The Energy and Global Warming News for March 25: GM to unveil Segway-powered electric vehicle; Mitsubishi to triple electric car production; Don’t risk ‘clean energy’ future to save coal jobs — BP CEO

GM to unveil prototype of Segway-powered electric vehicle

General Motors Co. will unveil a prototype pod-shaped electric vehicle at May’s World Expo in Shanghai that it says will combat urban congestion, traffic accidents and pollution.

The Electric Networked Vehicle, or EN-V, is an upright, two-wheeled pod powered by a Segway Personal Transporter. The vehicles are designed to be small and clean enough to solve growing problems of congestion, parking availability, air quality and affordability.

There will be an estimated 1.2 billion vehicles in 2030, up from 844 million three years ago, according to the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association. At the same time, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, according to GM, making commuting more difficult. Currently, the association says, 30 percent of fuel is wasted while drivers look for parking spots, a problem GM hopes to combat with the smaller EN-V.


The EN-Vs will have a top speed of 25 miles per hour and a range of 25 miles. They are powered by lithium-ion batteries. GM hopes to outfit them with sensors, cameras and GPS devices so they can communicate with each other, avoid crashes and be operated autonomously. The communication would also let drivers talk to each other while driving, hypothetically creating a situation where two vehicles could hold a video conference while commuting to work.

There is no price available, but GM estimates they would coast one-sixth to one-fifth the cost of a conventional motor vehicle.

Glad to see something potentially useful may come out of the Segway (aka electrifyied walking).

Mitsubishi to triple electric car production

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. will more than triple the annual production of its electric car over the next three years to meet higher global demand.

The company will produce 9,000 of its zero-emission i-MiEVs in the coming fiscal year, 18,000 the next year and 30,000 the following year, according to spokesman Yuki Murata.

Mitsubishi sold 1,400 of the cars in Japan and another 250 abroad in 2009, the car’s first year of production. The i-MiEV will enter the U.S. market in the fiscal year starting in April 2011.

The i-MiEV can be recharged from a regular home socket and can go 100 miles on just seven hours of charge. But it is twice as expensive as the Prius hybrid, a problem Murata said the company is hoping to combat in the coming years.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi’s rival Nissan Motor Co. unveiled its electric car, the Leaf, which will go into mass production in 2012. The Leaf can go 100 miles on a single charge.

Don’t Risk ‘Clean Energy’ Future to Save Coal Jobs, Says BP’s CEO

The United States isn’t going to get “beyond petroleum” anytime soon, but the chief executive of oil giant BP says it’s time for the nation to start thinking beyond coal.

The nation should not be trying to save coal jobs at the expense of cleaner fuel industries, Tony Hayward, head of BP PLC, told a Washington think tank audience yesterday, adding that there is no reason to keep building coal-burning power plants here.

“We’ve got to find a better way to create jobs than preserving coal jobs,” Hayward told his audience at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Hayward’s comments reflect an increasingly bitter political rift between two of the largest elements of the country’s energy industry — coal and natural gas.

Gas executives are irritated that authors of the House climate bill last year built significant protections into the legislation to protect coal industry jobs and coal-state lawmakers. If lawmakers want to cut carbon emissions, they say, they should look more to natural gas, which emits about half as much carbon as coal. They say gas should be the “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future or, even better, a permanent fixture of a diverse approach to lowering emissions.

“The coal sector was disproportionately favored in the first go at this,” Hayward said. “It’s about creating jobs.”

BP is one of the world’s largest producers and refiners of oil and gas. But it has little or no stake in coal, a fact that the coal industry highlights in challenging Hayward’s assertions.

‘Smart growth’ taking hold in U.S. cities

Redevelopment of urban centers has continued to outpace construction in the outskirts of suburbia, according to a recent U.S. EPA study, suggesting a “fundamental shift” has begun in the real estate market as the Obama administration pushes denser development through its “livability” initiative.

Though the nation’s urban centers emptied for decades as suburbs sprawled outward, developers in many large cities are increasingly looking inward for building opportunities, according to the study, titled “Residential Construction Trends in America’s Metropolitan Regions.” In 26 of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, the share of residential construction taking place in central cities more than doubled since 2000.

As expected, the effect was strongest in the metropolitan areas with the strictest regional land-use policies, such as Portland, Ore. But many metropolitan areas known for sprawl, including Chicago and Los Angeles, saw similar increases in redevelopment at the urban core.

“This acceleration of residential construction in urban neighborhoods reflects a fundamental shift in the real estate market,” the report concludes. “The market fundamentals are shifting toward redevelopment even in the absence of formal policies and programs at the regional level.”

