Climate Compass Blog
My ride for the weekend: BMW’s first mass-produced all-electric vehicle.
Washington, D.C., is well-situated for day trips with mountains, forests, beach and bay all a short drive away. On a recent weekend, I was lucky enough to tool around in style. BMW lent me their new electric car – the i3 – and asked that I race it around the DC metro region. (Or perhaps that’s just how I heard them.)
The car handles beautifully the way you’d expect a BMW to, and proves there’s no performance tradeoff by going with an electric vehicle (EV). For most drivers, EVs like the i3 can accommodate daily driving needs. The average American only travels 30 miles per day. In particular, EVs are well suited for commuting because a driver can charge at home or the workplace. But day-tripping with an EV can take more planning and I learned firsthand that a robust public charging network is essential if EVs are to make more headway in the marketplace.
At C2ES, we often cite the importance of public charging stations to extend the range of EVs and give drivers confidence that an EV is a practical replacement for their conventional car. To allow EV drivers to travel as they would with a gasoline car, quick charging stations are needed along major roadways. Multiple, slower charging stations (referred to as Level 2) should be at key destinations to provide redundancy in case stations are in use or down for maintenance. Those are some of the conclusions of our new paper assessing the public charging infrastructure in Washington state and the same can be said of Washington, D.C.
Getting to Prince William Forest Park from Southwest DC. A is where I live, B is the park, and C is where I charged on the way home.
Charging at the Kohl’s in Woodbridge was really easy.
My trips were limited by two factors. First, I had no access to home charging since I park on the street, so I couldn’t start my trip with a full charge. Second, the i3 can travel 80-100 miles on a single charge, so I would need to charge during my trip. Since no provider has installed quick chargers that support the i3, I had to rely on Level 2 charging stations, which provide about 20 miles of range per hour of charging.
I relied on ChargePoint’s smartphone app for a map of all area charging stations, even those not on ChargePoint’s network. I easily found a hiking spot with charging nearby and headed to Prince William Forest Park. (Request to Catoctin Mountain Park: Please install a charging station.) The 75-mile trip was a straight shot down Interstate 95. The park did not have a charging station, although the ranger told me he’d love to see one there and said he’d try to push for it.
Since I needed to charge for about an hour to get home, I used ChargePoint’s app to find a spot along the way at the Kohl’s in Woodbridge, Virginia. Many retail locations are installing charging stations to attract EV drivers and spur new business. Although the charging experience was great – I did some shopping and grabbed a bite to eat -- I have to admit I was nervous as I arrived at Kohl’s with only about 10 miles of range left. If the station had been occupied or unavailable, I might have been stuck.
On my second trip of the weekend, I headed to Annapolis to check out the U.S. Naval Academy (worth going if you haven’t been). Once again, ChargePoint’s app helped me find a charging station at a public garage, right near the Maryland State House. About an hour into the charge, I received an email from the charging station telling me there was a ground fault! The charging stopped and I headed back to the car to see what was going on. There was no other station in the garage for me to use, but luckily, one hour of juice was all I needed.
My experience with the i3 offers some real-life lessons about what’s needed for EVs in the near term. The cars are great, and they can accommodate the daily driving needs of most people. A lack of public charging infrastructure, however, limits how far EV drivers can travel. The availability of charging at key destinations and along major roadways is essential to a successful EV market.
For the first time ever, a large-scale, coal-fired power plant is capturing carbon dioxide to keep it from being released into the atmosphere – a milestone for a technology critical to addressing climate change.
Canadian electric utility SaskPower has switched on unit 3 at its Boundary Dam power plant, about 10 miles from the North Dakota border, and will hold an official grand opening Oct. 2. Following a $1.2 billion retrofit, the 46-year-old, 110-megawatt coal unit is now on course toward capturing 90 percent of its carbon emissions. Other upgrades reduce nitrous oxide emissions and capture 100 percent of the unit’s sulfur dioxide emissions.
Numerous commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology projects have been deployed in the industrial sector. In the power sector, demonstration-scale projects have been deployed, but this is the first commercial-scale project.
We will need to construct hundreds of such projects (along with other zero- and lower-emitting technologies) if greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced to levels that avoid the worst effects of climate change. According to the International Energy Agency, more than 440 terawatt-hours (TWh) of CCS must be generated between 2020 and 2035 to give us a chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. To get a sense of that scale, SaskPower’s unit 3 can produce up to 1 TWh of electricity per year.
The Boundary Dam project is important not just because it’s the first of its kind, but because it demonstrates a way to help make carbon capture technology economically viable -- by turning unwanted pollutants into valuable commodities. SaskPower has agreed to transport and sell its captured carbon dioxide (CO2) to an oilfield operated by Cenovus for use in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operations. The captured CO2 helps coax additional production from declining oil fields and results in the permanent storage of the CO2 underground. (In addition, captured sulfur dioxide emissions will be used to produce 50 tons per day of sulfuric acid for industrial customers, and SaskPower will sell the plant’s coal combustion residuals, also known as coal ash, for use in construction products like drywall and concrete.)
While the focus in New York this week has been on world leaders pledging to act on climate change, business leaders also stepped up to be part of the climate solution.
In recent years, many companies have acknowledged the risks of climate change and worked to improve their energy efficiency and sustainability. This week, companies announced new efforts to fund clean energy, reduce carbon emissions, and support a price on carbon.
For example, Bank of America announced an initiative to spur at least $10 billion of new investment in clean energy projects. Hewlett Packard announced plans to reduce emissions intensity of its product portfolio by 40 percent from 2010 levels by 2020.
Many companies joined together to take a stand:
The last time so many world leaders gathered on the issue of climate change was nearly five years ago in Copenhagen. The hard lesson of that fractious summit: No one moment, and no one agreement, can deliver “the” answer. We need to advance step by step, on multiple fronts, from the local to the global. And it will take time.
More than 120 heads of state, including President Obama, are expected, and many will come prepared to announce concrete steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Many businesses and nonprofits, some partnering with governments, will also announce new initiatives.
These tangible outcomes will represent important progress in and of themselves. But the larger value of the summit is in focusing leaders on the profound challenges we face, raising consciousness across societies, and building momentum – in particular, toward the new global climate agreement due late next year in Paris.
It has been 10 years since the movie The Day After Tomorrow offered a highly embellished vision of a climate “tipping point” in which polar ice sheets melt, shut down the Gulf Stream, and plunge Europe and much of the U.S. into a deep freeze.
While most of The Day After Tomorrow is safely in the realm of science fiction, there is real science to back up concerns that tipping points in the climate system could cause potentially irreversible, and in some cases drastic, changes in our climate.