Many Sources; Many Solutions & What You Can Do
Carl Pope, longtime environmentalist and former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club, came to Palo Alto on November 2nd to talk to Acterra about the new book, Climate of Hope. The 264-page volume, co-written with financier and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, presents climate change in a different way from what you often hear in the media, which tend to dwell on the most dramatic results of change, such as hurricanes and floods.
Pieces of the Problem Pie
The main point of the book, and of Pope’s talk, is that there are many causes of global warming, but are also many solutions.
According to Pope, global warming, like a fever, is a symptom—not the disease itself.
“If you go to the doctor and he or she says, ‘you have a fever,’ that’s not enough,” said Pope. “You want to know what the illness is, so you can take care of it.”
Rising temperatures and climate change come from an increase in greenhouse gases, including CO2, and there are ways to mitigate these. The “hope” part is that some projects are already underway, and they are not necessarily being done by national governments.
Pope and Bloomberg don’t believe you must give up prosperity to achieve big results. You just need to frame the situation as a win/win by giving companies and governments tools to become richer, healthier and safer by doing things that also help cool down the planet.
Many Causes of Global Warming
Pope stood before a huge screen and pointed to a pie chart. On it, the pie was cut ino several different colored slices, which represented “Sources of Major Pollutants”-worldwide, as reported by the US EPA. He pointed to the orange one, the largest slice, which represented “Fossil Fuels”—31 percent of the circle.
Fossil fuel combustion at its worst, but not the whole problem
“Some people think the main cause of global warming is fossil fuels,” said Pope. “But it’s actually less than a third.”
He called out the other sections, including “Methane” (27 percent), “Forestry” (15 percent), “Black Carbon” (17 percent), “Nitrous Oxide” (5 percent), and “Halocarbons” (5 percent). Then, he described the issues with each segment and presented some possible solutions.
For example, the 15 percent for Forestry relates to loss of tropical rainforest, with its ability to absorb CO2. The problem is, about half of the timber cutting business in the tropics is illegal.
“Governments need to work to enforce a ban on contraband logging,” Pope said.
The Methane Issue
Methane (27 percent) is a heat-storing gas that is 25 times more potent than CO2 over a hundred-year period. It’s generated from several sources, including herds of cows and rice paddies, but Pope talked about how the oil and gas industry is responsible for a significant portion of it, too.
Methane going up in smoke
“An oil company can drill for oil and then burn off (flare) the natural gas without having to pay,” Pope said. “We need to ‘charge for what you get’ to lower the numbers on this kind of methane release. There are no consequences of these environmentally destructive actions now.”
Luckily, methane remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than CO2—about 16 years—so, if we can stop releasing it, the problem will diminish. A mass switch to vegetarianism would have an impact as well, but that kind of sacrifice was not the subject of Pope’s talk—or the book.
Black Carbon & Nitrous Oxide
Black carbon (17 percent) is a byproduct of cooking over dirty fuels, such as kerosene. Sadly, many people, mostly women, use these fuels out of necessity all around the world to cook for their families. According to Pope, about 10 percent of these women will die from exposure to these toxic chemicals, and the entire planet is absorbing the black carbon into the atmosphere.
Black carbon is often linked to key tasks like cooking
“Ironically, methane, which is natural gas, could be used as a clean cooking fuel,” said Pope.
Nitrous oxide (5 percent) is found in fertilizer, which is routinely overused by farmers. Why? Per Pope, farmers use it to grow lots of corn, which needs lots of fertilizer. The corn is then processed into corn syrup – an $80 billion industry.
“It would be better to grow something we want that uses no fertilizer,” said Pope.
There are many ways to improve farming techniques to keep more carbon in the soil. These are discussed at length in the book.
Halocarbon Danger & Hope
Halocarbons (5 percent) are very dangerous refrigerants used in air conditioning systems. They are successors to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were banned years ago. This helped close the hole in the ozone layer. Per Pope, implementing the Kigali Accord, which was adopted by 170 nations in Kigali, Rwanda, on October 16, 2016, to phase out halocarbons, would go a long way.
“It’s the first climate pollutant we can get rid of,” said Pope.
Burning coal is a major contributor to CO2 in the atmosphere. Much has already been done to reduce coal use. The price for wind and solar has been dropping quickly, and natural gas is also replacing coal in some plants.
