Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Nissan's plug-free electric car

The Japanese carmaker's wireless system employs the same electromagnetic field technology used to charge an electric toothbrush
Bibi van der Zee and Adam Vaughan
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 July 2009 16.44 BST

Nissan has developed a revolutionary plug-free technology that it claims will make charging electric cars easier and faster. The wireless charging system is based on the concept of inductive charging, the same electromagnetic field technology used to charge an electric toothbrush. Nissan has scaled it up for use in their Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) electric car, which can charge in a compatible parking bay without the need for wires. Today's electric car owners, by contrast, have to carry a mains plug aboard to recharge.
David Bott, director of innovation programmes at the Technology Strategy Board, said: "If you look at handheld gadgets, inductive charging is a proven technology - the fundamental science says that it will work. I suspect you'll end up plugging electric cars in at night for efficiency, and by day using inductive for on-the-go recharging."
Nissan has ambitions beyond mere wireless charging bays. It hopes to scale the technology up even further as a series of plates laid into the surface of designated electric vehicle lanes on our roads and motorways, theoretically enabling motorists to charge as they drive. However, Nissan admits that it still has no idea on how much it would cost, how long the designated lane would have to be, or how fast the battery could be recharged.
Bott said he was sceptical that such charging lanes would be practical: "It's scientifically feasible, but it's whether it's scalable and feasible is another matter."
Nissan is grappling with its recent consumer research, which revealed that 61% of potential electric car customers were most worried about the inconvenience of recharging. As well as inductive charging, its technological solutions include developing fast-charging facilities, which they hope to see in place in shopping car parks and motorway service stations. "So while you're shopping, or having a cup of tea, the battery will refill to 80% of its capacity, in about 25 minutes," explained Larry Haddad, general manager of product strategy and planning at Nissan Europe.
In addition to these charging innovations, Nissan believes the ZEV has what it takes to compete against established electric models such as the TH!NK City and G-Wiz. Nissan claims it will be the first "dedicated" electric car on the market, arguing that most rival cars have been rehashes of existing models.
The ZEV is a five-seater family-sized car with a top speed of 90mph, a battery range of around 100 miles and surprisingly impressive acceleration. Redmer van der Meer, Nissan's European electric vehicle product manager, said that he is confident the range will be significantly extended in the next few years, and that cars will be built so new, improved batteries can be retro-fitted. Van der Meer said the car is deliberately conventional in style: "We don't want to make a shock in the market, an egg-shaped car or something. We want to make a transition. You could do mad things but we really don't want to."
Nissan's electric car is set to go on sale in the US and Japan next year, before arriving in the UK and rest of Europe by 2012. Pricing is yet to be announced.

