Tuesday, November 28, 2023

ROWAN ATKINSON: Our honeymoon with electric vehicles is over so, for now, my advice is to hang on to your old petrol motor

His point about old cars is well taken. These days there is rarely any need to buy a new car. My 2004 Toyota Echo still runs like a watch and has never let me down. It has only ever needed wear and tear items replaced and routine maintenance

I love electric vehicles — and was an early adopter. But increasingly I feel duped.

Sadly, keeping your old petrol car may be better than buying an EV. There are sound environmental reasons not to jump just yet.

Electric motoring is, in theory, a subject about which I should know something. My first university degree was in electrical and electronic engineering, with a subsequent master's in control systems.

Combine this, perhaps surprising, academic pathway with a lifelong passion for the motorcar, and you can see why I was drawn into an early adoption of electric vehicles.

I bought my first electric hybrid 18 years ago and my first pure electric car nine years ago and (notwithstanding our poor electric charging infrastructure) have enjoyed my time with both very much.

Electric vehicles may be a bit soulless, but they're wonderful mechanisms: fast, quiet and, until recently, very cheap to run. But increasingly, I feel a little duped. When you start to drill into the facts, electric motoring doesn't seem to be quite the environmental panacea it is claimed to be.

As you may know, the Government has proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. The problem with the initiative is that it seems to be largely based on conclusions drawn from only one part of a car's operating life: what comes out of the exhaust pipe.

Electric cars, of course, have zero exhaust emissions, which is a welcome development, particularly in respect of the air quality in city centres. But if you zoom out a bit and look at a bigger picture that includes the car's manufacture, the situation is very different.

In advance of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, Volvo released figures claiming that greenhouse gas emissions during production of an electric car are nearly 70 per cent higher than when manufacturing a petrol one.

How so? The problem lies with the lithium-ion batteries fitted currently to nearly all electric vehicles: they're absurdly heavy, huge amounts of energy are required to make them, and they are estimated to last only upwards of ten years.

It seems a perverse choice of hardware with which to lead the automobile's fight against the climate crisis.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of effort is going into finding something better.

New, so-called solid-state batteries are being developed that should charge more quickly and could be about a third of the weight of the current ones — but they are years away from being on sale, by which time, of course, we will have made millions of overweight electric cars with rapidly obsolescing batteries.

Hydrogen is emerging as an interesting alternative fuel, even though we are slow in developing a truly 'green' way of manufacturing it. It can be used in one of two ways. It can power a hydrogen fuel cell (essentially, a kind of battery); the car manufacturer Toyota has poured a lot of money into the development of these.

Such a system weighs half of an equivalent lithium-ion battery and a car can be refuelled with hydrogen at a filling station as fast as with petrol.

If the lithium-ion battery is an imperfect device for electric cars, concerns have been raised over their use in heavy trucks for long distance haulage because of the weight; an alternative is to inject hydrogen into a new kind of piston engine.

If hydrogen wins the race to power trucks — and as a result every filling station stocks it — it could be a popular and accessible choice for cars.

But let's zoom out even further and consider the whole life cycle of an automobile.

The biggest problem we need to address in society's relationship with the car is the 'fast fashion' sales culture that has been the commercial template of the car industry for decades.

Currently, on average we keep our new cars for only three years before selling them on, driven mainly by the ubiquitous three-year leasing model.

This seems an outrageously profligate use of the world's natural resources when you consider what great condition a three-year-old car is in.

When I was a child, any car that was five years old was a bucket of rust and halfway through the gate of the scrapyard. Not any longer. You can now make a car for £15,000 that, with tender loving care, will last for 30 years.

It's sobering to think that if the first owners of new cars just kept them for five years, on average, instead of the current three, then car production and the CO2 emissions associated with it, would be vastly reduced.

Yet we'd be enjoying the same mobility, just driving slightly older cars.

We need also to acknowledge what a great asset we have in the cars that currently exist (there are nearly 1.5 billion of them worldwide).