“Coal is going away not because of a government ‘war on coal,’ but because it is no longer financially competitive,” said Pope.
Pope told two anecdotes to show this change.
Up on the roof–positive change
“In eastern Kentucky, the Museum of Coal Mining needed a new system to heat their building. They looked at the options and ended up installing solar panels, which saves them $10,000 a year!”
“The CEO of the CSX Railroad said recently that the company will no longer be replacing its coal hauling cars. This was a big business for them, but he sees that coal is going away, not next year, but he’s not sure about it in 20 years.”
Regarding wind energy, Pope said it was the cheapest electricity ever, and would remain that way regardless of what the leadership in Washington tries to do to preserve old, dirty industries. There are many opportunities for businesses, such as Anheuser-Busch, to adopt renewable energy sources.
“Anheuser-Busch stated they would get 100 percent of their electricity from renewables,” Pope said. “This isn’t because customers care, or it makes the beer taste better—it’s just good business.”
Fertilizers–too much of a good thing
New Energy=New Employees
Another reason to move to renewables is that it allows you to hire the best new employees.
“Young college graduates are asking employers about their companies’ environmental credentials during job interviews,” said Pope.
Regarding the growth in electric vehicles, Pope thinks we’ll be able to clean up the fleet in 10 to 15 years. However, his point is that although this is an important activity in the overall scheme, there are many other causes of climate change, and we can and should address them all.
What We Need to Do to Succeed
Pope recommended three major things we need to do:
- Continue innovating quickly.
- Create insurance to help people who lose their jobs when technology changes.
- Make businesspeople work hard for a profit.
We may think that change is gradual, but sometimes it seems to happen overnight.
Some change is already under way–banning halocarbons
“In the 1916 Macy’s Day Parade, there were eight horses for every car, said Pope. “In the 1920 parade, there was one horse.”
And, he further related, in 1920, there were 118,000 well-paid professional harness makers. In 1928—zero. The horses were gone. The workers moved on to other jobs—it was the 1920s and there was a strong economy.
The 1930’s were a different story, however. After the 1929 Stock Market Crash, a lot of jobs disappeared. Per Pope, it was a period when innovation froze. What helped move things along were programs like Social Security. What also helped was making credit available, so, for example, farmers could electrify.
“In the late 1930’s, 95 percent of farms gained power because they could get affordable loans,” Pope said, as an example.
Innovation for Today
Today, Pope proposes that we use similar programs to help people who are displaced by technology.
The best change–coal goes away because it no longer makes economic sense
“We need the people who make the money from innovation to share with the folks who lose in progress,” he says. “That keeps innovation alive, and helps people adjust and move forward in the inevitably changed world.”
If we make it too easy for companies to earn big profits without big effort, they lose motivation to do the right thing.
“We need to pay attention to who we pay off,” says Pope. “Or they’ll just steal.”
Room for Some Cautious Optimism
The bottom line is that you won’t convince people to do the right thing for the climate by making it sound like a sacrifice or by scaring them. There are immediate payoffs and advantages to making changes now.
However, despite the many good things happening to mitigate some climate change, Pope warns that we need to move fast. We can’t set a goal of zero sea level rise or weather disruption, he added. No matter what we do, some change is coming—in fact, it’s already here.
Read the book, but more importantly, live the book
“We need to worry about serious unraveling of the system,” Pope said.
But he thinks the likely scenarios are a bit less dire, even with the current politics in Washington. For one thing, the two countries with the largest populations—China and India—are working hard to make big changes now.
“Those two nations are not major petroleum producers, and they have lots of wind and sun, so they have a great incentive to invest in sustainable energy,” Pope said. “At a symposium in New Delhi last August, Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal stated that he wanted to move to all electric vehicles by 2030, and it’s actually starting to happen. Things are moving very fast.”
Pope is currently the principal adviser at Inside Straight Strategies, which focuses on the links between sustainability and economic development. He also serves as Bloomberg’s senior climate advisor. That means he has ideas that are down-to-earth and make good business sense.
There’s only so much Carl Pope could cover in a fascinating hour, but to get much more insight into what’s happening to mitigate climate change, read Climate of Hope and keep a positive attitude—there’s a lot happening now, and much more to come. And you can be part of it.
