Monday, 12 January 2009

Giant plasma TVs face ban in battle to green Britain

New rules will phase out energy-guzzling flatscreen televisions as the EU brings its climate campaign to the living room
By Geoffrey Lean and Jonathan OwenSunday, 11 January 2009

Energy-guzzling flatscreen plasma televisions will soon be banned as part of the battle against climate change, ministers have told The Independent on Sunday.
"Minimum energy performance standards" for televisions are expected to be agreed across Europe this spring, they say, and this should lead to "phasing out the most inefficient TVs". At the same time, a compulsory labelling system will be drawn up to identify the best and worst devices.
The moves, which follow last week's withdrawal of the 100W incandescent lightbulb, are part of a drive to slow the rapid growth of electricity consumption in homes by phasing out wasteful devices and introducing more efficient ones. Giant plasma televisions – dubbed "the 4x4s of the living room" – can consume four times as much energy as traditional TVs that used cathode ray tubes (CRTs).
Over the past 30 years, the number of electric appliances and gadgets in a typical home has almost trebled – from 17 to 47 – as a host of devices from scanners to security systems, cappuccino makers to computer game consoles have joined the more traditional kettles, irons, vacuum cleaners and cookers. And the number of televisions in homes has also grown rapidly; there are now 60 million of them, one for every person in the country.
The amount of power needed to run this electronic explosion has more than doubled in the same period, and the official Energy Savings Trust estimates that it will grow by another 12 per cent over the next four years.
The boom in flatscreen TVs, partly spurred by the digital changeover, is helping to fuel the increase, as is the growing size of the screens. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said last week: "In the past five years we have seen the main television in a household change from typically being a 24in to 32in CRT television to being a much larger flatscreen television, with screen sizes of between 32 and 42 inches becoming more and more common. Not surprisingly, this has seen the energy used by the main television in the house increase."
Different makes and models of television vary in their use of power, but a 42in plasma television may use some 822 kilowatt hours a year, compared to 350kWh by an LCD flat screen of the same size. A 32in CRT, the biggest available, would use 322kWh.
Power consumption goes up as the screens increase in size, so the trust says that a big plasma model could use four times as much electricity and be responsible for the emission of four times as much carbon dioxide as the biggest CRT; they now account for twice as much as a fridge-freezer.
Now European governments are finalising a mandatory EU regulation to set minimum standards for televisions. The worst performers will be phased out, and the rest will have to be labelled with energy ratings which, says Defra, "will make it easier for consumers to identify the most and least energy-efficient televisions available". The scheme is modelled on an existing one for fridges and other white goods which has greatly increased their efficiency over the past decade.
The EU has already agreed minimum standards for the electricity consumed in standby mode. Defra says this should cause a fourfold drop by early next year in the energy used by a TV when it has been switched off by remote control instead of the main switch. Similar steps are being taken in Australia and the United States; in the US, 275 million televisions gobble up as much electricity as is produced by 10 coal-fired power stations.
Manufacturers are responding by making their products greener. The best new plasma televisions now use one-third less energy than the average, and new LED televisions, which are more efficient, are being developed.

Rainforest loss may have been overstated, scientists

Evidence rainforests regenerate after logging is causing a row in the scientific world with some experts claiming fewer species will go extinct.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 7:26PM GMT 11 Jan 2009

Satellite data to be debated by top scientists show huge tracts of abandoned tropical forests that were once logged or farmed are regrowing.
Some researchers contend that this process has been inadequately factored into estimates of future species loss – but others maintain that only 50 to 80 per cent of plant species may return to logged or altered forests.
Scientists meeting at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington are debating extinction rates in the tropics.
Conservationists argue that the loss of the rainforests due to logging, climate change and other factors, is fuelling catastrophic rates of extinction – despite the evidence of rainforest regrowth in many places.
However Joseph Wright of the Panama-based Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has pointed out that the tropics now have more protected land than North America, Europe or Japan.
In a 2006 study he asserted that "large areas of tropical forest cover will remain in 2030 and beyond.... We believe that the area covered by tropical forest will never fall to the exceedingly low levels that are often predicted and that extinction will threaten a smaller proportion of tropical forest species than previously predicted."
Cristian Samper, director of the National Museum of Natural History, who will preside at the event, said: "By bringing together the world's foremost authorities on different aspects of rainforest science, we hope to achieve new insights into a situation with potentially profound implications for all species, ours included."

How the Mail made readers incandescent

A year after giving away free energy-saving bulbs, the tabloid has switched its allegiance and decided to put its energy into a national campaign to save 'beloved' traditional ones
Stephen Brook and Alok Jha
The Guardian, Monday 12 January 2009