In terms of manufacture, these cars have paid their environmental dues and, although it is sensible to reduce our reliance on them, it would seem right to look carefully at ways of retaining them while lowering their polluting effect. Fairly obviously, we could use them less.

As an environmentalist once said to me, if you really need a car, buy an old one and use it as little as possible.

A sensible thing to do would be to speed up the development of synthetic fuel, which is already being used in motor racing; it's a product based on two simple notions: one, the environmental problem with a petrol engine is the petrol, not the engine and, two, there's nothing in a barrel of oil that can't be replicated by other means.

Formula One is going to use synthetic fuel from 2026. There are many interpretations of the idea but the German car company Porsche is developing a fuel in Chile using wind to power a process whose main ingredients are water and carbon dioxide.

With more development, it should be usable in all petrol-engine cars, rendering their use virtually CO2-neutral.

Increasingly, I'm feeling that our honeymoon with electric cars is coming to an end, and that's no bad thing: we're realising that a wider range of options need to be explored if we're going to properly address the very serious environmental problems that our use of the motor car has created.

We should keep developing hydrogen, as well as synthetic fuels to save the scrapping of older cars which still have so much to give, while simultaneously promoting a quite different business model for the car industry, in which we keep our new vehicles for longer, acknowledging their amazing but overlooked longevity.

Friends with an environmental conscience often ask me, as a car person, whether they should buy an electric car. I tend to say that if their car is an old diesel and they do a lot of city centre motoring, they should consider a change.

But otherwise, hold fire for now. Electric propulsion will be of real, global environmental benefit one day, but that day has yet to dawn


Federal Energy Efficiency Requirements Are Outdated and Should Be Repealed

Americans have experienced appliance inflation over the past few years, and it could be about to get worse as the Biden administration continues its onslaught of appliance regulations.

While blaming Washington bureaucrats is always a reasonable response, in this case, any problems that they are causing is a result of them exercising the authority granted to them by legislation passed at the height of the 1970’s energy crisis—the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act.

The act gives the Department of Energy authority to regulate nearly everything in a household that uses energy. While it doesn’t require the Department of Energy to continuously impose ever stricter standards, the reality is this is precisely what it does. Worse, this trend has worsened in recent years as the Biden administration freely uses the act to advance its extreme agenda with ever stricter government standards, using climate change as a primary justification.

While the Energy Policy and Conservation Act does grant the secretary of energy broad authority, current law also requires that certain factors, like the effect on cost and competition, the amount of energy saved, and the need for energy conservation in general, be taken into account. Unfortunately, Washington bureaucrats not only routinely ignore these requirements in any meaningful way but choose instead to focus on extraneous alleged benefits like climate change.

This could be expected, perhaps, because the underlying justification for the efficiency regime established by the act has largely dissipated over time. The act was born out of a time of perceived energy scarcity. But today, America has hundreds of years of known energy reserves, and new technology is allowing for new discoveries and more efficient use of existing reserves all the time.

In justifying the policies that act ultimately set in place, President Gerald Ford laid out three broad policy objectives. These included reducing oil imports, ending American vulnerability to economic disruption by foreign suppliers, and developing energy technology and resources to supply a significant share of the free world’s energy needs.

In each case, America has achieved Ford’s objectives.

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act Has Lost Relevancy
In 1975, net imports of crude oil were close to 6 million barrels per day. By 2020, the United States had become a net exporter.

Geopolitical shocks and cartels, specifically the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, which produces about 40% of the world’s crude oil, can still have a near-term impact on American energy prices. However, due to the large amount of energy on global markets, energy disruptions do not present the sort of systemic threat that policymakers feared in the 1970s.

The extent to which the United States economy remains vulnerable is purely a function of energy restriction policies—like Biden’s recent decision to ban energy development in parts of Alaska—and have nothing to do with energy efficiency. Further, American technologies like fracking, the nation’s vast coal resources, and commercial nuclear reactors not only can keep America energy independent but also grow its role as a global supplier of energy.

