On the eve of the United Nations Climate Summit, people around the world are marching today to send a message to the delegates in Paris that we expect them to take strong action for a transition to renewable energy, clean air, a healthy environment, secure jobs and a safe climate. Early reports indicate that 60,000 people turned out for the march in Melbourne yesterday and 40,000 in Sydney today. Cintia, my sister Cate and I were among about 6,000 people who marched in Canberra this afternoon. These are among hundreds of People’s Climate Marches around the world expected to bring millions of people out in the streets demanding that world leaders take strong action.
Personally I’m hoping that the Paris Summit will lead to a global emissions trading scheme and to reduction (and eventual elimination) of government subsidies for fossil fuel industries. Those two actions would go a very long way towards creating a level playing field on which the price of fossil fuels would include the environmental cost of burning them and renewable energy and energy conservation would be properly valued. It’s going to be very interesting to watch what happens in Paris and what comes out of the summit.
An Electric Vehicle Weekend
Yesterday we had the great pleasure of visiting the home of my sister’s friend and CSIRO co-worker, Peter Campbell. Pete is an avid EV (Electric Vehicle) owner and advocate. He was kind enough to let us see his two EV’s, pester him with questions for an hour or so and even let us drive them both. The first is an old Daihatsu Charade which Pete converted himself about six years ago and which he often takes to shows to demonstrate the EV concept. As you can see from the photo below, all of the different parts are covered with plexiglass (for safety) and carefully labelled.
Pete has obviously explained the workings to lots of people because he was able to make it both interesting and understandable and his enthusiasm has clearly not waned over the years. In fact, he has recently bought a second EV in the form of a second-hand Mitusubishi iMiev which his wife mostly drives. It was a big thrill for me to get to drive both vehicles. The Charade was a blast! The DC motor gives it fantastic torque and acceleration, not that I need these but it was great fun to drive. There was nothing polished, smooth or fancy about the experience but there was a feeling of being directly connected to the power source that made it very different from driving a ‘normal’ car.
The iMiev, on the other hand, is almost new and was designed so that the experience is as much like driving a petrol-engine car as possible. It was very smooth and calm and incredibly quiet. In fact the only thing exciting about it was knowing that we were running on electricity not petrol. That is not to say that EV’s are ‘Zero Emissions’ as is often proclaimed. It depends on how they are charged. If the electricity used to charge the batteries comes from coal-fired power plants they will produce fewer emissions that petrol (or diesel) cars of equivalent size and weight but there are still emissions. They just don’t come out of the tail pipe. The emissions are simply moved to wherever the power plant happens to be and the car is, essential coal-powered. Ideally, your EV will be charged from renewable sources like solar or wind power. Even then it will not be truly ‘Zero Emissions’ because the production of the car (mining the materials, building the car, transporting it to Australia) and the making of the solar panels and wind farms all require a lot of energy and produce emissions. However this is also true for a petrol-powered car and the overall environmental effect of the EV will be much less harmful over the period of its useful life.
We send grateful thanks to Pete for the great information and the experience of getting behind the wheel of these terrific cars. We saw Pete again this afternoon at the end of the Climate March. The Canberra branch of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association had set up a display of EV’s which included Pete’s Charade, another iMiev, a Tesla model S, a Nissan Leaf, and a Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid. I was particularly keen to see the latter as I had heard about it and wanted to chat with the owner. A Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) offers something like the best of both worlds. It has an electric motor and enough battery capacity to give it a range of about 50km after which the petrol motor kicks in and it becomes a hybrid vehicle, much like a Toyota Prius. The difference is that the Outlander is a 4WD SUV so is quite a bit heavier and only gets about 6L/100km. But the fact is that most people only drive a short distance on a daily basis and only take occasional longer trips. A PHEV has the advantage that you can do your short trips in all-electric mode and you don’t have to worry about the range for longer trips. The disadvantages are that you have two complete sets of drive system which makes the vehicle more complex and heavy. Still it seems like quite an attractive option.
The tricky thing with all of these EV choices is that most people (myself included) leave home in the morning, park the car at work, and bring it home in the evening. There’s nothing wrong with charging your EV at night unless (like me) you happen to have a solar system that makes a lot more energy than you use during the day. I would dearly love to be able to charge an electric vehicle during the day using the excess power that we currently export to the grid. Apart from staying at home during the day (a tricky option for a builder) the best way to get around this seems to be to have a second set of batteries in the garage which are charged during the day from the solar system and then use these to charge the EV at night. This, of course, adds a lot to the cost of owning an EV but at least it would allow us to use renewable energy to charge the car. I’m not sure what we’re going to do yet but I will keep you posted as things develop.