Category Archives: Energy and Climate Change

News and articles on climate change, vehicle pollution, and renewable energy.

No Filter: The Air Pollution Update

As air pollution levels reach new highs, Vogue investigates the best ways to minimise the impact on your health and beauty.

Take a deep breath. Or maybe, don’t: the director general of the World Health Organisation has just described air pollution as “one of the most pernicious threats” facing global public health today, and UK scientists estimate that air pollution can cut life expectancy by up to six months. But before you presume that the UK has got things under control, the news gets worse: the government recently lost two court cases over illegally dirty air, and by July 2017 must come up with a new clean air plan to tackle illegal levels of pollution across the country.

At the same time, more and more is being discovered about the long-term health effects of pollution. There’s now evidence linking pollution to heart attacks, lung disease and asthma, with other conditions like dementia still being investigated. What is known now is that the microscopic PM2.5 molecules found in polluted air are small enough to get into your lungs and bloodstream.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Many people have begun taking matters into their own hands: some London schools are considering issuing pupils with masks, environmentalists are calling for diesel car scrappage schemes and one council in Cornwall has even suggested moving people out of houses located in “pollution hotspots”. And inevitably, a whole industry of pollution-fighting products has sprung up. In China, since 2013’s “airpocalypse” of record pollution levels, home air purifiers are on track to become as ubiquitous as fridges, and Mintel has identified anti-pollution as one of the beauty industry’s biggest growth areas. These and other products like them may provide a “sticking plaster” solution while our governments raise their game, but it’s worth considering the latest anti-pollution products to minimise the impact on your health and beauty.

Read more: Vogue

Uber launches new electric vehicle initiative

Uber has a few interesting electric vehicle initiatives, like an all-electric fleet pilot project with 20 Nissan LEAFs in London and they deployed a fleet of Tesla Model S in Madrid, but now they are bringing their first EV program stateside.

The company will help drivers purchase or lease electric vehicles. They are starting the program in Portland, Oregon, but hopefully, they expand the program to other markets.

Not only it will bring more electric vehicles on the road directly through drivers, but they will also incentivize drivers to educate riders about EVs through an

“EV Ambassador program”.

It’s especially important when you consider that the lack of awareness is surprisingly still the biggest problem for electric vehicle adoption.

Uber says that the Portland metro area already had a higher percentage of Uber drivers with electric vehicles (100 out of ~6,000), but they aim to “add hundreds more.”

 

Uber describes the EV Ambassador program:

“Part of Uber’s new initiative will be opportunities for drivers to serve as EV Ambassadors, a role in which they will help educate riders about the environmental and economic benefits and feasibility of electric vehicles. Drivers interested in participating are invited to share their name and contact information on a new microsite. Drive Oregon will train EV Ambassadors on how to effectively communicate with riders about the benefits of electric vehicles. In the first four months of Uber’s London electric vehicle pilot, 60 EVs gave rides to more than 35,000 riders.”

They will tailor the program to Oregon, which offers a lot of EV incentive, and they will also promote local EV manufacturer Arcimoto. I had a chance to test their all-electric three-wheeler in Las Vegas earlier this year.

Overall, it looks like a force for good to promote EVs. Hopefully, they expand this to other markets soon.

Read more: electrek

The death of diesel: has the one-time wonder fuel become the new asbestos?

Diesel was the dream fuel, promoted by governments and the car industry as a cheaper way to save the planet. Then the cracks started to appear

It’s hard to believe, as diesel vehicles find themselves thrust into the spotlight of a global urban environment crisis, that Audi’s Superbowl advert was made just seven years ago. Air pollution now kills 3.3 million people prematurely every year – more than HIV, malaria and influenza combined – with emissions from diesel engines among the worst culprits; a joint investigation by the Guardian and Greenpeace showed hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren across England and Wales are being exposed to illegal air toxicity levels from diesel vehicles. And yet such was the more or less widely accepted thinking as recently as Superbowl XLIV in 2010 – namely, that cars running on diesel fuel could be driven with a pure, unclouded conscience.

Diesel was touted at inception as a wonder fuel. It was a way of driving cost-efficiently while doing your bit to save the planet. Government, industry and science united to sell us the dream: cars running on diesel would help us cut our CO2 emissions as we eased smoothly into a new eco-friendly age.

