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Electric cars are clean today and will only get cleaner tomorrow
By Max Baumhefner and Cecilia Springer
Uncovering a fraud is uniquely satisfying, which is perhaps why news outlets continue to provide electric car deniers with a platform to proclaim they aren’t as green as they appear. But close examination reveals the latest round of skeptics to be lacking in substance.
Numerous peer-reviewed articles have reached the same conclusion: From cradle to grave, electric cars are the cleanest vehicles on the road today. And unlike cars that rely on oil, the production of which is only getting dirtier over time, the environmental benefits of electric cars will continue to improve as old coal plants are replaced with cleaner sources and manufacturing becomes more efficient as it scales up to meet growing consumer demand.
“Did your account for the pollution from the electricity it takes to power the vehicles?”
This question has been asked and answered. Using today’s average American electricity mix of natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydro, wind, geothermal, and solar, an electric car emits half the amount of harmful carbon pollution per mile as the average new vehicle. In states with cleaner mixes, such as California, it’s only a quarter as much. To find out how clean your electric car would be today, plug your zip code into the EPA’s “Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator.” Those benefits will only improve as the electric grid becomes cleaner over time.
Before the Natural Resources Defense Council began advocating for vehicle electrification, we did our own homework, publishing a two-volume report in partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute. The work took almost two years and concluded that a long-term shift to the use of electricity as a transportation fuel provides substantial reductions in carbon pollution and air quality benefits.
It’s essential to take a long view when examining vehicle electrification, because the electric grid doesn’t stand still. Since the time we published that report, the EPA has adopted power plant standards for mercury and other air toxics, ozone-forming emissions, fine particulate pollution, soot, and coal ash; proposed standards for greenhouse gases from new power plants; and has been directed by the president to adopt greenhouse gas standards for existing plants. Meanwhile, 29 states have adopted renewable energy targets to reduce emissions. Driving on renewable electricity is virtually emissions-free.
“Did your account for the resources it takes to build the cars?”
Producing an electric car today requires more resources than producing a conventional vehicle, generally due to the large batteries. However, comparing the efficiency of relatively nascent and small-scale electric vehicle manufacturing to the efficiency of conventional automobile production, which has benefited from more than a century of learning-by-doing, is misleading. Automakers are racing to save money and materials through recycling and more efficient production. Those who win the race will win the market.
Even with today’s technology, on a lifecycle basis, the electric car is still the cleanest option available. Higher emissions from manufacturing are more than offset by the substantial benefits of driving on electricity. We examined six peer-reviewed academic studies and found that in every case, electric vehicles win by a substantial margin, with estimates ranging from 28 to 53 percent lower cradle-to-grave emissions than conventional vehicles today.
Opponents often rely upon the original version of a Norwegian study, which has much higher estimates of emissions associated with the production of electric cars. Those skeptics generally cherry-pick from the original version of that article, and ignore the fact it was correctedpost-publication, resulting in its estimate of the comparative emissions benefit rising from 22 percent to 28 percent. In other words, even the source relied upon by skeptics shows a substantial lifecycle advantage for electric cars. The Norwegian study finds the lowest benefit relative to the other articles examined partially because it includes an estimate of emissions associated with the disposal of advanced battery materials that is higher than other studies, which brings us to the next question:
“What about mining and disposing of the materials needed to make the batteries?”
First off, there is no shortage of the materials needed to make advanced vehicle batteries. A recent article in the Journal of Industrial Ecology concludes, “even with a rapid and widespread adoption of electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, lithium resources are sufficient to support demand until at least the end of this century.” Another analysis of the trade constraints associated with the global lithium market came to a similar conclusion, and noted that even a “five-fold increase of lithium price would not impact the price of battery packs.” Furthermore, companies like Simbol Materials are already finding innovative ways to acquire lithium by harvesting materials from the brine of geothermal power plants — no mining required.
Secondly, advanced vehicle batteries are unlikely to be simply thrown away; they’re too valuable. Even once they’re no longer suitable for automotive use, they retain about 80 percent of their capacity and can be re-purposed to provide grid energy storage to facilitate the integration of variable renewable resources, such as wind and solar. Automotive batteries can also be repurposed to support the electrical grid at the neighborhood level, preventing the need to invest in costly distribution system equipment. Pacific Gas & Electric plans to use money saved through the strategic deployment of used battery packs in neighborhoods throughout Northern and Central California to provide electric car drivers with rebates to reduce the purchase price of new electric cars.
Finally, those batteries that aren’t repurposed will likely be recycled. Conventional vehicle manufacturing is one of the most efficient industries in the world — around 95 percent of vehicle parts are recycled, reducing the energy needed to make more parts. It is worth noting that conventional lead-acid car batteries are consistently the most recycled product for which the EPA provides data [PDF], with a recycling rate of 96 percent. Advanced battery recycling could cut associated emissions in half, according to a 2012 study from researchers at Argonne National Laboratory. Companies are already investing in such technologies.
