Tag Archives: climate change

Electric Vehicles, Coal & Dirty Electricity

Coal in Stocking

Since it is the Holiday Season, and some traditions continue, such as busting PEVs because they allegedly use dirty electricity and can’t then be zero emission, I include this brief op-ed from last week for your reading pleasure.  The final take away is simple- where you live and how your local utilities get their electricity do play a role in how clean your PEV runs and since most states increasingly support alternative forms of renewable energy, your PEV will likely continue to get cleaner.  So enjoy the season and stop feeling guilty!

Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald Article by Seth Borenstein, titled, “For electric cars, it’s not simple to be green,” offers outdated and misguided commentary on the issue of “dirty” electricity and whether electric vehicles are more of a problem than a solution when it comes to transportation-based emissions.  As a study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2012, “State of Charge; Electric Vehicles Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-cost Savings across the United States” concluded, EVs are vastly superior in their emission profiles over most regions of the US.  It boils down to where the electricity comes from.  If you live in the Wyoming where coal is used for base load generation, your EV does contribute to GHG emissions on a par with a combustion engine.  That is one reason why coal-fired power plants are no longer viable for electricity generation and are being moth-balled.  Conversely, if you live in Maine, with an increasingly healthy mix of renewable energy generation sources, including wind, tidal, hydro, solar and biomass and the cleanest grid in New England, operating your electric vehicle is much less carbon intense than your neighbor’s gas-powered car.  The good news is most states, like Maine, have a renewable portfolio standard that has resulted in ongoing efforts to clean up their electricity generation, so an EV actually drives cleaner the longer you own it!  That is not true of your gasoline vehicle.  Mr. Borenstein chooses to highlight the coal connection rather than the clean connection.  I leave you with the final sentence of the PNAS study quoted by Mr. Borenstein, which reads, “Consideration of potential climate change impacts alongside the human health outcomes described here further reinforces the environmental preferability of EVs powered by low-emitting electricity relative to gasoline vehicles.” (Emphasis added).

Maine, and all the New England states, should be proud of their efforts to promote clean electricity and their EV-owners can drive with clear consciences.

Follow this link to go to my actual op-ed.

Travel Oregon and Oregon Vintners- It’s Not All about the Pinot Noir

 

When we think of wine tasting, we try to capture a fleeting moment of pleasure as we sip and gurgle. We use words not often used in our day-to-day manner to try to capture the experience, even if they seem like crude tools.  We test the “nose”, we watch the “legs”, we taste the “rich tones of cherry and oak.”

In many ways the same struggle to describe the fleeting flavor of a new wine occurs when we try to describe driving electric.  The car is silent, save for a high end background noise, a whine, a powerful register not out of place. The tire treads seeth, growl and roar along the roadbed, keeping pace with the speed.  The car responds like a horse with spurs to its side, instantly, and it accelerates with a straight build-up of speed like nothing we have felt before.  We wait for the hesitation of gears but find only more power.  A Tesla’s acceleration is like experiencing the recoil of a high velocity rifle for the first time.  There is no smell but the smell of other cars.  Sitting in traffic, we are like an athlete between events, quiet, alert and ready, but not wasting any energy in the moment before the true test.  We try to explain it, this driving electric, but like a rare vintage, it is best left for each person to actually experience.  When it comes to driving a vehicle we are all unlikely connoisseurs as we have spent prodigious amounts of our lives performing the task.  Our muscles and minds harbor sophisticated impressions of what it is to “drive”.  Trying to reduce it down to language only displays how crude and blunt an instrument is vocabulary.

But this post is not actually about Oregon wine.  Its about the unlikely combination of wineries and electric charging stations.

As Oregon strives to push the EV envelope and make effective use of its existing charging infrastructure, Travel Oregon has created an opportunity for our wineries to participate in attracting Eco-Tourist dollars.  The plan is simple- any winery that installs chargers and is a sustainable business can be placed on an EV itinerary.

I have personally visited four wineries – with five more to come- and found much enthusiasm to install chargers and attract the EV crowd.  Winery owners seem to appreciate, more than other industries, the long-term impact of electrifying transportation on the climate- which more and more is messing with their harvests and forcing them to plant their vines at higher elevations.  EVs are good for their business and good for their vineyards.  So, check out the Black Walnut Inn, or Elk Cove, or Sokol Blosser when you next want to try a tasting room with a view.  And as you partake of the fruit, think about how you’d describe the drive to get there- a powerful electric whine with a clean finish.

 

 

 

 

Energy and Transportation- Oregon Provides Fuel for Thought

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in Oregon’s Ten Year Future Energy Task Force as part of its Transport Design team. Oregon’s  Governor Kitzhaber is endeavoring to make a coherent vision going forward that promotes decreased petroleum consumption and increased economic activity.  This was my first serious task force and I found the exercise both stimulating and daunting.

As a state, Oregon has in place carbon emission reduction policies that require us to reduce our GHG emissions to below 1990 levels by the year 2050.  One way to visualize how we get there is to pick this number and then, using the tools we have, work backwards to see what will get us there.  Which of these tools must we use to reach the goal we have set?   The short answer is that there are a number of tools  we can use  to reach this goal… and we must use all of them .

Enter transportation electrification.  Oregon spends more than $2b per year for transportation fuels. Transportation relies on fossil fuel for 99% of its energy.  As a sector, efficiency and alternative fuel choices have dramatic effects on GHG.  In addition, all the fuel use we displace through these efforts gets translated into money spent domestically and locally.  We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by aligning energy policy behind electric vehicles.

What is the future for Oregon in this? We have four recommendations pending:

  1. Build Oregon into a Center of Excellence for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).  We have all the pieces to improve vehicle and freight movement through advanced technology, from the universities and research centers to information technology companies.  Encourage businesses to test new ITS products in Oregon.
  2. Accelerate vehicle and fleet turnover by building the needed alternative fuel vehicle infrastructure with charging stations at home, at work, in public areas and for commercial fleets.  Follow that up with making energy efficient vehicles more visible and more attractive to purchase at the point-of-sale.  This includes the right mix of financial and non-cash incentives to get the older, more polluting vehicles off the road and into the junkyard.
  3. Resolve financing and funding barriers that inhibit the market growth of highly efficient vehicles.  As federal CAFÉ standard increase, zero emission vehicles hit the road and fuel use decreases, there will be challenges to a transportation system funded by gas taxes.  Flexible revenue and financing models will help the state achieve its energy and emission goals.  Current plans such as Complete Streets also need to be funded.
  4. Develop complete communities and re-affirm the benefits of Oregon’s land use system.  Oregon’s transportation and land use strategies have evolved over the last 40 years into a model for strategic planning, community-centered decision­-making and efficient outcomes.  The next 10-to-20 years will require renewed efforts to keep a focus on community development within urban growth boundaries.
These are recommendations, at present, and we await the final draft which then goes out to public comment.  I introduce them to you to get YOU thinking about what matters  during the next ten years- because you will be asked to contribute those thoughts during the spring.  This is, after all,  a process, and not intended only for a select few to issue dictum as part of a “secret cabal”.
So, as you commute from home to work or school and back, as you consider what changes in transportation would make the most difference in your life, make your opinion known.
This is an opportunity to touch the future of transportation, here in Oregon, which is what sustainability-conscious people must do (and I say “must” because our children will have no choice but to live in the world we leave them; wouldn’t it be nice if they had some faith that we considered them in our decisions?)