Category Archives: Climate Change

The Chevy Bolt & The Tesla Model 3: The Solar-Powered Restoration of American Energy Independence

Originally published on CleanTechnica

July 4th is Independence Day in the United States, and as with similar holidays in countless countries around the world, it is the perfect occasion to reflect on what it means to be independent. One key aspect of independence today is intimately tied into energy. How many countries around the world have found themselves economically enslaved to the energy economics inherited from past generations?

The US is the largest consumer of oil on the planet by a long margin, consuming more oil than any other country, regardless of population. While the US is also the largest “producer” of oil, it does not produce enough oil to satiate its seemingly endless thirst for it.

The capitalist country is embattled with modern-day oil barons fighting for lower fuel efficiency standards while climate change believers fight to raise fuel efficiency standards, enact a universal carbon tax, and work to create incentives for battery electric vehicles. The gridlock of the past took a turn for the worse with the Trump administration, which continues to plod forward in the mindless push to unshackle the American capitalist machine from the trio of perceived anchors that are the Clean Air Act (of 1970), the Clean Water Act (of 1972), and the much more recently added Clean Power Plan (of 2014).

In the face of this political uncertainty, a few beacons of hope have emerged, shining out of the dust of the recently fallen environmental protections. They give us hope for a future where our children and grandchildren can breath clean air, can drink water that is free of heavy metals and toxins. A future where the vehicles that move us from place to place move silently around, powered by clean technologies and whirring electric motors.

The Chevrolet Bolt, which launched in December 2016, and the Tesla Model 3, which will be delivered to its first customers later this month, are the first vehicles of a new generation of long-range, affordable electric cars that carry the keys to unlocking the most American of all values — true energy independence. For the first time in many, many decades, America has within its grasp the ability to harvest electricity from the wind and sun that will not run dry — using power systems that emit no pollution into the air and require minimal emissions to manufacture.

The shift from fossil fuel–fired vehicles to electric vehicles presents a rare opportunity for any country in the world to catalyze a paradigm shift in energy generation. The opportunity to convert to locally produced energy brings along with it the possibility to keep millions and billions of dollars of energy spending inside the country. For the United States, this means weaning itself off of the ill-adopted relationships with countries around the world that have failed to move forward adopting minimum standards for human rights. For many nations in Eastern Europe, the opportunity to throw off the shackles from oppressive regimes that have for too long throttled the supply of energy as a means of controlling the economies of those less endowed with natural resources has the potential to reinvigorate the people and catalyze a positive change in these countries.

Clearly, these changes are not being led solely by two vehicles, but these vehicles embody the broader movement that is only now reaching its climactic moment in history. Affordable electric vehicles let the average person purchase a vehicle that has the range to make 99% or more of all trips possible with an electric vehicle. When combined with the fact that electric vehicles are also cheaper to drive on a cost of fuel per mile basis, it starts to get interesting — my wife and I have saved nearly $2,000 in 2½ years of owning our first electric vehicles versus the cost of gasoline.

Electric vehicles also require significantly less maintenance, with thousands of fewer moving parts than their fossil fuel–fired counterparts, resulting in even more savings. Electric vehicles are much quieter to drive, and without the controlled explosions of a fossil fuel engine under the hood, don’t vibrate their passengers to death. Removing that combustion engine from the vehicle and replacing it with an electric motor also allows for completely new vehicle designs that have resulted in the Tesla Model S being rated the safest vehicle to ever be tested by the NHTSA, with the Tesla Model X coming in at number two — a ranking unheard of for a sport utility vehicle. The Chevy Bolt received top honors for its safety results as well, recently being selected as an IIHS Top Safety Pick.

Roll that all together with extreme performance and supercar 0 to 60 times and electric cars start to look appealing to people from all walks of life. Until these two cars rolled onto the scene, these benefits were only accessible to those who were willing to compromise on range with a ~100 mile electric vehicle or those with the finances to throw down $60,000 or more for a Tesla.

Driving an electric vehicle is great, but here’s where it gets interesting: Electric vehicles unlock much more than that. A core American value — and if we’re honest, a core human value — is the desire to not be dependent. Electric vehicles tap directly into that with the ability for homeowners, property owners, and many people around the world to install solar or wind on their residence to generate all the power their homes, businesses, and vehicles will use. The solar installation on my rooftop generated enough power last year to completely power our home and one of our electric vehicles. Another couple of panels and we will be generating the vast majority of the power we use in our lives on our roof. That is straight out of a science fiction novel but it is a true possibility for billions of people around the world today … and it gets even better than that.