In summary, a sustained and serious examination of the cradle-to-grave impacts of electric cars reveals they are the cleanest option available today, and that the environmental benefits of vehicle electrification will only increase over time. That’s not only good news for the eco-conscious, but for any consumer interested in driving on a cleaner fuel at a price equivalent to buck-a-gallon gasoline.
Cecilia Springer is an associate at Climate Advisers, where she manages projects on transportation and sustainable supply chains.
Max Baumhefner is an NRDC attorney with a focus on the juncture of the electricity and transportation sectors.
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Yesterday, Google announced that it would buy privately-held Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. This was Google’s second largest acquisition ever. Nest is a smart thermostat and smoke alarm-maker which promises to give Google a leg up in the fast expanding home automation market. But the acquisition also highlights the degree to which communications technology is now embedded in ordinary devices. The benefit is convenience. The risk is privacy.
Since this is a thought piece, I am putting it outside the paywall.
Last week cryptography expert Bruce Schneier wrote an interesting piece on the NSA at the Atlantic, arguing that the intelligence agency threatens national security. His argument in a nutshell was that the NSA – in its zeal to undermine security for espionage purposes - made the digital world vulnerable to any attacker, including foreign governments and common hacker criminals. Schneier pointed to the NSA’s “collect-everything mentality” as being at the heart of the security vulnerability. And I believe this is important when thinking about embedded technology in the context of the Google acquisition.
Embedded technology or embedded systems are computer systems that operate within larger devices in order to make them ‘smart’ and more technologically advanced. Think of electronic watches, baby monitors, refrigerators or washing machines. These articles are by their very nature mechanical/electronic. But in today’s world, they also contain tiny little computers in order to enhance their functionality and ease of use. Embedded systems of this sort are literally ubiquitous. The Nest acquisition gives Google entree into this embedded technology market in its most important application, home automation.
The problem with embedded systems is that they are a major security and privacy risk. In another Bruce Schneier post, he explains:
“We’re at a crisis point now with regard to the security of embedded systems, where computing is embedded into the hardware itself — as with the Internet of Things. These embedded computers are riddled with vulnerabilities, and there’s no good way to patch them.
It’s not unlike what happened in the mid-1990s, when the insecurity of personal computers was reaching crisis levels. Software and operating systems were riddled with security vulnerabilities, and there was no good way to patch them. Companies were trying to keep vulnerabilities secret, and not releasing security updates quickly. And when updates were released, it was hard — if not impossible — to get users to install them. This has changed over the past twenty years, due to a combination of full disclosure — publishing vulnerabilities to force companies to issue patches quicker — and automatic updates: automating the process of installing updates on users’ computers. The results aren’t perfect, but they’re much better than ever before.
But this time the problem is much worse, because the world is different: All of these devices are connected to the Internet. The computers in our routers and modems are much more powerful than the PCs of the mid-1990s, and the Internet of Things will put computers into all sorts of consumer devices. The industries producing these devices are even less capable of fixing the problem than the PC and software industries were.
If we don’t solve this soon, we’re in for a security disaster as hackers figure out that it’s easier to hack routers than computers. At a recent Def Con, a researcher looked at thirty home routers and broke into half of them — including some of the most popular and common brands.”
Schneier focuses on the security risk. And that’s a big problem because these embedded technology products are never updated by end users, making them vulnerable to hackers, especially if they are internet-enabled. But then there is the privacy risk too. A lot of ink has been spilled over GPS and WiFi tracking for example. For retailers, tracking customers in-store will soon be the norm. But these tracking mechanisms can be used across retailers too in the same way tracking cookies are used across the Internet. Turnstyle Solutions has set up a WiFi tracking mechanism in downtown Toronto that uses sensors at 200 different stores, allowing the company to create a mosaic of 2 million people and their shopping habits – in the hopes of serving them with proto-Minority Report-style advertising.
We see the emerging location tracking technology developing in cars too at this year’s Detroit auto show. The Guardian reported on privacy problems:
the US government accountability office (GAO) found inconsistencies in the way automakers handle data from car owners, raising fears of privacy breaches. The study looked at information collected by Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Toyota as well as navigation device-makers Garmin and TomTom and map and navigation app developers Google and Telenav.
“Without clear disclosures about the purposes, consumers may not be able to effectively judge whether the uses of their location data might violate their privacy,” the report noted.
Now, note, that these technologies are geared not just toward enhancing computing power but toward increasing convenience for end users. So the convenience factor is the trojan horse for security and privacy vulnerabilities. Couldn’t the government embed hidden backdoors into these systems? Couldn’t hackers break into the vendors’ computer systems to access our private information? Couldn’t someone or some company or some government use our home automation devices to watch our every move where we live and sleep? The answer to all of these questions is yes. This is what happened with the Target and Neiman Marcus data breaches, affecting 70 million customers with not just stolen credit card information but stolen email addresses, telephone numbers and other personally identifying information.