Exactly one year ago, the Daily Mail offered its readers two free energy-saving lightbulbs. Last week, following a headline that it was "the end of light as we know it" and a story about retailers agreeing to ditch traditional and "beloved" bulbs for more expensive, low-energy ones, the paper was at it again. Only this time the lightbulbs were of the incandescent variety.
After "unprecedented public demand" for the 5,000 traditional bulbs the paper had obtained, the Mail offered five free 100w light bulbs for every reader in return for 12 tokens and 1.63 for postage.
Along with the energy-saving bulbs, last year the Mail also ran a highly successful campaign to banish plastic shopping bags, which led to noticeably fewer of them at the supermarket. As far back as May 2007 the Mail also gave space to James Murdoch, then chief executive of BSkyB, to promote eco-friendly behaviour. Murdoch, now the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation Europe and Asia and rival to the Mail's parent Daily Mail and General Trust, was given 648 words to plug the We're In This Together scheme in which Sky gave away, yes, eco-friendly lightbulbs. "One person, one victory at a time, day by day, we can and will make a difference. On this challenge we are, truly, in this together," Murdoch wrote. Well, not anymore, to judge by the Mail this week.
Why such a massive environmental U-turn by the Mail? And how significant will it be for environmental campaigners?
EU ban
At first glance it seems that the Mail's instant rage at any perceived threat to the freedom of its readers from the EU - there will be a mandatory EU ban in 2016 - had extinguished its environmental leanings. A lament to the ending of the traditional lightbulb, as the Mail saw it, on page 3 of the newspaper, became the most read science and technology story on the Mail's website and attracted 135 comments last Tuesday. A sense of concern and suspicion of the new technology and anger at the perceived nanny state apparently prompted the deputy editor Alastair Sinclair, in the absence of editor-in-chief Paul Dacre, to mount last week's campaign.
Colin Butfield, the head of campaigns at WWF, acknowledges that the Daily Mail was reflecting its readers concerns. And to create the major behavioural change required to tackle climate change, Butfield says, those concerns need to be met.
"You're not going to tackle the scale of things we need to do in the UK if you're not getting on board the readership of the Daily Mail. If you get them on board the likelihood is that the paper would follow that lead."
Complaints from the Mail's readership ranged from the weak light from energy-efficient bulbs to their relatively high cost to the fact that they were being promoted by the nanny state and, even worse, Eurocrats.
For John Sauven, the chief executive of Greenpeace UK, the Mail's campaign against compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) is an expression of nimby-ism. "There's something that people dont like about everything - you name it, somebody will be opposed to it. Partly people dont like change."
The Mail's importance in such campaigning is illustrated by a letter from Lord Hunt, the minister for energy innovation, to the letters page in defence of energy-saving bulbs within days of the campaign being launched. This did not stop the Mail's promotions department to offer to make traditional lightbulbs if necessary: "Dont worry if the offer is over subscribed we will get the bulbs especially made."
So what of the paper's criticism of the health and efficiency of energy-saving lightbulbs that they contain worrying levels of mercury among other things? Sauven says that might have been true for the first generation of low-energy bulbs, available several years ago, but that those perceptions were way out of date. "The first computers were the size of buildings for the equivalent power of a mobile phone - something new is never optimal, it's the beginning of a pathway, he says. Yet he agrees with Butfield that the mass market audience represented by the Mail needed to be brought on board. "The Mail is reaching middle England and it's exactly middle England that you want to bring on board," says Sauven. Appealing to readers' environmental consciences but also their purses - pointing out that they could save money on CFLs was the way to do this, he says.
The Mail's rivals are naturally less ready to agree that the paper needs to be brought on board. Allan MacCaskill, the head of brand at the Sun, accuses the Mail of being out of touch. "Its ridiculous that the Daily Mail are advocating lightbulbs that use more energy and will ultimately cost their readers more money. What's more incredulous is that the paper isn't using old stock but manufacturing these energy-guzzling bulbs to order. We have no idea why the Daily Mail picked this promotion - to us it's another sign they're out of touch with what people across the country want."
Of course the Sun has its own lightbulb story. Last year the paper was, in the words of its own executives, gobsmacked by the success of its eco-friendly lightbulb giveaway. On a Saturday the Sun normally sells about 3.5m copies. When it gave away two free energy-saving lightbulbs in January 2008, it sold 3,908,000 copies. So successful was the Sun's offer that the Mail's own giveaway of energy-saving bulbs was designed as a spoiler.
As a perhaps surprising endnote, one wag suggested that the inspiration for the Mail's first piece is understood to have come from a lighthearted piece in the Guardian's Shortcuts section a week ago.

Tackle poverty to help the planet, say campaigners

A coalition of environmentalists and poverty campaigners is urging the government to tackle poverty and global warming together. A new report, Tackling Climate Change, Reducing Poverty, argues that investment in home insulation cuts fuel bills, keeps homes warm and reduces CO2 emissions, while new public transport brings affordable travel and reduces air pollution. One in five UK residents still live in poverty and that number could increase if nothing is done, argues the coalition of Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, the Royal College of Nursing and the New Economics Foundation. Terry Macalister

Two Google searches 'produce same CO2 as boiling a kettle'

Making two internet searches through Google produces about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle, it has been estimated.

