Thursday, 16 July 2009

Holy Air-Quality, Batman! Scottish Government Vehicles To Go 95% Carbon-Neutral By 2010!

The Electric Smart Car

Because I like to get an outside perspective on the news of the world, I've lately taken to following the headlines of foreign news agencies on Twitter, especially the BBC World News. I highly recommend getting a broader perspective. This is, of course, even more important for teaching my World Regional Geography class, this upcoming semester (that is, as long as it isn't cancelled due to the 30%+ budget cuts of this year).

The Scotsman, the national newspaper of Scotland, recently published a piece titled: "Scots vehicles to go electric in next ten years, vow ministers". David Maddox, Scottish Political Correspondent, described an "ambitious plan by the Scottish Government to make 95 per cent of vehicles low-carbon" by 2010--a target the U.S. could only dream of. (Read the full article here.) Although rapidly acting on a carbon emission reduction of 42% by 2020 that was recently passed by Members of Scottish Parliament, the new plan "has been met with scepticism by [both] drivers' organisations and environmental groups."

But, I'd rush to add, at least they're DOING something.

(Think we should we wait to see what happens before we act? I refer you to the following video for a thorough analysis of that mindset.)

The comments section of online articles can occasionally present valuable criticisms and observations beyond the scope of the original article itself. This is one such piece. I'd like to quote the user KampungHighlander, of Jakarta, who responded to fellow commenter drunken proffet's call for hydrogen power, rather than electricity:

Drunken Proffet [wrote]: "Well you could use hydrogen to power your cars."

Unfortunately Hydrogen has hit a few technical bottle necks that has seen most major Auto Manufacturers opt for Lithium Ion Batteries as the technology of choice.

The major stumbling block is that the amount of electricity to separate Hydrogen from the Oxygen molecules in water requires a lot more energy than you what you get by recombining the two in a fuel cell.

Lithium Ion on the other hand has had a couple of technical breakthroughs such as increasing the life cycle to 50,000 charges and discharges and the newest batteries can be fully charged in as little as five minutes.

The arguments about infrastructure are a bit silly considering that establishing a recharge point costs about £200 and that most roads already have an available source of electricity. It is not nearly as difficult as it was to establish the infrastructure we currently have for liquid fuels.

Studies done in the US even show that it would actually save Electric utilities money to store surplus power in a grid of EV's rather than rely on expensive standby power. With Scotland becoming a large producer of intermittent Wind Power this will only become more important.

Ultimately what will drive peoples buying decisions will be cost, so [as long] as petrol remains the more expensive alternative people will switch to electric vehicles. Other incentives such as exempting electric vehicles from VAT or allocating the best parking spaces to EV's could also be offered to speed up adoption.

Some other points to consider:

1. Where will the energy come from for electric cars? (Not coal-fired power plants, I hope!)
2. How much will the infrastructure for recharge points cost? Who will be in charge of them?
3. Can we really make them cost effective?
4. Can car manufacturers make electric SUVs and powerful trucks for the Super-Size Me American???

There are countless other questions yet to arise, I have no doubt. This is more than the simple issue it's often painted to be and I'd like to see more discussion on the issue. This coming fall, I'll be putting the matter before my students to see what they come up with--quite often they amaze me with their insightful queries and commentary. With increasing committments for sustainable energy and reduced carbon emissions, both in and out of the political arena, the end of the year promises to be interesting, at best.

Yes, I'll be watching the news...