Further, appliances of all sorts are becoming more efficient because that is what people want. While the consuming public considers many attributes of the purchases they make, including capability and upfront cost, efficiency is clearly something Americans value. The government does not need to compel efficiency; the market demands it.

America Is in an Era of Energy Abundance, Not Scarcity
America has ample energy reserves. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, in 2020, the United States held over 373 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude oil reserves, which would provide the U.S. with over 50 years of supply. The same is true for natural gas. The agency estimated in 2020 that the U.S. held 2,925.8 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas. At current consumption levels, that equates to nearly 100 years of supply.

Further, new discoveries are always occurring that would expand this supply over time, which is demonstrated by the growing availability of unconventional sources like oil shale. According to Energy Information Agency, the U.S. currently holds 195.5 billion barrels of crude oil and 1,712.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in unconventional reserves.


UK: Proposed Zero Emission Mandate part of
‘war on the car’

Net Zero Watch is warning that the new ‘Zero Emission Mandate’ is just the latest in a series of blows that the political establishment has struck at motorists, and says it will not be the last.

The mandate, currently being debated in Parliament, will see car manufacturers fined £15,000 for each car they sell above a prescribed quota, but with the scheme allowing unsold quota to be sold to other companies in the market, the effect will be a huge transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

Motoring journalist James Ruppert says:

“Rich people, who can afford a Tesla, will be heavily subsidised by poor people who can’t. It’s a shameful idea.”

Ruppert’s comments coincide with the publication of his new paper for Net Zero Watch. Entitled The War on the Car, it is a brief history of how the political establishment has tried to force ordinary people out of cars, using a variety of tricks, from low emissions zones, to ever reducing speed limits, to the ongoing attempts to irritate motorists with driver ‘aids’.

Net Zero Watch director Andrew Montford said:

“James Ruppert’s paper shows that the campaign to take away our cars is just part of wider struggles: the attritional war of decarbonisation, and behind it the guerilla campaign to take away our hard-won freedoms. The writing is on the wall.”


Australian government throws more cash at renewables, but taxpayers foot the bill

The idea that Australia can become an energy superpower is impossible to square with taxpayers stumping up billions of dollars to subsidise renewable energy. If renewable energy is really so cheap – the cheapest form of generating electricity, according to embattled Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen – why would the operators need a guaranteed flow of funds from taxpayers? That’s not how markets work.

To be blunt, Australians have been sold a pup when it comes to the energy transition and the benefits that would flow from it. The notion it would be good for the economy, the climate and consumers is disingenuous – and that’s the best you can say. What has been obvious for some time but has dawned on Bowen only recently is that Labor’s grand plan to have 82 per cent of electricity generated by renewable sources by 2030 had become unachievable.

The commissioning of new large-scale renewable energy projects has slowed to a crawl and the rollout of the required new transmission lines is mired in local resistance, escalating costs and delay. The hope of the side – offshore wind turbines – also is looking forlorn.

Shadow Climate Change and Energy Minister Ted O’Brien has… clashed with Chris Bowen after the Labor MP refused to reveal the “true cost” of the expanded Capacity Investment Scheme. The Climate Change and Energy Minister announced the scheme last Thursday which will underwrite 32 gigawatts of new electricity, which More
The real tragedy of this story is the failure to appreciate the complicated features of the electricity grid and how government intervention generally worsens rather than improves outcomes.

In particular, the downside of large proportions of intermittent generation has been vastly underestimated. There is also a wilful ignorance of the vital role played by dispatchable 24/7 generation.

What has emerged is essentially two markets: a day market and a night market. During the day, it’s common for electricity prices to be negative, mainly as a result of the widespread and somewhat unexpected expansion of domestic rooftop solar panels. At night, prices are much higher and it’s when dispatchable power comes to the fore, particularly if the wind is not blowing.

