A mockery of Drawdown

10 02 2018

Is it Possible for Everyone to Live a Good Life within our Planet’s Limits?

By Dan O’Neill, originally published by The Conversation

Imagine a country that met the basic needs of its citizens – one where everyone could expect to live a long, healthy, happy and prosperous life. Now imagine that same country was able to do this while using natural resources at a level that would be sustainable even if every other country in the world did the same.

Such a country does not exist. Nowhere in the world even comes close. In fact, if everyone on Earth were to lead a good life within our planet’s sustainability limits, the level of resources used to meet basic needs would have to be reduced by a factor of two to six times.

These are the sobering findings of research that my colleagues and I have carried out, recently published in the journal Nature Sustainability. In our work, we quantified the national resource use associated with meeting basic needs for a large number of countries, and compared this to what is globally sustainable. We analysed the relationships between seven indicators of national environmental pressure (relative to environmental limits) and 11 indicators of social performance (relative to the requirements for a good life) for over 150 countries.

The thresholds we chose to represent a “good life” are far from extravagant – a life satisfaction rating of 6.5 out of 10, living 65 years in good health, the elimination of poverty below the US$1.90 a day line, and so on.

Nevertheless, we found that the universal achievement of these goals could push humanity past multiple environmental limits. CO₂ emissions are the toughest limit to stay within, while fresh water use is the easiest (ignoring issues of local water scarcity). Physical needs such as nutrition and sanitation could likely be met for seven billion people, but more aspirational goals, including secondary education and high life satisfaction, could require a level of resource use that is two to six times the sustainable level.

Although wealthy nations like the US and UK satisfy the basic needs of their citizens, they do so at a level of resource use that is far beyond what is globally sustainable. In contrast, countries that are using resources at a sustainable level, such as Sri Lanka, fail to meet the basic needs of their people. Worryingly, the more social thresholds that a country achieves, the more biophysical boundaries it tends to transgress.

Measures of a ‘good life’ vs overuse of resources for different countries (scaled by population). Ideally, countries would be located in the top-left corner. O’Neill et al, Author provided

No country currently achieves all 11 social thresholds without also exceeding multiple biophysical boundaries. The closest thing we found to an exception was Vietnam, which achieves six of the 11 social thresholds, while only transgressing one of the seven biophysical boundaries (CO₂ emissions).

Vietnam has come closest to balancing sustainability with a good life, but still falls short in some areas. O’Neill et alAuthor provided

To help communicate the scale of the challenge, we have created an interactive website, which shows the environmental and social performance of all countries. It also allows you to change the values that we chose for a “good life”, and see how these values would affect global sustainability.

Time to rethink ‘sustainable development’

Our work builds on previous research led by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which identified nine “planetary boundaries” that – if persistently exceeded – could lead to catastrophic change. The social indicators are closely linked to the high-level objectives from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. A framework combining both planetary boundaries and social thresholds was proposed by economist Kate Raworth, and is described in her recent book Doughnut Economics (where the “doughnut” refers to the shape of the country plots, such as the one above for Vietnam).

Our findings, which show how countries are doing in comparison to Raworth’s framework, present a serious challenge to the “business-as-usual” approach to sustainable development. They suggest that some of the Sustainable Development Goals, such as combating climate change, could be undermined by the pursuit of others, particularly those focused on growth or high levels of human well-being.

Interestingly, the relationship between resource use and social performance is almost always a curve with diminishing returns. This curve has a “turning point”, after which using even more resources adds almost nothing to human well-being. Wealthy nations, including the US and UK, are well past the turning point, which means they could substantially reduce the amount of carbon emitted or materials consumed with no loss of well-being. This would in turn free up ecological space for many poorer countries, where an increase in resource use would contribute much more to a good life.

If all seven billion or more people are to live well within the limits of our planet, then radical changes are required. At the very least, these include dramatically reducing income inequality and switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy as quickly as possible. But, most importantly, wealthy nations such as the US and UK must move beyond the pursuit of economic growth, which is no longer improving people’s lives in these countries, but is pushing humanity ever closer towards environmental disaster.

 

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The Real Lesson of the Energiewende is that the German Economy uses Too Much Energy

6 02 2018

For a long time Germany’s attempt to grapple with atomic power, climate change and energy issues through its so called “Energiewende” (Energy Transformation) has been inspirational to many green activists and seen as a process to learn from. The priority given to “clean energy”, to wind and solar in its electrical grid, incentivised by feed in tariffs and favourable prices has taken wind and solar added together to 3.5 % of its energy supply and 16 % of its electrical power generation.

However, there is a long way to go to 100% green energy. 58% of power generation is still by fossil fuels and fossil fuels are still predominant in 78% of energy consumption that is not electrical, for example for transport fuels and non electrical space heating.

No problem, just a matter of time? A lot of activists probably think this but sadly it is not likely to be true. Yes, there are things to learn from Germany’s attempt to make an Energy Transformation. Unfortunately these things are that it will not be easy and it will probably not be possible at all without a considerable reduction in overall energy consumption and/or major new technological breakthroughs in energy storage. Such breakthroughs currently do not look very likely and/or would involve very high costs. Such costs would cripple the German economy in its current form.

This anyway is the conclusion that I draw from a study by one of Germany’s leading economists, Hans Werner Sinn, that appeared in the European Economics Journal, in the summer of 2017. I was alerted to his article, published in English, by a weblink which connected to a lecture that Sinn gave at Munich University just before Xmas. The lecture, in German, contains much the same material as the article with one or two small differences.

Before I go further I think it important to say that Sinn is not a climate denier. He acknowledges climate change as real and in need of addressing. It is important to be clear that the issue of whether climate change is real is completely independent from how easy or difficult or costly it will be to develop a renewable energy system. There are no guarantees that just because humanity has a serious problem there are easy and cheap engineering solutions. In any case Sinn does not address these issues – he is addressing the practicalities and limits of the Energiewende.

Whether in German or English the data he presents is bad news because it is about the difficulty of storing electricity for the German economy at its current scale of energy and electricity use – and storing energy is going to be necessary to further expand renewable generation without having fossil fuel based generation to back it up.

This is because under current conditions the coal and gas generators in Germany are necessary complements to balance the volatility of wind and solar and the variable nature of electricity demand. When the wind is not blowing and the sun not shining – the coal and/or gas generation must step in to provide the power. Or perhaps there is wind and solar power but not enough as the demand for power rises. It is the fossil fuel generators that must step in and provide the buffer between them and if fossil fuel generated electricity is going to be driven out then some other means must be found to buffer between fluctuating supply and demand. There is a missing technology needed to make this possible – electrical storage.

What gives Sinn’s article and lecture credibility is that they are based on real world intermittent data for wind and solar power generation in Germany in 2014 as well as data from an EU research project called ESTORAGE. ESTORAGE set out to find Western Europe’s potential for pumped hydro power – by finding all the locations where it could conceivably be developed along with how much electricity could be stored altogether.

The use of real world data from Germany in 2014 completes the picture because it enables Sinn to show how much storage is needed over a year to balance the grid at different levels of penetration by renewables. This volume is then compared to what is available in potential pumped hydro sites.

