Uruguayan electricity and other stories…

December 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

gttc-5Slightly off-topic but I have been particularly struck by the news today from the Paris summit that Uruguay – a small and not very wealthy country – has achieved an electricity mix of 94.5% renewables. Without government subsidies, or rising consumer prices. That’s 55% of the overall energy mix including transport fuels, with wind, hydro, solar and biomass all playing a part – but no nuclear. It’s good for business, too, energy accounting for 15% of its GDP. The Guardian story does note, however, that “the transport sector still depends on oil”, which accounts for 45% of the total energy mix – though it is at least in a good position to start using electrified vehicles (UTE, the state electricity generator/distributor, is already running a fleet of Renault Kangoo ZEs).  And I can’t resist making the point that this was mostly achieved under the watch of the country’s colourful former ‘peasant president’, a man who made Jeremy Corbyn look like a marauding free-marketeer. Or resist the temptation to post a holiday snap from Uruguay a few years back, suggesting that the country does still have some way to go before it cleans up its transport… (anyone want to hazard a guess what this is?)

  • No, not the Self-driven Volt but a fleet of self-driving Volts… GM is to deploy a fleet of autonomous Chevys at its technical centre in Warren, Michigan, involving a valet-service app: GM’s employees will reserve and summon the cars, which can park themselves. More here. (And to refer back to the esteemed Mr W Self and his recent series of radio shows, quite why the BBC thought it acceptable to send him on a long road trip in an obsolete electrified vehicle – discontinued UK-spec Volt – without the necessary charging cable and adaptor to use public charging points, then broadcast his predictably negative comments on his not-very-electric driving experience, I really don’t know. I don’t expect a writer and cultural commenter to be an EV expert/authority, but I would have expected better research and representation from the Beeb.)
  • Couple of summing-up-state-of-play studies from consultancy EY (Ernst & Young): first one, Who’s in the driving seat?, looks at autonomous vehicles and reckons that people are receptive to the idea, especially younger generations, seeing particular advantages for congestion and road safety, though they’re concerned about driving fun and liability issues. It points to a reversal of the driver-car relationship in terms of maintenance, safety and wellbeing, and importance of new values such as connectivity, reliability and safety in place of power or image – a shift from ‘extrinsic’ product values to ‘intrinsic’. Other one, Urban Mobility Redefined, goes down the “sharing is the new buying” route, with digitalisation and connectivity the key drivers. Nothing new here, but handy consolidations.
  • Swiss research institute Empa has opened a new platform called “move” in collaboration with ETH Zurich to study the use of surplus renewable electricity in cars, utility vehicles and machinery, encompassing a shift from fossil to renewable energy with a view to creating ‘a closed carbon cycle model.’ Mobility is responsible for 40% of Switzerland’s CO2 emissions, and the country anticipates a large surplus of solar-generated electricity in summer months. The project includes looking into synthetic electricity-based fuels, with the opening of an electrolysis plant to convert renewable electricity into hydrogen, as well catalytic conversion of hydrogen and CO2 into methane, and apparently nature is the role model since ‘plants have been using sunlight, water and CO2 to supply themselves sustainably with energy for millions of years.’ More here.
  • A frightening thought: mobility-on-demand, connectivity and autonomous vehicles could lead to “a profound impact” on consumers and vehicle mileage travelled, according a report from KPMG, which suggests that VMT could soar to an extra trillion additional miles a year by 2050. KPMG puts this down to increased demand for mobility and related services from older people and millennials in particular, citing older people using on-demand autonomous services as they age, as well as tech-savvy youngsters (aged 10-15) not yet old enough to drive, but who can get into an on-demand vehicle. It warns of large numbers of empty cars going to pick people up, and a possible increase in VMT of up to 3-4 trillion additional miles by 2050, as personal mileage escalates. More here; full report, “The Clockspeed Dilemma”, for download here.