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Different in a good way.
When looking at alternative fuel vehicles, hybrid, electric and diesel are the most common options based on sales and choice. One other fuel, compressed natural gas (CNG) doesn’t get much attention, probably because there is only one mass-produced CNG-fueled car on the market–the 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas. So if Honda alone believes in this technology for passenger cars, what are they seeing that their competitors aren’t and what is the future for CNG?
Natural gas is the cleanest burning of all petroleum-based fuels and it is abundant. Drive by any oil drilling rig or petroleum refinery and you will see it being burned off. With recent advances in technologies for hydraulic
So much the same, but different
fracturing–more commonly referred to as fracking–and capturing of gasses from landfills and other biogas sources, the natural gas supply is solid for decades to come according to industry estimates. Its cost per an equivalent gallon of gasoline runs 30% – 40% less than gas or diesel, and a CNG-fueled internal combustion engine will have a longer service life and require less maintenance because natural gas burns so cleanly, producing almost no combustion by-products into the motor oil, spark plugs or injectors.
So if natural gas is plentiful, less expensive to purchase and burns cleaner than gasoline and diesel, does owning one make sense for your lifestyle and driving patterns?
The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas we were driving looks pretty much like the gasoline powered Civic except for the Federally mandated (for emergency responder’s safety) blue and white diamond-shaped CNG sticker on the trunk lid. When driving the Civic CNG, it feels the same as its siblings except for less power.
The front-wheel drive, five-speed automatic Civic CNG is rated at 27 City/38 Highway with a combined 31 MPGe. The “e” is for “equivalent,” which means you are not using a gallon of liquid fuel like gasoline. The EPA has figured out how much energy is in a gallon of gas and how far it will take you–that’s MPG. So MPGe is how far you can go with the amount of CNG that has the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline. In CNG’s case it takes 126 cubic feet of CNG to equal the energy of a gallon of gas–and that will take you 31 miles. Add in the amount of CNG you can store in the Honda’s tank (the equivalent of 8 gallons of gasoline since it’s compressed at 3600 psi) and you end up with a range of about 190 miles. There is also an Eco button to maximize your fuel economy.
Powering the Civic CNG is a 16-valve, 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder aluminum alloy engine. It puts out 110 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque while the gasoline version brings 130 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. Without going into performance numbers, that 30 hp and 22 lb-ft of torque can make a big difference when it is time to get up and go. But maybe the trade-off for fuel economy and cost are worth it, especially if you aren’t a hot rodder.
Strikingly Familar But Different
The Civic CNG comes with 15-inch lightweight aluminum-alloy wheels, all-season tires, electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, power-assisted front disc and rear drum ABS brakes, MacPherson strut independent front and multi-link rear suspension, with stabilizer bars at both ends. The Civic rides comfortably but could have more steering feel. You will feel freeway bumps and hear road noise, and, while the Civic CNG is not a sports sedan or to be considered an enthusiast vehicle, it handles corners well.
The Civic CNG has smooth acceleration, but as previously noted, it is not fast off the line. With patience, it cruises right along at freeway speeds.
Finding a comfortable seating position with the manual adjustable driver’s seat and tilt and telescoping steering wheel was easy. The front bucket/rear bench seats (with a flat rear floor) can accommodate four adults with good head and leg room and the glass area provided an open, airy feeling with good visibility. Standard equipment includes A/C, power door locks and windows and cruise control.
The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas we drove came with the 5-inch LCD color touchscreen, Honda navigation system with voice recognition, rearview camera and a database of available CNG refueling stations. The four-speaker sound system has XM and Pandora, steering wheel mounted controls, Bluetooth audio and phone hands-free link, SMS test messaging, USB interface and MP3/Auxiliary input jacks.
None of the goodies are worth a thing if the car isn’t safe to drive. The 2013 Civic CNG I was driving had six airbags, ABS with front-wheel disc brakes, power door mirrors, Vehicle Stability Assist, rearview color camera,
A different hose – not too much pressure
tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and side-impact door beams with front and rear crumple zones. The Civic is rated at four stars for frontal driver and passenger front impacts and five star for front side driver and passenger and rear passenger impacts.