I don’t have a solution to this problem but I think it will be end up as a mutli-factored problem in a world that is increasingly dependent on always-on computing and internet communications capabilities. The economic and social impact will be in terms of theft, industrial and government espionage, privacy and freedom of speech. it’s hard to tell when, where and how the privacy and security vulnerabilities will be made manifest as serious problems but the NSA spy scandal tells you it already is one. And it is likely to get bigger unless we do find a solution.
Bruce Schneier makes a good case for seeing the security and privacy risks as social in nature. He writes:
Not only is ubiquitous surveillance ineffective, it is extraordinarily costly. I don’t mean just the budgets, which will continue to skyrocket. Or the diplomatic costs, as country after country learns of our surveillance programs against their citizens. I’m also talking about the cost to our society. It breaks so much of what our society has built. It breaks our political systems, as Congress is unable to provide any meaningfuloversight and citizens are kept in the dark about what government does. It breaks our legal systems, as laws areignoredorreinterpreted, and people are unable to challenge government actions in court. It breaks our commercial systems, as U.S. computer products and services are no longer trusted worldwide. It breaks our technical systems, as the very protocols of the Internet become untrusted. And it breaks our social systems; the loss of privacy, freedom, and liberty is much more damaging to our society than the occasional act of random violence.
And finally, these systems are susceptible to abuse. This is not just a hypothetical problem. Recent history illustrates many episodes where this information was, or would have been, abused: Hoover and his FBI spying, McCarthy, Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, anti-war Vietnam protesters, and—more recently—the Occupy movement. Outside the U.S., there are even more extreme examples. Building the surveillance state makes it too easy for people and organizations to slip over the line into abuse.
It’s not just domestic abuse we have to worry about; it’s the rest of the world, too. The more we choose to eavesdrop on the Internet and other communications technologies, the less we are secure from eavesdropping by others.
The end result of not fixing this problem will be an erosion of the legitimacy of government and democracy, something that will eventually create economic upheaval and revolution. One way to hold this at bay is to stop government from exploiting the security and privacy loopholes. But another important factor is for citizens to start taking security and privacy seriously. The trade-off between convenience and privacy/security needs to move more in the direction of security and privacy – and by that I mean we consumers need to force companies to add security into their systems. Two-factor authentication systems and easy to use security protocols. One reason I think Bitcoin is interesting is that it sets up a way for people to interact across the web securely in a way that is independent of the security systems of one individual company. It is the technology behind Bitcoin that provides answers for the future more than the currency, which is a legacy of the increasing distrust of government and the erosion of the legitimacy of democracy.
Eventually, repeated violations of security and the erosion of privacy will lead to a breakdown in society. I think we can have the convenience and the security and the privacy. But we need to take the security and privacy seriously or we won’t get it.
It would be nice to add a custom Toolbar, eg. for ColdFusion Shortcuts, that I could click on, like Dreamweaver has
Investing.com - Coming off the best weekly performance in a month last week, gold futures again traded higher in the early part of Monday’s Asian as traders continued to boost the yellow metal higher.
On the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold futures for September delivery rose 0.43% to USD1,377.10 per troy ounce in Asian trading Monday. The September contract settled up 0.74% at USD1,371.20 per ounce last Friday.
Gold prices added 4.55% on the week, the strongest gain since the week ending July 12. The precious metal has rebounded 16% since hitting a 34-month low of USD1,180.15 a troy ounce on June 28.
Gold futures were likely to find support at USD1,304.50 a troy ounce, the low from August 9 and near-term resistance at USD1,391.35, the high from June 17.
Gold was embraced as a safe-haven play last week amid some concerning U.S. data points that weighed on stocks. In U.S. economic news out last Friday, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment for August fell to 80 from 85.1 in July. The August reading was the worst in four months.
The Commerce Department said housing starts rose 5.9% to 896,000 units. Economists expected housing starts to rise to 900,000 units.
Data indicate traders are boosting their long bets on bullion. According to the U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission, net long positions in gold futures and options contracts jumped 18% to 56,604 contracts for the week ending August 13.
Demand in India and possible mine strikes in South Africa may boost prices in the next four to five weeks before an industry conference in Denver, Bloomberg reported, citing a JPMorgan research report published last week.
Elsewhere, Comex silver for September delivery inched down 0.06% to USD23.307 per ounce while copper for September delivery rose 0.30% to USD3.372 per ounce.
I am teaching robotc coding. Your program showing all the logical connections (do/while, if then else, while, etc) is wonderful for helping students (and the teacher) see the relationships between the parts of the code. I would love to be able to print the code with all the colors and the connecting lines so I can insert it into a document for each exercise. For long code (over 60 lines or so), it would help to be able to insert a page break.
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