Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Driving on sunshine, whoa oh!.."* -- Hymotion, Solera and Veridian Test Solar PHEV Prius

Ontario, Canada-based Hymotion, the conversion kit suppliers for the Toronto PHEV test project, are moving right along. Hymotion have now added a solar panel to one of their converted PHEV Prius cars. Result: up to 14 km of "driving on sunshine" on a sunny summer day!

There is actually a history of such projects in Canada. In 2005, Steve Lapp, an engineer from Kingston, Ontario, had attached a solar roof rack to a "generation 1" (2001) Prius. He reportedly "...achieved an initial 10% fuel efficiency improvement". But "generation 2" (2004 or later) Prius can stay in EV mode longer than "generation 1" models. Therefore, Hymotion (and most competing PHEV conversion projects) have focused on the newer Prius. The fact that Hymotion now has major corporate backing for this idea (from Veridian Corp. and Solera in Durham Region, east of Toronto) shows that the concept is gaining momentum.

Moreover, Hymotion is now part of U.S.-based A123 Systems, who happen to be among battery suppliers being tested for GM's PHEV program. Will we see a solar-powered (or at least solar-augmented) Chevy Volt in the future? Stay tuned!

In the meantime, the Veridian Press Release says that
"The vehicle was recently on show at the Green Living Show drawing interest from [Ontario] Premier [Dalton] McGuinty, and many of the Ministers on hand to kick off the Green Show."
Let's hope that these politicians have finally gotten a clue, and would start promoting these types of technologies as the basis for future automotive policy in Ontario.

* With apologies to Kimberley Rew and Katrina and the Waves, who originally wrote and performed "Walking on Sunshine".

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Canadian Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fall in 2005 - Let's Make Sure It Becomes a Trend, Not a Blip

There was an encouraging story in the Toronto Star today:
"Gloomy forecasts about Canada's efforts to halt global warming brightened yesterday with the release of new figures showing that greenhouse gas emissions dropped slightly between 2004 and 2005, the most recent period for which figures are available.

"According to a national emissions inventory that will be presented to the United Nations tomorrow, an anticipated increase in the gases that contribute to climate change failed to materialize in 2005.

"Instead, Canada's emissions dropped to 747 megatonnes in 2005 from 758 megatonnes in 2004, according to government calculations.

"Overall emissions in 2005 were still 32.7 per cent above the greenhouse gas cuts called for under the Kyoto Protocol by 2012."

Could it be that the Canadian economy can actually turn around and reduce total emissions (not just "emission intensity" per dollar of output) without causing a massive recession -- contrary to Conservative fear-mongering? Might former Ontario Premier Mike Harris deserve a footnote to his otherwise abysmal environmental record for helping with these emission cuts (though at the expense of creating more nuclear waste)? Can Liberal Leader Stephan Dion stop his valiant attempts to defend the Liberals' record on grenhouse gas emissions, and take pride in making Kyoto part of industrial planning in this country?

(UPDATE May 27, 2007, 9:31 AM: LNeumann disagrees with giving the former Harris Conservative Government in Ontario credit for greenhouse gas reductions from coal power generation. She says that Dalton McGuinty's Liberal Government should get credit for actually reducing the use of coal for electricity in Ontario since the 2003 election. The McGuinty Government says that

"From 2003 to 2005... progress includes:

"* Closing the single-largest contributor to smog in the GTA — the Lakeview Generating Station in Mississauga — in April 2005.

"* Reducing total coal-fired electricity generation in Ontario from 36.2 terawatt-hours to 30.1 terawatt-hours, a drop of 17 per cent.

"* Reducing carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, by 15 per cent.

"* Reducing sulphur dioxide emissions by 28 per cent.

"* Reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by 34 per cent."

See also their News Release, bringing the data up to 2006.)

Unfortunately for politicians of all stripes, one year does not make a trend. As the Toronto Star article itself points out,
"There have [sic.] also been modest declines in emissions in 1991 and 2001 that proved to be just one-year anomalies."
Getting 2006 Canada-wide data ASAP, to compare with the 2005 numbers, would be great.