Brown and Mandelson welcome Nissan factory and jobs

Sunderland visit comes as government names north-east as Britain's second low-carbon economic area
Katie Allen
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 July 2009 20.07 BST
Carmaker Nissan has pledged to invest more than £200m in a new rechargeable battery factory in Sunderland boosting the north-east of England's drive to become a leading centre for green technology.
The region hopes to swap a legacy of shipbuilding, steam engines and coalmining for a pioneering role in the manufacture of electric cars and lorries.
Nissan's announcement of plans for a rechargeable lithium-ion battery plant was accompanied by Gordon Brown's confirmation that the government is making the north-east the UK's Low Carbon Economic Area specialising in "ultra-low carbon vehicles."
Against a backdrop of job losses and unrelenting uncertainty for workers at UK car factories, the prime minister hailed Nissan's new battery plant as a step towards economic recovery.
He sought to raise hopes the Japanese company could choose its north-east base for a new European green car operation over a rival facility in Spain.
"Nissan's investment in a new battery plant and its hope to start producing electric vehicles here in Sunderland is great news for the local economy, creating up to 350 direct jobs and creating and safeguarding hundreds more in the associated supply chain," said Brown.
"Sunderland could now be a strong contender to produce electric vehicles for Nissan in Europe, and we will continue to work with Nissan to ensure this happens."
Visiting Nissan's Sunderland plant, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said the north-east was already a specialised region for green cars.
The region's designation as a Low Carbon Economic Area will mean establishing a training centre to teach the manufacture and repair of green cars, creating a research and development hub which collates work from five universities on using low carbon cars and opening a test track to try out new vehicles.
The north-east is the second such "economic area" to be created by the government after the South West of England - a centre of marine and tidal energy schemes.
Mandelson hopes the north-east green cars project will attract foreign investment and secure the UK's place as "a global leader in high-tech manufacturing and automotive industries."
Local government officials hailed the Low Carbon initiative as potentially creating 10,000 jobs over five years – a huge morale boost to an area hit by the rapid decline of its manufacturing industry and wider economic turmoil.
Margaret Fay, chairman of the One North East regional development agency drew parallels with the north-east's industrial heyday.
"The first steam engines came from the north-east, we are good at firsts. We were the centre of excellence all those years ago with Stephenson and the Rocket. It's like history repeating itself for the next generation."
"We see this as the next iteration of the north-east economy. We have been through the very heavy industries of shipbuilding, steel, coalmining etc... Clearly manufacturing is at the heart of what we have always done in the region and this takes us back into what really are our core competencies. But this is manufacturing for the future."
The agency has aspirations to turn the north-east into Britain's green car training centre as demand rises for mechanics able to fix a new breed of electric vehicles.
"The training centre will go right from basic training, through apprenticeships, right up to masters and PhD's," said Fay.
The planned research and development centre will look into aspects of electric cars such as how far they can travel between charges.
AA president Edmund King says his group will feed its research into both the training and research centres.
"It was important to get a motoring organisation involved because electric vehicles will only be successful if consumers use them, understand them and trust them," said King.
He quotes AA research suggesting almost two-thirds of drivers would consider buying a more fuel efficient car. Drivers in the North East and Northern Ireland were most likely to consider buying a green car.
But others are more sceptical that electric cars are worthy of such "green" government investment. Stephen Glaister director of the RAC Foundation points out the power to charge batteries will most likely be generated from coal or gas. "I think it is entirely unclear whether electric cars have anything to offer."
"This may be about being seen to do something, it may be about creating new jobs, but I imagine it's very risky in terms of the particular technology they are going into. There's a long history of governments supporting different bits of the motor industry and having them fail."
North-eastern company Smith Electric Vehicles, the world's largest manufacturer of electric commercial vehicles, has questions about the government's green car plans for other reasons.
Managing director Geoff Allison was puzzled as to why the government was not looking at manufacturers' more urgent needs.
"Here today, now, we need investment. We have got electric vehicles, we need volume orders, we need subsidies. We need incentive from the government to help us get commercial vehicles on the road quicker. "In Europe they are all way ahead of us in terms of acceptability of electric vehicles."
If we aren't given support, the French will overtake us. You won't be buying a British built electric vehicle, you'll be buying a French one," he says

Prius takes a ride to the US aboard solar-powered container ship

Green freighter makes maiden Japan-US voyage to deliver Toyota hybrids. From BusinessGreen.com, part of the Guardian Environment Network
From BusinessGreen.com, part of the Guardian Environment Network
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 July 2009 17.36 BST
As the manufacturer of the world's most famous hybrid car, it seems only fitting that Toyota has now begun shipping its Prius cars to the US using a container ship that could also qualify as a hybrid.
The Auriga Leader, the world's first freighter to be partly powered using solar energy, has made its maiden voyage to the US from Japan, arriving at California's Port of Long Beach earlier this month with a consignment of Prius cars and other Toyota vehicles.
Launched in December, the ship is equipped with 328 solar panels on its car carrier which can generate up to 40kW of energy.
The Auriga Leader's solar array provides a supplementary source of clean energy to the ship, helping to reduce the load on its auxiliary engines. They also serve a double duty by helping to protect the vehicles from salt water, wind pressure and vibrations while at sea.
The freighter is a joint project from Japanese companies Nippon Yusen Kaisha and Nippon Oil Corp – which invested $1.68m (£1m) in the solar panel system – and is contracted exclusively to Toyota.
The Japanese automaker will use the Auriga Leader, which can carry up to 6,400 vehicles, to make bi-weekly trips between Japan and California.
In addition to having a green mode of overseas delivery, most Prius cars are produced in a solar-powered factory in Tsutsumi, located in central Japan. Its rooftop array produces 2MW of electricity per hour, meeting about half the plant's energy requirements.
The latest version of the iconic car, which was launched in Japan in May and is expected in the UK this summer, also features a rooftop solar panel designed to provide power for the car's cooling systems.
• This article was shared by our content partner BusinessGreen.com, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Staff occupy Isle of Wight wind turbine plant in protest against closure

