Tag Archives: dependence

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Portland Press Herald Article by Seth Borenstein, titled, “For electric cars, it’s not simple to be green,” offers outdated and misguided commentary on the issue of “dirty” electricity and whether electric vehicles are more of a problem than a solution when it comes to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.

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?)

 

Reality Check- Four Months in with the Nissan LEAF

I bought (actually leased) the Nissan LEAF on September 17, 2011.  I have had it for over 3900 miles and four months. So, how is it going?

Interestingly, today is the first time I ever walked away from the car in a parking lot leaving it on without realizing it. This may sound strange but the car is so silent, and if you are distracted, as I was because I misplaced the key fob while two friends waited for me to join them on a five mile run in the Arboreteum, you can just walk away from it without noticing.  When I came back an hour later and opened the door, I immediately realized something was wrong as the interior was hot and the fans were running. I could have at least shut off the climate control! That said I still had plenty of charge to get back.

So, other than this mishap, I have not run out of “gas” nor have I experienced any buyer’s remorse.  What are notable observations?  I have applied the brakes hard twice to avoid a collision, when another driver pulled out directly in front of me- it stopped without a problem.  I have run the battery down to four miles or less of range- which did provoke range consternation, though not anxiety.  I still enjoy driving it because the torque is striking and responsive.  I could try to snow you about the performance, but, when it is in its regular D mode, it really is fast– 0-60 in 7 seconds.  I have inadvertently squeaked its tires while accelerating in a curve.

I wish there were more far flung public charging stations so I could use the car for extended travel.  Those charging stations that are out there need MUCH better signage.  I literally drove around an entire multi-level parking structure in Salem looking for two level 2 chargers and never found them, later to be told they were there. Still I do 99% of my charging at my residence which is a function of my typical mile usage during the day.  I seldom neglect to connect the charger at night.  When I do charge downtown, I tend to use the same public charging locations.  I miss having the gas station attendant clean the front and rear windows; if you don’t have to gas up, you don’t get any personalized attention.    I also tend to average 75 miles per full charge if counting highway miles and use of climate control.

When I now drive a combustion vehicle I immediately have to recalibrate my foot pressure on the gas pedal because I notice the ICE is not as responsive as the EV and requires more finesse to keep from accelerating in a herky-jerky fashion. EVs accelerate cleanly and evenly with foot pressure.

I have had only one person, a pedestrian, notice the “Zero Emission” decal while I was driving (in this case stopped at a light) and actually engage me in conversation.  Otherwise people are completely oblivious to the car and its message.

I tend to shut off the noise manufacturing device as it irritates me.

I can’t imagine the car yet being suitable for colder climate states.  I lived in Maine for ten years and I can tell you that this vehicle is not ready for the trial of a long winter- activating the climate control taxes the battery and reduces the range by 10-15% immediately.  Even pre-heating it while it is attached to a charger does not offer much advantage as the car chills down quickly when used; windows offer little insulation and the car does not retain heat.

Perhaps the most interesting change of driving awareness dynamic arises from the “fuel” gauge, which ostensibly tells you how many miles  remain on your battery.   For those who are video-game-minded, the whole point is to maximize your mileage.  So, while driving up a hill saps the battery by 7 miles, tapping the brakes (did I tell you it uses regenerative braking?) on the downhill puts you up by 1.  Driving becomes a game of terra firma give and take.  My goal is to return home with more energy than I left with.  Driving the Nissan LEAF, I find myself much more conscious of the influence of terrain on my driving experience.   Have you ever thought in those terms driving a combustion engine?