Pumped hydro is a way of storing electric power by using surplus electricity to pump water uphill into a storage lake, that can then be released through turbines downhill later, when electric power is wanted. Its significance is that it is by far the cheapest and easiest way of storing electric power on a grid scale. The findings of the ESTORAGE project therefore enables Sinn to explore if there is enough pumped storage capacity in Germany, in Germany and Norway and in an energy union between Germany, Norway, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland. The figures are sobering – firstly there is no way that Germany has enough undeveloped new sites where it could develop sufficient pumped hydro storage on its own territory to balance its grid without fossil fuel generation doing buffering. The furthest it can get in the direction of an entirely green electricity supply is 49% of power generation by renewables, if it is in an alliance with 4 other countries which have the best pumped storage options – assuming they are prepared to develop these options.

Sinn does consider other storage methods in his lecture but considers them too expensive and impractical for storing electric power – for example lithium ion batteries are practical up to a point for powering electrical cars but it would require the batteries of 524 million BMW electric vehicles to balance the German grid and the cost of storing a kilo watt hour in a lithium battery is 50 times the cost of storing a kilo watt hour using pumped hydro. Sinn also considers storing energy by using surplus electricity to generate hydrogen or methane but again considers them too expensive particularly because of the “round trip” power conversion losses from power to methane and back to power (only a quarter of the power left) and with hydrogen only a half of the power left. (Added to which hydrogen is a very corrosive stuff to work with.) This is a thermodynamic problem first studied by Carnot for which there is no pat solution.

There is also the option of shifting demand. The problem with wind and solar is that what is generated must be made to match what is demanded – but can this done by shifting demand around so that, for example, the washing machine is switched on when the wind is blowing? To explore the magnitude of what is possible Sinn again uses real world data. He calculates how much buffering storage could be reduced by shifting demand around during the course of each day. He also calculates how much storage could be reduced by shifting demand during the course of a week and shifting demand during each month. His results are disappointing. Shifting demand during a month it is only possible to reduce the need for energy storage by 11%. This is because energy storage is mostly needed between seasons and the amount of storage required would be astronomically expensive to achieve without pumped hydro. Switching the washing machine on when the wind is blowing is one thing – you cannot wait till summer to switch a heater on in winter when there is no wind and it’s the middle of a cold night.

There are in fact three ways of balancing a grid rendered unstable by intermittent renewables. One is a double structure where fossil fuel generation balances the grid but we want to go beyond that. Another is storage which we have seen is expensive with not enough options – but what about just continuing to expand wind and solar capacity – more installations at each place and over a wider area. This is the strategy of “over extension”. If its not windy or sunny everywhere it will be somewhere so one just has to have enough kit there to capture enough of the wind and/or the sun.

In fact Sinn considers this option too. He has a “thought experiment” in which a greater and greater percentage of the German grid is supplied by renewables and a smaller and smaller % of electricity is balanced by fossil fuel generation. At 89% wind and solar generation the German grid would in fact be 100% green energy since 11% would be electricity from hydro power and through burning biomass. (He ignores those who question whether biomass is really “renewable”). But at this point of 89% wind and solar the average efficiency of wind and solar generation would be 39% and the marginal efficiency would be 6%. Put in another way 61% of all electricity would on average have to be dumped or curtailed because there would be too much power for the demand. To say the marginal efficiency is 6% means that to extend renewable energy by 1% of the overall capacity at this point you would need to dump or curtail 94% of the extra generated electricity.

I hope this is clear – you can extend wind and solar more and more but in order to have power all the time, including those times when there is not a lot you need to develop a capacity that, in the face of intermittent wind and solar, is most of the time oversupplying.

Any way you look at it you have a lot of cost.

Now to my own comments. What Sinn does not explore is if the German energy demand were only half its current size or even smaller. His figures suggests that renewables can maximally supply a balanced grid for only half the current power supply in the 5 country association. But what if only half the energy were needed?

I do not think that Hans Werner Sinn is an exponent of degrowth…far from it….but that is what we should be looking at.

The aim is not unreal or unrealisable if we start thinking about “energy sufficiency” (rather than energy efficiency). In a recent article titled “How Much Energy do we Need” in Low Technology Magazine Kris de Decker explores the many opportunities for reducing energy consumption once we adopt a sufficiency approach. He writes

“In principle, public service delivery could bring economies of scale and thus reduce the energy involved in providing many household services: public transport, public bathing houses, community kitchens, laundrettes, libraries, internet cafés, public telephone boxes, and home delivery services are just some examples.

Combining sufficiency with efficiency measures, German researchers calculated that the typical electricity use of a two-person household could be lowered by 75%, without reverting to drastic lifestyle changes such as washing clothes by hand or generating power with exercise machines. Although this only concerns a part of total energy demand, reducing electricity use in the household also leads to reductions in energy use for manufacturing and transportation.

If we assume that similar reductions are possible in other domains, then the German households considered here could do with roughly 800 kgoe per capita per year, four times below the average energy use per head in Europe. This suggests that a modern life is compatible with much lower energy demand, at least when we assume that a reduction of 75% in energy use would be enough to stay within the carrying capacity of the planet.”

Suddenly we are back in the realms of practicality IF, that is, it is politically practical to adopt a sufficiency agenda – but perhaps that is what will have to happen anyway as the decline of the oil and gas industry accelerates.

In conclusion. It looks very as much as if before “over developed” countries like Germany can hope to develop an all-renewables power system, let alone an all-renewables based energy system including non-electric energy uses, it will have to dramatically reduce its power consumption. Even though studies based on energy sufficiency show that most people could probably live a comfortable enough life the changes in economic organisation and thinking would or will have to be massive for that to happen. I therefore doubt that this is going to happen as a result of well-meaning policy intiatives any time soon. The inertia will in all probability be too great.

That said countries like Germany are not just under pressure to change their energy system because of climate change – Germany and other countries too must respond to the global trend to depletion of fossil energy sources and the rising cost of extracting them. While it is true that renewable energy together with energy storage would be expensive if attempted above a limited scale, it will be expensive in the future to extract fossil fuels too. As we reach the limits to growth we are probably looking at economic contraction anyway- and no doubt a good deal of political turmoil because politicians and the German (and world) public will be disorientated and not really understand that is happening.

There is an irony here. The best chance of developing grids adapted to renewables will probably be in countries where electricity demand and energy use is currently very low and where it can develop “organically” without having first to go backwards in a retreat from “overdevelopment” before it can again “go forward” in conditions of much depleted resource availability.

If humanity survives the next few decades of turmoil – and it is a big IF given the collective psychosis likely in heavily armed countries thrown into economic contraction – IF… then the best chance for technologies to evolve into 100% renewables-based systems are in what are today regarded as poor countries. Then the last would be first and the first last. That at least is something to hope for.