Matthew Weaver
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 21 July 2009 00.31 BST
Workers staged an occupation of one of Britain's only wind turbine factories last night to protest against the imminent closure of the plant and the loss of hundreds of jobs.
About 25 workers entered the administration block of the Vestas Wind Systems factory in Newport, Isle of Wight, at around 7.30pm and vowed to remain there until the government discusses their proposal to save it from closure by nationalising the plant.
In April the Danish firm announced that the factory, which employs 525 people, as well as another in Southampton, employing 100 people, would close because of a lack of demand.
Vestas, which is the world's biggest wind energy group and recently reported a quarterly sales rise of 59%, up to €1.1bn (£0.95bn), cited a slowdown in demand when it announced the closure of the factory. It blamed a number of factors including the weakness of the pound and "a lack of political initiatives".
Vestas chief executive Ditlev Engel said that building wind turbines in Britain was "extremely time-consuming and extremely complicated". He added: "In the UK nimbyism is a huge challenge."
A worker inside the factory, who gave his name only as Michael, hit out at what he claimed were double standards in the government's approach to low-carbon industries.
He said: "It's crazy for Ed Miliband [the environment secretary] to be making statement after statement about green energy and green jobs and at the same time this factory is being closed."
"It would be tiny step financially to keep this factory open, but it would be a huge statement about the government's commitment to the green economy. Just as they could not afford to let the banks fail, they can't afford to let this fail. It's about the history of humanity."
Several police officers gathered outside the factory last night but told the protesters they do not intend to force them out. "This is a peaceful protest," Michael said. "We got enough supplies to last a while ... as long as you like crisps."
A spokesman for the Campaign Against Climate Change pressure group said: "We give the workers our full support. The government should take over the plant and restart production and if there currently is not enough demand for wind turbines, then it should build more wind farms itself."
No one from Vestas management was available for comment last night.

IPCC chief: Benefits of tackling climate change will balance cost of action

The cost of tackling climate change will be paid for by benefits that would come from better energy security, employment and health, Rajendra Pachauri says ahead of major announcement on 2013 reports
Damian Carrington
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 July 2009 13.52 BST