By Jon Swaine Last Updated: 12:44PM GMT 11 Jan 2009

Googling has 'a very definite environmental impact' according to research conducted by a physicist from Harvard University
A typical search through the online giant's website is thought to generate about 7g of carbon dioxide. Boiling a kettle produces about 15g.
The emissions are caused both by the electricity required to power a user's computer and send their request to servers around the world.
The discovery comes amid increasing warnings about the little-known environmental impact of computer and internet use.
According to Gartner, an American research firm, IT now causes about two per cent of global CO2 emissions and its carbon footprint exceeded that of the world's aviation industry for the first time in 2007.
Dr Alex Wissner-Gross, a physicist from Harvard University who is leading research into the subject, has estimated that browsing a basic website generates about 0.02g of CO2 for every second it is viewed.
Websites with complex video can be responsible for up to 0.2 g per second, he believes.
On his website,, Dr Wissner-Gross wrote: "Websites are provided by servers and are viewed by visitors' computers that are connected via networks.
"These servers, clients and networks all require electricity in order to run, electricity that is largely generated by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.
"When fossil fuels are burned, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, which contribute to climate change.
Dr Wissner-Gross believes that Google's unique structure - which sees it send searches to multiple servers around the world and give which ever response is returned quickest - causes its searches to produce more emissions than some other sites.
He told a newspaper: "Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power.
"A Google search has a definite environmental impact.
"Google are very efficient but their primary concern is to make searches fast and that means they have a lot of extra capacity that burns energy,"
A separate analysis by John Buckley, of, a British environmental website, put the CO2 emissions of a Google search at between 1g and 10g.
Chris Goodall, the author of Ten Technologies to Save the Planet, said that assuming the user spends 15 minutes on their computer, the carbon emission of a Google is between 7g and 10g.
A spokesman for Google said: "We are among the most efficient of all internet search providers."

Calor condemns 'biomess' of UK renewables plan

Calor, the bottled gas company, has slammed the UK's Renewable Energy Strategy, arguing the plans are expensive and don't take into account the full environmental impact of the initiative.

By Garry WhiteLast Updated: 1:18AM GMT 12 Jan 2009

The liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) company said carbon emissions in sourcing wood for biomass – a key plank of the renewables strategy – were underestimated and that offshore wind targets were "heroic".
The Government wants to generate 15pc of the UK's energy from renewable sources by 2020.
A report by Calor, entitled Biomess, was particularly scathing on the use of biomass to generate energy. Biomass is biological material derived from living organisms. In the energy sector, this often means plant-based material, but it can also refer to material derived from animals.
Calor also argued that burning biomass such as wood to produce energy would mean depending on foreign imports and would therefore work against the aim of becoming less dependent on foreign sources of energy.
Should the wood be generated in the UK, the amount of biomass needed to achieve just a 15pc contribution to the renewable mix would require a solid feeder area of trees of 207,746 square kilometres – more than the total area of England and Wales combined, according to Calor.
It also claimed that the cost to the UK would be a net £61bn by 2030, when carbon benefits are taken into account, which would drive up energy prices, food prices and the general rate of inflation.
The report also stated that the argument that all biomass was zero-carbon was "absurd" and breached Kyoto obligations, arguing that the mistakes made in this area could be compared with recent controversies over biofuels.
Gaynor Hartnell, Director of Policy at the Renewable Energy Association, said: "The Biomess report was bizarre. It simply knocks renewable energy without offering any solutions of how the UK is to meet its energy needs. The recent gas crisis illustrates the huge importance of energy security.
"Renewables represent the solution – using our own biomass wastes and complimenting this with home-grown materials saves us from importing fossil fuels, as well as assisting our waste management objectives.
"Other renewables such as wind – which the report also criticises – deliver themselves to the power station. Neither geopolitics nor terrorism could stop the wind, waves or tides. One thing is for certain: bottled gas isn't the answer to a sustainable energy future."
Juliet Davenport, chief executive of Good Energy, the UK's only 100pc renewable electricity supplier, said: "The report appears to assume that only biomass from trees can be used, but you can also use rubbish, pig waste and forestry waste."
There has been mounting criticism of renewable energy in the last few years, particularly when it comes to wind farms. In December, the botanist and TV presenter Dr David Bellamy hit out at what he called "wind vandals".

Government 'destroys jobs' by delaying green revolution

• Low-carbon grants to end with millions unspent • Funding hiatus will 'strangle initiatives at birth'
Ashley Seager
The Guardian, Monday 12 January 2009