Sources

Hans Werner Sinn in European Economic Review “Buffering Volatility. A study on the limits of Germany’s energy revolution” – on his website at http://www.hanswernersinn.de/dcs/2017%20Buffering%20Volatility%20EER%2099%202017.pdf
Hans Werner Sinn “Wie viel Zappelstrom verträgt das Netz? Bemerkungen zur deutschen Energiewende” Lecture in German for the IFO institute at the University of Munich 18.12.2017
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3397&v=ZzwCpRdhsXk
Kris de Decker in Low technology magazine – “How Much Energy do we Need?”
http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2018/01/how-much-energy-do-we-need.html

Featured image: A. Source: https://www.freeimages.com/photo/autobahn-1441758





‘Eat Less Meat’ Ignores the Role of Animals in the Ecosystem

27 01 2018

Lifted from Civil Eats…… it’s fortunately what we were taught at the Small Farm Planning course, and it’s mercifully slowly catching on. My neighbour’s cows are currently on my land, building soil and reducing fire danger all at the same time.

Given the concerns over resource-intensive industrial meat production, you’d think the resounding message would be, “don’t buy cheap meat, buy good meat.”

Instead, a rule of thumb that has emerged in environmentalists’ circles is simply “eat less meat.” This statement frames meat as an indulgence rather than 1) the end result of an essential and timeless ecological process (the biological breakdown of vegetation, which feeds the soil and removes dead grass so that new vegetation can grow) and 2) a fulcrum in the way land across the world is managed or mismanaged.

As a grazier and land manager, I’m part of a growing group of people who have committed our lives to restoring the health of environments directly, through exquisitely precise grazing on sensitive land, and who depend on the support of our communities to do this work.

“Eat less meat” is a well-intended caveat amongst woke environmentalists (a group who is, after all, my cohort) but it has also become a primary barrier to me and others like me doing our work. And it’s hard to not take that personally. Because what could be more personal than the health of my watershed and the kingdoms that inhabit it? If these things aren’t personal to you, we have a bigger problem.

Our work goes like this: We memorize every nook and cranny of a piece of land like a lover’s body. We study how water flows across it and what grasses grow where. We plant trees where we’ve seen them grow before and could grow again. We spend unpaid hours moving animals exactly where they need to go to knock down encroaching brush on long-neglected land. We fence out bird nests. We leave areas ungrazed for a season—and can calculate the cost to the tune of hundreds of dollars—because we know in our throats, our chests, our bellies, and our bones (that’s where we feel it) that it needs another season to grow before grazing would be helpful. We get knocked down, kicked, cut up and cut open; we don’t just risk injury but accept its inevitability. We memorize the names of species that used to grow or live here but have been lost. We love the land and its inhabitants so much that we’re willing to work for next to nothing.

But martyrdom isn’t very becoming, and you can’t milk a dry cow; so like everyone else, graziers have to make money. Until environmentalists actually really put their money where their mouth is and pay me and others to graze land right without meat as the chief goal, we have to sell the surplus from our herds (the flesh of some of the animals) in order to be able to afford to feed ourselves.

Believe me, I wish I were a photosynthesizing autotroph who could get my nourishment directly from the sun.

Not all grazing is created equal. This is the essence of what gets missed in discussions about the impact of livestock agriculture on our local ecosystems and global climate. Decades of mismanagement has left a tough legacy for those of us grazing with restorative goals to overcome. But when animals are managed according to nature’s schedule, beautiful changes can happen fast.

Some of the year I graze the animals in tight bunches to lay down old grass to feed the soil. Other times, I’m herding them fast across the property to stimulate grass plants to grow denser and healthier while they pump carbon deep into the soil food web. I can stop erosion around streams based on how I move these big animals, and stabilize vulnerable hillsides through careful decision-making. For me and many like me, grazing is our art form—it’s our best tool for breathing new life into neglected land.

“Eat less meat” is about mitigating damage, and it misses the opportunity to tell people that there’s a way to actually benefit their planet. Industrially produced meat is unquestionably bad for the environment, and for animals. But perpetuating the myth that all meat is the same means that the potential benefits of responsibly raised meat never get a sufficient foothold. By telling only half the story, we’re perpetuating the problem because we never bother to mention the solution.

 

As an aside, few environmentalists who are opposed to grazing animals and eating their flesh have demonstrated either the degree of embodied affection, personal risk, and deep practice or the knowledge of grassland dynamics, plant succession, and wildlife movement that I’ve seen among the graziers in my life. So I urge those who care about the meat industry’s impact on the environment to bring more curiosity and humility to the discussion.

When we say “eat less meat” and end it there, we miss an opportunity to equip eaters with the means of sourcing protein that will not only nourish them but restore their home ecosystems. And behind every few hundred acres of land that goes poorly managed due to consumer miseducation is a land steward who can’t do their work.

Appetite is energy. Rather than try to halt the tide of appetite for meat by discouraging its consumption outright, a better way to steward that energy would be to concentrate on where it would it can do the most good. In doing so, we’re not just improving our environment, we’re widening the demand for graziers who can produce meat and serve as ecological service providers.

So don’t “eat less meat.” Eat meat from people whose hands you can shake and whose ranches you can visit. Eat as much of that as you can afford, because that stuff comes from extensive production systems that impact hundreds and thousands of acres. Sourcing your protein from places you can account for means you can verify that their pastures are also habitat for foxes, badgers, burrowing owls, and bears—that you are keeping land wild and free. As I see it, beef raised in its environs beats a bean field any day as an ecologically just source of protein.

This type of meat isn’t cheap—and you might find that you value it differently and stop taking it for granted. The end result may very well be that far less meat is consumed overall, at least for a while. But the quantity doesn’t matter to me—what matters is what that animal did in its life on earth.

We have to pay for the world we want to live in. This means consuming the flesh of other sentient animals may damn well require a line-item on our budgets, alongside “eating out” and “entertainment.” Maybe it’s time we socialized ourselves and others to budget for environmental activism, and use that money to buy meat produced by the soil-building, grassland-loving graziers in our communities.

Photos courtesy of Ariel Greenwood.





The conundrum of civilisation…..

4 01 2018

KIM HILL: WHAT’S WRONG WITH RENEWABLE ENERGY?

By Kim Hill / Deep Green Resistance Australia

 

Ten things environmentalists need to know about renewable energy:

1.    Solar panels and wind turbines aren’t made out of nothing. They are made out of metals, plastics, chemicals. These products have been mined out of the ground, transported, processed, manufactured. Each stage leaves behind a trail of devastation: habitat destruction, water contamination, colonization, toxic waste, slave labour, greenhouse gas emissions, wars, and corporate profits. Renewables can never replace fossil fuel infrastructure, as they are entirely dependent on it for their existence.

2.    The majority of electricity that is generated by renewables is used in manufacturing, mining, and other industries that are destroying the planet. Even if the generation of electricity were harmless, the consumption certainly isn’t. Every electrical device, in the process of production, leaves behind the same trail of devastation. Living communities—forests, rivers, oceans—become dead commodities.

3.    The aim of converting from conventional power generation to renewables is to maintain the very system that is killing the living world, killing us all, at a rate of 200 species per day. Taking carbon emissions out of the equation doesn’t make it sustainable. This system needs not to be sustained, but stopped.

4.    Humans, and all living beings, get our energy from plants and animals. Only the industrial system needs electricity to survive, and food and habitat for everyone are being sacrificed to feed it. Farmland and forests are being taken over, not just by the infrastructure itself, but by the mines, processing and waste dumping that it entails. Ensuring energy security for industry requires undermining energy security for living beings (that’s us).