Measures needed to tackle global warming could save economies more money than they cost, the world's top climate change expert said today.
Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told the Guardian: "The cost could undoubtedly be negative overall." This is because of the additional benefits that reducing greenhouse gas emissions could bring, beyond limiting temperature rises.
Until now, estimates of the price of preventing dangerous climate change have all indicated significant costs. The most authoritative study, the 2006 Stern report, concluded that 1% of global GDP would be required, and he has since said 2% is now more likely.
Pachauri's comments came ahead of a press announcement in New York today about the IPCC's plans for its next series of reports in 2013. He said these would include a greater emphasis on the economics, as well as ethical and humanitarian concerns.
Funding for reducing and adapting to climate change in one of the most difficult issues in the negotiations towards a global deal at a UN summit in December in Copenhagen. But Pachauri argues that if the costs are negative, then "inertia and vested interests would be washed away. As the Americans say, it would be like dollar bills lying on the sidewalk."
Alex Bowen, one of the Stern report authors, said: "[Pachauri's] is a defensible postion, not delusional. But I am more of a sceptic."
"My hunch overall is that it will be a little more costly than we estimated in 2006. But if well designed policies are put in place, we can still do it remarkably cheaply. And there is still no doubt that strong action now is much cheaper than no action," added Bowen, an economist at the Grantham Research Institute On Climate Change at the London School of Economics.
The associated benefits Pachauri pointed to include better energy security, protecting consumers from oil price spikes, new employment in green industries, more productive agriculture and lower air pollution, cutting health costs. He said one good example was insulating draughty homes and installing better energy control systems. "This can yield very high rates of returns, with pay back in one year."
The idea of co-benefits is also central to the "green new deals" promoted by the UN Environment programme, Lord Stern's group and others.
Bowen said: "Negative costs depends on assumption that policy design and implementation is sensible and very consistent across countries all over the world. But we have gone three years [since the Stern report] without global policies. Emissions have grown rapidly and a lot of people now think economic growth will be much higher later in the century." The faster you have to reduce emissions, he said, the more expensive it is likely to be.
Pachauri's comments came as he led discussions what the next set of reports from the IPCC should cover. Its last report in 2007 is acknowledged to have settled the argument over whether emissions from human activities were causing climate change.
In the next series, due in 2013, Pachauri said the focus would change. "The IPCC cannot address the issue in purely scientific terms. For adaptation and mitigation, we need to put euro or dollar values on those. But there are also some costs you can't quantify. For example, take Hurricane Katrina. You can put a value on property losses, what about psychological, sociological, and institutional costs. I would not like to try to quantify those."
The IPCC meeting raised a range of further issues that it believes need more attention, including extreme weather events, new greenhouse gases, the full impacts of aviation and global scale geo-engineering.
The reports take between five and seven years to complete, but Pachauri argued that this is their strength: "The IPCC process of regular peer review means the reports are far more defensible than anything else. Comments received are posted on our website as are actions."

UN panel to study impact of climate change on poor countries

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change determined to increase understanding of regional effects of warming
Ed Pilkington in New York
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 July 2009 22.21 BST
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN body of scientists drawn from around the world, will use its next assessment due in 2014 to look at how the impact of global warming is falling unequally on the poorest developing countries.
Two hundred key members of the IPCC met in Venice last week to begin scoping out its fifth assessment. Rajendra Pachauri, the body's chairman, told reporters at the UN building in New York today that the panel was determined to increase its understanding of local and regional impacts of rising temperatures.
There was an awareness, he said, that in Africa in particular there was insufficient scientific and modelling fire-power to be able to predict in any detail what was likely to happen under global warming. "It's critically important that we create the capacity in Africa to be able to assess the impact of climate change."
A portion of the money the panel was awarded for the 2007 Nobel peace prize that it shared with Al Gore has been put into a trust specifically to help the least developed countries predict, and thus prepare for, the likely consequences.
Pachauri said the fifth assessment, the first draft of which is scheduled for 2013, would concentrate both on adaptations and mitigations that countries could make as rising temperatures take hold. "Every nation and community in the world will have to adapt [to] whatever happens in Copenhagen."
Pachauri said he had been heartened by the recent G8 meeting in which the world's industrialised powers agreed on an aspirational ceiling of 2C temperature rise. But he said that in that case they should also have signed up to the IPCC's conclusion that to contain global temperatures within that limit, emissions of greenhouse gases had to peak in 2015 and decline rapidly thereafter.
"They should have categorically stated that by 2020 they will implement deep cuts in emissions. So there are several gaps that are rather glaring." He went on to say that "the time has come for the global community to take action. There is frustration about the gap between our knowledge [of climate change] and acting on that knowledge."
Another area that the IPCC will home in on in its fifth assessment is extreme weather caused by climate change, a topic that has garnered mounting public attention in recent years.

