Monday, July 24, 2006

Have You Hugged a Hummer Today?

Hybrid vehicles' overall energy costs exceed those of comparable non-hybrids

Ford Motor Company did itself a huge favor recently by backing away from its pledge to bump-up its hybrid production ten-fold in four years. But, as it turns out, the company might have done the planet a whale of a favor too. Just last fall, CEO Bill Ford was valiantly promising in a mega-million dollar ad campaign that the company would never, ever turn away from its hybrid pledge because these vehicles were central to the company's reputation as an "innovator and environmental steward."

Never mind that at the time Ford was losing $2,000 to $3,000 for every hybrid it sold because consumers won't pay the entire $6,000 extra that it costs to produce a hybrid over its gas-powered counterpart. Never mind also that in the real world -- outside of the Environmental Protection Agency's tax-payer funded testing sites -- hybrids don't deliver anywhere close to the gas mileage that the agency attributes to them, as auto-writer Richard Burr reported in the Weekly Standard.

Bill Ford had given his word on hybrids and you could take that to the bank (ruptcy court). But hybrids have received such a thrashing in the market lately that even Ford was forced to take-off his green eye-shades and read the red-ink on the wall. According to Art Spinella, the uber-auto analyst and President of CNW Marketing Research, hybrid sales every month this year have been down compared to the same time last year. Even sales of the Toyota Prius - the darling of the greens - have dropped significantly. The only segment besides taxis where hybrids are still holding steady - taxpayers will be happy to note -- is the car fleets maintained by the government.

What's particularly interesting is that individual consumers are defying all expectations and turning their backs on hybrids at a time when gas prices are soaring. (The average U.S. retail price of gas spiked to a record high of $3.01 last September following hurricane Katrina, and just last week it hit its second highest price ever at nearly $3.00.) Nor is the reason all that mysterious. Spinella's customer satisfaction surveys show that 62 percent of hybrid owners are dissatisfied with the fuel-economy performance of their cars given what they have paid for them. This means that when gas prices go up, these people don't rush out to buy more hybrids. "They buy a Chevy Aveo," says Spinella. "It delivers the same fuel economy as a Prius, but at half the price."

Consumer interest might revive if the cost of hybrids goes down substantially - or the cost of fuel goes up and stays up for a long period of time, Spinella believes. Until then, however, the hybrid market is unlikely to come out of the deep freeze, a reality that even Ford had to finally acknowledge. But despite all these drawbacks, hybrids are at least better for the environment than say... a Hummer, right? Nope.

Spinella spent two years on the most comprehensive study to date - dubbed "Dust to Dust" -- collecting data on the energy necessary to plan, build, sell, drive and dispose of a car from the initial conception to scrappage. He even included in the study such minutia as plant-to-dealer fuel costs of each vehicle, employee driving distances, and electricity usage per pound of material. All this data was then boiled down to an "energy cost per mile" figure for each car. Comparing this data, the study concludes that overall hybrids cost more in terms of overall energy consumed than comparable non-hybrid vehicles. But even more surprising, smaller hybrids' energy costs are greater than many large, non-hybrid SUVs.

For instance, the dust-to-dust energy cost of the bunny-sized Honda Civic hybrid is $3.238 per mile. This is quite a bit more than the $1.949 per mile that the elephantine Hummer costs. The energy cots of SUVs such as the Tahoe, Escalade, and Navigator are similarly far less than the Civic hybrid. As for Ford cars, a Ford Escape hybrid costs $3.2 per mile - about a third more than the regular Escape. But on the whole, ironically enough, the dust-to-dust costs of many of the Ford non-hybrids - Fusion, Milan, Zephyr - are not only lower than comparable Japanese hybrids - Prius, Accord -- but also non-hybrids - Seville, Civic.

Spinella's finding that a Hummer on the whole consumes less energy than a hybrid than even some smaller hybrids and non-hybrids has infuriated environmentalists. And on its face it does seem implausible that a gas-guzzling monster like a Hummer that employs several times more raw material than a little Prius' could be so much less energy-intensive. But by and large the dust-to-dust energy costs in Spinella's study correlate with the fanciness of the car - not its size or fuel economy -- with the Rolls Royces and Bentleys consuming gobs of energy and Mazda 3s, Saturns and Taurus consuming relatively minuscule amounts.