5.    Wind turbines and solar panels generate little, if any, net energy (energy returned on energy invested). The amount of energy used in the mining, manufacturing, research and development, transport, installation, maintenance and disposal of these technologies is almost as much—or in some cases more than—they ever produce. Renewables have been described as a laundering scheme: dirty energy goes in, clean energy comes out. (Although this is really beside the point, as no matter how much energy they generate, it doesn’t justify the destruction of the living world.)

6.    Renewable energy subsidies take taxpayer money and give it directly to corporations. Investing in renewables is highly profitable. General Electric, BP, Samsung, and Mitsubishi all profit from renewables, and invest these profits in their other business activities. When environmentalists accept the word of corporations on what is good for the environment, something has gone seriously wrong.

7.    More renewables doesn’t mean less conventional power, or less carbon emissions. It just means more power is being generated overall. Very few coal and gas plants have been taken off line as a result of renewables.

8.    Only 20% of energy used globally is in the form of electricity. The rest is oil and gas. Even if all the world’s electricity could be produced without carbon emissions (which it can’t), it would only reduce total emissions by 20%. And even that would have little impact, as the amount of energy being used globally is increasing exponentially.

9.    Solar panels and wind turbines last around 20-30 years, then need to be disposed of and replaced. The production process, of extracting, polluting, and exploiting, is not something that happens once, but is continuous and expanding.

10.    The emissions reductions that renewables intend to achieve could be easily accomplished by improving the efficiency of existing coal plants, at a much lower cost. This shows that the whole renewables industry is nothing but an exercise in profiteering with no benefits for anyone other than the investors.
Further Reading:

http://theenergycollective.com/gail-tverberg/330446/ten-reasons-intermittent-renewables-wind-and-solar-pv-are-problem

http://thebulletin.org/myth-renewable-energy

http://docs.wind-watch.org/ProblemWithWind.pdf

Zehner, Ozzie, Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism, http://www.greenillusions.org/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1350811/In-China-true-cost-Britains-clean-green-wind-power-experiment-Pollution-disastrous-scale.html#ixzz32e4D227e

 

Originally published on Stories of Creative Ecology





World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice 

22 12 2017

THIS has been so ignored by the media that I have not seen it before now…….. You would think that 15,364 signatures from some of the world’s best scientists would draw attention, but it did not.  And you wonder why I am such a cynic…….?
Share widely……..
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BioScience, Volume 67, Issue 12, 1 December 2017, Pages 1026–1028
Published: 13 November 2017

Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” (see supplemental file S1). These concerned professionals called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.” In their manifesto, they showed that humans were on a collision course with the natural world. They expressed concern about current, impending, or potential damage on planet Earth involving ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth. They proclaimed that fundamental changes were urgently needed to avoid the consequences our present course would bring.

The authors of the 1992 declaration feared that humanity was pushing Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life. They described how we are fast approaching many of the limits of what the ­biosphere can tolerate ­without ­substantial and irreversible harm. The scientists pleaded that we stabilize the human population, describing how our large numbers—swelled by another 2 billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase—exert stresses on Earth that can overwhelm other efforts to realize a sustainable future (Crist et al. 2017). They implored that we cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and phase out fossil fuels, reduce deforestation, and reverse the trend of collapsing biodiversity.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse (figure 1file S1). Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels (Hansen et al. 2013), deforestation (Keenan et al. 2015), and agricultural production—particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption (Ripple et al. 2014). Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.

Figure 1.

Trends over time for environmental issues identified in the 1992 scientists’ warning to humanity. The years before and after the 1992 scientists’ warning are shown as gray and black lines, respectively. Panel (a) shows emissions of halogen source gases, which deplete stratospheric ozone, assuming a constant natural emission rate of 0.11 Mt CFC-11-equivalent per year. In panel (c), marine catch has been going down since the mid-1990s, but at the same time, fishing effort has been going up (supplemental file S1). The vertebrate abundance index in panel (f) has been adjusted for taxonomic and geographic bias but incorporates relatively little data from developing countries, where there are the fewest studies; between 1970 and 2012, vertebrates declined by 58 percent, with freshwater, marine, and terrestrial populations declining by 81, 36, and 35 percent, respectively (file S1). Five-year means are shown in panel (h). In panel (i), ruminant livestock consist of domestic cattle, sheep, goats, and buffaloes. Note that y-axes do not start at zero, and it is important to inspect the data range when interpreting each graph. Percentage change, since 1992, for the variables in each panel are as follows: (a) –68.1%; (b) –26.1%; (c) –6.4%; (d) +75.3%; (e) –2.8%; (f) –28.9%; (g) +62.1%; (h) +167.6%; and (i) humans: +35.5%, ruminant livestock: +20.5%. Additional descriptions of the variables and trends, as well as sources for figure 1, are included in file S1.

Humanity is now being given a second notice, as illustrated by these alarming trends (figure 1). We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats (Crist et al. 2017). By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.

As most political leaders respond to pressure, scientists, media influencers, and lay citizens must insist that their governments take immediate action as a moral imperative to current and future generations of human and other life. With a groundswell of organized grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing. It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita ­consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and other resources.

The rapid global decline in ozone-depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively. We have also made advancements in reducing extreme poverty and hunger (www.worldbank.org). Other notable progress (which does not yet show up in the global data sets in figure 1) include the rapid decline in fertility rates in many regions attributable to investments in girls’ and women’s education (www.un.org/esa/population), the promising decline in the rate of deforestation in some regions, and the rapid growth in the renewable-energy sector. We have learned much since 1992, but the advancement of urgently needed changes in environmental policy, human behavior, and global inequities is still far from sufficient.

Sustainability transitions come about in diverse ways, and all require civil-society pressure and evidence-based advocacy, political leadership, and a solid understanding of policy instruments, markets, and other drivers. Examples of diverse and effective steps humanity can take to transition to sustainability include the following (not in order of importance or urgency): (a) prioritizing the enactment of connected well-funded and well-managed reserves for a significant proportion of the world’s terrestrial, marine, freshwater, and aerial habitats; (b) maintaining nature’s ecosystem services by halting the conversion of forests, grasslands, and other native habitats; (c) restoring native plant communities at large scales, particularly forest landscapes; (d) rewilding regions with native species, especially apex predators, to restore ecological processes and dynamics; (e) developing and adopting adequate policy instruments to remedy defaunation, the poaching crisis, and the exploitation and trade of threatened species; (f) reducing food waste through education and better infrastructure; (g) promoting dietary shifts towards mostly plant-based foods; (h) further reducing fertility rates by ensuring that women and men have access to education and voluntary family-planning services, especially where such resources are still lacking; (i) increasing outdoor nature education for children, as well as the overall engagement of society in the appreciation of nature; (j) divesting of monetary investments and purchases to encourage positive environmental change; (k) devising and promoting new green technologies and massively adopting renewable energy sources while phasing out subsidies to energy production through fossil fuels; (l) revising our economy to reduce wealth inequality and ensure that prices, taxation, and incentive systems take into account the real costs which consumption patterns impose on our environment; and (m) estimating a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal.