The trunk’s not half of what it used to be
There are two areas the CNG version compromises the long-range driving comfort and its capabilities compared to the gasoline version. To accommodate the CNG tank, the trunk has been reduced to being able to carry two small suitcases and, because of the tank, the rear seats do not fold flat nor is there a pass through for long items.
The look of the Civic CNG is contemporary and holds its own within the compact car category. Up front there is an attractive black honeycomb grill, lower air dam with a stylishly placed chrome accent piece with wrap-around clear lens headlights and cornering lights. In back the rear bumper has an upswept design with a low access for the trunk opening.
The Fueling Process
Your Honda dealer will provide a list of local CNG stations but you will be best served by going to websites such as these:
Once at the station, which will almost always be a 24/7 unmanned operation, you will swipe a major credit card and then, if it is your first time fueling, watch a short instructional video on the pump. The video will give you a three-number code and then explains how to attach the hose end to the fitting on the car and the sequence to start fueling. It is a very simple process with a full tank taking only minutes to fill. After doing it once you will be a seasoned pro.
A note about CNG fueling stations. Many of them will be located in an industrial setting and will not be freeway close. They can be buried amongst storage yards and transportation centers where you will be pulling-up alongside city buses and trash trucks. Until more CNG vehicles are offered by manufacturers the fueling locations will be more for local traffic and not road warriors traveling the freeways.
A final fueling note: compressed natural gas is more sensitive to temperatures than the gasoline or diesel we’re all used to. Experienced CNG users will tell you the fillups you get on a cool morning compared to a hot afternoon can vary significantly with the cooler temperatures resulting in a more complete fill. Similarly, fast-fill facilities that can refuel a CNG car in roughly the same time as a gas or diesel one, tend to provide a less complete fill than slow-fill operations.
Pricing & Warranties
The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas NV I was driving was fully optioned with a MSRP of $28,755, which included a $790 Destination Charge.
For those in California, the Civic CNG automatically qualifies for the coveted HOV sticker which allows driving in the Carpool lane even with just the driver. If you haven’t heard the stories, people buy the Civic CNG just for this benefit.
The 2013 Civic CNG NV warranties include:
Done under pressure & looking like the competition
• 3 Year/36,000 miles: New-Vehicle
• 5 Year/60,000 miles: Powertrain
• 3 Year/36,000 miles: Honda Genuine Accessories
• 1 Year: Replacement Honda Genuine Parts
• 3 Year/36,000 miles: Honda Genuine Remanufactured Parts
• 5-Year/Unlimited mile: Corrosion
Observations: 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas
The Honda Civic has been part of the United States driving scene since 1973 with more than 8.8 million sold; the natural gas version joined the fray in 1998. Honda owners are famously loyal to the brand with many of them thinking owning anything other than a Honda to be unthinkable. If you are in the market for a Civic, there are several models to chose from in a fairly broad price range. Here is a quick look at three base Civic models:
Civic LX lists at $18,165 and gets 28/36/31 (City/Freeway/Combined mpg)
Civic Hybrid lists at $24,360 and gets 44/44/44
Civic CNG lists at $26,465 and gets 27/38/31
Since you can get a gasoline-powered Civic that gets comparable fuel economy for $8,000 less than the CNG version and the Hybrid for $2,000 less that gets considerably better fuel economy, why would you consider the Civic CNG?
Two big reasons: The cost of CNG is 30 – 40 percent less than unleaded gasoline, making your cost per mile driven very low. And if you live in California, the car gets you into the carpool lane with a single driver, which is no small thing in the Golden State!
So where do you fit in as a future Civic CNG owner? Since the Civic CNG has a range of under 200 miles and has limited storage space, this car should be high on your shopping list if the majority of your driving is the in-town or freeway commuting type. The result is a car that will work well for you.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
The Future of CNG Vehicles (By Michael Coates)
With natural gas pump prices cheap and everyone from T. Boone Pickens to President Obama talking up the use of American energy, you might think that CNG-powered passenger cars would be a hot topic among automakers. After all, it’s not exotic technology; many car companies have natural gas models marketed around the world. But it’s not happening in the U.S. for now and lacking any major government push (such as the current one behind electric and plug-in vehicles), it appears they will continue to be a small niche. It is unlikely, even if other automakers market models to compete with the Civic, that this segment will achieve numbers that would warrant much attention. The Civic, after all these years on the market sells only a couple thousand natural gas versions with a good number of those going to government fleets.