The government is to close a key support programme for renewable energies almost a year before it launches a new regime, creating a funding black hole that the industry has warned could lead to thousands of green job losses.
As Gordon Brown hosts a jobs summit specifically to discuss the creation of green jobs to combat the 100,000 job losses a month caused by the recession and safeguard the economy's long-term prosperity, it emerges that the government is planning to close the major part of its controversial low carbon buildings programme in June.
Ed Miliband's Department of Energy and Climate Change has bowed to pressure from the renewables industry and environmentalists and is planning to introduce a "feed-in tariff" - which pays owners of wind turbines, solar panels or biomass boilers a premium rate for the energy they produce. But it will not be launched until April 2010 at the earliest.
Renewables companies had been hoping that the LCBP's grant programme for schools and public buildings, known as "phase two", would be extended until the FIT is introduced.
"The LCBP needn't limp to an ignominious close," said Philip Wolfe, head of the Renewable Energy Association. "It should be revitalised, refinanced and extended until the launch of the new tariffs.
"The government rightly talks about a green jobs revolution and an energy-generating democracy. But these initiatives will be strangled at birth if the companies that would deliver them are left without a market in the meantime. They talk of green job creation but this is green job destruction."
A DECC spokesman pointed to the support available to small-scale projects through the renewables obligation scheme. He called on charities, schools and hospitals to apply for grants since only half of the £48m allocated to phase two of the LCBP more than two years ago has been used up.
The Friends of the Earth's renewable-energy campaigner, Nick Rau, said: "Ministers should be increasing their financial support for small-scale renewable energy schemes - not pulling the plug on its already inadequate funding."
FITs are up and running in almost 50 countries. Germany led the way in 1999 and has sparked a revolution in renewable industry. The German Renewable Energy Association (BEE) reported last week that the country - Europe's largest economy - produces 15.3% of its electricity and almost 10% of its total energy needs from renewables. In the process it saves more carbon dioxide than all its cars emit in a year and in 2008 saved the economy €17bn (£15bn) in imported energy and related costs.
Britain, by contrast, is almost the worst performer in Europe. It produces 5% of its electricity and less than 2% of its total energy from renewables.
The government has committed itself to an EU target of 15% of total energy from green sources by 2020. Germany's target is 20% and it will easily exceed it. Britain is thought by many analysts to have little chance of meeting its target.
The LCBP has financed about 5,000 projects, such as wind turbines or solar panels for houses, schools or public buildings, over the past three years. Germany, by contrast, is installing 300,000 solar photovoltaic systems alone each year.
The LCBP has been dogged by under-funding and revamps. Maximum grants to households were cut right back last year and so the take-up of funding by individuals ran last year at about half its 2006 rate. The household part of the LCBP, "phase one", actually lasts until June 2010 but will probably be underspent.
"The government couldn't organise a windmill to spin in a gale," said Andrew Simms, head of the New Economics Foundation. "On one hand we have a recession, rising unemployment and the urgent need for an environmental make-over of the economy. On the other, we have the opportunity for massive growth and investment in renewable energy and conservation.
"But instead of creating confidence with clarity and predictable market conditions needed for the renewable sector to flourish, we get the opposite: timidity, confusion, intermittent and hopelessly inadequate investment. Instead of a green new deal, it looks more like a broken contract with the future."
The shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, Chris Grayling, criticised the jobs summit as being pointless. "Unfortunately all we are getting from the government is a series of announcements on employment that are more spin than substance and are just designed to cover up the fact that Gordon Brown's recession policies are not working."

Sea absorbing less CO2, scientists discover

David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Monday 12 January 2009

Scientists have issued a new warning about climate change after discovering a sudden and dramatic collapse in the amount of carbon emissions absorbed by the Sea of Japan.
The shift has alarmed experts, who blame global warming.
The world's oceans soak up about 11bn tonnes of human carbon dioxide pollution each year, about a quarter of all produced, and even a slight weakening of this natural process would leave significantly more CO2 C02 in the atmosphere. That would require countries to adopt much stricter emissions targets to prevent dangerous rises in temperature.
Kitack Lee, an associate professor at Pohang University of Science and Technology, who led the research, says the discovery is the "very first observation that directly relates ocean CO2 uptake change to ocean warming".
He says the warmer conditions disrupt a process known as "ventilation" - the way seawater flows and mixes and drags absorbed CO2 from surface waters to the depths. He warns that the effect is probably not confined to the Sea of Japan. It could also affect CO2 uptake in the Atlantic and Southern oceans.
"Our result in the East Sea unequivocally demonstrated that oceanic uptake of CO2 has been directly affected by warming-induced weakening of vertical ventilation," he says. Korea argues that the Sea of Japan should be renamed the East Sea, because it says the former is a legacy of Japan's military expansion in the region.
Lee adds: "In other words, the increase in atmospheric temperature due to global warming can profoundly influence the ocean ventilation, thereby decreasing the uptake rate of CO2."
Working with Pavel Tishchenko of the Russian Pacific Oceanological Institute in Vladivostok, Lee and his colleague Geun-Ha Park used a cruise on the Professor Gagarinskiy, a Russian research vessel, last May to take seawater samples from 24 sites across the Sea of Japan.
They compared the dissolved CO2 in the seawater with similar samples collected in 1992 and 1999. The results showed the amount of CO2 absorbed during 1999 to 2007 was half the level recorded from 1992 to 1999.
Crucially, the study revealed that ocean mixing, a process required to deposit carbon in deep water, where it is more likely to stay, appears to have significantly weakened.
Announcing their results in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists say: "The striking feature is that nearly all anthropogenic CO2 taken up in the recent period was confined to waters less than 300 metres in depth. The rapid and substantial reduction ... is surprising and is attributed to considerable weakening of overturning circulation."
Corinne Le Quéré, an expert in ocean carbon storage at the University of East Anglia, said: "We don't think the ocean is just going to completely stop taking our carbon dioxide emissions, but if the effect weakens then it has real consequences for the atmosphere."

Fighting effects of climate change ‘will help poor’

Oxford Tackling climate change will reduce poverty by cutting heating bills and providing jobs, a report concludes. Installing insulation and investing in public transport to reduce car numbers would both help.
The report, Tackling Climate Change, Reducing Poverty, says that the poor are likely to be worst affected by rising temperatures because they tend to live in less energy-efficient housing, have less access to insurance against floods, and have less money to adapt to higher prices of fuel and food. The authors of the study, by Oxfam and the New Economics Foundation, base their findings on work by organisations including Friends of the Earth.
Andrew Simms, the foundation’s policy director, said: “A well-designed programme of national environmental transformation that creates jobs, makes better homes as well as healthier food and better transport systems, provides a historic opportunity to solve longstanding and deeply entrenched problems of poverty and social injustice.”

Supercar to use wind power to reach amazing speeds

A revolutionary new supercar will be able to hit a top speed of 155mph - using wind power.

