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And now for something completely different – enter Project ubu!

Peter Atkins, from InterWeb, 18 September, 2017.

This is not really about electricity governance, but it is about leveling the playing field for everyone, so please indulge me.

What is it?

Project ubu proposes a way towards facilitating a world in which the basic needs of everyone can be met on an on-going basis (and this would include energy).

The trading mechanism being proposed is based on the UBU, or Universal Basic Unit.

Why and How?

The world’s population is divided into two groups: those with access to the economy and those with none.

Every person has economic value, yet almost 3 billion are excluded from economic participation. The global financial system doesn’t recognise their value.

ubu aims to create the world’s first fully fledged decentralised currency that works to the benefit of everyone without relying on taxation. It will be based on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.

By applying proven technological innovations to forward thinking socioeconomic theory to achieve sustainable progression.

Here is the link to the ubu website

Electric vehicle carbon emissions lower than for internal combustion vehicles – even for coal powered generation

Bloomberg, 18 September, 2017.

(Ed. note: This article is about China, but it would definitely also apply to South Africa. Note that the author doesn’t include other EV benefits, such as SOx and NOx and other particulate emission reduction through EVs)

China’s offhand bombshell about potentially consigning gasoline-fueled cars to the scrapheap has met, predictably, with a round of cheers and jeers.

This is about one of the latter, which concerns the chart below:

Steam Engines
Almost 90 percent of China’s power derives from fossil fuels, especially coal

(Ed. note: Please go to the Bloomberg web site to see the charts)

With coal dominating China’s electricity generation, a common refrain about electric vehicles is: What’s the point? A car fed by a wire stretching back to a coalmine doesn’t seem like much of an improvement over a gasoline pump.

It’s a legitimate point. But it risks obscuring a different, more fundamental point.

The question here is whether or not an electric vehicle truly results in less greenhouse-gas emissions than a traditional one with an internal combustion engine. This doesn’t just encompass how the vehicles use their energy, but also where that energy comes from and how the vehicles get built in the first place — what are sometimes called “life-cycle” emissions.

The math around emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fuels and generating power is established. Meanwhile, some studies have also attempted to put numbers around the squishier concepts of emissions from building cars and batteries and producing and transporting fuels.

Different vehicles have different carbon footprints due to size, materials and so forth. For my purposes, I am going to use an assumption of 9.7 tons of carbon for a mid-sized vehicle, as per this study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2015.

Building a battery (I’m only considering full battery-electric vehicles here, not hybrids) adds further emissions for the electric vehicle. There are relatively few commercial-scale studies on this issue, with the ones I’ve seen offering estimates implying ranges of between roughly 150 to 330 pounds per kilowatt-hour of capacity. Taking the mid-point of that for a 60 kWh battery — similar to what you might find in a Chevy Bolt or maybe a Tesla Model 3 — equates to 7.3 tons of emissions.

Now the fuel, starting with gasoline:

Emissions from producing oil, refining it and distributing the fuel varies widely; Canadian oil sands, for example, require more energy to produce than many conventional fields. I’ve used the results of a model developed by the Argonne National Laboratory, which estimates about 5.2 pounds of emissions per gallon by the time it gets to the pump. Burning the stuff releases another 20 pounds.

Assuming a theoretical Chinese vehicle gets 35 miles per gallon — a slight improvement on the figure for 2015 — this adds up to just over 0.7 pounds per mile.

With the electric car, “fuel” emissions depend on the mix of power sources. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides estimates of these before any fuel is burned. Using those, along with standard emissions for fossil-fuel combustion and assuming 6 percent of the power gets lost as it is transmitted over the grid, results in these estimates per kWh for the major power sources:

Measuring Footprints
Coal’s emissions are more than double those for natural gas and dwarf all the other sources
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg Gadfly analysis
Note: Assumes heat rate of 10,500 BTU and 8,000 BTU for coal and natural gas-fired plants, respectively, and 6 percent transmission losses. Solar and wind data are for utility-scale and onshore installations, respectively.

Let’s assume the electric vehicle gets 3.5 miles per kWh. This is 240 miles of range divided by 60kWh, subtracting half a mile as a conservative factor to take account of sub-optimal driving conditions and possible degradation of the battery over time. Use China’s coal-heavy power mix and you get emissions of just over half a pound per mile.

Now, assume both vehicles get driven 10,500 miles per yearand last 12 years. Here’s how much carbon they emit overall:

The lower emissions from the electric vehicle’s energy source eventually makes up for the bigger carbon footprint of its battery — even with a lot of coal in the mix
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Argonne National Laboratory, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg Gadfly analysis
Note: Assumptions as per accompanying column, including China’s 2016 mix of electricity generation.