The number of CNG offerings for fleets have increased extensively in recent years as government incentives (for vehicle purchase and infrastructure development) and low fuel prices have pushed fleets to consider
The badge of access
natural gas pickups and vans. These work for the same reason many alternatives to gasoline or diesel do – the duty cycle or daily drive of the vehicle fits the limited fueling infrastructure and needs of the owner.
One arena where natural appears to be making some inroads is in medium- and heavy-duty trucks – the large trucks you see hauling loads in town and out on the highway. In recent years natural gas engines have increased in size and horsepower and have become a true alternative to the traditional diesel engine. But even with exponential growth, natural gas trucks still only comprise a few percentage points of the total new truck market in these sectors. All of the major truck makers offer natural gas-powered models and some specific applications, such as refuse trucks, are racking up some impressive sales numbers.
One issue that is just beginning to play out could spell the future – positively or negatively – for natural gas, and that is the ultimate environmental tally on fracking. As noted above, the technique of hydraulic fracturing has helped produce the abundant and cheap domestic natural gas. However, several environmental groups have started to raise alarms about the global warming gases emitted as part of the fracking process and have questioned the overall benefit of using natural gas in vehicles (using it to create electricity or heat homes lends itself to a different environmental conclusion). Recent government and academic studies have questioned the environmental and health impacts of fracking and found that it may be best to proceed cautiously.
The Civic CNG’s closest rivals are the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the Toyota Prius c and the Chevrolet Cruze Eco.
Words & Photos By John Faulkner
Posted March 1, 2014
Related stories you might want to check out:
Volkswagen Jetta TDI & Hybrid
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By John Addison
Excerpt from the Prologue of Save Gas, Save the Planet: John Addison’s book about hybrid and electric cars, pathways to low carbon driving, and the future of sustainable transportation. © 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.
As a small child, I was distraught to learn that Santa Claus was not the person that I imagined. And after reading Harry Potter, I searched the Internet trying to book a stay at Hogwarts. We want to believe in magic.
When I tell people that I write about clean transportation, they often lecture me about their one magical solution. Some tell me it is the plug-in hybrid; some say diesel. One fellow was angry that I did not immediately accept that the one answer is railroads. Another felt the same way about motorcycles.
Some believe that the answer is electric vehicles. Others believe that electric vehicles will only encourage people to use cars without guilt; these enthusiasts want car-free cities and zero suburbs. Some promote ethanol; still more don’t believe that the answer is converting food to fuel.
Some believe that the future is a hydrogen economy; others believe that hydrogen is an evil conspiracy. Some believe that energy efficiency is everything. Others will take 10-percent efficient solar power over 40-percent coal power any day. Too many people argue that there is no problem. These people do not like change. Surprisingly, the people who do not lecture me are those who walk, bike, and live car-free. Perhaps these people, free from the stress of driving in gridlock, are more flexible and optimistic.
Even the friendly walker cannot escape the critic. By one calculation, if two people walk a mile and a half, then replenish the burned calories by each drinking a glass of milk, less greenhouse gases would be emitted by driving. This contrived example works because cows emit lots of methane and milk must stay refrigerated throughout the delivery chain. Skip the milk, and the argument falls apart. Ditto, if the car is driven solo. We all need a little exercise and more than a little common sense.
There is no one magical solution. Save Gas, Save the Planet captures over 120 different ways that people are making a difference by riding clean, riding together, and riding less. Many people can avoid some driving but not all. Not everyone can take transit or carpool all the time. A busy parent in the suburbs with three kids has different requirements than someone with no children who lives in a city. As you read Save Gas, Save the Planet, you will discover a number of ways to burn less fuel without needing a new car. When, and if, you are ready for a new car, you will make a better choice.
Visit Amazon for free look inside or discount on paperback and kindle ebook.
© 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.
