Environment: We make too much, store too much unused, dispose too much, and reuse too little

On how the environmental impact of stuff is more on the manufacturing side

A “life cycle assessment” is basically where somebody goes and looks at the full environmental impact of a product — say a smartphone — from manufacturing to disposal and looks at what the air pollution impacts are, the mining impacts, the carbon impacts. The one thing we do know is that the biggest impact of most products is the manufacturing side. So if you want to reduce the environmental impact of your consumption, the best way to do that is to not manufacture more stuff. In that sense, the best thing you can do is not buy more stuff.If you want to reduce the environmental impact of your consumption, the best way to do that is to not manufacture more stuff. In that sense, the best thing you can do is not buy more stuff.

Continue reading Environment: We make too much, store too much unused, dispose too much, and reuse too little

Energy: Why throwing money at climate solutions leads to no solutions

When a political leader has a choice, such as am I going to inaugurate a new solar park or wind farm, or something, and show how I care? Or am I going to spend money on some eggheads [R&D] that don’t make for good picture? The problem is the extra solar panel park is not going to do very much, but these eggheads could make a huge difference

Source: We are throwing money at the wrong solutions to climate change

I began looking at solar PV and EVs as ways to take personal action. Read my other posts about what I learned – basically, adding solar PV for some homes will reduce CO2-emissions while for others it will have not only no impact but will have spent money that will then not be available for actual CO2-emission reductions. Similarly, in some situations, purchasing an EV just transfers your CO2-emissions to the utility company and has little or no impact. And at present prices, buying an EV uses up resources that might better be spent on say, home insulation.

Longer term, we need to invest in R&D and invent new technologies. Unfortunately, we invest little in R&D while politicians are pursuing actions that have little impact. Because they do not understand what they are doing.

Energy: Should you buy carbon offsets, an EV or solar PV to reduce your environmental impact? It depends.

Some people think they should buy carbon offsets to reduce their environmental impact.

Others think that by switching to an EV, they will reduce their CO2-emissions.

And of course, some think that by installing solar PV panels, they will cut their CO2-emissions.

The reality is far more complicated. In some cases, buying an EV may increase your overall lifetime CO2 emissions especially when your electrical utility produces most or all of its electricity by burning coal and other fossil fuels. Similarly, installing solar PV panels when your utility is already 100% greenhouse free will likely increase your lifetime emissions of CO2. How? Because of the GHGs emitted during the solar PV panel manufacturing and installation and ultimately, not offsetting any GHGs because your utility is already GHG emission free.

Most people are oblivious to product’s lifetime GHG emissions, ignoring that for most products, the greatest production of GHG emissions is during the product’s manufacturing.

Continue reading Energy: Should you buy carbon offsets, an EV or solar PV to reduce your environmental impact? It depends.

Transportation: #EV charging systems and options #electricvehicle #electriccar

Nice overview of EV charging including 110v AC, 220-240v AC, and several charging network options including super fast chargers available at third party charging stations.

Range anxiety is one of the top two reasons consumers are buying an EV. The other is prices, which are high relative to other vehicle options.

The availability of charging options also depends heavily on where you live. I live in rural city. Traveling to the east, it is 120 miles to the next charger and there is only a single Level 2 charger located there. It is another 100 miles from there to the next available charger, also a Level 2. Fortunately there are more options at that location, 220 miles away.

But there’s not much over about 220 miles of Eastern Oregon (and no cell phone service over much of that too). EV travel in rural areas may be tough, although some EV drivers rent a space at RV campgrounds and plug into 220 receptacles (for those that support this).

By comparison, if I travel west, its about 150 miles to the next big city but there are several charging options along the route.

Larger cities, of course, have many charging options available. But note that the brown stations, on the map above, are Tesla stations and those are not available for non-Tesla EVs. Consequently, depending on your EV model, there may not be as many actual charging stations as the maps imply.

While I think EVs are cool and I would like to have one, the range problem and lack of charging options in the areas I travel are keeping me from EVs for now.