In any event, we need sustained, multi-year reductions in total emissions to reach or even come close to our Kyoto obligations. The latest Baird scheme does not even aim to comply with Kyoto; in fact, his scheme would not guarantee any reductions in total emissions (see the stories under the "Baird" label in this blog for more details).

(Update May 28, 2007, 1:03 AM: Unfortunately, Dalton McGuinty is not really getting it either. First came the delay in shutting down Ontario's remaining coal power stations. Next was an emissions-trading proposal to Northeastern U.S. jurisdictions where Ontario would have tried to claim credit for emissions cuts due to decisions predating the agreement (i.e. cuts that would have happened anyway). Recently another McGuinty's "cap and trade" emission proposal failed to get support even from Quebec, never mind Alberta. Now there's an agreement with California to follow their standards for carbon content in fuels -- but not their standard for efficient cars.

How many more delays, half-measures, creative accounting exercises and ineffectual proposals would it take before the Ontario Government realizes that it's time to get serious? That would mean doing the right thing consistently, regardless of who else may come on board.)

Toronto Clues In, Plugs In Hybrids

The City of Toronto is showing real leadership in helping to test plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). "Regular" hybrid cars will be converted to PHEV by
Hymotion and tested under different use patterns.

How it works: you plug in a PHEV for charging at night just like a pure electric vehicle (EV) -- or like your cell phone. A Hymotion converted Prius can currently go on pure electric drive for 35-50 km, depending on how much air-conditioning is used (see Q8 in the Hymotion FAQ). Those are typical commuting distances for many people. But PHEVs can also switch to hybrid gas/electric for longer trips, becoming "regular" hybrids.

Here are the PHEV advantages:
  • While you keep your PHEV in EV mode, you use 0 L per 100 km! For these trips:
    • You'd cut carbon emissions from driving by an estimated 40% if you use conventional Ontario electricity today -- or 100% if you're on renewable Bullfrog Power. ("A car running on 100% green electricity: priceless!")
    • You'd be "free at last" from rising gasoline prices, the oil companies, OPEC, tar sands, biofuel debates, oil spills, oil-related human rights abuses, and oil wars.
  • For trips combining EV and hybrid mode, you'd still get over 100 MPG (US) or under 2.35 L/100 km in a PHEV car.
    • The added range and ability to refuel at a regular gas station removes one of the usual objections to pure EVs: the fear of running out of battery and being unable to recharge quickly.
  • For very long car trips, you'd get something like "regular" hybrid mileage. For example, the 2007 Prius is rated in Canada at 4.0 L/100 km (city) / 4.2 L/100 km (highway) or 71 MPG (city) / 67 MPG (highway) - as usual, "your mileage may vary".
The conversion kits for the Toronto program are made by Hymotion. It's a (formerly) Canadian-owned company, located just north of Toronto, that was recently acquired by U.S.-based A123 Systems. Right now, PHEV car conversions use additional battery packs and software modifications to "regular" hybrids. GM's Chevy Volt would be built on a similar concept from the ground up, although delivery would not be before 2010, depending on battery technology. Other PHEVs under development or testing include Daimler Chrysler Sprinter PHEV delivery vans, modified Cleanova EVs, and probably a PHEV (Prius?) made directly by Toyota.

