Monday, December 15, 2008

New Report on Corporate GHG Policy

A report issued last week compared 63 well-known companies for the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with some surprising results. Apple’s bad rating surprised me, for example. Few companies seem to be taking it seriously, though there are commendable and already well-known efforts from companies like WalMart.

Companies were scored based upon their performance in five areas: board of director oversight; management execution; public disclosure; emissions accounting; and strategic planning and performance. The detailed criteria are quite complicated, and the authors warn against comparing scores of companies in different sectors. Winners and losers in some of the sectors studied are as follows (all scores being out of 100):

· IBM with 79 vs. Apple with 28
· Tesco with 78 vs. CVS with 12
· Intel with 72 vs. Texas Instruments with 28
· Nike with 71 vs. Abercrombie and Fitch with 0
· Johnson and Johnson with 71 vs. Roche with 49
· WalMart with 69 vs. Bed Bath & Beyond with 10
· Coca-Cola with 65 vs. Anheuser Busch with 38
· L’Oreal with 54 vs. Estee lauder with 24
· Marriott with 53 vs. Las Vegas Sands with 7
· Starbucks with 52 vs. Burger King with 6

The report was commissioned by Ceres from RiskMetrics Group. For more information click here where you can also download the full 316-page report.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

USPS Should Embrace Electric Vehicles.

As posted before, the United States Postal Service has been required to use so called Flex-Fuel vehicles even in places where E85 is not available. There is an interesting report on various trials of alternative-fuel vehicles available on the web at

On the face of it, local mail delivery is an ideal application for electric vehicles. The USPS calls the current vehicles LLVs or Long Life Vehicles. They average just 16 miles per day and do about 10 miles to the gallon. True to their name, the average age is about 16 years, but as there are 140,000 of them this still implies that they get replaced at about 9,000 a year. Also, since the fleet comprises only a few different vehicle types, and since they typically get through a couple of engines and transmissions during their lives, a mass retrofit might be feasible.

Electric vehicles seem well suited to a number of local delivery jobs, and also maintenance vans which may do few miles and spend most of their lives waiting at worksites. In London I noticed that stores like Tesco used electric delivery vehicles, which are readily available in Europe.

The USPS last tested pure electric vehicles, supplied by Ford, in 2001. It is not clear why they did not expand the program, as the vehicles seem to have performed well. They said they were unsure of long-term battery viability, but that surely is changed by the availability of lithium ion technology.

So, how about it, USPS?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Flex-Fuel Scandal

The Washington Post has an article ( exposing the waste inherent in the Federal Government’s usage of alternative fuel vehicles. These vehicles can in theory run either on regular gas or on an 85% ethanol blend known as E85. Years ago GM had obtained concessions on the CAFE standards in return for producing these vehicles, even though there was nothing to require owners to use E85. Indeed, for many years GM did not even identify the fact that the vehicle was able to use E85, the only way an owner would know being to look up the VIN number somewhere. And of course, E85 is not available everywhere.

To make matters worse, the Flex-Fuel vehicles are invariably big V8s like the Cadillac Escalade.
Leaving aside the doubtful benefit of using corn-based ethanol anyway, this meant that most Flex-Fuel vehicles are run mostly on gasoline and the net effect on greenhouse gas emissions is positive rather than negative.

The Post article reveals that even in the government’s own program, many such vehicles are in areas where they don’t have access to E85 and that 92% of them are run on gasoline. Furthermore, the vehicles could have been replaced by more economical conventional vehicles.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Poznan: Why Meet Now?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meets today in Poznan to try to hammer out a new global climate change pact to replace the Kyoto Treaty, which expires in 2012. Over the next 12 days, some 10,000 representatives will negotiate a new pact aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions to be signed next year in Copenhagen.

My question is: would it not have been better to have waited a couple of months so that the U.S. could be seriously represented by an administration that actually cares?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Disappointing Tesla Roadster

I was invited to California this week to test drive a Tesla electric roadster on a closed course. A short course was marked out with cones at a small general aviation airport, and drivers got to try the car out one at a time, each driver getting five runs.

