electric cars

Business journos jumping on the climate story

With the nations of the world preparing to say how much they are willing to do to combat climate change, it's heartening to see business journalists jumping on the story.

Two worthwhile and recent examples:

  • Today Marketplace launched a series called "The Climate Race," in which reporters Sam Eaton and Sarah Gardner ventured out from their desks in LA to find out how climate change is affecting Americans on the ground. Today's installment took us to Helena, Montana, where a beetle has devastated forests surrounding Montana's state capital. The beetles used to die off in the winter, but a few degrees' warming has made all the differrence. Today Helena is surrounded by hills ablaze in orange, red and gold. No, those aren't the gorgeous and welcome warm hues of autumn. These trees, you see, are evergreens. They turn those colors when they die.
  • The Wall Street Journal's Weekly Journal Report just featured "Five Technologies That Could Change Everything." Now, Marketplace's Eaton and Gardener are reporters on the program's sustainability desk, but I'm pretty sure the WSJ doesn't have one of those. And while the Marketplace piece was straight-ahead what-are-the-effects reporting, the WSJ was thinking -- as always -- about investors as editor Michael Totty examined space-based solar energy, advanced electric car batteries, renewable-energy storage, carbon capture and storage and next-generation biofuels. The piece features a basic rundown on where each of those technologies stands, enough to get investors' interest piqued. The graphics are pretty good, too.   

It would be a weclome sign to see more of our colleagues in the financial press pressing forward with reporting on the perils and opportunities presented by climate change.

Chevy Volt's 230 mpg -- not a savior, just a step along the way

chevy-volt-logoThere's been a lot of virtual ooo-ing and ahh-ing about the Chevrolet Volt today after Chevy's announcement that it is expected to get the equivalent of 230 miles per gallon, under current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mileage-estimation procedures.
While there's no doubt that 230 mpg is a vast improvement over our current situation, there are several points to consider that may your temper enthusiasm for the Volt.
The first is its pricetag: $40,000. The second is its range: 32 to 40 miles without a charge. (But bear in mind that, at least according to Chevy, at 40 miles the Volt could transport more than three-fourths of America's daily commuters without using a single drop of gas. Impressive!)
Cupla relevant points:
  • The Volt reinforces something I've been saying for a while: When it comes to how Americans get around, it's probably going to be a lot more efficient to invent super-high-mileage personal cars than to persuade a large majority of Americans to use mass transit. Face it, we're car-centric. If we're going to head off climate catastrophe, seems like we need a technological solution, not a sociological one. And, hey, this is coming from a guy who rode the bus *and* Amtrak yesterday -- and hasn't had a commute longer than 4 miles in almost two decades. 
  • The Volt doesn't erase transportation's carbon footprint, just reduces it a lot.

Obama electric-car research total stunning compared to past R&D efforts

president-you-know-whoTake a look at most of today's news stories about President Obama announcing that the government is awarding $2.4 billion to spur the manufacturing of electric-hybrid cars.

The headline on a New York Times piece is a good example: "Obama visits economically depressed region."

Well, do tell! That hed could've been on dozens of stories in the last year. The accounts of Obama's visit to Elkhart County, Indiana (unemployment rate: 16.8 percent) that we've found so far today are heavy on how this is supposed to be great for the economy. These accounts fall short on how this stacks up as an energy investment compared to past performance.

With the $2.4 billion in federal funds matched by the companies receiving it, we're looking at, according to the White House, "the single largest investment in advanced battery technology for hybrid and electric-drive vehicles ever made." This is huge.

To put this $2.4 billion government investment into context, consider that the Clinton and Bush administrations spent something like $1.5 billion over eight years on an ill-fated program called the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle. Taxpayers and the Big Three automakers -- which kicked in $8 billion -- funded a research program.

They did find ways to make more fuel-efficient vehicles -- but at a cost of roughly $7,000 to $10,000 per car. Because of the high pricetag, the automakers never put their newfound knowledge into effect.

What did they get for their $1 billion a year?

B.C towns OK low-speed electric cars

Three towns on Vancouver Island have changed their bylaws to allow low-speed electric cars known as Neighbourhood Zero Emission Vehicles, reports Bill Cleverley of the Victoria Times Colonist. They're allowed on roads with speed limits of 50 km/hr or less. In light of the changes by Oak Bay, Colwood and Esquimalt, Victoria is considering a similar move.