With the massive improvements in production and scale that have been made over just the last 10 years, solar and wind are now extremely cost competitive — even beating out the competition in many areas of the world … today … right now. That’s right, you can create this utopian lifestyle today … and save money while you’re doing it.

That is the beauty of the paradigm shift that is occurring right now. We are living through an historic transition that our grandchildren will read about as the turning point in energy economics, globally. Entrenched trillion-dollar industries will crumble in decades along with the household-name companies that operate within them. Amidst the rubble, new companies, new individuals, and new nations are rising to the forefront of the discussion as leaders in never-before-seen industries that bring with them new possibilities for economic freedom and energy independence.

Transitions of this magnitude are apparent from the early birthing pains that manifest themselves in the form of federal policy debates, vicious catfights over government incentives, kickbacks, and tax breaks. The transitions are rarely fair, but with so much at stake, bloodshed on both sides is to be expected.

Rolling back to where we started, what seems like a domino effect of toppling regulations led by industry insiders that have been put in charge of the agencies that formerly regulated their industries have left many dumbfounded. The foundations of American environmental protections have been stripped bare in a matter of weeks. But all is not lost. The brazen disregard for the charter on which the Environmental Protection Agency was founded has woken millions from the enchanted slumber, just as Rip van Winkle awoke after many years of sleep into a frenzy.

The people of this great nation and many more around the world demand that the governments they voted into place protect their most fundamental rights to clean air and clean water. The catalyst could not have come at a better time, as affordable electric vehicles and cost-saving solar and wind generation allow individuals to cut the cord from the very capitalists who now move to enslave the population.

It is time to rise up and regain the independence that our ancestors fought for in years past, but this time we fight against those in charge in our own nation. The time is now to go test drive an electric vehicle. If that’s not enough time to get a feel for life with an electric vehicle, rent or borrow one. Services like Turo and Maven are lowering the bar to get into an electric vehicle just as the Chevy Bolt has and the Tesla Model 3 soon will for hundreds of thousands more people around the world.

If renting isn’t an option, it may be time to step up the game and steal one … or, rather, get a steal of a deal on one at a local dealership. While you’re at it, don’t forget that to really, truly cut the cord takes a little more work to ensure that the power you’re pumping into your vehicle every night comes from renewable sources as well, preferably from a solar installation or wind turbine on your property.

That, my friends, is what it truly means to be independent. Celebrate yours by taking action today. The future is electric. The future is now!

Global Concerns Over China’s “Manufacturing 2025” Initiative Highlighted In New EU Report

Originally published on CleanTechnica

A new Financial Times article reveals that the core technologies that China wants to lead the world in as part of its overarching Manufacturing 2025 initiative are coming under fire from other nations.

manufacturing 2025

China first laid out its Manufacturing 2025 initiative in May of 2015, which included objectives to internally develop nationwide competencies in 10 critical sectors, including New Energy Vehicles, Rail Transport Equipment, Automated Machine Tools and Robotics, and Power Equipment (which includes Solar and Wind Technologies).

This push is the next iteration in the country’s journey towards a better future as it takes a look at the past and maps out a better life for its 1.4 billion citizens. China has long been known to be a technology copycat, with Chinese tech giants Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent walking a tenuously similar path to those first mapped out by US tech titans Google, eBay, and Facebook. However, the new plan crafted in Beijing seeks to change not just this perception of the country, but also the reality underneath it.

The initiative maps out strategies for not only fostering “indigenous innovation” but also for forcing foreign companies to divulge details of critical technologies in exchange for access to Chinese markets. A newly published European study on China’s Manufacturing 2025 initiative highlights several examples of the way the initiative seeks to accomplish its objectives and how they are already causing global concerns:

“Under recently passed legislation in the new energy vehicle (NEV) industry, for example, European business is facing intense pressure to turn over advanced technology in exchange for near-term market access; in the field of industrial robotics, government subsidies are contributing to overcapacity in the low- and mid-tiers of China’s market; and in the information technology industry, European business is seeing market access constrict further. “

The report details how, in addition to these domestic-friendly policies having the potential to strip technologies from foreign companies coming into China, the Manufacturing 2025 initiative is creating a market that heavily favors domestic companies.