Early cars had two forward speeds, perhaps to reduce noise at speed, but they had clutch problems so now there is just one forward gear. (Electric motors give maximum torque from 0 rpm, so neither a clutch nor multiple gears are necessary.) With no gear box, there was nothing to do but hang on and steer. And of course accelerate and brake.

Acceleration was impressive, all the more so because it required no skill and was accompanied by almost no noise. The brakes were strong but the ABS seemed to allow enough slippage to induce violent squeals from the tires and for me to wonder whether it was actually functioning. While on the subject of brakes, Tesla claim that the car has regenerative braking but it really doesn’t, at least not as normally understood. When you lift off, there is some engine braking effect, as the motor functions as a generator, but there is no attempt to capture energy from actual braking. I did not consciously test how great the engine breaking effect was, but it did not seem any more than a normal car to me, suggesting that one would probably have to be very gentle on the brakes to get the advertised range of 240 miles out of the batteries. Which is not the way one normally drives a sports car.

Unlike the ABS, the traction control is very obtrusive, and unfortunately the track layout made this shortcoming very obvious. It incorporated a long 180-degree bend during which the car would understeer violently. At least, the Tesla engineer blamed this behavior on the traction control, which in theory can be switched off though we were not allowed to do so for this test. I suspect there might be more to it than that. In any case, it defeats the object of traction control if you have to switch it off to make the car safe.

These shortcomings may be less obvious in daily use, though this is not the sort of car in which one is likely to be doing a lot of motorway cruising. The car has more or less zero luggage space, so can be regarded only as a toy or maybe a commuter car. Given its price ($109,000) and heritage (it is built by Lotus on a stretched Elise chassis) one would hope that it would be fun to drive, but from my short test I think a Honda Fit might be more enjoyable. Everyone I met from Tesla was friendly and appeared knowledgeable, and I wish them well, but somehow I feel that the company at its core doesn’t quite get it. Not that there is anything about the car which could not be fixed, especially if they could involve Lotus in developing out the flaws.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

TightWatt Pool Pump Controller

I told myself I would post regularly from London during my summer sojourn there, but you know what they say about good intentions. I am now back in Houston and am glad to report no damage from the hurricane. None except for the pool, that is. I am not sure about the exact order of events, but the large amount of tree debris in the pool combined with the lack of electricity for a couple of days triggered a visit from the pool guy. He could not get the TightWatt pool controller (see my blog in February) to work and bypassed it. I emailed the manufacturers, Allen Concepts, and was given instructions to “reboot” it by switching off the power and removing the battery. This worked a treat, but the pump itself was still not working properly so the pool guy came out again, after which I found the TightWatt was not working again. This time the reboot did not work, but Steve Allen of Allen Concepts offered to replace the unit. So I just wanted to publicly commend the company for its customer service.

The product itself worked faultlessly for about a year prior to the hurricane and credit it with saving me in the region of $900 per year. (Say a reduction in usage of 4 hours per day on a 4kW motor, at 16 cents per kWH.) Check it out at, and btw I do not have any affiliation with the company other than as a satisfied customer.

Friday, August 22, 2008

2,000 Watt Society

We are getting towards the end of our summer sojourn in London and I was hoping I would have an electricity bill to compare with our life in Houston. But they bill only quarterly here – which itself may be a commentary on how much less they use! – and so the only bill I have to hand is for the period from early March until early June when my tenant was in the flat. Total usage was 724 kWh, less than I have ever used in a single month in Houston. Bear in mind that the Houston house has gas for cooking and heating, whereas the London flat has only electricity, and the contrast is even more remarkable. The price by the way was about 12 pence per kWh, about 50% more than in Houston.

All this remind me of the 2,000 Watt Society, so-called because that is what the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology believes is sustainable. If each of us consumed 2000 watts continuously, this would amount to 17,520 (2000 times 265 times 24 divided by 1000) kilowatt hours per year. The typical American or Canadian uses about 6 that.

Of course this is meant to cover ALL our energy usage; not just electricity but natural gas, gasoline, and all the energy content in the things we buy. Nevertheless, our electricity consumption is a major element and it is interesting to find that in London my wife and I are running on the equivalent of about 330 watts, whereas in Houston it’s over 2200 watts. (This is based on the calendar year 2007 when we used about 19,400 kWh. With new double glazing and insulation we are looking forward to a lower number for 2008.)