Transportation News

Florida’s Untapped Solar Power

(3BL Media/Just Means) I've spent the summer living in historic St. Augustine, Florida. The surf is great, the people are friendly and the sun shines brightly every single day. The sun is powerful here, powerful enough it seems to produce enough solar energy for most of the nation.

Honda Unveils Smart Home US for Zero Carbon Living and Mobility

Honda's ultra-efficient, carbon neutral smart home is capable of producing more energy on-site from renewable sources than it consumes annually—and it comes with a specially modified Honda Fit electric vehicle

Nissan’s Electric Vehicle Sales Are Really Taking Off

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Making sales projections for brand new technology can be difficult, to say the least. Sometimes products catch on quickly and never look back. Other times they take awhile before becoming viral. Think about the iPhone and the iPad, for example.

So it’s no big surprise that the Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was a bit over optimistic when he first proclaimed in 2012 that sales of their all-electric Leaf would hit 1.5 million in four years. Sales started out slower than expected, so he pushed back the deadline to 2020, a full four years later. Range anxiety and recharging time have generally been considered the car’s biggest hurdles. Now, as sales of the car are heating up, it looks as if he was being far too conservative.

Leaf sales continue to grow. In fact, as of February, they have set new records each month for the past twelve months. That’s not an industry-wide move, either. Chevy Volt sales have actually been falling off. Leaf is outselling Volt in the US so far this year. In fact, Leaf holds the #1 spot this year, follwed by the Tesla. Granted, the numbers are still small: 1425 Leafs vs. 1210 Volts in a month, but the trend is worth noting. Over 100,000 Nissan units have now been sold worldwide. Still, we are well short of President Obama’s prediction of one million electric vehicles on US roads by 2015.

Increasing pressure on carmakers to reduce fleet fuel consumption averages, thanks to new Federal emission standards, is helping. The clean car trend is beginning to spread around the world, too. Emerging markets in Asia and South America could become hot spots for electric vehicle sales.

This paper by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, describes standards alsready in place in the US, Canada, the EU, Japan, Korea, and Australia, and argues for the need for a unified international standard, which would make life far easier for manfacturers. Mexico, India, Indonesia, and Thailand are said to be in the process of developing standards that should soon be ready.

Electric Cars Get A Jump Start in China

Anyone concerned about the planet's future and our ability to bring our climate-disrupting emissions under control, can't help but regularly steal nervous glances at China. What China, with its massive population and prodigious growth rate does or doesn't do, will have a significant impact on all of us. So when China said they wanted 500,000 "new energy vehicles” on the road by next year and five million by 2020, many of which would be driven by first time car buyers newly entering the middle class, that gave us reason to be hopeful. Many have been skeptical that such numbers could be achieved. Especially since last year, only 17,600 EVs were sold. Today, there are approximately 50,000 of them on the road.

But a number of recent developments could be turning up the heat.

First, Chinese EV-maker BYD, which is partially backed by Warren Buffett, has been selling most of their cars in their home city of Shenzhen. Earlier this week, they gained approval to begin selling in Beijing with its population of 11.5 million. Beijing officials will provide a subsidy for EVs and they also commit to installing 100 charging stations in the city by the end of the year with roughly ten charging units per station. This roughly coincides with Swiss electrical equipment-maker ABB's announcement that it would begin making and marketing wall-mounted home electric vehicle chargers in China. The chargers are being developed for Denza, a new joint venture between BYD and Daimler.

Says Chunyuan Gu, ABB's top man in China, "Either you believe or you don't believe. What's difficult to predict is how fast the volume will come."

BYD also received approval this week to sell its plug-in hybrid, the Qin, in Shanghai

China's fast growing car market is attracting the attention of automakers around the globe. Last year 22 million cars were sold there, compared with 15.6 million in the US. Major problems like air pollution and gridlock are leading local officials to tighten restrictions on new drivers' licenses, which will slow the pace of growth. Electric cars, which don't contribute to air pollution are getting a warmer reception.

Some people believe that were are approaching a point of “peak cars” altogether, but that is clearly still a ways off in China.

Have We Reached the Point of "Peak Cars"?

We've all heard a lot about Peak Oil, the point at which global oil production begins to decline because the accessible supply is simply not as big as it was the year before. Whether it has been passed or is looming in the near future, is still being debated, especially in the light of the recent boom in U.S. production. But it is highly likely that it is imminent, which is, despite the hardship involved, really a good thing, given the carbon emissions entailed, which have not been reason enough for many people, institutions and governments to press for alternatives.