Then in 2015 came Dieselgate. In September of that year, Volkswagen, which vies with Toyota for top spot in the list of world’s biggest car companies and a firm that had for years been running its own marketing campaign in favour of “clean diesel”, rocked the industry by admitting that it had cheated on its emission tests. As recently as last week, David King, the UK government’s former chief scientific adviser on climate change, admitted ministers had made a huge mistake by promoting diesel. They had trusted the car industry when it said the fuel was clean. “It turns out we were wrong,” he said.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has stopped short of an outright ban on diesel, but he has ordered the replacement of the capital’s current diesel bus fleet with clean alternatives. The mayor’s office will also enforce a £10 toxicity charge, or T-charge, on the highest-polluting cars entering the city centre as of October. The measures are part of a wider plan to create an ultra-low-emission zone (ULEZ) in central London from April 2019.

Read more: The Guardian

Diesel cars will ‘almost disappear’ by 2025, says UBS

I got pretty excited when I heard that London was committing to buying only 100% emission-free buses for all single-decker city center routes. Likewise, when Eindhoven and Helmond bought 43 extra-long electric buses, it felt like one more step toward cleaner, greener cities.

Given that Paris, Athens, Mexico City and Madrid are pledging to ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 at the latest, the news has been pretty good for those of us who would like to see healthier air and a reduction in emissions.

Now the Financial Times reports that Swiss investment bank UBS is connecting the dots between these trends—making the bold claim that diesel cars will all but disappear from the global car market by 2025.

Not only are individual cities taking up the fight against diesel, says UBS, but countries like Belgium and France are also pledging to fix disparities between gasoline and diesel taxes too. (Lower taxes on diesel have long boosted popularity in Europe.) Add this to the fact that long-range, lower cost electric cars are finally becoming increasingly viable, and that cities are exploring ways to reduce dependence on motor vehicles overall—and you really start to see a convergence of factors which should lead to diesel’s demise in the passenger car market much sooner than many of us would have expected. UBS does expect diesel to continue to be used in large SUVs and trucks for now—but we’ll see if even that prediction really pans out.

Even more exciting than the demise of diesel cars, to me, is the fact that this demonstrates how the broader transition to a low carbon economy will ultimately come about. Just as US utilities are pressing ahead with phasing out coal, regardless of what short-term electoral politics might look like, diesel is not falling victim to any single policy or initiative. It’s simply facing a perfect storm of headwinds that will ultimately bring about its demise.

 

Read more: TreeHugger

Tony Seba: All new vehicles, globally, will be electric by 2030

My brother-in-law sent me a video this morning of a talk given by Tony Seba at the Swedbank Nordic Energy Summit in March of last year. I started watching it with mild interest, as it covered many of the topics I’ve already been harping on in recent posts:

• Solar power will keep getting cheaper
• Batteries will continue to become more commonplace
• Electric vehicles will soon become a mainstream transport option
• This confluence of technologies will begin to disrupt the economics of our existing energy system

Then, about halfway through, Seba made a claim that I had to stop and rewind: He believes that all new road vehicles—buses, cars, vans, trucks etc—will be entirely electric by 2030. That’s a pretty astounding prediction. Made even more astounding because he’s not talking about one country—he’s talking about the entire world.

Regular Fossil Fuel Car has 2,000 moving parts

The whole talk is very worth watching, but to give a very brief summary, there are two factors coming together to make such a shift possible.

Firstly, from battery tech to solar to autonomous vehicle components, technology is improving and getting cheaper following the same “Moore’s Law” curves that have made computes so cheap and powerful. The LIDAR—a laser and radar system used for autonomous vehicles—sed to cost $70,000 in 2012. By 2016, we’re looking at a LIDAR that costs in the region of $250 and will soon be down at $90. Similarly, says Seba, solar power won’t soon just be cheaper than coal, wind, nuclear or natural gas. By 2020, it’ll be cheaper than the cost of transmission—regardless of any subsidies. Meaning a utility could generate electricity for free, and still not be able to sell it because panels on your roof would still be more competitive. And long range EVs are becoming affordable and mainstream too—providing better performance and lower cost of ownership than their gas-driven counterparts.

Secondly, new technologies are enabling new business models: When a car sits idle in the driveway 96% of its life, that’s a massive opportunity for business model disruption that could change how we think about our relationship to vehicles. From Uber to Lyft, such changes are already taking place in many cities.

Read more: treehugger

Firms could be sued over diesel cancer

Employers have been told they are legally obliged to protect their staff from diesel fumes — and could be sued if workers develop cancer later in life.

The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have issued the warnings because diesel fumes have been reclassified as a

“grade 1 carcinogen”

meaning they are a

“definite cause of cancer”.