To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.

Epilogue

We have been overwhelmed with the support for our article and thank the more than 15,000 signatories from all ends of the Earth (see supplemental file S2 for list of signatories). As far as we know, this is the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article. In this paper, we have captured the environmental trends over the last 25 years, showed realistic concern, and suggested a few examples of possible remedies. Now, as an Alliance of World Scientists (­scientists.forestry.oregonstate.edu) and with the public at large, it is important to continue this work to ­document challenges, as well as improved ­situations, and to develop clear, trackable, and practical solutions while communicating trends and needs to world leaders. Working together while respecting the diversity of people and opinions and the need for social justice around the world, we can make great progress for the sake of humanity and the planet on which we depend.

Spanish, Portuguese, and French versions of this article can be found in file S1.

Acknowledgments

Peter Frumhoff and Doug Boucher of the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as the following individuals, provided thoughtful discussions, comments, or data for this paper: Stuart Pimm, David Johns, David Pengelley, Guillaume Chapron, Steve Montzka, Robert Diaz, Drik Zeller, Gary Gibson, Leslie Green, Nick Houtman, Peter Stoel, Karen Josephson, Robin Comforto, Terralyn Vandetta, Luke Painter, Rodolfo Dirzo, Guy Peer, Peter Haswell, and Robert Johnson.

Supplemental material

Supplementary data are available at BIOSCI online including supplemental file 1 and supplemental file 2 (full list of all 15,364 signatories).

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How sustainable is this…?

7 12 2017

A news article caught my attention; it shows that with fossil fuels you can do anything, but you have to ask yourself, just how long will it take for these wind turbines to repay their embodied energy?  Furthermore, as I keep saying over and over, none of the carbon emitted in these exercises is ever removed by the wind turbines. Emissions are cumulative. That is, for those who do not, or refuse to understand, they add up. The fact that these turbines do not emit CO2 (much) in their operation, does not negate the fact that their installation already has increased the atmosphere’s CO2 content. As George Monbiot said, everything Must Go…….  and that includes these monsters.

turbineblades 1The 65m long (2/3 the length of a football field) blades were individually trucked 530km from Port Adelaide in South Australia to Silverton, NSW, near Broken Hill….  that’s three trips adding up to nearly 1600km or a thousand miles for you American readers…. and I bet they weren’t cruising at normal highway speed either, almost certainly worsening fuel consumption.

Worse, a new road was built to bypass Broken Hill and avoid some roundabouts…… now Iturbineblades 3.jpg.jpg realise the cost, both financial and environmental, of the road will be amortised over the total 58 turbines planned for this site, but all the same same….. it takes a lot of fossil fuels to build roads…. especially that far from civilisation.

“There will be relatively constant deliveries from the start of the new year all the way through to about May.” states the ABC News website. If all the bits have to be trucked that far, three blades, a tower in at least two pieces, the nacelle (assuming it can be trucked in one piece), and god knows what else, I make it out to be almost 185,000km of truck miles, not counting getting cranes and reinforcing steel and concrete there. Oh and did I mention the trucks had to go back from where they came…?  Make that 370,000km, or more than nine times around the Earth….. or almost the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

turbine foundation3.5MW turbines require 400 tonnes of concrete in their foundations. This is 29 truck loads, each load having to do a 50km return trip from Broken Hill. To pour all 58 foundations means those concrete trucks will have to travel 84,000 km, or roughly equal to twice around the Earth…. which doesn’t include the concrete pumps. Nor the energy needed to make 23,000 tonnes of concrete, one of the worst greenhouse emitters. And I worry about the concrete in my house…!

The parts for the turbines also come from all over the world, with components for the General Electric turbines being manufactured in Germany, Spain and Korea.

Like I said…..  with fossil fuels, you can do anything. Oh and I nearly forgot…..  AGL, who will own this windfarm, are going to supply the locals with solar panels and water tanks, and AGL would contribute $50,000 to efforts to improve mobile reception in the area. just to make it all look sustainable and shut the locals up.





Who killed the electric car…….

28 11 2017

Anyone who’s seen the film (I still have a DVD of it lying around somewhere…) by the name “Who killed the electric car” will remember the outrage of the ‘owners’ (they were all only leasing the vehicles) when GM destroyed the cars they thought were working perfectly well.  The problem was, the EV1 was an experiment. It was an experiment in technology and economics, and by the time the leases ran out, all the batteries needed replacing, and GM weren’t about to do that, because the replacement cost was higher than the value of the vehicles. Never let economics get in the way of a good story…. nor profit!

Anyhow, here is another well researched article Alice Fridemann pointed me to regarding the senseless travesty of the big switch to EVs…..  It’s just too little too late, and we have the laws of physics to contend with.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

alice_friedemannThe battery did it.  Batteries are far too expensive for the average consumer, $600-$1700 per kwh (Service). And they aren’t likely to get better any time soon.  Sorry to ruin the suspense so quickly, guess I’ll never be a mystery writer.

The big advances in battery technology happen rarely. It’s been more than 200 years and we have maybe 5 different successful rechargeable batteries,” said George Blomgren, a former senior technology researcher at Eveready (Borenstein).

And yet hope springs eternal. A better battery is always just around the corner:

  • 1901: “A large number of people … are looking forward to a revolution in the generating power of storage batteries, and it is the opinion of many that the long-looked-for, light weight, high capacity battery will soon be discovered.” (Hiscox)
  • 1901: “Demand for a proper automobile storage battery is so crying that it soon must result in the appearance of the desired accumulator [battery]. Everywhere in the history of industrial progress, invention has followed close in the wake of necessity” (Electrical Review #38. May 11, 1901. McGraw-Hill)
  • 1974: “The consensus among EV proponents and major battery manufacturers is that a high-energy, high power-density battery – a true breakthrough in electrochemistry – could be accomplished in just 5 years” (Machine Design).
  • 2014 internet search “battery breakthrough” gets 7,710,000 results, including:  Secretive Company Claims Battery Breakthrough, ‘Holy Grail’ of Battery Design Achieved, Stanford breakthrough might triple battery life, A Battery That ‘Breathes’ Could Power Next-Gen Electric Vehicles, 8 Potential EV and Hybrid Battery Breakthroughs.