As for Hummers, Spinella explains, the life of these cars averaged across various models is over 300,000 miles. By contrast, Prius' life - according to Toyota's own numbers - is 100,000 miles. Furthermore, Hummer is a far less sophisticated vehicle. Its engine obviously does not have an electric and gas component as a hybrid's does so it takes much less time and energy to manufacture. What's more, its main raw ingredient is low-cost steel, not the exotic light-weights that are exceedingly difficult to make - and dispose. But the biggest reason why a Hummer's energy use is so low is that it shares many components with other vehicles and therefore its design and development energy costs are spread across many cars.

It is not possible to do this with a specialty product like hybrid. All in all, Spinella insists, the energy costs of disposing a Hummer are 60 percent less than an average hybrid's and its design and development costs are 80 percent less.

One of the most perverse things about U.S. consumers buying hybrids is that while this might reduce air pollution in their own cities, they increase pollution - and energy consumption -- in Japan and other Asian countries where these cars are predominantly manufactured. "In effect, they are exporting pollution and energy consumption," Spinella says.

But while the environment has dodged Ford's hybrid foray, Toyota has shown no planetary concerns. It is going full throttle ahead with its plan of putting one million hybrids on the road by the end of the decade. Nor is there much hope that it will back-off in the near future given that it has already sunk $2 billion just in hybrid-related research and development, Spinella points out. Ironically Ford and some of the other car makers' exit from the hybrid segment means that Toyota will be able to consolidate its domination in it even more. Thus the only hope of prodding Toyota to get out of the hybrid business would be if its customers jumped off the Prius bandwagon and embraced non-hybrids - even Hummers -- instead. Now here's a catchy slogan for the next Save the Earth campaign: Have you hugged a Hummer today?


What an Electric Vehicle Costs

Post lifted from David Friedman

In an earlier post I mentioned the controversy over GM's EV1 sparked by a new film, with some people arguing that the all electric vehicle was a viable design scrapped by GM for vague but sinister reasons. In my view, the best evidence against that comes not from GM's experience-the facts about the EV1's performance are disputed and it's hard for an outsider to distinguish between startup costs and production costs in order to figure out what a commercial version of the car would have cost-but from the behavior of other auto firms. If a commercially viable electric car could have been produced, it is hard to see why some auto firm wouldn't have produced it-and none did.

We now have a little more evidence. Tesla Motors, a Bay Area startup, has announced that they will be bringing a fully electric vehicle to market in about a year. The relevant facts:

1. Range: 250 miles per charge.
2. Recharge time: 3 1/2 hours with a 240 volt/70 ampere source, longer with ordinary house current.
3. Configuration: Sports car.
4. Price: $85,000-$100,000.
5. Operating cost: 2.6 cents/mile if electricity is 13 cents/kwh.

If gas costs $3/gallon, the per mile cost for a vehicle averaging 25 mpg is 12 cents, so the electric vehicle saves less than ten cents per mile. If we assume a 100,000 mile lifetime, that's less than ten thousand dollars, which doesn't make up for much of the cost difference between the electric car and a conventional vehicle.

The range is sufficient for many people's needs, although not all. But a sports car does not have to carry many passengers or much luggage, leaving more space for batteries. That suggests that a sedan would either be much heavier and more expensive or have a substantially shorter range.

So the evidence suggests that the electric car is not yet viable as a mass market vehicle, although it may be competitive in the expensive sports car niche.

Readers interested in the EV1 controversy may want to revisit the thread I linked to earlier, with particular attention to the posts by Phil Karn, who joined the discussion after my original post. Phil-known to some of us as a party in an important encryption lawsuit-actually owned an EV1, and so was able to provide some first hand evidence from his own experience. He also has an interesting web page on the subject.


The Bush administration's new program to cut harmful pollutants from utilities through a cap-and-trade system will do nearly as much to clean the nation's air as the Clinton administration's effort to make aging power plants install pollution controls when they modernize or expand, a report by an independent scientific panel has concluded. The report from the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, represents the latest effort to assess how best to reduce air pollution estimated to cause as many as 24,000 premature deaths each year. The panel concluded that an earlier Bush plan would have allowed pollution to increase over a dozen years, but it found that the administration's more recent Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) -- which targets emissions from power plants in 22 states and the District of Columbia -- would help clean the air over the next two decades.

