January meeting report

For those who didn't make it we had a film show as planned.

I was out voted and we watched "Who killled the electric car" which was very well presented using the story of the GM EV1 to illustrate the broader issues surrounding the attempts by California to try and reduce the environmental and human damage caused by the car.

The issues were well presented and although a lot of the technical problems with electric vehicles were glossed over the case was made for why the EV experiment ended.

Basically it came down to there being just too many groups with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I prefer this explanation to some of the more hysterical "tin foil hat" conspiracy theories, it demonstrates you don't need dark figures in smoke filled rooms plotting, you just need a good financial incentive to carry on with business as usual. The tactics used by the motor industry, the oil industry and the fuel cell business interests all just came together and did for the EV.

Whether EV can really be a solution is a bigger question, in a world where we drive less perhaps electric vehicles can provide a technical solution for our reduced transport needs.

The general consensus at the meeting seemed to be the film missed the bigger issue but did demonstrate the obstacles which will be put in place to those fighting climate change, preparing for peak oil, or both. We have already seen Bush offering technical solutions with Hydrogen, biofuels and most recently with carrying out experiments with our atmosphere, all to carry on with business as usual.

In response to a lovely optimistic post on another forum I sketched out the following. The original idea was we would all make Hydrogen from electricity generated from wind power at night. I need to fact check this but post it for information anyway.

I'm not convinced that would work a little back of the beer mat math gives you an idea of the scale of the problem.

Petrol has an energy density of over 30MJ / Litre, it's actually a bit more that that but I'll use 30 to keep the numbers simple (they are going to be huge).

Lets say cars get an average of 45 mpg (excuse the mixed units) that works out around 10 miles per litre giving an energy usage of 3MJ / mile (30/10).

Hydrogen cell advocates typically claim that cells are three times more efficient than heat engines (internal combustion engine), I'm skeptical but lets use take it as a fact, so our new exciting FCV will run at around 1MJ per mile.

A typical car in the Uk does 10,000 miles a year, that's 10,000 MJ or 10GJ per year.

I have a figure in my head of 25,000,000 cars on the road, I think that's a couple of year old but it'll do for now.

That makes the energy demand assuming all cars were converted to hydrogen fuel cells around 250,000,000 Gj per year

Current UK electrcity production is around 1,224,000 Gj per year again this is based on a number in my head (340,000 GWh = 1,224,000 GJ again this is old so may need checking).

Now that's unfair because some traffic will move over to alternatives such as bio-diesel, so if we half the demand figure and say we need 125,000,000 GJ then we only need to generate one hundred times as much electricity as we do now just to fuel cars, this is based on carrying on with current driving patterns.

It's not all bad news, there are some experimental FCV that run as low as 0.333MJ per mile but the numbers still don't add up.

On bio-diesel there was an interesting story at the tail end of last week, tortillas in south america have shot up in price due to increased demand for corn for conversion into bio-fuel in the states.

Anyone for a bike?


chunkysimon said...

The last couple of films I have seen on Green Issues have been american and I think they do think about things in a different way. The only mention of Public Transport was about trolley cars being "retired" by a car company. The idea seemed to be that the shift was from Petrol (sorry "Gas") cars to electric cars. Not from Petrol Cars to buses or rail( or Bikes or walking). Maybe it's because these people need stepped changes- rather than quantum leaps. I am always worried that the scale of the problem is too big for small changes to work anymore.

Dode said...

The American situation is different, more so than Europe they have built their world around the car, it's hard even in many cities to get around without one. In some places you never seem to leave the city as development just continues along the highway with tracts of houses and retail developments.
I read Jim Kunstler's blog off and on and although in some areas he has a very American wordview, particularly around world politics, his take on developent, housing patterns and communities can be quite enlightening.