Energy: To achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 requires building a new, large nuclear power plant every 2 days

Or building the equivalent of a large nuclear plant every 2 days:

So the math here is simple: to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, the world would need to deploy 3 Turkey Point nuclear plants worth of carbon-free energy every two days, starting tomorrow and continuing to 2050. At the same time, a Turkey Point nuclear plant worth of fossil fuels would need to be decommissioned every day, starting tomorrow and continuing to 2050.

Source: Net-Zero Carbon Dioxide Emissions By 2050 Requires A New Nuclear Power Plant Every Day


Net-zero carbon dioxide by 2050 would require the deployment of ~1500 wind turbines (2.5 MW) over ~300 square miles, every day starting tomorrow and continuing to 2050.


To reach net-zero by 2050, the US would need to deploy one new nuclear power plant worth of carbon-free energy about every 6 days, starting this week, and continuing until 2050. This does not include possible increases in future energy consumption.

What about net-zero by 2030, 3,746 days from today? Globally, such a target would imply, starting tomorrow, the deployment of >4 nuclear power plants per day, and for the United States, the deployment of a new nuclear plant about every other day.

The challenges are large but it is important to understand that in the context of factfulness. Or perhaps call it climate realism.

Transportation: Electric Vehicles (EV) – range versus price

As you can see, EVs in (primarily) the US $30,000 to $40,000 price range have a maximum range of (about) 100-125 miles.

To obtain a range of (about) 250 miles or more costs (about) $80,000 or more.

Source: EV Statistics of the Week: Range, Price and Battery Size of Currently Available (in the US) BEVs – EVAdoption

The above chart leaves out the Tesla Model 3 (base price ranges are about $40,000 to $57,000 plus additional options) with a range of up to about 300 miles. Also, some 2019/2020 cars have increased their range – the Nissan Leaf Plus now has a range of 228 miles and the newest Chevy Bolt is rated at 258 miles; both sell for less than $40,000.

When viewed in terms of typical family incomes – where families cannot afford to purchase even the typical gas powered cars – these price tags are unaffordable for typical consumers. (The reality is that manufacturers price their mix of cars at a level to optimize total revenue and profits. Prices are determined by the market -not their build cost. Manufacturers have identified that consumers are willing to pay more, by taking on debt, and have priced their gas and EVs at what is, in their position, the optimal price.)

Price – and range anxiety – are the two leading impediments to purchasing an EV.

From here, we can see prices organized as a column chart and compared to some gas powered vehicles:

EV enthusiasts say that EVs are more expensive to buy but less expensive over time due to expected lower maintenance costs and lower “fuel” costs. Many EVs come with an 8-10 year battery warranty as well, although battery failures beyond that can be an expensive replacement option.

Because battery technology is presently expensive, manufacturers are focused primarily on the luxury vehicle segment. This means less well off people are subsidizing EV tax credits used by wealthy people to buy EVs. (Subsidies are not free and are paid for by other taxpayers.) Driving an EV is also about virtue signaling, say about 75% of EV drivers, according to a survey by Volvo. while paradoxically “helps them to feel better about making less environmentally conscious decisions in “other areas of life.”‘ Hmmmm….

Plug-in hybrids, which operate as an EV for short range in town driving, appear to reduce GHGs at an attractive price point as shown by this chart (source):

Many think the year 2020 will see the introduction of more affordable EVs, lower priced EVs with longer range, and higher priced EVs with much longer ranges. We will see.

Call me an EV Realist

Note – in spite of what I write on these pages, I am bullish on EVs and would like, at some point, to have one myself. But I am trying to be realistic about their affordability to ordinary people, range issues that impact those who live in cold climates and/or drive cross country, and that they do not – yet – significantly reduce GHG emissions for many drivers depending on where they live. In at least half a dozen US states, nearly 100% of electricity is generated by burning coal, for example, and remains high as a percent of electricity generation in many more states. Electric utilities have sharply reduced their GHGs – down by a surprising -40% since 2005 – by (almost entirely) switching from coal to natural gas, which reduces GHG emission by more than half. There is no indication that EVs are worse than gas cars, and are generally better, but not nearly as much better as some proclaim (such as “zero emission vehicle” stickers on the backs of some EVs).

One third of all charging stations in the entire U.S. – are located in California which limits the usefulness for longer distance travel in outlying areas, off the Interstates.