Another important change has been to interest rates. When interest rates were extremely low, the cost of capital to investors was extremely low as well. Now that interest rates have returned to more normal levels, the cost of capital has increased markedly, particularly for renewable energy installations carrying a lot of debt. Add the escalation in the cost of hardware and the shortage of workers, and the result has been an uncongenial backdrop to large-scale renewable energy investment.

This combined with the fact several coal-fired stations are heading towards closure has led to a degree of panic by state energy ministers as well as Bowen. It is surely ironic that the Victorian Labor government, which frequently proclaims its green credentials, is financially supporting the continuation of two brown-coal-fired electricity plants at unknown expense to the taxpayer.

(Note here that coal-fired plants are not a good fit with intermittent energy as they work on the basis of constant spinning. The cost curves of these plants resemble a bath tub: they decline in their early years and rise sharply towards the end of their lives. For instance, it has been estimated that the annual maintenance bill for the Yallourn power station in Victoria is close to $200 million.)

The mistakes made in managing and attempting to transform the east coast grid are too many to list. Mainly driven by politics rather than engineering and economics, the result has been a fiasco.

One example is the planned Marinus Link connecting Tasmania and Victoria. Because of huge cost overruns, the link has been halved and won’t be completed until the next decade. The federal government has agreed to take on a larger share of the cost, relieving the Tasmania government from some of the burden.

We are told six wind farms in Tasmania won’t be viable with this smaller link. But here’s the thing: what made sense was for Tasmania to supply dispatchable power to Victoria to underwrite its renewable energy folly, not to incentivise more renewable energy on the Apple Isle. It’s just one example of woolly, flawed thinking.

So, having come to a clear fork in the road, Bowen has decided the government must direct even more money at renewable energy.

The capacity mechanism known as the Capacity Investment Scheme will be used to spur more investment in renewable energy.

It’s worth describing here what the normal role of capacity mechanisms is. They are used in several places overseas to provide dispatch­able power to grids when intermittent sources of power are unavailable. They are small relative to the size of the grid but involve gas and coal-fired plants being kept on standby.

The owners of these plants are paid to do so as well as for the power they generate if called on. There are several coal-fired plants in Britain, for instance, that are used in case of power shortages.

In what can be described only as an irrational decision, driven particularly by Victoria, our capacity mechanism includes only renewable energy and batteries, specifically barring coal and gas. It makes no sense at all and was driven entirely by ideology.

Bowen is proposing to lift the CIS from 6 gigawatts to 32GW using reverse auctions to underwrite the returns of renewable energy operators, with taxpayers picking up the tab. Where prices are below the strike price, operators will be compensated, but if the prices rise above that level, refunds are payable. The contracts may last for up to 15 years. It’s just another form of government subsidy following on from the Renewable Energy Target.

The key here is that Bowen wants taxpayers to bear the cost year in, year out – total dollar outlays unknown – of this intervention and thereby shield electricity consumers from even higher prices. It’s essentially smoke and mirrors because the costs still have to be borne one way or another. It’s astonishing that Jim Chalmers is going along with this proposal given the pressures the Treasurer faces to manage the budget better lest ongoing inflationary pressures persist.

There is a fair chance that Bowen’s plan B won’t work even though the higher subsidies should induce some additional renewable energy investment. The growing local resistance in the regions and the rapidly rising costs of renewable energy projects are counter forces. It’s why the minister has an equivocal position in respect of gas because open-cycle gas peaking plants are the obvious complement with renewable energy to firm the system.

It also opens the door to the Coalition to make the case for nuclear. It’s a centralised system that can use existing sites and transmission lines. It also provides prized 24/7 power. Other countries are accelerating their investments in nuclear power. We need to take note.


My other blogs. Main ones below

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM )

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://australian-politics.blogspot.com (AUSTRALIAN POLITICS)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)

http://jonjayray.com/blogall.html More blogs


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