So it takes about seven years to offset the emissions from making the battery, even with all that coal factored in. Granted, an 11 percent drop in cumulative emissions still may not seem worth the effort; a couple of alterations to the assumptions and you might end up with no savings at all.

But this brings us to the real story here: choice.

The vehicle with the internal combustion engine can be tweaked in terms of miles-per-gallon. But chemistry dictates that burning gasoline will always, more or less, send 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It’s a closed system.

The battery vehicle, in contrast, is an open platform. Its menu of energy options can change dramatically according to the types of generation in your region, whether you’re using centralized or distributed power sources, and even the time of day you charge up. Critically, all those inputs can, and will, change over time.

To see how this affects things, the chart below shows my estimate of life-cycle emissions for the two vehicles described above, but also for Chinese vehicles using the International Energy Agency’s projected mix of power there in 2030. For this, I’ve also boosted the efficiency of the vehicles by almost 30 percent, so the one using gasoline gets about 45 miles per gallon, while the electric vehicle gets about 4.5 miles per kWh. I’ve done the same for U.S. vehicles traveling 13,000 miles per year, and starting at 31 miles per gallon for the gasoline vehicle now, using the country’s current and projected power mix:

The Power To Change
Projected changes in the mix of power sources imply dramatic reductions in life-cycle emissions for the electric vehicle versus what’s on the road today
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Argonne National Laboratory, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Energy Information Administration, International Energy Agency, Bloomberg Gadfly analysis
Note: Assumptions as per accompanying column.

There are valid arguments against electric vehicles, be it their high cost or concerns around charging infrastructure, range anxiety or whatever. Yet it should also be acknowledged that all those concerns have diminished in importance over time and may well continue to do so. Certainly, much of the incumbent auto industry – not to mention some petro-states — seems to be thinking that way.

When it comes to carbon emissions, though, the argument that electric vehicles are as bad or worse than those burning gasoline is already hard to square with today’s numbers — and that will get harder over time. It ignores the inherent potential for change and choice that an electric drive-train opens up versus burning gasoline. Oil bulls dismissing this should take note that governments look ever less likely to do the same.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

  1. This is the Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation, or GREET, model; released in late 2016 and updated earlier this year.
  2. This is the average for a passenger vehicle in China as estimated by Bloomberg New Energy Finance in a report published in March 2017.
  3. The IEA’s “World Energy Outlook 2016″ projects China’s electricity output by source to be as follows (under the ‘New Policies’ scenario): Coal (51 percent), hydro (16 percent), nuclear (10 percent), wind (10 percent), natural gas (7 percent), solar (5 percent), other (2 percent). A new edition of the annual study, with a particular focus on China, is due in November 2017.

To contact the author of this story:
Liam Denning in New York at

The Nelson Mandela Metro allows renewable energy generators to sell energy to others through their grid

The Herald, 18 September, 2017.

The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality is blazing a trail on renewable energy. Port Elizabeth energy services company, Energyworx, is poised to supply several Nelson Mandela Bay outlets of a national fast food chain with green power. A report in The Herald notes that Energyworx is awaiting approval from the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa), after which it will start supplying more than a dozen KFC outlets in the area with renewable energy. It operates from Port Elizabeth’s technology and innovation hub and the custodian of the metro’s SmartCity ambitions, the Propella Business Incubator in Humewood. This was revealed last week by Energyworx director Tim Whitaker, who said the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality was the only metro authority in the country which allowed ‘wheeling’. This enabled Energyworx, through a licensed renewable energy retailer, to supply renewable energy – such as that from wind and solar sources – to commercial entities in the region. ‘As an indication of the benefits to KFC, the company should field a 3% saving in rand terms of its overall energy costs and at no cost to that company,’ Whitaker said.

Full report in The Herald (subscription needed)

Want lower energy prices? Put baseload out to pasture.

Financial Review, 18 September. 2017.

by Bruce Mountain


(Ed. note: This is an article about Australia and its energy policiy – although in my view it applies very much to South Africa)

One of the few constants in Australia’s energy debate is the fervour of politicians’ and administrators’ homage to the idea that electricity prices should be lower than they are. That electricity prices have reached the level they have, suggests the homage has all too often been a camouflage for other agendas. For too long ideology and the protection of vested interests has lurked behind the apparent pursuit of “lower electricity prices”. The obsession with coal-fired “baseload” generation is an enduring manifestation of this malaise.

It merits critical scrutiny.

“Baseload” describes a generating plant, hitherto most commonly coal-fired, that is characterised by high capital costs and relatively lower variable costs. This cost structure renders such plant inherently inflexible: its viability depends on its ability to operate continuously. Such plant also has minimum stable generation levels and responds slowly to changing demand. For this reason, it was not long ago that the roofs in many Australian homes accommodated oversized and poorly insulated water heaters designed to keep the baseload plant operating in the dead of night. Though grossly wasteful, it was the best that could be done given the technological limitations of the era.