So is an electric car:

  • 1911: The New York Times declares that the electric car “has long been recognized as the ideal solution” because it “is cleaner and quieter” and “much more economical.”(NYT 1911)
  • 1915: The Washington Post writes that “prices on electric cars will continue to drop until they are within reach of the average family.”(WP 1915)
  • 1959: The New York Times reports that the “Old electric may be the car of tomorrow.” The story said that electric cars were making a comeback because “gasoline is expensive today, principally because it is so heavily taxed, while electricity is far cheaper” than it was back in the 1920s (Ingraham 1959)
  • 1967: The Los Angeles Times says that American Motors Corporation is on the verge of producing an electric car, the Amitron, to be powered by lithium batteries capable of holding 330 watt-hours per kilogram. (That’s more than two times as much as the energy density of modern lithium-ion batteries.) Backers of the Amitron said, “We don’t see a major obstacle in technology. It’s just a matter of time.” (Thomas 1967)
  • 1979: The Washington Post reports that General Motors has found “a breakthrough in batteries” that “now makes electric cars commercially practical.” The new zinc-nickel oxide batteries will provide the “100-mile range that General Motors executives believe is necessary to successfully sell electric vehicles to the public.”(Knight, J. September 26, 1979. GM Unveils electric car, New battery. Washington Post, D7.
  • 1980: In an opinion piece, the Washington Post avers that “practical electric cars can be built in the near future.” By 2000, the average family would own cars, predicted the Post, “tailored for the purpose for which they are most often used.” It went on to say that “in this new kind of car fleet, the electric vehicle could pay a big role—especially as delivery trucks and two-passenger urban commuter cars. With an aggressive production effort, they might save 1 million barrels of oil a day by the turn of the century.” (WP 1980)

Lithium-ion batteries appear to be the winner for all-electric cars given Elon Musk’s new $5 billion dollar li-ion battery factory in Nevada. Yet Li-ion batteries have a very short cycling life of 5 to 10 years (depending on how the car is driven), and then they’re at just 70% of initial capacity, which is too low to drive, and if a driver persists despite the degraded performance, eventually the batteries will go down to 50% of capacity, a certain end-of-life for li-ion (ADEME).

One reason people are so keen on electric cars is because they cost less to fuel.  But if electricity were $0.10 per kWh, to fill up a 53 kWh Tesla battery takes about 4 hours and costs $5.30. 30 days times $5.30 is $159. I can fill up my gas tank in a few minutes for under $40.  I drive about 15 miles a day and can go 400 miles per fill up, so I only get gas about once a month.  I’d have to drive 60 miles a day to run the cost up to $159. If your electricity costs less than ten cents, it won’t always.  Shale gas is a one-time-only temporary boom that probably ends around 2020.  Got a dinkier battery than the Tesla but go 80 miles or less at most?  Most people won’t consider buying an electric car until they go 200 miles or more.

So why isn’t there a better battery yet?

The lead-acid battery hasn’t changed much since it was invented in 1859. It’s hard to invent new kinds of batteries or even improve existing ones, because although a battery looks simple, inside it’s a churning chaos of complex electrochemistry as the battery goes between being charged and discharged many times.

Charging and recharging are hard on a battery. Recharging is supposed to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but over time the metals, liquids, gels, chemicals, and solids inside clog, corrode, crack, crystallize, become impure, leak, and break down.

A battery is like a football player, with increasing injuries and concussions over the season. An ideal battery would be alive, able to self-heal, secrete impurities, and recover from abuse.

The number of elements in the periodic table (118) is limited. Only a few have the best electron properties (like lithium), and others can be ruled out because they’re radioactive (39), rare earth and platinum group metals (23), inert noble gases (6), or should be ruled out: toxic (i.e. cadmium, cobalt, mercury, arsenic), hard to recycle, scarce, or expensive.

There are many properties an ideal Energy Storage device would have:

  1. Small and light-weight to give vehicles a longer range
  2. High energy density like oil (energy stored per unit of weight)
  3. Recharge fast, tolerant of overcharge, undercharging, and over-discharge
  4. Store a lot of energy
  5. High power density, deliver a lot of power quickly
  6. Be rechargeable thousands of times while retaining 80% of their storage capacity
  7. Reliable and robust
  8. A long life, at least 10 years for a vehicle battery
  9. Made from very inexpensive, common, sustainable, recyclable materials
  10. Deliver power for a long time
  11. Won’t explode or catch on fire
  12. Long shelf life for times when not being used
  13. Perform well in low and high temperatures
  14. Able to tolerate vibration, shaking, and shocks
  15. Not use toxic materials during manufacture or in the battery itself
  16. Take very little energy to make from cradle-to-grave
  17. Need minimal to no maintenance

For example, in the real world, these are the priorities for heavy-duty hybrid trucks (NRC 2008):

  1. High Volumetric Energy Density (energy per unit volume)
  2. High Gravimetric Energy Density (energy per unit of weight, Specific Energy)
  3. High Volumetric Power Density (power per unit of volume)
  4. High Gravimetric Power Density (power per unit of weight, Specific Power)
  5. Low purchase cost
  6. Low operating cost
  7. Low recycling cost
  8. Long useful life
  9. Long shelf life
  10. Minimal maintenance
  11. High level of safety in collisions and rollover accidents
  12. High level of safety during charging
  13. Ease of charging method
  14. Minimal charging time
  15. Storable and operable at normal and extreme ambient temperatures
  16. High number of charge-discharge cycles, regardless of the depth of discharge
  17. Minimal environmental concerns during manufacturing, useful life, and recycling or disposal

Pick Any Two

In the real world, you can’t have all of the above. It’s like the sign “Pick any two: Fast (expensive), Cheap (crappy), or Good (slow)”.

So many different properties are demanded that “This is like wanting a car that has the power of a Corvette, the fuel efficiency of a Chevy Malibu, and the price tag of a Chevy Spark. This is hard to do. No one battery delivers both high power and high energy, at least not very well or for very long,” according to Dr. Jud Virden at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (House 114-18 2015).

You always give up something. Battery chemistry is complex. Anode, cathode, electrolyte, and membrane separators materials must all work together. Tweak any one of these materials and the battery might not work anymore. You get higher energy densities from reactive, less stable chemicals that often result in non-rechargeable batteries, are susceptible to impurities, catch on fire, and so on. Storing more energy might lower the voltage, a fast recharge shorten the lifespan.

You have to optimize many different things at the same time,” says Venkat Srinivasan, a transportation battery expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. “It’s a hard, hard problem” (Service).

Conflicting demands. The main job of a battery is to store energy. Trying to make them discharge a lot of power quickly may be impossible. “If you want high storage, you can’t get high power,” said M. Stanley Whittingham, director of the Northeast Center for Chemical Energy Storage. “People are expecting more than what’s possible.”

Battery testing takes time. Every time a change is made the individual cells, then modules, then overall pack is tested for one cycle and again for 50 cycles for voltage, current, cycle life (number of recharges), Ragone plot (energy and power density), charge and discharge time, self-discharge, safety (heat, vibration, external short circuit, overcharge, forced discharge, etc.) and many other parameters.

Batteries deteriorate.  The more deeply you discharge a battery, the more often you charge/recharge it (cycles), or the car is exposed to below freezing or above 77 degree temperatures, the shorter the life of the battery will be. Even doing nothing shortens battery life: Li-ion batteries lose charge when idle, so an old, unused battery will last less long than a new one.  Tesla engineers expect the power of the car’s battery pack to degrade by as much as 30% in five years (Smil). [ED. the exception of course being Nickel Iron batteries….. but they are not really suitable for EVs, even if that’s what they were originally invented for]

Batteries are limited by the physical laws of the universe.  Lithium-ion batteries are getting close to theirs.  According to materials scientist George Crabtree of Argonne National Laboratory, li-ion batteries are approaching their basic electrochemical limits of density of energy they can store. “If you really want electric cars to compete with gasoline, you’re going to need the next generation of batteries.” Rachid Yazami of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore says that this will require finding a new chemical basis for them. Although engineers have achieved a lot with lithium-ion batteries, it hasn’t been enough to charge electric cars very fast, or go 500 miles (Hodson 2015).

