Blame the landlord: United States could easily cut 28 percent of greenhouse gases, but probably won’t.

Today’s NY Times writes about a study that says the U.S. could reduce greenhouse gases by around 28 percent with widely available technology at a reasonable cost. Even better, we’d all save money over time by doing it!

A large share of the reductions could come from steps that would more than pay for themselves in lower energy bills for industries and individual consumers, the report said, adding that people should take those steps out of good sense regardless of how worried they might be about climate change. But that is unlikely to happen under present circumstances, said the authors, who are energy experts at McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm.

The report said the country was brimming with “negative cost opportunities” — potential changes in the lighting, heating and cooling of buildings, for example, that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels even as they save money. “These types of savings have been around for 20 years,” said Jack Stephenson, a director of the study. But he said they still face tremendous barriers.

Among them is that equipment is often paid for by a landlord or a builder and chosen for its low initial cost. The cost of electricity or other fuels to operate the equipment is borne by a tenant or home buyer. That means the landlord or builder has no incentive to spend more upfront for efficient equipment, even though doing so would save a lot of money in the long run.

Another problem, the report said, is that consumers often pay no attention to energy use in choosing gear. Computers, for instance, can be manufactured to use less power, but with most users oblivious to energy efficiency when they are shopping for a computer, manufacturers perceive no competitive edge in spending the extra money on efficiency.

I’d like to point out that it isn’t just landlords and builders who have this kind of short term thinking that only looks at initial costs and not long term operating costs. Anyone who has bought a new air conditioner or furnace has faced that exact issue. The much higher upfront cost for the most efficient unit might take 5 years or even longer to recoup. Most Americans don’t stay in one location for 5 years, so they’ll never see the payoff in hard dollars and cents.

Ethanol is great! (If you’re a corn farmer.)

The Wall Street Journal writes today on the front page about how enthusiasm for corn based ethanol is cooling in the United States.

The fortunes of many U.S. farmers, farm towns and ethanol companies are tied to corn-based ethanol, of which America is the largest producer. Ethanol is also a cornerstone of President Bush’s push to reduce dependence on foreign oil. But the once-booming business has gone in the dumps, with profits squeezed, plans for new plants shelved in certain cases, and stock prices hovering near 52-week lows.

Now the fuel’s lobby is pleading with Congress to drastically boost the amount of ethanol that oil refiners must blend into gasoline. But formidable opponents such as the livestock, packaged-food and oil industries also have lawmakers’ ears. What once looked like a slam-dunk could now languish in pending energy legislation that might not pass for weeks, if ever.

Ethanol’s problems have much to do with its past success. As profits and production soared in 2005 and 2006, so did the price of corn, gradually angering livestock farmers who need it for feed. They allied with food companies also stung by higher grain prices, and with oil companies that have long loathed subsidies for ethanol production.

The U.S. gives oil refiners an excise-tax credit of 51 cents for every gallon of ethanol they blend into gasoline. And even though it’s the oil industry that gets this subsidy, the industry dislikes being forced to use a nonpetroleum product. The U.S. ethanol industry is further protected by a 54-cent tariff on every gallon of imported ethanol.

This year, even as the production glut was driving down ethanol’s price, critics and opposing lobbyists were turning up the heat. Environmentalists complained about increased use of water and fertilizer to grow corn for ethanol, and said even ethanol from other plants such as switchgrass could be problematic because it could mean turning protected land to crop use. Suddenly, environmentalists, energy experts, economists and foreign countries were challenging the warm-and-fuzzy selling points on which ethanol rose to prominence.

I think there is definitely room for growth in the use of biofuels in the United States, and I also think that ethanol can work as a potential option.

But let’s face it, if we as a country really believe in ethanol as a solution, then why are we putting a 54 cent tariff on every gallon of imported ethanol, which prevents us from bringing in much cheaper sugarcane based ethanol from places like Brazil?

An overview of 2008 diesel cars, and what’s coming after that

Don’t miss our updated overview of 2009 diesel cars!

And don’t miss our updated 2010 diesel cars overview!

As diesel technology gets greener and greener automakers are starting to take notice. In Europe many cars are offered with a diesel power plant as an option, while here in the US we are still using diesel motors primarily in pickups, buses and trucks. As fuel prices rise and environmental concerns grow we are finally starting to see some of the manufacturers take notice.