By Daily Telegraph Reporter Last Updated: 6:13PM GMT 11 Jan 2009

The new environmentally-friendly high performance car was designed in California
The Formula AE car will use a solar-powered battery to get it moving but will then use the airflow passing over the vehicle to power a turbine.
It will be able to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds and is expected to cost around £100,000 when it hits the market.
Four strategically placed air intakes, which will be built discretely into the car's bodywork, will channel the airflowover the car's body towards the turbine.
There are two intakes on the front of the car and one on each side towards the rear.
The turbine itself is hidden within the car body and will be connected to an alternator which will increase the amount of electricity available to the car by 20 to 25 per cent.
This extra energy will be stored in efficient storage devices called ultra-capacitors, which will aid acceleration and prevent the solar-powered battery from being drained so quickly.
Paper-thin solar panelling on the two-seater's bodywork will be able to fully charge the battery in just 1.5 hours.
But a new prototype battery could see this time reduced to just six minutes.
A full battery allows drivers to travel more than 200 miles or to race around a track for at least an hour.
The Formula AE will be propelled by an advanced alternating current induction motor with a power output of 212 kilowatts.
The chassis will be constructed from lightweight aluminium and super strong steel in a Formula 1-style monocoque shell.
The sleek motor was designed by Rory Handel and Maxx Bricklinas from Beverly Hills, California.
They expect the prototype to be completed in August.
A RORMaxx spokesman said: "The Formula AE car embraces a rarely thought of alternative source of energy.
"The target market would be the sports car, track day, eco-concerned auto-enthusiast.
"In addition, those enthusiasts who support and would want to promote the future development of revolutionary green technologies."
He added that funding for the project was from a major 'fuel and commodities corporation' which wishes to remain anonymous.
And he said that the engineering expertise comes from two professional mechanical engineers and Mr Handel, who used to work for a racing team as an engineer.
Mr Handel said: "In today's world we need something to spark the imagination of our generation, the ones who will advocate change in this tough time - Formula AE has set out to do just that.
"The vehicle will demonstrate the capabilities of our creative ideas in synergy with the implementation of new alternative energy systems, also with a larger goal of setting the public's attitude towards green technology on a more productive path."

Hybrid Aims to Stay Top Emerging Format

DETROIT -- Electric vehicles may have stolen the spotlight at this year's Detroit auto show, with many of the world's top auto makers promising to charge into the future with lineups of flashy, emission-free green cars. But Toyota Motor Corp. and other auto makers are seeking to ensure that gasoline-electric hybrids remain the dominant ecocar in the years ahead.
Toyota is unveiling two hybrids at this year's auto show: the third generation of its top-selling Prius and the Lexus HS250h, a luxury vehicle that will only be available as a hybrid. The company also said it will introduce 10 more hybrids by early next decade, part of its goal to sell one million hybrids a year by that time.
Once ridiculed as impractical, too expensive or a gimmick by other auto makers, the Prius is spawning a fleet of competing hybrids at this show.
European Pressphoto Agency
Honda Motor Co. introduced its new Insight, a four-door hatchback that it is marketing as the first "affordable" hybrid. Ford Motor Co. showcased its new Fusion hybrid, which is due later this year, and South Korean auto maker Hyundai Motor Co. displayed its own hybrid technology that it plans to make available in 2010.
Toyota has dominated the hybrid market with more than a 70% market share in the U.S. "We've been pushing the notion of hybrids kind of by ourselves," said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, in an interview. But new competitors will help the technology gain traction in the mass market, he said.
To be sure, many auto makers believe consumers are ready to leap from gas-electric hybrids to pure electric vehicles. Ford, Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp., as well as smaller players such as China's BYD Co. and start-ups Tesla Motors LLC and Fisker Automotive Inc., all displayed electric vehicles that generated buzz at the North American International Auto Show on Sunday.
Even Toyota hedged its bets on hybrids by unveiling its own electric vehicle at the show: a small, two-door electric concept car that it plans to introduce in 2012.

But the future for electric vehicles remains vague, despite the initial enthusiasm. Most electric concepts shown here still depend on breakthroughs in battery technology, have high production costs and aren't guaranteed to be a success with consumers, who would need to adjust to recharging their vehicles.
By contrast, hybrids have become accepted technology, requiring no additional infrastructure or change of refueling habits.
"While Toyota is investing heavily in advancements such as fuel cells, plug-ins and battery electric vehicles, we believe that the gas-electric will be our core technology for many years to come," said Irv Miller, vice president, environmental and public affairs, for Toyota Motor Sales USA.
In terms of sheer volume and detailed planning, Toyota is right. Initial production goals for most electric vehicles remain relatively small, with GM planning to produce about 60,000 of its highly anticipated Chevy Volt due out in 2010. Chrysler said it expects to start producing an electric car in 2010, one of four that the company plans to bring to market by 2013, though it offered few details.
Toyota, by contrast, is well on its way to reaching its goal of selling one million hybrids a year early next decade and has set a goal of offering hybrid versions of all its vehicles by 2020. Ford hopes the new Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids will help double its sales of hybrids to 40,000 a year.
Though sales of hybrids slipped in recent months as gasoline prices have plummeted, falling more than 50% in December, car makers are confident that high gas prices will return, helping to make hybrids a cornerstone of the auto industry.
"There is basically nothing out in the market today in terms of segment that doesn't have some hybrid associated with it. From the biggest vehicles at GM, to Ford and Chrysler to us -- you've got the hybridization of the internal combustion engine," said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co.
Electric vehicles represent the next step, he said. The question is whether the industry is ready to take the step. Most auto makers are aiming to build powerful lithium-ion batteries to power their planned electric vehicles, but safety and durability issues remain.
Ford doesn't view its hybrids, plug-ins and pure electric vehicles as being in competition but part of a broad electrification strategy.
Chief Executive Alan Mulally said that Ford would bring its electrified vehicles to market "more quickly and more affordably" than its competitors. Unlike GM, which has pledged to bring its plug-in hybrid to market by late next year, Ford said that it will introduce a battery-only commercial van in 2010, followed by a passenger car built on the same technology in 2011. They would be followed by a plug-in vehicle by 2012.
The concept has long languished at Ford but has been consistently pushed by Chairman William Ford Jr., who took center stage at Cobo Arena to announce that the electrification strategy "is not a test program" but "a vital element" of the company's future product-development strategy.—Matthew Dolan and Kate Linebaugh contributed to this article.
Write to John Murphy at