Be skeptical of battery breakthroughs. It takes ten years to improve an existing type of battery, and it’s expensive since you need chemists, material scientists, chemical and mechanical engineers, electrochemists, computer and nanotechnology scientists. The United States isn’t training enough engineers to support a large battery industry, and within 5 years, 40% of full-time senior engineering faculty will be eligible for retirement.

Dr. Virden says that “you see all kinds of press releases about a new anode material that’s five times better than anything out there, and it probably is, but when you put that in with an electrolyte and a cathode, and put it together and then try to scale it, all kinds of things don’t work. Materials start to fall apart, the chemistry isn’t well known, there’s side reactions, and usually what that leads to is loss of performance, loss of safety. And we as fundamental scientists don’t understand those basic mechanisms. And we do really undervalue the challenge of scale-up. In every materials process I see, in an experiment in a lab like this big, it works perfectly. Then when you want to make thousands of them-it doesn’t.” (House 114-18).

We need a revolutionary new battery that takes less than 10 years to develop

“We need to leapfrog the engineering of making of batteries,” said Lawrence Berkeley National Lab battery scientist Vince Battaglia. “We’ve got to find the next big thing.”

Dr. Virden testified at a U.S. House hearing that “despite many advances, we still have fundamental gaps in our understanding of the basic processes that influence battery operation, performance, limitations, and failures (House 114-18 2015).

But none of the 10 experts who talked to The Associated Press said they know what that big thing will be yet, or when it will come (Borenstein).

The Department of Energy (DOE) says that incremental improvements won’t electrify cars and energy storage fast enough. Scientists need to understand the laws of battery physics better. To do that, we need to be able to observe what’s going on inside the battery at an atomic scale in femtoseconds (.000000000000001 second), build nanoscale materials/tubes/wires to improve ion flow etc., and write complex models and computer programs that use this data to better predict what might happen every time some aspect of the battery is meddled with to zero in on the best materials to use.

Are you kidding? Laws of Physics? Femtoseconds? Atomic Scale? Nanoscale technology — that doesn’t exist yet?

Extremely energy-dense batteries for autos are impossible because of the laws of Physics and the “Pick any Two” problem

There’s only so much energy you can force into a black box, and it’s a lot less than the energy contained in oil – pound for pound the most energy density a battery could contain is only around 6 percent that of oil. The energy density of oil 500 times higher than a lead-acid battery (House), which is why it takes 1,200 pounds of lead-acid batteries to move a car 50 miles.

Even though an electric vehicle needs only a quarter of the energy a gasoline vehicle needs to deliver the same energy to turn the wheels, this efficiency is more than overcome by the much smaller energy density of a battery compared to the energy density of gasoline.  This can be seen in the much heavier weight and space a battery requires.  For example, the 85 kWh battery in a Tesla Model S weighs 1,500 pounds (Tesla 2014) and the gasoline containing the equivalent energy, about 9 gallons, weighs 54 pounds.  The 1500 pound weight of a Tesla battery is equal to 7 extra passengers, and reduces the acceleration and range that could otherwise be realized (NRC 2015).

Lithium batteries are more powerful, but even so, oil has 120 times the energy density of a lithium battery pack. Increased driving ranges of electric cars have come more from weight reduction, drag reduction, and decreased rolling resistance than improved battery performance.

The amount of energy that can be stored in a battery depends on the potential chemical energy due to their electron properties. The most you could ever get is 6 volts from a Lithium (highest reduction) and Fluorine (highest oxidation).  But for many reasons a lithium-fluoride or fluoride battery is not in sight and may never work out (not rechargeable, unstable, unsafe, inefficient, solvents and electrolytes don’t handle the voltages generated, lithium fluoride crystallizes and doesn’t conduct electricity, etc.).

The DOE has found that lithium-ion batteries are the only chemistry promising enough to use in electric cars. There are “several Li-ion chemistries being investigated… but none offers an ideal combination of energy density, power capability, durability, safety, and cost” (NAS 2013).

Lithium batteries can generate up to 3.8 volts but have to use non-aqueous electrolytes (because water has a 2 volt maximum) which gives a relatively high internal impedance.

They can be unsafe. A thermal runaway in one battery can explode into 932 F degrees and spread to other batteries in the cell or pack.

There are many other problems with all-electric cars

It will take decades or more to replace the existing fleet with electric cars if batteries ever do get cheap and powerful enough.  Even if all 16 million vehicles purchased every year were only electric autos, the U.S. car fleet has 250 million passenger vehicles and would take over 15 years to replace.  But only 120,000 electric cars were sold in 2014. At that rate it would take 133 years.

Electric cars are too expensive. The median household income of a an electric car buyer is $148,158 and $83,166 for a gasoline car. But the U.S. median household income was only $51,939 in 2014. The Tesla Model S tends to be bought by relatively wealthy individuals,  primarily men who have higher incomes, paid cash, and did not seriously consider purchasing another vehicle (NRC 2015).

And when gasoline prices began to drop in 2014, people stopped buying EVs and started buying gas guzzlers again.

Autos aren’t the game-changer for the climate or saving energy that they’re claimed to be.  They account for just 20% of the oil wrung out of a barrel, trucks, ships, manufacturing, rail, airplanes, and buildings use the other 80%.

And the cost of electric cars is expected to be greater than internal combustion engine and hybrid electric autos for the next two decades (NRC 2013).

The average car buyer wants a low-cost, long range vehicle. A car that gets 30 mpg would require a “prohibitively long-to-charge, expensive, heavy, and bulky” 78 kWh battery to go 300 miles, which costs about $35,000 now. Future battery costs are hard to estimate, and right now, some “battery companies sell batteries below cost to gain market share” (NAS 2013). Most new cathode materials are high-cost nickel and cobalt materials.

Rapid charging and discharging can shorten the lifetime of the cell. This is particularly important because the goal of 10 to 15 years of service for automotive applications, the average lifetime of a car. Replacing the battery would be a very expensive repair, even as costs decline (NAS 2013).

It is unclear that consumer demand will be sufficient to sustain the U.S. advanced battery industry. It takes up to $300 million to build one lithium-ion plant to supply batteries for 20,000 to 30,000 plug-in or electric vehicles (NAE 2012).

Almost all electric cars use up to 3.3 pounds of rare-earth elements in interior permanent magnet motors. China currently has a near monopoly on the production of rare-earth materials, which has led DOE to search for technologies that eliminate or reduce rare-earth magnets in motors (NAS 2013).

Natural gas generated electricity is likely to be far more expensive when the fracking boom peaks 2015-2019, and coal generated electricity after coal supplies reach their peak somewhere between now and 2030.

100 million electric cars require ninety 1,000-MWe power plants, transmission, and distribution infrastructure that would cost at least $400 billion dollars. A plant can take years to over a decade to build (NAS 2013).