The following is the rundown of the passenger cars that will be available in the USA in the 2008 model year. A re-occurring theme with many of the manufacturers I contacted seemed to be that while they do plan to offer at least one diesel, it won’t be until later in the year.



Don’t miss our previous post, an introduction to biodiesel.

bluetec

Mercedes Benz

The 2008 E320 BLUETEC Sedan

MSRP $52,675

Acceleration1 0 – 60 in 6.6 seconds.

Fuel economy

EPA estimate 23 mpg

Highway estimate 32 mpg

It seems like Mercedes Benz has always been into Diesels. The fabled W123 chassis diesels, such as the 300D and 300TD regularly break the million mile mark with surprisingly little maintenance. So it’s no surprise the E320 tops most of the reviewer’s lists for diesel Sedans sold in the US. Mercedes claims to be the only luxury sedan sold in the US for 2008 that is diesel equipped; and that’s true for the moment as BWM has not announced their entry into the diesel arena for the year. Since they are the only company that could provide me with detail, we’re going to cover them first.

The E320 uses Mercedes innovative Bluetec system for reducing NO2 emissions and soot which is normally the downside to diesels emissions-wise. Mercedes initially entered into an agreement with BMW, VW and Audi to share the technology in order to increase the diesel passenger car market in the US; BMW, VW, And Audi however have announced they will no longer be working with Mercedes on bluetec.

Mercedes states that their diesel cars are NOT legal for sale in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, or Vermont. A limited number will be available for lease in California.

The 2008 E320 BLUETEC does not meet the emissions requirements of California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, or Vermont and is not available in these states.

In California, a limited number of Model Year 2007 E320 BLUETEC vehicles are available for a limited duration and mileage lease only. No purchase option available. Available only to qualified customers through Mercedes-Benz Financial at participating dealers. Not everyone will qualify. Subject to credit approval and inventory availability. See your authorized Mercedes-Benz dealer for complete details on this offer.

Unfortunately for those looking to run biodiesel you may also have to look elsewhere. The new Mercedes engines are only warrantied to run a maximum of B5 biodiesel. Many people have run higher without problems, but it’s a very expensive car to take a chance with.

Audi

An Audi representative stated that they did not have plans for a diesel equipped auto for the 2008 model year. They did say that there would be an offering in 2009, at least in the Q7 SUV.

BMW

Possibly Several Models

It’s hard to say why car companies do what they do. BMW has maintained that it will be releasing a diesel sedan in the US in 2008; but as of this date they have not so much as specified which vehicles will be available with this option. In Europe every BMW vehicle is available with a diesel motor as an option but these vehicles have not been available in the US. When I contacted BWM their representative stated that they wanted to make sure that any diesel they released would pass emissions standards for all 50 states, and that most likely the 3 and the 5 series BWM’s would be the ones offered with the diesel power plant. They stated that they hoped to have the cars available before mid-year.

The BMW diesels in Europe feature a catalytic converter and particle filter in order to reduce the NO2 emissions and soot. Unfortunately as BMW has not announced their 2008 diesel US lineup there is very little data on what engine (They make a 4, 6, and an 8 cylinder diesel). Therefore no emissions or mileage info.

Cadillac

While Cadillac does not have a diesel powered offering for 2008, they do have one planned for the 2009 CTS.

Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick.

I spoke with a representative from GM who stated that diesel are mostly used in pickup trucks. She stated that they had no cars in the 2008 lineup that would be diesel equipped. I grew up in a GM household where buying a foreign car, or even a ford, was a right up there with treason and using beans in chili (this was Texas, afterall). I had the opportunity to own one of the diesel equipped autos that GM produced back in the 80’s and I’ve watched over the years GM shoot themselves in the foot by throwing out the baby with the proverbial bathwater.

GM had in 1985 a full sized luxury car (Pontiac,Olds, Buick, and Cadillac) that got anywhere between 26 and 30 miles per gallon out of a diesel v8 motor. These motors had problems, primarily with seals and leaking, but instead of fixing and improving on them they stopped production after a few years. It’s not enough to innovate, you have to follow through and capitalize on your innovations. And once you try something and fail you can’t just throw your hands up and let your competitors pick up the ball and run with it.

Chrysler

While they offer diesel options in several of their trucks and SUV’s, they have no diesel cars in the 2008 lineup.