Whether these early concerns are just manifestations of the growing pains in the next chapter of Chinese manufacturing or are truly representative of the new position China is taking to protect itself and its citizens from global competition will have to play out over the next few years or decades. But one thing is certain — nations around the world are taking notice and are not receiving the news favorably.

The balance of increased innovation coming from China and market access as a result of Manufacturing 2025 is not perceived as healthy or sustainable, with the short-term impacts summed up in the European Chamber report in a single statement: “the world would benefit from additional innovative Chinese products and services, but not at the expense of inhibiting market forces through state-driven schemes. “

manufacturing 2025

Highly automated Tesla production line. Image Credit: Tesla

This push from China comes as the global manufacturing hub seeks to evolve away from the low-value, labor-driven economy it has become known as towards a tech-centric, automated future. The push aims to automate low-value manufacturing jobs though the implementation of autonomous robots. Compared to other nations, China has been very slow to adopt such technology.

Automation of these positions will continue to keep manufacturing costs low in the country in the face of rising wages. Though, the larger impact to employment numbers in a country of this size is a major concern.

Source: European Chamber ReportFinancial Times via Monica Araya

Leveraging Technology To Settle The Climate Change Debate

Originally posted on CleanTechnica

The Backstory

Climate change is a challenge unlike any other ever faced by humanity. It is the slow creep of change starting as a result of actions taken by humanity, building industries that helped hoist us out of thousands of years of toil into decades of technology-enabled prosperity.

But that prosperity exacted a toll that amassed into a series of inconvenient realities that have begun to confront humanity in ways we never could have imagined. Further complicating an already unenviable scenario, the fortunes extracted from the earth were redirected on humanity to intentionally obfuscate the truth, to intentionally introduce doubt to the equation.

These “Merchants of Doubt” had vast funds at their disposal and leveraged past experience to skillfully muddy the waters of truth, converting millions over to the opposition. These factually challenged fellows fight for the old way. They fight for antiquated methods and gladly embrace the blindfolds that keep them in the dark.

The Problem

The great iron of the climate change challenge is that the solutions humanity needs to leverage to reduce emissions at a rate necessary to avert catastrophic climate change already exist. We can generate power in renewable, sustainable ways that are more than sufficient to provide for our current needs and even well into the future.

Electric personal transport, mass transit, and bulk commerce solutions exist and are already being deployed around the globe. Adding insult to injury, many of these technologies are cost competitive with legacy power generation and transportation solutions today, without government subsidies. Change, it turns out, is not easy.

Distilling the problem down to the core issues and pairing them up with respective potential solutions has already been done for many cities, states, and even whole nations.

The missing technological development is not, in fact, another clean technology. We don’t need another 10% efficiency improvement in photovoltaic solar panels or another 200 miles of range in electric cars or even lower-cost lithium-ion batteries for cheaper grid-scale battery installations.

The Solution

What we need is to get clear on the facts. As President Obama recently stated in an interview with Bill Maher, because of this obfuscation, “people have difficulty now just sorting out what’s true and what’s not.” With the explosion of social media over the last 5–10 years, the way people get their news … and the facts that it should contain … has radically changed.

Now, one zinger headline on a clickbait article or picture with a catchy caption can provide a critical mental linkage that reinforces a social or political bias subconsciously. What’s scary is that, as the 2016 US election proved, the facts don’t even matter too much. You read that right — it doesn’t matter if the article, headline, or picture is true.

We latch onto them and share them out to our friends and the echo chamber effect continues. Obama triaged the struggle to communicate the facts, asking “How do we create a space where truth gets eyeballs?” He closed the segment with the summary problem statement: “Let’s agree on facts then argue about means after that.”

Ultimately, this single item — developing and leveraging technology to communicate the facts to the public in a way that is universally accepted — is the largest challenge facing climate change. The day we can communicate truths and facts to the public in a way that’s meaningful and believable is the day the masses will start working in earnest to make the required changes to avert catastrophic climate change.

We already have the technical solutions we need to solve the problem. But it’s all for naught if the people don’t take action.

All images by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

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