Good news. Methane concentration in the atmosphere has not increased during the past 8 years. Methane is estimated to be responsible for 9 to 17% of the global warming caused by human activity. During its total life in the stratosphere, methane does 23 times the heat trapping damage of CO2 over a 100 year period. (GHG) Fortunately methane released into the atmosphere largely dissipates in about 12 years. CO2 stays as part of the heat trap for about 100 years.
Back in 1860, before we became big users of fossil fuels, methane concentration was 750 ppb. By the year 1998, it was 1,750 ppb, a frightening increase. Since 1998, however, there has been no increase. This represents major progress in the battle to stop global warming. We should celebrate.
The good news was reported by Dr. Sherwood Rowland, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the atmospheric damage caused by another family of greenhouse gases – chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). Dr. Rowland and his team at the University of California at Irvine have been carefully monitoring greenhouse gas concentrations for many years. I had the good fortune of taking chemistry from Dr. Rowland when I was a student at UCI.
The growing atmospheric concentration of CFC was the result of using the chemicals in refrigerants, hairspray and more. A life threatening hole in the ozone was developing. The ozone layer protects us from getting zapped and fried by gamma rays, x-rays, and ultraviolet rays. This ozone shield was saved thanks to the brilliant work of Nobel Prize chemists Dr. Sherwood Rowland, Dr. Mario Molina, and Dr. Paul Crutzen.
Although the news is good about reducing emissions of methane and CFC, CO2 concentration continues to increase at a rate which threatens our future. What works? What needs to be done?
Methane concentration may have stopped growing because natural gas prices have skyrocketed, and natural gas is typically 90% methane. Natural gas is often a byproduct of oil drilling. When natural gas was cheap, oil producers let it vent into the atmosphere. As more power plants have used natural gas, its price has increased. In 1946, natural gas cost only 5 cents per thousand cubic feet. By 2000, $3.68. Now it makes money to capture it and sell it, or produce energy on the spot. (EIA Data)
Landfills are the #1 emitter of methane in the USA. The city of Burbank formerly let landfill gas go into the atmosphere. Now it pipes the gas into 11 microturbines that generate 550kW of electricity. The city estimates that it achieves a 100% return on investment annually. As committed to in the City’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, 20% of the power used by Burbank’s residents and businesses will come from renewable sources by 2017.
Major emitters of methane include the oil and gas industry, the coal industry, and landfills. All now have the technology and market incentives to capture natural gas for power and fuel. Another major source of methane is cattle ranching. If methane emissions were priced into beef, we would be less likely to say “supersize me.” Ranchers would raise more wind towers and less cattle.
CO2 emissions must be brought under control. Because CO2 has an average atmospheric lifetime of 100 years, it is accumulating at a dangerous rate. From a preindustrial concentration of 280 ppm, it now nears 400 ppm. Business as usual, in our lifetime, could take it to 600 ppm. This growth creates the risk of runaway effects. For example, should the ice melt on large land bodies now covered with ice, there could be huge methane releases. Another runaway danger is if tropical forests and oceans stop absorbing CO2.
The fastest way to reduce our CO2 emission is to reduce our use of coal and oil. With coal, it is a double bonus because reducing coal mining also reduces methane emissions. Coal is used to feed power plants. Most of the energy input from coal is lost through inefficient power plants and inefficient use of energy in homes and industry. Energy efficiency and renewable alternatives are the best ways to reduce coal usage. Oil reduction can be achieved if we spend more time riding together, riding less and riding clean.
Yes, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CFC concentrations are starting to decline because on September 16, 1987, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed into agreement by the major countries of the world (originally 24 countries, now 175). A process for all nations to phase-out production of dangerous CFCs and halons was established. Later, other dangerous chemicals were added to the list. Now, the phase-out is largely complete.
International treaties work. Market mechanisms work. International treaties that include market mechanisms for trading greenhouse gas emissions work great. A new treaty with binding targets and pricing mechanisms is needed. It is time for the world’s biggest emitters, the USA and China, to lead the process to a health future and away from a reckless joy ride towards climate chaos.
By John Addison (12/22/07)
Amaranth Advisors is a hedge fund that keeps making front page news. It is trying to explain to investors how it lost $5 billion in one week betting that natural gas prices would rise. Gas prices fell. $5 billion is gone. Amaranth Advisors is a hedge fund with a trader who forgot to hedge.