Ford, Lincoln and Mercury

Not offering any diesel powered vehicles, other than trucks, in 2008. Sadly, Ford offered a diesel powered escort back in the 80’s that got a whopping 52 MPG! One does not have to look far to see why our auto industry is in trouble today.

Honda

A Honda representative stated that they had no information available at this time on a diesel powered Honda car for the US market. But we’ve read elsewhere and even seen a photo of an Accord that is being tested with new clean diesel technology here. 62 miles per gallon, and in the United States by 2010? We’ll see!

Toyota

While there has been a lot of speculation about a Toyota diesel car for 2008, there are none listed for their 2008 lineup.

Nissan

No Nissan diesel cars available for the 2008 model year.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen stated that they plan to offer a diesel version of the Jetta, the Jetta Wagon, and the Toureg some time in mid 2008. They stated that no specifications have been released at this time. Volkswagen until recently offered a diesel, and over the years they had diesel Rabbits, Jettas, Microbuses, and the new Beettle. They proudly proclaim their diesel heritage on their website.

Volvo

I spoke to a Volvo representative that stated that Volvo has no plans to offer a diesel automobile outside of Europe at this time.

So, there you have it. Of all the car manufacturers out there only Mercedes has any solid data on a diesel automobile for release in the United States for 2008. Many of these same manufacturers are offering full diesel lineups in Europe but because of tighter emissions standards here in the states we can’t get most of these cars imported.

Cargo ships and air pollution, it’s much worse than you think!

Flickr photo courtesy of 3mZee.

I was alarmed by this front page article in the Wall Street Journal about cargo ships and air pollution.

I had no idea that collectively, ships that are 100 tons or larger put out more greenhouse gases than all but the top 6 COUNTRIES in the world.

The corpuscles of the global economy, ships carry more than 90% of the world’s merchandise by volume, and the tonnage of cargo sent by ships has tripled since 1970. Yet the fuel propelling them is cheap and dirty and produces an especially noxious exhaust.

Ships release more sulfur dioxide, a sooty pollutant associated with acid rain, than all of the world’s cars, trucks and buses combined, according to a March study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. That study also found that ships produced an estimated 27% of the world’s smog-causing nitrogen-oxide emissions in 2005. Only six countries in the world emitted more greenhouse gases — which trap heat in the atmosphere, warming the globe — than was produced collectively in 2001 by all ships larger than 100 tons, according to the study and United Nations statistics.

But demands for solutions are intensifying. Assertive governments and a few ports that wield substantial commercial power are proving that local action can reverberate internationally. Since Jan. 1, the state of California has required ships sailing within 24 miles of its shores to use cleaner-burning fuels in their auxiliary engines. Similar to a 2005 measure governing Europe’s Baltic Sea region, the California law restricts access to America’s two largest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach. Ships that don’t comply can be fined or impounded.

One big culprit is the industry’s favorite fuel. Most ships rely on residual fuel oil, also known as bunker fuel, to power their huge engines. Bunker fuel is a tar-like sludge left over from the refining of petroleum. It often contains toxic heavy metals such as lead and vanadium and is collected from the bottoms of the distillation towers in which refineries process crude. Raw, unheated bunker fuel has the composition and consistency of asphalt.

I can’t quote the whole article, so I encourage you to click through and read it.

Google gets it: Making renewable energy cheaper than coal

Let’s face it. With any type of energy source, it all comes down to two important things. How much is available, and how much does it cost? If a renewable energy source can’t scale up to provide massive amounts of energy, and it isn’t cost competitive, then it just isn’t going to happen.

So what do you do?

You work to make renewable energy cheaper than the default choice for 40 percent of the world’s electricity — coal.

Google today announced a new strategic initiative to develop electricity from renewable energy sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal. The newly created initiative, known as RE<C, will focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other potential breakthrough technologies.  RE<C is hiring engineers and energy experts to lead its research and development work, which will begin with a significant effort on solar thermal technology, and will also investigate enhanced geothermal systems and other areas. In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions on research and development and related investments in renewable energy. As part of its capital planning process, the company also anticipates investing hundreds of millions of dollars in breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns. 

Working with RE<C, Google.org will make strategic investments and grants that demonstrate a path toward producing energy at an unsubsidized cost below that of coal-fired power plants. Google will work with a variety of organizations in the renewable energy field, including companies, R&D laboratories, and universities.

Read the full release from Google here.

Read the BBC story about Google here.