generation capacity from two units upon completion. The billion-dollar plant, which began construction in 2012, will be powered from locally mined coal. Iran’s domestic coal production is expected to increase by more than 2 million tons per year when improved coal mining and processing facilities begin operation in 2020, according to Imidou mining representatives.”
“Jordan’s 30 MW plant, created based on an agreement between the Energy Ministry and the Al Manaseer Group, will provide power for industrial cement production using coal from the United States, Russia, and Africa. Construction on this plant is expected to begin in July 2018.”
“Oman has announced plans for a 1,200 MW coal-fired power plant and in April began accepting proposals for qualification from developers.”
And in 2017, Egypt – which has a 20% renewable energy target for 2022 – “announced plans for a $1.5 billion, 6,000 MW coal-fired power plant. This coal plant, which will be Egypt’s first, is expected to be completed by 2024.”
The latest edition of the Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, published by EY, which came out earlier this month, points to a number of threats renewable energy is currently facing. One of them is increasing protectionism. Another: “rising interest rates and the end of quantitative easing”, which means “financiers are anticipating tougher times for developers looking to fund their projects”.
At the same time, “government subsidies for clean power are being reduced or eliminated around the world”. In addition, in many markets “limited demand growth is holding down electricity prices”.
However, all this “bad news” might actually contain the seeds of good news for the future. As EY notes, “these factors are forcing a relentless focus on costs within the sector”, and “that focus is paying dividends”. Costs of renewables are, as we all know, declining fast – and the macro-economic trends will force further cost reductions. At a time of rising oil prices, this could set up renewables for renewed growth in the coming years.
As Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently noted, “the conclusions are chilling for the fossil fuel sector”, and EY agrees.
Ben Warren, EY’s Global Power & Utilities Corporate Finance Leader, concludes: “We are counting down to a series of tipping points that will accelerate renewable energy penetration. Wherever we look, we see growing evidence of the maturity of the renewable energy sector. A few years ago, cuts to subsidies, import tariffs and rising interest rates would have combined to blow down the industry. Today, they create headwinds, but no hurricanes.”
Warren also points out that even “many within the fossil fuel industry” feel that fossil fuels are, at some point, a dead end.
The EY report has a special section showing “how most of the big oil companies are making increasingly significant investments in low-carbon energy.”
“In the long term”, says Warren, “they [the oil companies] recognize that climate change and the rise of electric vehicles will crimp demand for hydrocarbons. In the short term, they see the rapid growth of renewable energy and an opportunity to deploy their capital and expertise in a fast-evolving new energy market.”
The EY report has a map showing “examples of recent and planned clean energy investments by oil and gas majors”:
As the EY map shows, however, it’s mostly European oil majors that are turning to renewables. And – to be realistic – they are taking fairly small steps as yet.
The question is whether they even have the appropriate skills and resources to deliver added value in the power and renewables area. They will be up against tough competitors, who are already ahead of them.
GE, for example, one of the largest energy companies in the world, has long been active in renewable energy, and it is now reconfiguring itself into a full-fledged project developer, as Recharge News reports (paywall).
GE Renewable Energy has “created a standalone development team to get in on the ground floor of projects in tough-to-crack markets, with a focus on onshore wind but potentially offshore wind and hydro as well”, notes Recharge.
GE will “co-develop projects from an early stage alongside other developers, and plans to offer renewables power-purchase agreements (PPAs) to customers, including corporations”, says Andrès Isaza, chief commercial officer at GE Renewable Energy.
The company “plans to offer PPAs to big energy consumers around the world, including off-take deals from hybrid projects that combine various renewables technologies and energy storage.”
Isaza sees a place for solar PV in GE’s hybrid projects, but the company has determined it has no role to play in manufacturing PV cells or modules – a business it left earlier this decade.
GE’s strategy in a nutshell according to Isaza: “We’re going to find somebody who does the solar farm, aggregate it with a wind farm and with storage, and then we’re going to sell all this to somebody – maybe putting a PPA in front, so they get an economical solution that guarantees them a fixed load at a fixed price. That’s our vision.”
ENERGY WATCH #4 by Karel Beckman
It’s the hi-tech innovations that will make electric cars (and airplanes) irresistible
May 15, 2018
“The global electric-vehicle market is amped up and on the rise”, reports McKinsey in the latest edition of its Electric Vehicle Index.
It notes that, last year for the first time, global sales of EVs passed a million units, as shown in this chart:
Pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs) currently make up 66 percent of the global EV market and BEV sales are growing faster than those of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV), notes McKinsey.
“The Chinese market expanded by 72 percent over the previous year in 2017, solidifying China’s leadership position in EV sales. The country now has a larger EV market—primarily BEVs—than Europe and the United States combined. With a sales share of around 94 percent, domestic OEMs (carmakers) currently dominate the Chinese EV market.”
The Chinese lead is the result of “generous subsidies and tight regulation”. For example, “electric vehicles are exempt from license-plate lotteries and auctions in some Chinese cities, and this still plays an instrumental role in promoting EVs.”
According to McKinsey, although in absolute terms China’s EV-sales performance is quite remarkable, the adoption rate still only represents 2 percent on a national level—a limited number of large cities (such as Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Tianjin) account for a majority of EV sales.
In McKinsey’s Market EV index (share of EVs in the overall market), China is second only to Norway. In the Industry EV index, however, which measures a country’s production of EVs, the country is number one, as shown in this chart:
This leadership in comes at a price, though: “China and Norway have some of the world’s highest levels of spending on consumer and supply-side subsidies, at the taxpayers’ expense.”