The CAIR approach aims to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2025 at the latest, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, through a system that would allow utilities to sell and buy pollution credits as long as industry emissions as a whole stayed below a pre-set cap. The Clinton administration had focused on cutting emissions under the 1970 Clean Air Act through a program called New Source Review (NSR), now discarded, which required aging plants to install new, cleaner technology every time they upgraded facilities.

The Bush administration initially proposed changes to New Source Review that would have allowed power companies to modify their plants by as much as 20 percent of their value without installing new controls, a policy the scientific panel said "would be expected to cause an increase" in both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that would have been "possibly substantial." That plan has largely been struck down by the courts, however, so the scientific panel instead looked at the cap-and-trade rule the administration adopted this spring.

The academy committee's chairman, Charles F. Stevens, a molecular neurobiology professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., said that while the rule would help reduce pollution, "you can't conclude" it would be as uniformly effective as Clinton's approach, because some communities might face serious pollution from aging power plants that chose to buy credits rather than install advanced emission controls. The report also noted that "because of a lack of data and the limitations of current [computer] models," the panel had difficulty predicting the impact of the program on emissions, public health and energy efficiency.

Using an assumption that federal officials would have been able to force 7.5 percent of aging power plants to clean up their operations each year if they had continued with Clinton's approach, Stevens added, NSR would have done as much to clean the air as the cap-and-trade system.

William L. Wehrum, EPA's acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, said that was an "implausible" assumption and added that NSR would only have achieved the same result as the Bush administration's strategy if 98 percent of all power plants complied over the next 20 years. "Any reasonable projection of what NSR is going to accomplish won't come close to what CAIR is going to accomplish," Wehrum said in an interview. The Bush plan "gets significant reductions across the power sector but places greater emphasis on controlling the biggest emitters, which are the places we care about most." Scott Segal, a utilities lobbyist, concurred that the report proved "cap-and-trade programs are really what reduce emissions."

But John Walke, who directs the clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, said the study shows the administration has not adopted sufficiently aggressive curbs on pollution. "This report shows that strong Clean Air Act enforcement with a robust cap-and-trade program will better protect the public from power plant pollution than the Bush administration's path of nonenforcement and weak pollution trading that drags out twenty years," Walke said, adding the administration was offering a "reckless misinterpretation" of the report's conclusions


Gas escaping from ocean floor may drive global warming

Gas escaping from the ocean floor may provide some answers to understanding historical global warming cycles and provide information on current climate changes, according to a team of scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The findings are reported in the July 20 on-line version of the scientific journal, Global Biogeochemical Cycles. Remarkable and unexpected support for this idea occurred when divers and scientists from UC Santa Barbara observed and videotaped a massive blowout of methane from the ocean floor. It happened in an area of gas and oil seepage coming out of small volcanoes in the ocean floor of the Santa Barbara channel -- called Shane Seep -- near an area known as the Coal Oil Point seep field. The blowout sounded like a freight train, according to the divers.

Atmospheric methane is at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is the most abundant organic compound in the atmosphere, according to the study's authors, all from UC Santa Barbara. "Other people have reported this type of methane blowout, but no one has ever checked the numbers until now," said Ira Leifer, lead author and an associate researcher with UCSB's Marine Science Institute. "Ours is the first set of numbers associated with a seep blowout." Leifer was in a research boat on the surface at the time of the blowouts.

Aside from underwater measurements, a nearby meteorological station measured the methane "cloud" that emerged as being approximately 5,000 cubic feet, or equal to the volume of the entire first floor of a two-bedroom house. The research team also had a small plane in place, flown by the California Department of Conservation, shooting video of the event from the air.

Leifer explained that when this type of blowout event occurs, virtually all the gas from the seeps escapes into the atmosphere, unlike the emission of small bubbles from the ocean floor, which partially, or mostly, dissolve in the ocean water. Transporting this methane to the atmosphere affects climate, according to the researchers. The methane blowout that the UCSB team witnessed reached the sea surface 60 feet above in just seven seconds. This was clear because the divers injected green food dye into the rising bubble plume.