One giant leap for a greener Britain

Only an Apollo-like effort of imagination and action will help us move to a low carbon economy

Ed Miliband
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 July 2009 21.00 BST
Forty years since the Eagle landed on the moon, the idea of a new Apollo project has become shorthand for how we should tackle climate change: politics forcing through the technological limits, a decade-long push, and a nation unified for a shared goal. The Guardian's Manchester Report last week showed there are plenty of reasons for optimism about the technologies that can take us into the low-carbon future.
But like Apollo, the challenge of climate change is to combine political will with technological leapfrog – and, in fact, the political challenge is almost unparalleled in human history. We can't all be rocket scientists (or climate scientists), but every one of us is needed for the political moonshot of today.
If the world agrees to act on climate change at the Copenhagen conference in December, countries will need to maintain their radicalism not just for a year or two but for decades. There must be a consensus from the richest country to the poorest and from democracies to autocracies. When we all depend on each other's actions, the world can't afford climate free-riders.
At home, our consensus already stretches from businesses to trade unions and from the Women's Institute to MTV. But for the pace and breadth of change that is needed many more people must be won over to our cause – to make change themselves and to build a climate change consensus. Climate change denial is given short shrift, but we should not confuse widespread acquiescence for universal enthusiasm. Climate change champions face the classic test of take-off political movements: how to widen the circle of the committed without watering down the clarity of the message.
First, if we are in the persuasion business, all of us have to talk as much about the advantages of the low carbon choice as the disaster that awaits if we don't act. We don't do this enough.
Just look at energy. Two-thirds of the world's gas is in Russia and the Middle East, but renewable energy is homegrown and can help us stem a rising dependence on imports. In manufacturing, there is a thriving set of new industries dependent on low carbon and on ways of cleaning up old sectors, and a chance to build a broader-based economy. Only by making the transition, with government support, can we reap the benefits.
And let's use the moment and cause to think about how we design cities and towns to make it easier for people to enjoy greener space, use public transport and have a better quality of life.
Second, we need not just to appeal to people to change their lifestyles but make it easier for them to do so. Here government has a central role. What will make more people leave the car in the garage and take a bike to the train station? Not finger-wagging, but convenience. As Andrew Adonis, the transport secretary, pointed out last week, the Dutch town of Leiden has three times as much bike storage at its station as all the London terminals put together. In Holland a third of journeys to stations are by bike; in Britain it's 2%. And from bike racks to loft lagging, the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan is designed to help make it possible for people to find a better way.
Third, we need to win some big and difficult arguments to create consensus. To do this we need to be candid about the pressures created by the transition to low carbon and show we will try to alleviate them where we can.
When I launched the plan, last week, I said energy prices were likely to rise by 2020. We need to convince people that despite the costs, the transition is right because the costs of not acting are much greater, and high-carbon fossil fuels offer an insecure future. We need to find ways of making the transition as fair as we can, insulating particularly the poorest people from these effects.
I believe the biggest threat to the countryside is not wind turbines but climate change. We do need to site new turbines in the most appropriate places, but we also need to persuade people that they have to go somewhere, and that the catastrophe wrought by climate change would indeed destroy many parts of our green and pleasant land.
However, building the resolve of a country, let alone a planet, is a big ask. Change happens not just because leaders want it, but because people demand it. Groups are springing up to persuade people to act on climate change. They ally the power of imagination – the rocket on the moon – with the power of example, action in their own lives.
They must also be the kernel of the movement, sustained and broad, that we need to exert pressure on governments up to Copenhagen and beyond. While this week we celebrate Apollo, it is persuasion, campaigning and political argument, not just technological advance, that will generate the giant leaps humankind needs on climate change.

Tuvalu plots zero carbon output by 2020

The tiny South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu could become the first zero-carbon country after vowing to abandon fossil fuels and generate all of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

By Bonnie Malkin in Sydney Published: 2:25PM BST 20 Jul 2009

At threat from rising sea levels caused by global warming, the low-lying nation plans to swap imported "dirty fuel" for wind and solar power.
With no heavy industry, almost no natural resources and very low existing greenhouse gas emissions, Tuvalu could become the first country in the world to realise the zero-carbon dream.