Nevertheless, Norway could be a model that will be followed by other countries, in which case EVs would become a truly disruptive trend:
McKinsey notes that “Global automakers will reportedly launch approximately 340 BEV and PHEV models in the next three years, significantly reducing supply as a barrier to further market uptake. The OEMs’ increased attention mainly reflects tougher emissions targets, especially in China and Europe, and announcements that several countries, as well as cities around the world, will set end dates for the sale of diesel- and gasoline-powered vehicles. Norway, for example, wants BEVs to account for 100 percent of its new-car sales by 2025. California, France, and the United Kingdom have proclaimed that they will end sales of ICEs by 2040.”
“China too seems to be developing a long-term plan to abandon vehicles powered by fossil fuels: a new EV policy, which will become effective by 2019, requires automakers to comply with a mandatory EV credit target. As a result, several international automakers announced new joint ventures with domestic Chinese brands to develop and produce numerous EVs together.”
Prospects for EVs are bright, we may conclude. In fact, I think one aspect of EVs that should not be ignored and that will be an important driver of growth is the hi-tech applications that it is going to make possible. That will make EVs particularly attractive to customers.
Thus, for example, technology and telecommunications giant Qualcomm has announced that “wireless electric vehicle charging technology is expected to be commercially available in the next 18 months to two years”, according to a report by Bloomberg.
Wireless charging dispenses with sockets and plugs. Instead it uses pads that the car is parked on.
Qualcomm “has been developing the technology with carmakers over the past seven years”, writes Bloomberg. “The cost of static wireless charging is comparable today with that of conductive charging, where a charging cable is used, said Graeme Davison, vice president of business development and marketing at Qualcomm Halo, the wireless charging division within the larger $92 billion market-valued company.”
Davison told BNEF in an interview that being able to charge an electric vehicle wirelessly “makes the ease of vehicle use that much smoother [and] takes away the risk of remembering to plug in to charge your vehicle overnight.”
“Using an EV with wireless charging will therefore not be that different to using a gasoline car, without the need to visit a petrol refill station”, he added.
But “static wireless charging” is only “the first step to developing dynamic wireless charging, where vehicles charge constantly while in motion”, notes Bloomberg.
According to Bloomberg, “Qualcomm has shown it is able to charge a vehicle travelling at highway speeds with more than 20 kilowatts of electricity from an electrically-inductive road surface, at the FabricEV charging program near to Paris.”
It was the “perfect example for us to show the industry that dynamic wireless charging is possible,” Davison said.
However, the company focus is currently on static charging. Qualcomm “expects static EV charging to first become available in people’s homes and garages, where the car manufacturer or third party contractor would install proprietary charging pads, before being rolled out in public locations such as shopping centers, cinemas and grocery stores.”
Wireless charging is more than a convenience. It will get us into really advanced hi-tech territory: “The route to dynamic charging could open up many opportunities in intelligent vehicle charging, whereby drivers make decisions about which roads to drive along based upon where they can charge and at what price, said Davison. This in turn could help city planners to reduce congestion, he said.”
“In addition, the process of installing wireless charging technology in road surfaces, while expensive, would also allow 5G communications to be installed – useful for autonomous driving operations, he added.”
Qualcomm has already signed 17 licenses for its static charging technology with companies around the world. Both Mercedes Benz and BMW have announced that they intend to install wireless charging on existing plug-in hybrid electric models in 2018.
In the meantime, developments in “traditional” EV charging are also continuing. Thus, American electric bus manufacturer Proterra introduced new high-power charging solutions recently at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), writes Kyle Field on Cleantechnica.
The three new solutions were introduced under Proterra’s Power Control Systems line. They range from 60 kW to 500 kW, “opening up new use cases for fleet operators around the world”.
“A fleet of buses charging at night represents both a significant electrical draw on the grid and a large source of energy storage”, notes Kyle. “Just take a look at the image above and imagine 20 … 50 … 100 electric buses with ~400 kWh of storage on board all charging at 125 kW to get an idea of the early scale bus depots will be working with.”
“It was with that in mind that Proterra built vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capability into its new chargers, which allow them to not only pull power from the grid to charge the bus, but to also feed power back into the grid, if needed. Taking the 100 x 400 kWh buses in the example above, that fleet has the potential to be used as a 40 MWh battery for the transit operator, city, or electrical grid to draw from as they see fit, opening up new potential sources of revenue for fleet operators, disaster response for cities and first responders — to name just a few possibilities.”
And for those who believe electric systems are only for passenger vehicles, not for trucks, let alone for ships or airplanes, well – maybe not.
As Nicolas Zart writes on Cleantechnica, “electric aviation” may well be “the next big thing”.
He notes that “William Garvey at Aviation Week “recently asked some industry leaders about the potential of and need for electric aviation. Greg Bowles, vice president of global innovation and policy at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, explained the current situation of combustion aircraft engines as yesteryear’s dial-up, wired telephones. But today’s smartphones are more than telephones, as will be the case with electric airplanes. Software, computer boards, and augmented controls, will be used for much more than propulsion and will do so with precision, immediacy, efficiency, and endurance unknown in mechanical systems.”
Guy Norris, Aviation Week & Space Technology’s Los Angeles bureau chief, “added that the electric power’s benefits lie in the ability to maintain a high power output at any high altitude. Additionally, electric airplanes (e-planes) can produce a great amount of torque at takeoff and be quieter than jet engines when landing.”
“On a technical side note, removing inlet air nozzles and other openings means the electric motors can be mounted anywhere, and that is a big help when you have drag reduction in mind. Consider as well an electric motor’s simplicity, which means reduced maintenance and close to zero emissions. You can see why many companies are eyeing this technology eagerly.”
When it comes to how soon, Bowles feels battery technology is almost there after improving around 3–5% every year for the past 20 years. He was quoted as saying, “The days of electrical propulsion are basically here.”