But what about all of those cars and trucks that most of that oil goes into? There are a number of analysts who think that, despite the optimistic sales projections of automakers, we may be approaching the point of peak cars.

Given the fact that more and more people are pouring into cities that are getting more and more crowded, will there come a point where driving a car is simply not the best way to get around? For many, it already has. Here is the US, a significant number of people, particularly young people have relinquished that dream. Based on an analysis by Advisor Perspectives, the percentage of 18-years-olds with driver’s licenses fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 61 percent in 2010. The number of miles driven per person has also downshifted from historic highs by almost nine percent.

Of course, there are many people coming up in the developing world who see car ownership as a rite of entry into the middle class, and emblematic of the American Dream which has spread across the globe through movies and television.

Tesla Bets its Future on Battery ‘Gigafactory’

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Tesla Motors is set to make an announcement about its plans to build the world’s largest lithium battery factory in the US. Tesla founder Elon Musk has called it the “Gigafactory,” and claims that it will potentially transform the company’s future.

Leaks Make Natural Gas Vehicles Less Climate-Friendly Than Diesel

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - A couple of weeks back, we wrote about how natural gas was being used to replace diesel to fuel many large trucks. California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. opened several natural gas filling stations in locations stretching from coast to coast. We wrote, “Natural gas has become an attractive option for high-horsepower trucks, because it is less expensive (by up to $1.50/gal), cleaner (23% less GHG emissions), and offers better price stability when compared with conventional diesel. It's also better for the health of drivers and the communities in which they operate. Given the high level of natural gas availability in the US at this time, it also offers the opportunity to reduce dependence on imported oil.“

A recent study, just released, reveals some information that could potentially pour cold water on this approach. The study, which was jointly conducted by scientists at Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), found that there is currently 50% more methane already in the atmosphere than had previously been thought. The researchers have determined that this gas must come from leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain.

After conducting a detailed analysis, weighing both the benefits and costs, the team determined that from a greenhouse gas perspective, the added methane resulting from these leaks, more than offsets the reduction in carbon dioxide resulting from the switch from diesel to natural gas. In other words, according to the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, Assistant Professor of Energy Resources at Stanford, “Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective.”

The leaks, however, were not severe enough to tip the balance when it came to replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas. That's because of the enormous amounts of CO2 that comes from coal. Even factoring in the methane leaks, gas-powered plants have half the impact of coal plants.

Incentives Drive Norway To Take Lead in Electric Vehicle Sales

You might find this surprising, but Norway’s best selling cars for several months late last year were electric vehicles. EV’s accounted for more than 12% of all vehicle sales in November. With 21,000 EVs already on the road in a country of five million, EV's will soon constitute 1% of all Norwegian cars. The Nissan Leaf, priced at the lower end of the scale was the best-seller for one month, while for two months, the high end Tesla Model S topped the list. So there’s obviously a broad market being stimulated. This is a dramatically higher per capita rate of adoption than anywhere else in the world, close to 20 times that of the US.

Why so many? Well, government incentives are certainly playing a role. This is probably a case study of how effective government action can be. Zach Shahan at CleanTechnica shared survey findings that analyzed the reasons why people said they bought EVs, and rank-ordered them in a series of bar graphs. The top-ranked reason was that EV drivers would be exempt from tolls. The second reason was no vehicle purchase tax. Then was the fuel cost, about one-fifth the cost of running a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle. The fourth reason was free access to the bus lanes. In Oslo, where there’s quite a bit of traffic, EVs are allowed to use the bus lanes, which can save time when roads are crowded. This feature could become self-limiting though, as the bus lanes are filling up with electric cars which make up as much as 75% of the traffic. This brings to mind Yogi Berra, who once said, apparently referring to a popular restaurant in his native St. Louis, “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”

Free charging, available at any of the thousands of charging points, ranked as the number seven reason for buying an electric vehicle.

There’s also a low annual road fee, free parking, and free ferries, and they tend to cost less to insure, probably because there are fewer parts that would have to be repaired in case of an accident.

Southwest Airlines to Provide $2.8M in Medical Transportation Grants in 2014

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Southwest Airlines is known for its triple bottom line approach that takes into account the carrier’s performance and productivity, the importance of its people and the communities it serves, and its commitment to efficiency and the planet.

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