Lying halfway between Australia and Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific, the government has been forced to act because the nation stands to lose so much from climate change.
Home to a population of 12,000 people, Tuvalu is the fourth-smallest country in the world, measuring just 10 square miles in size. Most of its population are either fishermen or farmers, relying on the land and sea for income and food.
However, the island chain is very low-lying, with most of the country less than three feet above sea level, and the nation's highest point standing at just 15 feet. Worsening flooding in recent years has reminded the administration that Tuvalu faces becoming uninhabitable if predictions of a large sea-level rise this century come true.
In response, a 40 kilowatt solar energy system has been installed on the roof of the country's largest football stadium. The panels now supply five per cent of the electricity needed by the capital, Funafuti and in their first 14 months reduced Tuvalu's consumption of generator fuel shipped from New Zealand by about 17,000 litres.
The project was set up by the e8, an international nonprofit organisation of 10 leading power utilities from G8 countries, and funded by two Japanese power firms.
The Tuvalu government is now working to expand the initial project, and wants to take solar power to the outer islands, starting later this year with the commission of a $800,000 (£480,000), 46 kilowatt solar power system for a secondary school. In all the project is expected to cost the state, which relies on foreign aid as its main source of income, an estimated $20 million.
"We thank those who are helping Tuvalu reduce its carbon footprint as it will strengthen our voice in those international negotiations," said Kausea Natano, the island's public utilities and industries minister. "And we look forward to the day when our nation offers an example to all powered entirely by natural resources such as the sun and the wind."
Tuvalu is among a cluster of countries, including the Maldives, that aim to reduce their emissions to zero over the next decade.
While its effort alone is not expected to make a significant difference in the fight to cut the volume of heat-trapping gases emitted across the globe, the United Nations and many environmentalists have said the move could inspire larger emitters like the United States and China to take bolder steps to limit their carbon footprints.
"In a sense, they are paving the way for medium and larger economies which have to move if we are going combat climate change," said Nick Nuttal, spokesman for the United Nations Environment Programme. "These smaller economies are out to prove you can do it, and do it faster than some people previously thought."
Tuvalu by numbers:
Population: 12,373
Size: 10 square miles
Relative size: 4th smallest country in the world
Population density: 1,142 people per square mile
Highest point: 15 feet above sea level
GDP: $14.94 million (£9 million)
Number of islands: 4
Number of atolls: 5
Capital: Funafuti
History: former British protectorate and now Commonwealth member

Food products should carry 'water footprint' information, says report

The hidden amounts of water used in manufacturing food and drink products should be made known to customers, according to lobby groups
Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 July 2009 12.21 BST
Food and drink products should carry a new label to give consumers more information about their "water footprint" – the hidden amount of water used in the manufacturing process – two health and food lobby groups will recommend this week.
More transparency is needed about the huge volumes of water used to produce food, which most consumers are unaware of, said the joint report by the Food Ethics Council (FEC) and the health and food group Sustain.
It is calling for the proposed new label to reflect good practice, by taking into account the extent to which some companies and manufacturers are already working to use water in ways that are fair and environmentally sustainable.
Water scarcity is now a fast-growing sustainability problem across the world, the report says, with the amount used to produce an item far greater than the water contained within it. For example, one cup of fresh coffee needs 140 litres of water to produce while the production of one kilogram of beef requires 16,000 litres of water. In order to understand how to reduce our use of water, we need to measure this "embedded" or "virtual" water, the report says.
Generally, higher value crops such as sugar and vegetables are more water-intensive than cereals, and meat and dairy is even more water-intensive.
The report's co-author Tom MacMillan said: "Public awareness of water scarcity remains low. In the UK, citizens are rarely exposed to the direct effects of severe water shortage and cannot readily see the links between their purchases and water shortage in other countries. Water use is not reflected in the price of the final product."
MacMillan said the labels would not involve "litres per kilo" stickers, but should reflect the practise of good water stewardship – whether companies are working hard to use water in ways that conserve it, use it efficiently and are environmentally sustainable.
The information could be incorporated into a wider sustainability label that covered fair-trade and the carbon labelling scheme pioneered by the Carbon Trust, he said.
The UK's high level of water dependency will be questioned separately in a report on food security out tomorrow from the Commons environment, farming and rural affairs committee.
The FEC/Sustain report acknowledges the government's concern about the issue, and notes that: "Defra is concerned by the high level of UK water dependency both for future UK food security and because of the pressure caused by UK imports on the water resources of other countries."