For many years, electricity demand has been dropping (another surprise) but EV charging demand is expected to increase the need for more power (in fact, this is a major reason electric utilities support EVs – duh!). As demand increases relatively to future “clean” supply costs, charging EVs may become more expensive. On the other hand, some think that EVs could mostly large during the overnight hours when there is already excess production capacity. This would help utilities to get more use (and sales) out of their capital investment. But some think that to make this work, utilities will have to go to time-of-day pricing rather than a fixed rate. Whereas you might pay 10-15 cents/KWH to recharge today, you might be paying 30 or more cents//KWH when charging during peak daylight times – when people are traveling.

Transportation and Energy: Electric utilities push for electric vehicle (EV) expansion to grow their businesses

Many people believe EVs are zero emission vehicles. As explained here, they are not zero emission when considering their lifetime energy use. In many instances, EVs yield a smaller reduction in GHGs than one would expect. This is because much of the vehicle’s lifetime energy consumption is during the vehicle’s manufacture, and in many scenarios, the electricity for charging the vehicles is produced by coal or other fossil fuel based generation.

Electric utilities need to create growth opportunities as, surprisingly, there has been a decline in retail sales of electricity. Not surprisingly, electric utilities want to see widespread adoption of electric vehicles to kick start demand for electricity.

Between 2007 and 2013, retail sales of electricity in the United States across all sectors dropped 2%. In addition, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s energy in-frastructure a D+ grade in their 2013 report card and estimated a 3.6 trillion dollar investment needed by 2020.

“America relies on an aging electrical grid and pipeline distribution systems, some of which originated in the 1880s. Investment in power transmission has increased since 2005, but ongoing permitting issues, weather events, and limited maintenance have contributed to an increasing number of failures and power interruptions.”

Stagnant growth, rising costs, and a need for even greater infrastructure investment represent major challenges to the utility industry. To maintain our critical energy infrastructure while investing for the future, today’s electric utilities need a new source of load growth—one that fits within the political, economic and social environment. Electrification of the transportation sector is a potential “quadruple win” for electric utilities and society, and will enable companies to support environmental goals, build customer satisfaction, reduce operating costs and assure the future value of existing assets.

Transportation Electrification. Edison Electric Institute. June 2014. Retrieved from https://www.eei.org/issuesandpolicy/electrictransportation/FleetVehicles/Documents/EEI_UtilityFleetsLeadingTheCharge.pdf

It’s not just about power generation. A fast charger requires a 480-volt, high capacity distribution line to be brought in to the charging station. Apartments and condo complexes, which may have dozens to hundreds of units will require massive power distribution upgrades to deliver the necessary power to charge all those vehicles when workers come home for the night.

The linked paper does not say much about how existing fossil-fuel based electric generation will be removed, or what type of new generation will be used to provide this electricity. They estimate that over the next 16 years (by 2035), an additional 112 terawatt hours of generation capacity will be required by the transportation sector.

EVs are seen as a conduit to growth in the electric utility industry.

The bottom line is that the electric utility industry needs the electrification of the transportation sector to remain viable and sustainable in the long term. While the market has started moving in this direction and the technology has been proven, there is still more to be done. Without active engagement, we may not realize the many benefits that could be derived from widespread electric-based transportation. We must continue to innovate, invest and work closely with regulators, automakers, and other partners to develop policies and best practices that will allow electric transportation to flourish. Electrifying our own fleets is an important first step in moving the industry forward. The Edison Electric Institute in partnership with and on behalf of its member companies is requesting each member utility to dedicate 5% of its annual fleet purchase plan to plug-in vehicles. In many applications, this choice already makes economic sense. The 5% ask is a starting point. It is an investment in the future of our business. We must lead by example—showing our customers the benefits and possibilities of making the switch.

Some models for handling increased electrical demand include having customers pay for the new generation by installing customer owned solar PV. This outsources the utilities capital costs to the customer. The utility then buys electricity from the customers, albeit, often at price points that may not generate a fair return on investment to the customer.

Second, they propose smart vehicle charging systems whereby vehicle batteries are turned into grid storage systems. At certain times of the day, power flows into batteries and at other times, power is drawn out of the batteries back into the grid. Again, the utility outsources these costs to the customer. Battery chemistry can only be discharged/charged some number of times before the battery needs to be replaced. Replacement costs are high (up to about $25,000 or more) and the customer will find that letting the utility use their batteries will require a more frequent replacement, at the expense of the customer. While this make financial sense for consumers?