By the time the electricity reaches a car, it’s lost 50% of the power because the generation plants are only 40% efficient and another 10% is lost in the power plant and over transmission lines, so 11 MWh would be required to generate enough electricity for the average car consuming 4 MWh, which is about 38 mpg — much lower than many gasoline or hybrid cars (Smil).

Two-thirds of the electricity generated comes from fossil fuels (coal 39%, natural gas 27%, and coal power continues to gain market share (Birnbaum)). Six percent of electricity is lost over transmission lines, and power plants are only 40% efficient on average – it would be more efficient for cars to burn natural gas than electricity generated by natural gas when you add in the energy loss to provide electricity to the car (proponents say electric cars are more efficient because they leave this out of the equation). Drought is reducing hydropower across the west, where most of the hydropower is, and it will take decades to scale up wind, solar, and other alternative energy resources.

The additional energy demand from 100 million PEVs in 2050 is about 286 billion kWh which would require new generating capacity of ninety 1,000 MW plants costing $360 billion, plus another $40 billion for high-voltage transmission and other additions (NAS 2013).

An even larger problem is recharge time. Unless batteries can be developed that can be recharged in 10 minutes or less, cars will be limited largely to local travel in an urban or suburban environment (NAS 2013). Long distance travel would require at least as many charging stations as gas stations (120,000).

Level 1 charging takes too long, level 2 chargers add to overall purchase costs.  Level 1 is the basic amount delivered at home.  A Tesla model S85 kWh battery that was fully discharged would take more than 61 hours to recharge, a 21 kWh Nissan Leaf battery over 17 hours.  So the total cost of electric cars should also include the cost of level 2 chargers, not just the cost itself (NRC 2015).

Fast charging is expensive, with level 3 chargers running $15,000 to $60,000.  At a recharging station, a $15,000 level 3 charger would return a profit of about $60 per year and the electricity cost higher than gasoline (Hillebrand 2012). Level 3 fast charging is bad for batteries, requires expensive infrastructure, and is likely to use peak-load electricity with higher cost, lower efficiency, and higher GHG emissions.

Battery swapping has many problems: battery packs would need to be standardized, an expensive inventory of different types and sizes of battery packs would need to be kept, the swapping station needs to start charging right away during daytime peak electricity, batteries deteriorate over time, customers won’t like older batteries not knowing how far they can go on them, and seasonal travel could empty swapping stations of batteries.

Argonne National Laboratory looked at the economics of Battery swapping  (Hillebrand 2012), which would require standardized batteries and enough light-duty vehicles to justify the infrastructure. They assumed that a current EV Battery Pack costs $12,000 to replace (a figure they considered  wildly optimistic). They assumed a $12,000 x 5% annual return on investment = $600, 3 year battery life means amortizing cost is $4000, and annual Return for each pack must surpass $4600 per year. They concluded that to make a profit in battery swapping, each car would have to drive 1300 miles per day per battery pack!  And therefore, an EV Battery is 20 times too expensive for the swap mode.

Lack of domestic supply base. To be competitive in electrified vehicles, the United States also requires a domestic supply base of key materials and components such as special motors, transmissions, brakes, chargers, conductive materials, foils, electrolytes, and so on, most of which come from China, Japan, or Europe. The supply chain adds significant costs to making batteries, but it’s not easy to shift production to America because electric and hybrid car sales are too few, and each auto maker has its own specifications (NAE 2012).

The embodied energy (oiliness, EROEI) of batteries is enormous.  The energy to make Tesla’s lithium ion energy batteries is also huge, substantially subtracting from the energy returned on invested (Batto 2017).

Ecological damage. Mining and the toxic chemicals used to make and with batteries pollute water and soil, harm health, and wildlife.

The energy required to charge them (Smil)

An electric version of a car typical of today’s typical American vehicle (a composite of passenger cars, SUVs, vans, and light trucks) would require at least 150 Wh/km; and the distance of 20,000 km driven annually by an average vehicle would translate to 3 MWh of electricity consumption. In 2010, the United States had about 245 million passenger cars, SUVs, vans, and light trucks; hence, an all-electric fleet would call for a theoretical minimum of about 750 TWh/year. This approximation allows for the rather heroic assumption that all-electric vehicles could be routinely used for long journeys, including one-way commutes of more than 100 km. And the theoretical total of 3 MWh/car (or 750 TWh/year) needs several adjustments to make it more realistic. The charging and recharging cycle of the Li-ion batteries is about 85 percent efficient, 32 and about 10 percent must be subtracted for self-discharge losses; consequently, the actual need would be close to 4 MWh/car, or about 980 TWh of electricity per year. This is a very conservative calculation, as the overall demand of a midsize electric vehicle would be more likely around 300 Wh/km or 6 MW/year. But even this conservative total would be equivalent to roughly 25% of the U.S. electricity generation in 2008, and the country’s utilities needed 15 years (1993–2008) to add this amount of new production.

The average source-to-outlet efficiency of U.S. electricity generation is about 40 percent and, adding 10 percent for internal power plant consumption and transmission losses, this means that 11 MWh (nearly 40 GJ) of primary energy would be needed to generate electricity for a car with an average annual consumption of about 4 MWh.

This would translate to 2 MJ for every kilometer of travel, a performance equivalent to about 38 mpg (6.25 L/100 km)—a rate much lower than that offered by scores of new pure gasoline-engine car models, and inferior to advanced hybrid drive designs

The latest European report on electric cars—appropriately entitled How to Avoid an Electric Shock—offers analogical conclusions. A complete shift to electric vehicles would require a 15% increase in the European Union’s electricity consumption, and electric cars would not reduce CO2 emissions unless all that new electricity came from renewable sources.

Inherently low load factors of wind or solar generation, typically around 25 percent, mean that adding nearly 1 PWh of renewable electricity generation would require installing about 450 GW in wind turbines and PV cells, an equivalent of nearly half of the total U.S. capability in 2007.

The National Research Council found that for electric vehicles to become mainstream, significant battery breakthroughs are required to lower cost, longer driving range, less refueling time, and improved safety. Battery life is not known for the first generation of PEVs.. Hybrid car batteries with performance degradation are hardly noticed since the gasoline combustion engine kicks in, but with a PEV, there is no hiding reduced performance. If this happens in less than the 15 year lifespan of a vehicle, that will be a problem. PEV vehicles already cost thousands more than an ICE vehicle. Their batteries have a limited warranty of 5-8 years. A Nissan Leaf battery replacement is $5,500 which Nissan admits to selling at a loss (NAS 2015).

Cold weather increases energy consumption

cold weather increases energy consumption

 Source: Argonne National Laboratory

On a cold day an electric car consumes its stored electric energy quickly because of the extra electricity needed to heat the car.  For example, the range of a Nissan Leaf is 84 miles on the EPA test cycle, but if the owner drives 90% of the time over 70 mph and lives in a cold climate, the range could be as low as 50 miles (NRC 2015).

 

References

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NAS. 2015. Cost, effectiveness and deployment of fuel economy tech for Light-Duty vehicles.   National Academy of Sciences. 613 pages.

NRC. 2008. Review of the 21st Century Truck Partnership. National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences.

NRC. 2013. Overcoming Barriers to Electric-Vehicle Deployment, Interim Report. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

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