Technology Levels Playing Field in Race to Market Electric Car

SHENZHEN, China -- It would seem like a lousy time to get into the car business, especially if you're a little-known company in the developing world. No start-up has grown into a major auto maker in at least half a century.
Wang Chuanfu, the founder and chairman of BYD Co., a Chinese battery and car maker, thinks he's got a shot.
Bloomberg News/Landov
Wang Chuanfu, BYD founder
Last month, BYD began selling a plug-in electric hybrid car in China, at least a year ahead of similar efforts in the U.S. and Japan. The car, called the F3DM, plugs into a home outlet and comes with a small gasoline engine that can recharge the battery on the go. It is the first of an array of electrified cars BYD plans to introduce around the world, starting in China and then in the U.S. and Europe as early as 2010.
On Monday, Mr. Wang is expected to pitch the F3DM to U.S. consumers, during a news conference at Detroit's North American International Auto Show, which opens to the public Saturday. His venture has already attracted the attention of industry veterans and investors, including Warren Buffett.
Mr. Wang's strategy: capitalizing on the electric car's low barriers to entry. Few products are as complex to develop and produce as gasoline-powered automobiles, which are assembled with thousands of precisely engineered parts. But electric cars use only basic motors and gearboxes, and have relatively few parts. Aside from perfecting the battery itself, they're far easier and cheaper to build -- and that makes for a level playing field.

Chinese Carmaker Has an Eye to the Future3:43
In China, BYD Co. has developed a plug-in electric vehicle that can run as a gasoline-electric hybrid with the flip of a switch.
"It's almost hopeless for a latecomer like us to compete with GM and other established auto makers with a century of experience in gasoline engines," said Mr. Wang in an interview, pacing and juggling calls in BYD's headquarters on the outskirts of Shenzhen. "With electric vehicles, we're all at the same starting line."
It's still a bumpy road to a full-blown era of battery cars. Punishingly high gasoline prices have come down, potentially damping the public's willingness to embrace alternative-fuel vehicles. In addition to convincing consumers to try untested technology, BYD has to fight mistrust in the West of Chinese-produced goods. Safety has also come into question, as some of the lithium-ion batteries -- widely believed to be the key to making viable electric cars -- have shown a tendency to overheat and sometimes catch fire.
Mr. Wang says BYD's batteries use a new technology that makes them safer than other lithium-ion models. He also says cheap abundant labor helps keeps his costs down, another factor that could sway consumers. In China, the F3DM is priced at 150,000 yuan, or $22,000, and BYD expects it to sell for a similar amount in the U.S. The Chevrolet Volt, by contrast, may be priced at $40,000 or more when it hits the market in late 2010.
Another potential BYD edge: more than a decade of experience specializing in making batteries. Mr. Wang started the company in 1995, borrowing $300,000 from a cousin, and making batteries for cellphones. Today, BYD is the world's second-biggest producer of lithium-ion batteries. The company made 21.2 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) in revenue last year and has a work force of 130,000. Last September, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., an Iowa-based energy producer, invested $230 million in BYD for a 10% stake. Mr. Buffett is majority owner of MidAmerican.
BYD caught the investors' attention in part because of its army of 10,000 technicians and engineers, many fresh out of college and technical schools, says David Sokol, chairman of MidAmerican. "Mr. Wang has built high-quality but low-cost research and development capabilities in China," says Mr. Sokol.
The first of BYD's electric cars, the F3DM, is more of a purely electric car than the gasoline-electric hybrids on the road today. It can go about 50 to 60 miles exclusively on electricity when fully charged.
By contrast, Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius is essentially a gasoline-fueled car with an electric engine that propels the car at low speeds and assists the gasoline engine when accelerating. The F3DM is similar in design to General Motors Corp.'s Chevy Volt. But it is being launched two years earlier than the Volt and one year ahead of Toyota's plug-in hybrid, which is due out for late 2009.