Environmentalists have long embraced the idea of urban redevelopment, which conserves untouched land while reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. So, too, have they supported the dense, transit-oriented housing typically built in urban centers.

Those ideas have found support from the Obama administration’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities, run jointly by EPA, the Transportation Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year’s budget includes $100 million for the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant Program, which offers funding for the development of state, regional and municipal policies on sustainable development.

Decades of federal housing and transportation policy have worked at cross-purposes, “precluding smart, integrated problem solving,” Ron Sims, deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, told a House panel last month. The livability initiative will be a step toward “improving building-level energy efficiency, cutting greenhouse gas emissions through transit-oriented development, and taking advantage of other locational efficiencies,” he said.

Critics of the “livability” program have painted it as an effort to tell Americans where to live, but data in the recent study suggest consumers might be one step ahead of the administration.

“The livability initiative is in sync with where the marketplace was going anyway,” said Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow for environmental policy at the Urban Land Institute. “There’s been a pent-up demand for urban living, and that demand is evident in housing prices.”

Development continued moving toward the city center in 2008, the most recent year for which data were available, even as the housing market collapsed. The buildings started that year were less often single-family homes and more often large, multi-family developments such as apartment complexes and blocks of condominiums, according to the study.

Construction of single-family homes fell to about 600,000 units in 2008, down from 1.7 million three years earlier. High-density residential construction remained flat at about 200,000 units, the same number of units built before the housing bubble burst.

Those developments made up 23 percent of all housing projects started in 2008, up from 10 percent in 2005.

Much of the shift appears to be demographic, said Kaid Benfield, director of the Smart Growth Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Aging baby boomers and young people today are drawn to urban areas, he said, but that tendency is inextricably tied to environmental issues.

“There has been a lot of thought given at all levels of government and among the consuming public to what our environmental footprint is, and what the shape of our communities ought to be,” Benfield said. “The experience with sprawl over the last few decades has produced a reaction.”

U.K. to Create Clean Energy Bank, Boost Port Funding

The U.K. plans to create a 2 billion-pound ($3 billion) “green investment bank” to promote low-carbon energy as the nation seeks to cut emissions.

“We need to renew and modernize our energy supplies,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said in his annual budget in Parliament in London today. “China is building a new power station every week to meet its growing energy needs.”

Asset sales and private investments will be used to fund the bank, Darling said. The proposal comes three months after opposition Conservative Party leader David Cameron suggested a green bank to consolidate government funding for clean energy. Prime Minister Gordon Brown must call an election by June.

Britain, chasing a target to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, is planning $120 billion of offshore wind projects as well as gas and nuclear plants to replace aging generators. As much as 30 percent of the country’s power capacity is set to be shut down over the next decade.

Darling said the government will sell assets including the Channel Tunnel rail link to raise 1 billion pounds for the fund, which would be matched by private investments. The Chancellor also pledged about 60 million pounds to develop ports in support of offshore wind turbine makers.

While the green bank will help kick-start important projects, it “doesn’t fit with the urgency of the task at hand,” Ben Caldecott, head of U.K. energy policy at Climate Change Capital in London said in an e-mailed statement.

‘Difficult Market’

“As the cash for it is dependent on selling off strategic assets in difficult market conditions, it will take many months or even years before the fund is able to make a meaningful difference,” Caldecott said.

The structure of the bank will be developed by the government in consultation with investors and could be functioning by the second half of 2011, according to the Treasury. The money will help finance companies aiming to provide clean energy and reduce pollution, Darling said.

The U.K. has two to three years of “very comfortable” electricity supplies before aging capacity is phased out, Ofgem Chief Executive Officer Alistair Buchanan said in February. The country will need to spend as much as 200 billion pounds to replace infrastructure and curb emissions within the next 10 years, according to the regulator.

Last week, the Conservatives said they would adopt measures including a carbon floor price and feed-in tariffs if they win the election. The party also suggested speeding up the roll-out of smart meters and providing consumers with as much as 6,500 pounds of energy efficiency improvements.

Browner: Fuel economy, tailpipe emissions rules to go final next week

The Obama administration plans to finalize tougher auto efficiency regulations next week, White House climate and energy czar Carol Browner said Wednesday.

The joint Transportation Department-EPA rules will boost car and light truck mileage standards to reach an average of 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016. They include first-time greenhouse gas requirements.

The standards represent a deal struck last year between the administration, automakers, and states that were planning to implement their own tailpipe greenhouse gas rules.

The states, led by California, agreed to shelve their rules while the joint national program is in effect.

The White House has frequently cited the new federal rules in opposing Capitol Hill proposals that would overturn EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. The White House argues that nullifying EPA power would hurt automakers by opening the door to a patchwork of state requirements.