As many as 500,000 UK jobs are affected.

 

Researchers say 500,000 UK workers are exposed to diesel fumes (image: ALAMY)

The warning applies to a huge range of employees, including professional drivers, bus and railway station staff, rubbish collectors, garage mechanics and warehouse and construction workers.

Read more: The Times

Earth Day, 22nd April 2017

Earth Day 2017’s Campaign is Environmental & Climate Literacy

Earth Day Network is launching a campaign for global environmental and climate literacy by Earth Day 2020. We are dedicated to ensuring that every student around the world graduates high school as an environmental and climate literate citizen, ready to take action and be a voice for change. This goal is not only an enormous undertaking, it is critical and timely. The signing of the Paris Agreement is one step towards mitigating the impacts of climate change. Education needs to be a key part of this effort.

In the coming months, Earth Day Network will release research on the status of environmental literacy policies in the United States. We will also be joining a large collaborative network of nonprofits, government organizations and business leaders in a campaign for global environmental and climate literacy. This is more than a campaign issue and more than a US issue, this is a global issue. We ask that you help us take a stand and support teaching for environmental and climate literacy in K-12 schools. Education is the key to advocacy and advocacy is the key to change.

Read more: Earth Day Network

Great Barrier Reef at ‘terminal stage’: scientists despair at latest coral bleaching data

Back-to-back severe bleaching events have affected two-thirds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, new aerial surveys have found.

The findings have caused alarm among scientists, who say the proximity of the 2016 and 2017 bleaching events is unprecedented for the reef, and will give damaged coral little chance to recover.

Great Barrier Reef (image: Ed RobertsARC)

Scientists with the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies last week completed aerial surveys of the world’s largest living structure, scoring bleaching at 800 individual coral reefs across 8,000km.

The results show the two consecutive mass bleaching events have affected a 1,500km stretch, leaving only the reef’s southern third unscathed.

Where last year’s bleaching was concentrated in the reef’s northern third, the 2017 event spread further south, and was most intense in the middle section of the Great Barrier Reef. This year’s mass bleaching, second in severity only to 2016, has occurred even in the absence of an El Niño event.

Read more: The Guardian

How conniving carmakers caused the diesel air pollution crisis

Cheating, dodging rules and heavy lobbying by motor manufacturers fuelled the toxic air the UK is struggling with today.

Conniving car makers and their lobbying might, assisted by the 2008 financial crash, were the key factors in producing the diesel-fuelled air pollution crisis the UK is struggling with today, according to key observers of the disaster.

Earlier government decisions to incentivise diesel vehicles, which produce less climate-warming carbon dioxide, sparked the problem but were made in good faith. The heart of the disaster is instead a giant broken promise: the motor industry said it would clean up diesel but instead cheated and dodged the rules for years.

Cars displayed at the Geneva International Motor Show 2017. (Image: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The result has been that the air people breathe in cities and towns is now heavily polluted with toxic nitrogen dioxide, causing 23,500 premature deaths a year in the UK and affecting many schools. The government, whose inadequate plans have twice been declared illegal, will come up with a new, court-ordered strategy as soon as next week.

“We were told by the vehicle manufacturers the [diesel emissions] limits would be met and there was no problem,”

said Greg Archer, who was managing the UK government’s air pollution research two decades ago, when new tax breaks led to the diesel boom.

“What of course actually happened was those limits were not met on the road, as the car manufacturers started to turn down the after-treatment systems and cheat the tests.”

The government’s chief scientific adviser at the time, Sir David King, tells the same story:

“I was convinced the [motor manufacturers] could manage the problem. It turns out we were wrong.”

Read more: The Guardian

Solar powered homes worth more 

A recent analysis by Redfin and Sun Number, has rated 10+ cities in the northeast based on their solar power potential.

Sun Number is a U.S. Department of Energy SunShot-funded startup that has developed a patented automatic process for helping homeowners/buyers understand the solar energy potential of their homes or future homes, using a Sun Number Scale that runs from 1-100, where the higher a reading, the better the property is suited for solar energy installation and use.

As early as 2015, a multi-institutional research led by U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkley Laboratory (Berkley Lab) concluded that home buyers have consistently been willing to pay more for homes with host-owned solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems.

The data came from more than 20,000 sales of homes, about 4,000 of which contained a host-owned solar energy installation. The additional price home buyers were ready to pay was significant and worthy of serious consideration: a hefty premium of about $15,000. Redfin and Sun Number partially support that prior data.

Read more: electrek