Other nontraditional players jumping into the fold include Think Global in Norway, Lightning Car Co. in the U.K. and Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive, both in California. They all are planning to soon roll out or are already taking orders, albeit a very small number of them, for electric cars powered by lithium-ion batteries. The growing field of upstart competitors could pose a threat to Detroit, where the Big Three are betting that hybrids and battery cars can help fuel their turnaround.
In China, BYD is already one of the fastest-growing independent auto makers. Demand for its traditional small cars, the F3 and the F0, is growing despite weakening car sales in China, allowing it to close in on Chery Automobile Co. and Geely Holding Group, the two biggest independent Chinese auto brands. The F3 was one of China's best-selling models during the last quarter of 2008. "BYD is probably the becoming the first Chinese auto maker to crack the Western auto markets," says Wolfgang Bernhart, a senior researcher for the German consulting firm Roland Burger.
By late 2009, BYD plans to mark another milestone by launching in China the BYD e6, an all-electric car capable of going 180 miles on a single full charge of its battery.
The Battery Holdup
The concept of an electric vehicle has been around for more than a century. But so far it has failed to become mainstream in large part because the batteries have been too heavy, bulky and costly. Until recently, no commercially available battery could store enough energy in a small space, such as under the car's back seat, recharge quickly and operate in all weather without overheating or failing.
Lithium-ion batteries, like the ones used in laptop computers and cellphones, hold the most promise. But the safety issues have slowed production. Both GM and Toyota say they are taking more time to roll out their electric cars to make sure their batteries are safe.

Mr. Wang says BYD's lithium-ion battery uses an iron-phosphate technology that is chemically stable and thus "inherently safe." He says it doesn't overheat to the point where it can catch fire.
The technology is similar in design to that developed by A123 Systems, a U.S. start-up battery maker led by a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. GM is using their technology to power the Volt. Individuals close to A123 say the company plans to take apart BYD's battery cell to see if BYD has infringed on any of its technology. Officials at A123 declined to comment.
The Chinese company says it has spent more than 10 years developing its own iron-phosphate-based lithium-ion technology without infringing on others' intellectual property. "Sometimes foreigners think every Chinese company is stealing technology and design," says Luo Hongbin, a senior BYD engineer. But, he says, "we have been researching electric vehicles for so many years."
In early testing, reviewers said the car still has some kinks. The gasoline engine in the F3DM, for instance, rattles and can be noisy when it kicks in. The steering wheel also tends to get stiff when making a turn. Henry Li, a senior BYD executive in charge of overseas sales and marketing, says the company is working to resolve these issues before the car hits new markets: "We have plenty of time to make them perfect."
Mr. Wang, the 42-year-old Chinese entrepreneur, compares the simplicity of building electric cars to the simplicity of a digital watch. "Anyone can design and produce digital watches, but it's virtually impossible for a newcomer to match the precision of a Swiss wristwatch," Mr. Wang says.
Indeed, BYD's all-electric e6, has just two motors (45 parts each), one powering the front axle and the other the rear, and two gearboxes (60 parts each) to go with each of the motors. That means the whole system has 210 primary parts, excluding nuts and bolts. In comparison, BYD's F6, a gasoline-fueled vehicle, has a total of 1,400 powertrain parts: a V6 engine composed of 840 parts and a transmission with 560 parts.
Learning to Drive
At BYD's plant in Shenzhen, electric motors and batteries are produced with little automation, creating a decidedly low-tech feeling to the place. Rows of workers, mostly women in their late teens and early 20s dressed in blue uniforms, assemble them largely by hand.
Mr. Wang's fascination with batteries harks back to his college days in the mid-1980s, when he studied metallurgical physics and chemistry. After receiving a master's degree, he found a research position at the General Research Institute of Nonferrous Metals in Beijing. He says it was a cushy job, but he grew bored and decided to go out on his own just as China's experiment with capitalism was going into full swing.
Mr. Wang set up BYD with two dozen engineers. Within a few years, the company was selling batteries to companies like Motorola Inc., Nokia Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. The business doubled each year, Mr. Wang says. BYD went public on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2002.
One industry that grabbed Mr. Wang's attention was cars, even though he didn't know how to drive at the time. (He has since learned and takes his Lexus to work.) In early 2003, Mr. Wang decided to acquire a small auto maker named Qinchuan Motors in Xian, but investors voiced strong opposition.
On a conference call, Mr. Wang disclosed that in 1998 he had instructed 20 of his top engineers to quietly scale up BYD's cellphone-battery technology so that it could be used to power cars some day. They developed an all-electric car, a clunky vehicle called the Flyer that was just a step above a golf cart.
Encouraged, investors blessed plans for BYD to first design a traditional gasoline car so the company could learn the basics of design and manufacturing. In mid-2005, BYD launched its first car, a small sedan called the F3. Foreign industry observers accused the F3 of being a copy of the Toyota Corolla. Mr. Wang says he was careful not to infringe on another company's intellectual property. "By synthesizing good ideas in China from Toyota and others, BYD created its own cars quickly," he says. He says he believed there was no better way to learn the ropes of the auto industry than "benchmarking" the industry's best.
A Toyota spokesman said the Japanese company doesn't intend to take BYD to court over the F3. "In general, we're always prepared to take legal action if we can determine there is a clear case of infringement," says company spokesman Hitoshi Yokoyama in Beijing.
Behind the scenes, BYD kept fine-tuning its electric cars. In April 2008, when Mr. Wang unveiled an e6 prototype at the Beijing auto show, it was an emotional moment for the executive, who grew up poor in Anhui Province and lost both of his rice-farmer parents to illness by the time he was 15.
Standing amid firecrackers and confetti, Mr. Wang declared the e6 marked the arrival of a new era in automobiles: "We have every confidence to surpass GM and Toyota and other global auto makers in electric-vehicle technology."
Write to Norihiko Shirouzu at

