Tuesday, August 4, 2009

EVs: First clarification on impact in cities

It is hard to sort out if electric cars are or are not going to be a force in the move to sustainable transportation and sustainable cities. The media gives a lot of space to them, there is something admittedly attractive about them, but what is the real bottom line? We decided to ask the people closest to these issues to share their views here.

- Michael Glotz-Richter reporting from Bremen Germany

Thanks for asking Eric. We’ve studied the issue here in Bremen over some years and the following two images summarise our main findings. I’m pleased to share them with the readers of World Streets and invite comments and challenges.

Here is what one street looks like today, without any electric cars that I know of:

And in the second photograph, you see what the same street would look like with a 100% conversion to electric cars. Very edifying we think:

The point is, of course, that technology alone isn’t the answer. And in fact, there is a danger that with electric vehicles, we may even end up with more cars on our streets. That’s why it’s crucial that any new “clean” technology – electric or otherwise – be integrated with measures to preserve our precious urban space – like cycling, public transport, and especially Car-Sharing.

I’m not sure if that’s answered your question or just opened up other ones . . .

# # #

From the editor: We welcome similar before/after EV photos of your city. And of course your comment.

- Michael Glotz-Richter, michael.glotz-richter@umwelt.bremen.de, is Senior Advisor Sustainable Mobility, Senate Department for Environment, Construction, Transport and European Affairs, Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, Germany

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  1. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!

    I agree fully with the views expressed here (after all I belong to one of Bremen's "sister" cities - Pune!). It is often easy to overstate the role of technology (as against systems, social/political/cultural issues) probably technology is easier to "harness" than all the other slippery stuff.

  2. Lee Schipper, Berkeley CA USATuesday, 04 August, 2009

    Three key issues my Stanford and Cal students have ferreted out.

    Do EV pay their road tax? In California, we pay 3 cents/mile in road taxes. IF an advanced EV gets 5 miles/kwh, that works out to 15 cents/kwh, more than double the average price of electricity in California. TAX THOSE MILES

    Even with taxed electricity, EV still cost 30-50% per mile as much as gasoline cars to run. Even a small “rebound effect” (see the June 2000 issue of Energy Policy, which I edited) is important – if the cost of a mile drops by 2/3, then at a rebound of 10% that still means more miles driven. Not a good thing necessarily. Worse if the electricity is not taxed.

    Unless the electricity come from a meter that charges during charging according to what CO2 the utility is emitting at that time, its not at all clear what the CO2 balance is for countries with lots of coal (US, Germany).

    Plug in hybrids (PHEV) are touted in the US as 120 mpg (<2 l/100 km!) by supporters who assume most of the driving is done with electricity AND then only counting the gasoline. More realistic is that most of the PHEV will be driving at least half or more in the gasoline mode. The net fuel and CO2 savings are hard to estimate, but not big unless the electricity is essentially carbon free.

    In the early 1990s Eric and I were at conferences where many cities bragged how they were giving EV owners free parking or free access to bus only lanes. Why? Is the emissions saving worth the likely extra driving? And is it fair as we do in California and DC (and for the time being Stockholm) to offer “green vehicles” free parking, car pool lane privileges, or free access over tolled bridges or congestion pricing cordons?

    I just wonder if this is winner—picking all over again? In the US much of our past is about loser-picking!

    Lee Schipper, Ph.D

    Project Scientist

    Global Metropolitan Studies

  3. Rick Risemberg , Los Angeles CA USAWednesday, 05 August, 2009

    Methadone for Road Hogs

    There's been a lot of talk in the last few years concerning Zero-Emissions Vehicles, or ZEVs, which are supposed to cure global warming, end smog, and close up the ozone hole while still maintaining the great American privilege of driving anywhere farther than half a block in the air-conditioned, six-speakered, window-tinted comfort of your mobile isolation chamber. Electric cars, fuel cells, natural gas buses, various hybrids, and who knows what other nonsense. And I say "nonsense" for a reason, because, while ZEVs may put a slight dent into smog and global warming, they will do little to alleviate, and nothing to reverse, the damage done by our mad and profligate use of energy on this planet. In fact, they will, by encouraging more car use, actually worsen some of the biggest problems facing our cities--those of excessive paving, the fragmentation of our neighborhoods, and the stresses imposed on us as individuals and as a society by traffic noise and congestion.

    Nevertheless, the concept of a Zero-Emissions Vehicle will certainly appeal to the American mentality, representing as it does another technological manipulation that solves a problem by putting it out of sight--for now. But what do the two major contenders really do for air pollution? The electric car moves its power generation out of the city and into the countryside, where most power plants, whether coal-fired, nuclear, or hydroelectric, exist, at a small gain in efficiency over newest generation internal combustion engines. Now, as well as lighting up Hollywood and Las Vegas, Four Corners will have to work even harder to power up seven million electric cars. Or perhaps EV technology will be cut off at the pass by hydrogen fuel cells, which make possible a ZEV that you can drive "just like a real car." But--where does the hydrogen come from? Well, there's two places: you can make it out of water, using a whole lot of energy; or you can refine it from--fossil fuels! Using a whole lot of energy. In physics, as in chemistry, you don't get something for nothing.

    But that's not the big question. In my town, Los Angeles, for example, over 70% of the land surface is paved in dedication to personal automobile driving. Roads, freeways, driveways, parking lots, parking structures, curbside parking, home garages, and so forth--this is apart from the land covered by ordinary buildings. Neighborhood after neighborhood is gashed by broad no-man's-lands of two to eight lane streets, of eight to twenty lane freeways, bleak scars winding around the bruises of vast parking lots. What will electric cars do to make all that less necessary? What will they do to make it easier for a child or an old lady or someone in a wheelchair to cross Hawthorne Boulevard at rush hour? Traffic Jammin' What will they do to make a tranquil dinner at a sidewalk table possible, a softball game in the street in front of a young couple's house, a quiet evening on the porch, such things as nowadays are obliterated by the ceaseless passing of nervous, hurried traffic? Go stand over the Hollywood Freeway at rush hour and imagine that all the cars you see there are electrically or fuel-cell powered. Then go to any busy intersection, or into the parking lot at the mall, and imagine the same thing about the rows and rows of Hondas and Chevys there. They have all been suddenly changed into ZEVs. What's different about the scene? That's right: NOTHING!

    Maybe the problem isn't what type of cars we drive. Maybe the problem is cars.

    ZEVs are nothing more than methadone for road hogs.

    Article by Rick Risemberg in http://www.newcolonist.com/rr2.html


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