It looks like, at least for now, the electric utilities have found a way to outsource their costs to the customers while growing their business and profits – while reducing greenhouse gases some what.

Transportation: #Drone delivery of consumer packages is mostly hype but does have some specific good use cases

This euphoria is largely based on assumptions that drones inevitably deliver better customer service at lower costs with a better environmental footprint than conventional delivery by a driver in a parcel van. These claims are little more than flights of fancy that cloud a more realistic assessment of the potential for the use of drones in logistics.

For the technology to work in commercial practice, however, the economics must also work.

Source: Commentary: Drone-Delivery Projects Must Look Beyond the Hype – WSJ

The primary value in drone delivery may be

1. Delivering value dense items that need to be delivered quickly. Medicine is the classic example.

2. Very short hop delivery. The USPS is experimenting with drones that launch from your local postal delivery vehicles to carry small packages up to home door steps, rather than having the postal worker have to take time to walk that distant (and deal with loose dogs!)

3. Delivering items to remote customers, not urban customers. When a delivery truck comes through my neighborhood, they commonly stop and deliver packages to multiple homes. This is pretty efficient. But delivering to remote (e.g. farms, ranches) and rural properties is not as efficient.

The dreams promoted by Google, Amazon and UPS of zillions of drones flying miles out from warehouses to drop off low value packages at consumer homes are not realistic at this time.

Energy: “Climate Central Solutions Brief: Battery Energy Storage” – interesting background on grid-level energy storage

Batteries are having a moment. A new Solutions Brief by Climate Central describes the rapid growth of battery storage capacity in the U.S., and how it can be used to reduce carbon emissions while making our power grid more resilient to extreme weather.

Source: Climate Central Solutions Brief: Battery Energy Storage | Climate Central

Batteries are likely to be an important component of grid-level energy systems. Solar PV and Wind are both intermittent power sources, plus their peak outputs do not necessarily align with peak demand. Energy storage is a key requirement of “renewable” energy systems for the future.

Energy storage can take many forms, not just batteries. For example, some systems may pump water uphill and release its potential energy, through generators, later. Others may store energy as heat (such as heating water or solids), or even lifting weights up high during generation, and then lower the weights to spin generators during times when generation is not available.

Transportation: Effect of cold winter weather on EV range

Tesla drivers in Canada, in -10 to -20 deg C (14 to -4 deg F) temperatures, find their range drops up to 35% and as low as 55-56% of normal during cold weather.

Also, Superchargers are unable to initially rapid charge batteries when they are so cold. Tesla incorporates battery heaters that can heat the pack in preparation for taking a larger charging current but this lengthens the overall recharge time.

Many drivers leave their vehicles plugged in, in a garage, overnight, so they can be pre-heated (both battery and cabin) in the morning before driving to work. This works for driving to work but for the return trip at the end of the day, the vehicle is generally not pre-heated. Some heat their garage to keep their EV warm but this may produce more CO2-emissions if your heat comes from burning fossil fuels, or your electric heater is powered by a distant coal- or natural gas fired power plant.

EV owners say the range degradation doesn’t matter – because they are only driving short local trips. That suggests if you need to make long trips in winter, then you may want a gas-fueled vehicle. Gas engines also operate at less efficiency in extreme cold; however, vehicle range remains longer and “re-charging” by fueling up is vastly faster than plugging into a charging station.

They recommend if you live in cold winter climate areas (which is most of the landmass of North America), then you should opt to spend more on the optional larger battery available for some EVs. Of course, battery packs gradually lose capacity, over time. In that case, your range during winter would be cut quite a bit. (Note – Actual battery life varies considerably depending the manufacturer, how it is used, how it is charged, the age of the battery – some real world Tesla batteries have gone much further than 100,000 miles without significant capacity loss. Battery pack replacement costs vary depending on the vehicle and seem to run from about US$5000 for the smallest packs to about $25,000 for large packs.)

In 3-5 years, newer battery technologies may reduce the cold weather problem.

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