Our friends electric

Andrew Clark
The Guardian, Monday 12 January 2009

With an environmental paint job of birds and leaves, Toyota unveiled a lightweight battery-powered commuter car yesterday, which it plans to mass produce by 2012. The Japanese carmaker, which recently overtook General Motors to become the world's top carmaker, is putting much of its serious financial firepower into the idea of a plug-in urban car. Dubbed the FT-EV, it shares a platform with Toyota's iQ, which is already on sale in Japan. It can go up to 50 miles on a charge - enough, Toyota argues, for a typical commuter. The firm wants to capitalise on the success of its Prius hybrid to become a global leader in green technology, with a target of selling 1m petrol-electric hybrids a year by the next decade. It has also rolled out a version of its Camry saloon powered by natural gas. Irv Miller, Toyota's vice-president for environmental affairs, said last year's soaring petrol prices were no anomaly: "It was a brief glimpse of our future."

Toyota Plans Electric Vehicle in 2012

DETROIT- Seeking to maintain its edge over rivals as the maker of eco-friendly vehicles, Toyota Motor Corp. announced that it plans to launch an electric vehicle by 2012 and offer 10 new gas-electric hybrid models in the early 2010s.
In a statement released in advance of Sunday's opening of the Detroit auto show, the Japanese auto maker said it will display the Toyota FT-EV concept vehicle. The electric vehicle shares the same platform of Toyota's new four-seater iQ, a small, fuel-efficient car designed for city driving launched in Japan last year.
Toyota's new electric car concept comes amid a sudden wave of announcements by global auto makers developing or planning to develop electric vehicles. The latest announcement came from Chrysler LLC, which on Saturday said it expects to start producing an electric car in 2010, one of four that it plans to bring to market by 2013.
Until now, Toyota, which has dominated the alternative vehicle market with its best-selling Prius gas-electric hybrid, has shown less interest in electric vehicles compared to rivals like Nissan Motor Co., which plans to launch an electric car in 2010.
Although Toyota plans to broaden its line-up with smaller, fuel efficient vehicles and electric vehicles, it says it hasn't wavered from its belief that gas-electric hybrids will form the core of the company's long-term powertrain technology.
Last year, Toyota announced that it plans to sell one million gas-electric hybrids per year sometime during the early 2010s, part of its long-term strategy of offering hybrid versions of all of its vehicles by 2020. Toyota will unveil two new hybrids at this week's auto show, the third-generation Prius and the Lexus HS250h. By the early 2010s, Toyota says it will also launch as many as 10 new hybrid models in various global markets.
Sales of Toyota's hybrids have slipped in recent months as gas prices have plummeted. But Toyota says high gas prices will return, increasing demand for fuel-efficient cars.
"Last summer's four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline was no anomaly. It was a brief
glimpse of our future," said Irv Miller, vice president, environmental and public affairs for Toyota Motor Sales USA.
The auto maker also offered more details of its highly anticipated plug-in hybrid vehicles, which can run for limited distances on electric power and can be recharged at home. By late 2009, Toyota said it will deliver 500 Prius plug-in hybrids powered by lithium-ion batteries to lease-fleet customers, including 150 in the U.S.
Write to John Murphy at

Chrysler Plans Electric Car Push in 2010

DETROIT -- In a bid to make a splash at the Detroit auto show, Chrysler LLC said it expects to start producing an electric car in 2010.

The company, however, revealed few details that normally come with such announcements, such as what type of vehicle it will make – or its name.
"We're not allowed to say," said Todd Goyer, a company spokesman.
In a statement released ahead of the Detroit show, the auto maker said it will unveil a new concept for a possible future electric vehicle – a battery-powered version of its Jeep Patriot, a compact sports-utility vehicle. It will also display three electric-vehicle concepts it first shown in public in September. Those included electric versions of its Chrysler Town & Country minivan and Jeep Wrangler, and the Dodge Circuit, an two-seat sports car.
Chrysler aims to have four electric vehicles in the market by 2013, the company's statement said. A few weeks ago, Chrysler executives told dealers it plans to sell 500,000 electric vehicles by 2013.
Chrysler needs a dose of good news right now. Sales plunged last year, falling 53% in December alone. The company was close to running out of money before it got $4 billion in loans from the federal government.
The company plans to launch a new Jeep Grand Cherokee in late 2009 or 2010, but has few other new models set to follow. Chrysler slowed product development to conserve cash, people familiar with the matter said.
That stands in contrast to recent years, when it tried to drive sales by launching a steady stream of new vehicles.
Chrysler has formed a special development group, called ENVI, to work with partners to produce electric vehicles. It assembled a working prototype of the Dodge Circuit sports car by using major components produced by outsiders, such as an underbody made by Lotus and batteries from A123 Systems Inc. The Circuit runs on battery power alone and is supposed to run for up to 200 miles before needing a recharge.
Chrysler's electric vehicles "will allow consumers to move away from their reliance on fuel stations and traditional maintenance," Lou Rhodes, president of ENVI, said in a statement, "and instead enjoy a new, more socially responsible level of performance."
Write to Alex P. Kellogg at and Neal E. Boudette at