We all know by now that the world is not getting any healthier by which I mean that we continue to pump crap into our air and pollute or pillage pretty much everything we can from the Earth. Take this week for instance for the first time consistently the world carbon dioxide measurement in both Hawaii and various Arctic sites reached the fabulous total of ~400 ppm. A trend of rising carbon dioxide levels we sadly seem unable to stop.
Now it was not too long ago when a similar problem of a hole forming in our ozone layer worried us a lot and we all rallied together to help reduce and phase out CFCs from our everyday lives. By doing so we helped mitigate the problem and now in the last few years the hole is the smallest for nearly 20 years before. Good for us. We messed it up but then we tried to fix it and we are sort of getting there.
Carbon dioxide reduction has not really worked so well for us though. We’ve not band carbon dioxide release now have we? No! We still drive around in our petrol burning cars and we still use fossil fuels to power our electricity grids. Ok we are seriously hooked on fossil fuels I know I still have a petrol car so I can not boast that I am helping in anyway. And there is the rub. We quickly found alternatives to CFCs some not so good but we were happy to take the hit with that. But at the moment what can we do to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions?
I should note at this point that yes carbon dioxide is a climate warming/forcing gas and something which is both naturally emitted and anthropogenic (human induced if you wish). So often the argument is that because carbon dioxide is produced naturally it doesn’t matter what we do. The problem with that argument is we can control our emissions which can not be said for natural emissions. So unless we come up with some pretty damn good carbon dioxide scrubbers we are always going to be moving upwards. You see the world has been balancing the carbon dioxide levels naturally for most of its existence. It does this seasonally through new growth in trees and plant life and there is a constant background reduction with the equilibrium of dissolved gases within our oceans. Even with these processes in place we are still increasing the levels of carbon dioxide.
Ok so I’ve switched from CFCs to erm butane in my deodorant canister how do I do the same with my carbon dioxide emissions? Before I start I should also note that carbon dioxide is not the only “bad gas” or climate forcing gases as they are being called. Methane which has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) index 25 times that of carbon dioxide is even worse. So lets hope we didn’t swap any CFCs for methane! Ironically CFCs sit in a particular region of our IR spectrum making them rather unique in their climate forcing potential as their is no natural equivalent, but I digress.
I can’t fill my car with hydrogen just yet so I should switch to a battery powered car a battery electric vehicle (EV) yes? Well again there is the rub. I should switch to help reduce my personal emissions post manufacture of the car but I, just like a significant proportion of the world, live in an apartment block. In fact if we stop to think about this what percentage of the world lives in little two up two down terrace or semi-detached houses? Relative few I would say.
So a lot of people live in apartment blocks clearly far more than the same area of land living in a suburban terrace. So what happens with EVs? If the world was perfect then we would say that everyone living in those apartments who had a petrol car would automatically be changed to electric. Great! But this is the real world and that frankly is not going to happen. Take my apartment for instance say there are approximately 100 people living in the same ground footprint as four semi-detached houses. At the maximum load that would be 100 cars vs. say 2 cars per semi so 8 cars. Now if each car is electric and each car is being charged that seems to me any rate to be a significant load on the local grid if we also include the normal power usage. Most apartments use electricity to boil water rather than gas so the heating systems tend to be electric as well.
If we can say the local grid can take the 100 cars being charged overnight or say 80 % of them plus the water heaters then that is great. The next issue is actually putting charging points in. Where I live the rules are crazy if you have an oil stain in your parking space you get in trouble so what would they do with a charge point. How would you get that charge point electricity you can’t run a 200 foot extension cable out of your window now can you? So electric cars are really a no go at the moment in large residential apartment areas - that is rubbish but I don’t see it changing. Unless the government forces all new apartment block builds to have charging point capability at each bay and increased infrastructure to support the increased electric load as well.
What about outside the UK? Take China for instance. China has lots and lots of people with lots and lots of cars. The majority of the population again lives in apartment blocks but this time significantly more so than the UK and with increased population density. Some of the newer sites have underground parking great but not so much the rest. How would electric cars work in the great city of Beijing? Beijing is crying out for zero emission cars. The Chinese authorities are even more proactive than the UK with the personal benefits you get when you buy an electric car. Things like electric cars are exempt from the car license plate lottery and subsidies of Rmb 120,000 in Beijing and 60,000 in Shanghai. Although oddly electric cars are still banned under the Beijing number system which limits traffic in the city on a weekday-by-day basis.
So you own an electric car? Beijing has started building charging stations throughout the city but that is no good. The premiss of the EV owner as far as I can see is that they have no range worries because you charge overnight always having 80 % or more the following day. But if you can not keep your car charged because you have no charging bay in your apartment parking space because the logistics both within terms of providing thousands of charging points to charge overnight in a large residential area in a relatively small footprint or the logistics of mapping that back to your apartment are staggering. So you need to drive to a charging point and bearing in mind in Beijing on some days this will not be possible due to your license plate. So now you and potentially thousands of people need to go to the “petrol” like charging station to recharge your car before you get to work or on your way back it is not possible. Those who say charging is just as fast as filling with petrol are talking crap. Yes buying petrol does take more than “a minute” normally around five and if there is a queue at the till eight minutes but the time limiting step is normally paying not the “charging” process. Where as with EVs it is the opposite paying is quick but charging is relatively slow.
This means in my book that battery powered EVs are not going to work to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions unless there is a fundamental change in planning and building regulations in the entire world. So that the majority population can effectively access convenient and safe charging solutions.
Whilst wrestling with the pros and cons of owning an electric vehicle in Beijing I realised there was a gap in the market. You see there are already a hell of alot of electric vehicles in China already. These all tend to be small and run on lead acid batteries which can either be easily swapped and rather unsettlingly carried to your apartment for charging (say if on a bike). But the issue of residential charging was an issue. However the economics model in China is very different. The people who can afford to buy a car are normally the same people who will pay for things to be delivered In fact in China you can pretty much get anything delivered to your home at anytime. Things like a big mac or drinks or even your dry cleaning.
So what about charging? If you brought a portable charging rig around with you and you charged peoples electric vehicles in the parking spaces at night. Now this could be something the manufacturers provided as a service. The charging rig could be smart it could use either a series of massive battery packs (DC to DC charging) or a combination of battery and generator, be that, diesel, hydrogen powered combustion generator (better) or other gas generator to charge the car’s battery. The car could signal when it was at home and needed an overnight charge or at work for example and you would as the manufacturer provide this service for a small fee. You win by selling the car, you win by providing a small fee to charge the car, you win by charging many cars at once in the parking garages of the densely populated areas and we win because we get to have electric cars.