PHEV technology is not perfect, but many of the down-sides would be temporary, or may be alleviated:
  • Cost: larger batteries can be expensive. Hymotion projects a conversion cost of US $ 9,500 (see Q3 of their FAQ) -- on top of the cost of a 2004 or newer Prius. GM is projecting their Volt to be priced under US $30,000. That's more than a typical small car or even a regular Prius, but less than any highway-capable pure EV available today. Eventually, mass-production and/or kaizen (continuous improvement) may drive battery costs down. (That's already happening for "regular" hybrid technology like the one used in the Prius).
  • Uphill struggle: for long uphill drives in "regular" hybrid mode, the extra weight of the large battery pack might offset the initial advantage of the EV mode. Regenerative breaking on the downhill drive would recapture some of the lost energy (a PHEV is not a perpetual motion machine :-)
  • Cold emissions: catalytic converters require a certain minimum temperature to work properly in cutting down smog-forming gases. But after an extended EV-only drive, a PHEV would switch on the gasoline engine / exhaust system without warm-up. This can produce more emissions (at least initially) than a "regular" hybrid, which uses the gasoline engine frequently. Still, even "regular" hybrids have to takes other measures to heat the catalytic converter. Some people have suggested pre-heating the catalytic converter in a PHEV with an electric heater (see the comments below this Green Car Congress post). This which would use up some battery reserves to improve emissions performance on longer trips.
  • Still Cars: "Regular" hybrids, pure EVs and PHEVs are still cars. They don't offer the health benefits of walking or cycling, or the sociability of public transit. PHEVs would also not encourage higher-density development that would make walking and public transit easier (more in my previous blog post). Having said this, PHEV cars would be a great transitional technology for urban and suburban areas, and may be a longer-term technology for rural areas. Carpooling in a PHEV would be greener and more social than driving one alone. PHEV buses would better yet.
On balance, by supporting emerging PHEV technology, the City of Toronto is showing real leadership and imagination. One day, higher levels of government in Canada and elsewhere will catch on. Until then, "Plug In, Toronto!"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Releasing information "anti-democratic" says former bureaucrat

This quote in this Toronto Star story deserves some sort of "dumb quote of the year" award:

Canada's former top bureaucrat, Mel Cappe, said the environment minister's deputy minister deserved a medal for not accepting leaks in his department. Employees, contract or otherwise, who have access to secret information sign confidentiality agreements.

"It violates the principles of responsible democracy and good governance," said Cappe, former clerk of the Privy Council. "To allow anyone to release information is anti-democratic and it should be punished."

Mr. Cappe has a strange idea of what democracy is!

To me, the arrest of Mr. Monaghan is yet another example of Tory intimidation tactics, similar to what they did last year, when they tried to prevent a government employee from attending his own book signing.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Monbiot: Giving Up On Two Degrees

Are we abandoning our target of preventing "dangerous climate change"? George Monbiot's take on carbon stabilization targets of the IPCC, Britain, and the EU:

The rich nations seeking to cut climate change have this in common: they lie. You won’t find this statement in the draft of the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was leaked to the Guardian last week. But as soon as you understand the numbers, the words form before your eyes. The governments making genuine efforts to tackle global warming are using figures they know to be false.

The British government, the European Union and the United Nations all claim to be trying to prevent “dangerous” climate change. Any level of climate change is dangerous for someone, but there is a broad consensus about what this word means: two degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels. It is dangerous because of its direct impacts on people and places (it could, for example, trigger the irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet(1)and the collapse of the Amazon rainforest(2)) and because it is likely to stimulate further warming, as it encourages the world’s natural systems to start releasing greenhouse gases.

The aim of preventing more than 2°C of warming has been adopted overtly by the UN(3) and the European Union(4) and implicitly by the British, German and Swedish governments. All of them say they are hoping to confine the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to a level which would prevent 2°C from being reached. And all of them know that they have set the wrong targets, based on outdated science. Fearful of the political implications, they have failed to adjust to the levels the new research demands.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Economics experts question Tory environmental approach

Gotta love this - even the same economists that Baird used to help him trash Kyoto are now saying they're skeptical of Baird's own plan:

Bernard and others were skeptical about the government's plan, which requires industry to reduce the intensity of their emissions instead of making absolute reductions. Opposition parties and environmentalists have criticized the intensity approach, favoured by the Bush administration in the U.S., since companies with increasing emissions can still meet the targets if their pollution levels are rising more slowly than their overall rate of growth.

"Basically, the intensity cap and trade program for large final emitters looks like it has far too many loopholes (so-called flexibility provisions) to cause much in the way of GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions in Canada," Mark Jaccard, a professor at B.C.'s Simon Fraser University's school of resource and environmental management, said in an e-mail. "It sounds tough to talk about six per cent emissions-intensity reductions per year, and then two per cent per year, but how much of that will actually be 'real emissions reductions?' My preliminary sense is 'not a lot.'"

With the economists now deserting him, soon Baird's only friend will be Buzz Hargrove. (Talk about your strange bedfellows!)