New technology, more flexibility

Fortunately the world moved on. From the late 1980s open-cycle gas turbines supplemented hydro generation in providing flexibility to match demand and supply. In other countries, market arrangements have also encouraged customers to respond to short-term price signals and this “demand response” has come to play a major role.

There have been astonishing developments in other areas. The installed cost of photovoltaics (solar panels) have declined by about 80 per cent over the past seven years. Despite patchy policy support, it has taken just seven years for photovoltaics to reach one in five detached houses. Electricity produced by photovoltaics on a roof typically costs about one-sixth of grid-supplied electricity. It is no surprise that photovolatics are now being installed at record rates not just on household roofs but also on farms and in businesses.

And now the trajectory of costs in batteries, particularly those with lithium chemistries is declining even more steeply than we have seen in photovoltaics. The combination of battery and photovoltaics installed behind customers’ meters now promises to meet customers’ needs more cheaply than grid-only supply.

Responsive demand

South Australia suffers from concentrated electricity markets, dependency on expensive gas and structurally high network charges. The combination of behind-the-meter photovoltaics and battery with the grid for back-up is already cheaper than grid-only supply for most small customers in SA. While batteries plus solar and grid back-up is not yet viable for most customers in the rest of Australia, the gap is small and quickly getting smaller.

If the federal government is determined to deliver lower electricity prices, it might focus its effort on ensuring that demand is more responsive to short term price signals, and on making up the narrowing shortfall needed to encourage widespread uptake of distributed batteries. Such policies will not be difficult to develop or implement, they will require outlays many times smaller than those needed to build baseload coal plants, and will show results during the term of a government.

The market must adjust

Such policies will, however, speed up the nonetheless inevitable decline in many customers’ reliance on the shared power system. Generators and retailers should be expected to adjust without assistance: they operate in a market after all. The shared grid still has a future albeit different to its past and even in a declining market there will be ample opportunity for investment in decarbonising electricity production.

Networks are more difficult. Their excessive asset values reflect historic asset write-ups (when policy makers thought demand was inelastic) and many years of wasteful gold plating. Furthermore technology change (distributed energy resources, and more efficient appliances) is leading to declining use of the shared network. Write-downs to bring the regulatory asset values into line with their economic values is needed. The biggest adjustment is needed where the networks are partially or fully government owned. The challenge is not insurmountable but requires governments to take responsibility for their past mistakes. For the privately owned networks, asset write-downs raise legitimate worries about political expropriation and these would need to be resolved.

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Letter from Trumpland: Will the Irma & Harvey tag team drown US climate denial?

Daily Maverick, Glen Retief, 5 September, 2017.

Worst, biggest, wettest, hottest, costliest. Will a forest of climate superlatives force the world’s largest per-capita climate polluter to reconsider its increasingly bizarre-looking policy of official climate denial? By GLEN RETIEF.

As Florida declares a state of emergency, bracing for the possible impact from Category 4 Hurricane Irma, we in America remain drenched in images of the catastrophic damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey, the worst rainfall event ever to be recorded in the continental United States.

Over the past week, we saw kayakers struggling past a stop sign on a paved bayou. Cars got abandoned in impromptu lakes; the internet abounded in abandoned wet dogs and drowning cats. Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimated the damage at $180-billion, comparable to the world’s most expensive storm, Hurricane Katrina.

Nor was Harvey the week’s biggest weather news, even before Irma made her ominous appearance. As Donald Trump urged survivors in a Houston shelter to “have a good time”, UNICEF reported 16-million children and their families in imminent need of live-saving support in South Asia, where monsoon floods have left a third of Bangladesh under water.

Having finally shrugged off its most parched drought since the dust-bowl 1930s, cool, breezy San Francisco recorded its hottest-ever temperature on Friday, an astounding 41 Celcius in the shade.

Worst, biggest, wettest, hottest, costliest. Will a forest of climate superlatives force the world’s largest per-capita climate polluter to reconsider its increasingly bizarre-looking policy of official climate denial? From the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords to the rescinding of standards requiring that federally funded infrastructure in flood plains bear in mind climate change, the current administration’s hallmark policy has been to pretend that global warming is not a serious problem.

The question has real consequences for South Africa, which faces projected warming of 5-8° C over its own interior by 2050, along with fiercer storms and longer droughts.

Early post-Harvey signs do not seem hopeful. This week Myron Ebell, manager of Trump’s transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency, commented, by way of deflecting concerns that the unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico had intensified Harvey’s rainfall, that the previous decade brought few large hurricanes to US shores.

Here is the full article