  • University of Glasgow student Morven Fraser (BEng Mechanical Engineering) won this year’s Autocar-Courland Next Generation award for aspiring automotive engineers: her energy-capture and storage system concept involves PV film on a vehicle’s body panels to capture  energy, then stored in nanobatteries integrated into the carbonfibre panels, and used in an electrified powertrain. This could extend EV range and reduce reliance on heavy conventional batteries. Fraser, 21, wins £9000 plus work experience at six of the sponsor OEMs.
  • A researcher at Stuttgart University is working on a wireless induction charging system for super-accurate positioning of an electric vehicle over an induction plate, and for optimised efficiency. PhD student Dean Martinovic has developed and patented a magnetic field technology to match up induction coils to an accuracy of 1cm, using a low-frequency pulsed magnetic field; this gives lower interference with the car’s metal underbody and no reflection of electromagnetic waves. The driver is guided by a 3D image (on a tablet, in the prototype) to the optimal positioning of the car and the system is said to be both very space- and cost-effective.
  • A lifecycle analysis study in New Zealand has found EV impact to be significantly lower than that of conventional ICE vehicles, with over 60% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to petrol, 40% reduction in energy use compared to diesel, and in a NZ-specific context, an 80% fall in CO2 compared to petrol, thanks to NZ’s high proportion of renewable electricity. More here.
  • Heuliez Bus – making over a quarter of French buses – is to trial its first all-electric model, the GX ELEC, in Paris. More here.
  • Further to the above, the European Environment Agency has released a report claiming that nitrogen dioxide emissions – predominantly from diesel vehicles – are responsible for an additional 75,000 premature deaths in Europe each year (and 432,000 premature deaths caused by particulates, with ozone another health-problem emission). That’s 21,600 in polluted Italy, 14,100 in the UK, 10,400 in Germany and 5,900 in Spain, it says – all countries which have lobbied for weaker emissions controls and higher limits for diesel vehicles, Transport and Environment points out. T&E also notes another study claiming 23,500 UK deaths are attributable to NO2, suggesting that “the EAA’s method may be conservative.”
  • And just in case the role of vehicles in all this isn’t clear, the EC’s Joint Research Centre and the World Health Organisation have released a report identifying traffic as the biggest source of particulate matter in 51 world cities. Traffic accounts for 25% of PM2.5s and PM10s, combustion and agriculture 22%, domestic fuel burning 20%, natural dust and salt 18% and industrial activities 15%, although the proportions differ around the world. Domestic fuel burning is the greatest contributor to PMs in Eastern Europe, for example, and natural dust in the Middle East and North Africa, but  traffic, heating and agriculture are the main culprits in North America and Western Europe. More here.
  • Looking into the myth of peak car: VMT (vehicle mileage travelled) may be up in the US, but not when looked at per capita, and is a few % down on all-time peaks when population growth is taken into account, argues this piece (with handy graphs). Yeah, but mileage is still pretty damn high, whether it’s peaked or not…
  • Loads of fleet-related news this week, but one of the biggest/most symbolic is 2000 EVs to New York City’s non-emergency fleet, which already runs 300 EVs on municipal duties. This will mean that half the fleet is electric, with a claimed reduction in fuel consumption of 2.5million gallons a year plus CO2 emissions halved by 2020, and is thought to be the biggest fleet deployment yet of EVs in the US. More here.
  • Audi America is in talks with other car-makers over establishing a single common-standard fast-charging network across the USA, a la Tesla Superchargers; another (potential) example, I think, of how the carmakers are expanding their businesses beyond building hardware to service provision. More here.
  • And more news from Germany’s most excellent and innovative Frauenhofer Institutes (a network of well-funded universities and research centres developing engineering solutions): a prototype battery cell with its own integrated microcontroller charting temperature, state of charge and suchlike, able to communicate with other cells, the main controller and other devices. An empty or defective cell can be decoupled from the system. This should allow for greater battery range (by up to 10%) – since it eliminates the problem of cells linked in series, whereby the weakest cell determines overall capacity – and lower costs, it’s claimed. This is part of the EU 3Ccar advanced systems design project, which aims to reduce EV complexity, costs and maintenance requirements.
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