Co-author Bruce Luyendyk, professor of marine geophysics and geological sciences, explained that, to understand the significance of this event (which occurred in 2002), the UCSB research team turned to a numerical, bubble-propagation model. With the model, they estimated methane loss to the ocean during the upward travel of the bubble plume. The results showed that for this shallow seep, loss would have been approximately one percent. Virtually all the methane, 99 percent of it, was transported to the atmosphere from this shallow seep during the blowout. Next, the scientists used the model to estimate methane loss for a similar size blowout at much greater depth, 250 meters. Again, the model results showed that almost all the methane would be transported up to the atmosphere.

Over geologic time scales, global climate has cycled between warmer, interglacial periods and cooler, glacial periods. Many aspects of the forces underlying these dramatic changes remain unknown. Looking at past changes is highly relevant to understanding future climate changes, particularly given the large increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere due to historically recent human activities such as burning fossil fuels.

One hypothesis, called the "Clathrate Gun" hypothesis, developed by James Kennett, professor of geological sciences at UCSB, proposes that past shifts from glacial to interglacial periods were caused by a massive decomposition of the marine methane hydrate deposits.

Methane hydrate is a form of water ice that contains a large amount of methane within its crystal structure, called a clathrate hydrate. According to Kennett's hypothesis, climatic destabilization would cause a sharp increase in atmospheric methane -- thereby initiating a feedback cycle of abrupt atmospheric warming. This process may threaten the current climate, according to the researchers. Warmer ocean temperatures from current global climate change is likely to release methane currently trapped in vast hydrate deposits on the continental shelves. However, consumption of methane by microbes in the deep sea prevents methane gas released from hydrates from reaching the ocean surface and affecting the atmosphere.

Bubbles provide a highly efficient mechanism for transporting methane and have been observed rising from many different hydrate deposits around the world. If these bubbles escape singly, most or all of their methane would dissolve into the deep-sea and never reach the atmosphere. If instead, they escape in a dense bubble plume, or in catastrophic blowout plumes, such as the one studied by UCSB researchers, then much of the methane could reach the atmosphere. Blowout seepage could explain how methane from hydrates could reach the atmosphere, abruptly triggering global warming. Thus, these first-ever quantitative measurements of a seep blowout and the results from the numerical model demonstrate a mechanism by which methane released from hydrates can reach the atmosphere. Studies of seabed seep features suggest such events are common in the area of the Coal Oil Point seep field and very likely occur elsewhere.

The authors explain that these results show that an important piece of the global climate puzzle may be explained by understanding bubble-plume processes during blowout events. The next important step is to measure the frequency and magnitude of these events. The UCSB seep group is working toward this goal through the development of a long-term, seep observatory in active seep areas.


The heat is on the scientists

During the past week's heat wave--it hit 100 degrees in New York City Monday--I got thinking, again, of how sad and frustrating it is that the world's greatest scientists cannot gather, discuss the question of global warming, pore over all the data from every angle, study meteorological patterns and temperature histories, and come to a believable conclusion on these questions: Is global warming real or not? If it is real, is it necessarily dangerous? What exactly are the dangers? Is global warming as dangerous as, say, global cooling would be? Are we better off with an Earth that is getting hotter or, what with the modern realities of heating homes and offices, and the world energy crisis, and the need to conserve, does global heating have, in fact, some potential side benefits, and can those benefits be broadened and deepened? Also, if global warning is real, what must--must--the inhabitants of the Earth do to meet its challenges? And then what should they do to meet them?

You would think the world's greatest scientists could do this, in good faith and with complete honesty and a rigorous desire to discover the truth. And yet they can't. Because science too, like other great institutions, is poisoned by politics. Scientists have ideologies. They are politicized. All too many of them could be expected to enter this work not as seekers for truth but agents for a point of view who are eager to use whatever data can be agreed upon to buttress their point of view. And so, in the end, every report from every group of scientists is treated as a political document. And no one knows what to believe. So no consensus on what to do can emerge.

If global warming is real, and if it is new, and if it is caused not by nature and her cycles but man and his rapacity, and if it in fact endangers mankind, scientists will probably one day blame The People for doing nothing. But I think The People will have a greater claim to blame the scientists, for refusing to be honest, for operating in cliques and holding to ideologies. For failing to be trustworthy.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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