The bet could have gone the other way. One good hurricane to disrupt supplies would have spiked prices upward, as would an early cold weather snap to fire up millions of heaters. The bad bet is understandable. In the long term, natural gas prices are likely to return to prices at the start of this year, double what they are now.
Natural gas is likely to become the number one source of energy globally, surpassing current number one – oil. Natural gas is the fuel of choice for modern electric power plants, being cleaner than coal.
Natural gas helps achieve energy independence because it is not refined from oil. Over 90% of the natural gas used in the USA is from North America. Natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline, ethanol and biodiesel. Natural gas is popular with cities and other fleets with low-emission programs. The next time you take a taxi at an airport, it may be running on natural gas. These vehicles get priority at airports.
Natural gas is about 90% methane; the molecule is CH4. The molecule is four hydrogen atoms and one carbon. Natural gas is primarily hydrogen. In fact, most early adapters of hydrogen vehicles are natural gas fleet owners. Most vehicles use compressed natural gas (CNG). Heavy trucks that need more fuel for long distance may use liquid natural gas (LNG). It is expensive to keep natural gas so cold that it stays in liquid form, so CNG is the most popular approach.
There are about ten million natural gas vehicles in operation globally. There are about 150,000 natural gas vehicles in the USA. These vehicles consume 238 million gasoline gallon equivalents. That amount has doubled in only five years. CNG vehicles are popular in fleets that carry lots of people: buses, shuttles and taxis.
Natural gas prices have not been increasing at the speed of gasoline and diesel prices. The fuel price advantage is causing some to switch to CNG. Diesel vehicles are getting more expensive with tough 2007 emission standards. Some diesel makers state that EPA 2010 emissions are impossible. These statements are scaring some to switch to CNG. The federal government offers tax credits up to $40,000 for large natural gas vehicles, creating an added incentive.
Some governments are going beyond incentives and mandating the use of CNG. Seoul, Korea, plans to allow only buses that run on CNG, beginning in 2010. The measure is intended to reduce pollution. Currently, 2,798 of Seoul’s 7,766 registered city buses are CNG buses, and the rest are diesel-powered vehicles.
Since 1993, LAWA has been buying vehicles which reduce smog-forming emissions and which reduce greenhouse gases. LAWA now has 490 alternate-fuel vehicles at the four airports which it operates – LAX, Ontario International, Palmdale and Van Nuys. At LAWA, I met with Dave Waldner, Alternative Fuels Fleet Manager, who has been reducing emissions for over 13 years. He explained that early success started with compressed natural gas (CNG) in vehicles in 1993. Then liquid natural gas (LNG) was used in transit buses. LNG provided for longer-range than CNG. With oil prices increasing over 50% annually, CNG has proved to lower fuel cost. LAWA has secured very favorable long-term contracts, paying a little over $3.00 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas. CNG is also available to the many independent fleet operators and individuals using airports. LAWA encourages independent operators to use clean vehicles that use CNG and hydrogen. Clean Energy operates public CNG stations at LAX and Ontario.
Taxi fleets were early adopters of CNG. They received the strong revenue incentive of getting first priority in passenger pick-ups. They also receive a tax credit of $6,000 per CNG vehicle. There were 156,000 taxis operating in the United States in 2004, less than 2% of these vehicles were natural gas vehicles. The growth opportunity is substantial.
It has not been easy for many other early adopters of CNG vehicles. Individual automobile owners painfully experienced different fueling stations using incompatible pressures and nozzles. Fleet managers spent millions building new facilities to meet fire and safety standards. Heavy CNG vehicles often lack the acceleration and range of their diesel counterparts. Storage makes the vehicles weigh more. In hot weather fills can be slow. Fleet managers have faced hundreds of angry riders, when their natural gas was not delivered as scheduled. Natural gas prices fluctuate dramatically, making long range budgeting difficult.
Several of these problems have been resolved. There are now nozzle and pressure standards. There are more CNG stations and they are easy to find on maps and the Internet. Storage tanks are lighter, reducing the extra vehicle weight and improving performance.
Natural gas is not a panacea. To deal with our climate crisis and free us from depending on oil, many see the answer in a portfolio of energy sources rather than one “silver bullet.” The portfolio could include electricity, next generation biofuels, hydrogen and natural gas.