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Initiative to create ‘world’s first’ transnational solar grid network formed at COP26

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At the United Nations COP26 climate summit that began this week, 80 countries endorsed plans for the world’s first transnational solar power network, led by the UK and India.
The Green Grids Initiative seeks to connect 140 countries to clean, renewable energy and reduce dependence on coal. As part of the initiative, the International Solar Alliance aims to mobilize $1 trillion in financing by 2030 to assist developing countries in expanding their solar power grids.
“What we want… is to take these inventions, these breakthroughs, and get them the finance and the support they need to make sure that they are disseminated through the whole world,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
U.S. President Joe Biden expressed support for the initiative in his speech at the launch of COP26.
“We have to scale up clean technologies that are already commercially available and cost competitive like wind and solar energy,” Biden said.
International financing for clean energy and climate change resiliency will be a focus of COP26. Developed countries committed in 2009 to provide $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing countries by 2020.
report released in September by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that developed countries mobilized $79.6 billion in 2019. Research from the World Resources Institute determined that most developed countries are not contributing their fair share toward meeting the $100 billion goals.
“Three major economies — the United States, Australia, and Canada — provided less than half their share of the financial effort in 2018, based on objective indicators such as the size of their economies and their greenhouse gas emissions,” WRI authors wrote. “Other nations that provided less than half of their fair share were Greece, Iceland, New Zealand, and Portugal. In total, more than a dozen developed countries were falling short of their responsibilities.”
Biden is working to secure enhanced emissions reduction targets from world leaders at COP 26, while his signature domestic climate change agenda remains in the balance in Congress.
On Tuesday, Biden unveiled plans to target methane emissions with a rule from the Environmental Protection Agency. The president announced in September that the U.S. would join the European Union in signing the Global Methane Pledge to reduce the world’s methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. More than 100 countries have now joined the pledge.
“The EPA is today proposing new regulations that will significantly broaden and strengthen methane emissions reduction for new oil and gas facilities. In addition, for the first time ever, it will require that states develop plans that will reduce methane emissions from existing sources nationwide—including from an estimated 300,000 oil and gas well sites,” the White House said in a statement. “Overall, the proposed requirements would reduce emissions from covered sources, equipment, and operations by approximately 75%.”

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Interview With Taylor Francis, Co-Founder Of Watershed, A Carbon Accounting Software Company

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Hi, what are you looking for?
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Taylor Francis is one of the 3 co-founders of Watershed, along with Avi Itskovich and Christian Anderson.
When did you found Watershed as a company, and what’s the story behind it? What was your initial inspiration for it?
Taylor Francis
We started Watershed on this mission to put as big of a dent in the climate crisis as we possibly could. The one good thing about the climate crisis is that it is a math problem — it is easy to judge your impact based on if you are bending that global curve of how much carbon the world emits every year. We set a goal for ourselves to try to build a company that at scale can get to 500 million tonnes of CO2 reduced or removed per year. One percent of the world’s emissions.
We started Watershed’s software to help companies measure, reduce, and report their carbon emissions. Our big focus is giving companies the tools they need to actually bend their carbon graph down. It’s not enough, in our view, to just help companies report the graph. We want to help companies buy clean power, fund carbon removal, and engage their suppliers so that less carbon goes in the atmosphere every year.
With our origin story, there’s kind of two converging stories. One story is that Avi, Christian, and I have all been very passionate about climate change for our whole lives. For me, that goes back to middle school and seeing Al Gore’s movie, The Inconvenient Truth, and actually spending all of high school going around giving talks about climate change at schools, libraries, and community centers.
You were in the Al Gore Climate Reality program?
Yes, I was one of the first people who was a part of that program when I was 13. I spent all of high school giving a local version of the Inconvenient Truth slideshow.
Then, Avi, Christian, and I worked together at Stripe, the payments technology company. I joined Stripe when it was relatively early; it’s now a six-thousand person company worth a hundred billion dollars. We got to walk that journey with Stripe. It’s at Stripe that we learned that companies are really the ones with leverage. If you want to bend that global carbon graph, the way to do it is to enable organizations, businesses, companies with supply chains, offices, employees, and customers to reduce their emissions. We had a kind of first-hand experience doing that at Stripe. Christian launched Stripe’s carbon removal program and got really excited about the potential impact of companies doing climate work well. But, we were also just shocked at how inadequate the status quo was to the scale of the climate challenge.
That was when we decided to start Watershed, to basically build the toolset that companies need to actually reduce their emissions in a meaningful way. All hopefully laddering up to getting 500 million tonnes of CO2 impact every year.
If you say companies, do you have certain companies in mind? 
We think about companies across the whole economy, and our hope is that Watershed will become the software layer and marketplace that enables companies in every geography and industry to have an impact on climate change. We’re just getting started, but even today we work with companies in the US, Canada, and Europe, with suppliers all around the world — companies in food, like sweetgreen, companies in technology like Stripe and Shopify, companies in electronics, like Square, logistics like Doordash, and hospitality like Airbnb. What they all have in common is this desire to go a step beyond just paying lip service to climate, by publishing a CSR report once a year, and actually taking real action to redesign their business to be a zero carbon business.
The first companies you’re working with are global tech companies?
We work with a lot of tech companies that have a lot of leverage, both with their customers and with their suppliers. We’re also working with companies in apparel, like Everlane, in food, like sweetgreen and Imperfect Foods. It really runs the whole gamut. We’re trying to build a set of tools that eventually any company could use to redesign their business with an eye on carbon.
When did the first customer use Watershed?
It was early 2020 when the first customer started using Watershed, and we announced the company in February of 2021.
If you could go back to the founding, is there anything you’d do differently today — as inspiration to other aspiring founders?
I have two thoughts on that. One, it’s impossible to move fast enough, as a founder and on climate change. As a founder, I think speed is critical for startups to succeed. On climate change, we are working against a clock that is counting down really fast. The things I wish we’d done differently are all about moving faster.
My big piece of advice to other climate founders and founders generally is to focus on finding a customer who will pay you for something. That is the holy grail moment in starting a company. It’s about that moment that a company says yes, this is worth something to us, and we’re willing to part with resources to make it happen.
The thing that’s been really inspiring about building this company is just seeing how mainstream the motivation to act on climate has gone within companies. This is not some kind of afterthought from PR teams, this is CFOs and executive teams who are considering action on climate to be a huge imperative for them as a business.
You’re saying, move early, move as fast as you can, and have a product.
Solving a need. Exactly.
In terms of the accuracy of information you deliver with Watershed — because I assume you know — you have inputs and then you do calculations there which help companies to estimate footprints and what they could do about it. How happy are you with the current accuracy of it, and how problematic do you think it is? Because it seemed like that was always something that held back software solutions: people were afraid every company is different and had a lot of input, and then the accuracy is different because every factor is different, and so on. How do you think about this problem and how did you solve it?
Great question. We think about it in terms of helping companies measure their emissions, reduce emissions, and reporting. For measurement and reporting, data is really at the core. We spend a lot of time thinking about carbon data and how to make it better for companies.
Our approach to that has been to help companies trace carbon all the way down their supply chain. Traditionally, companies ignored emissions from their suppliers and their customers, and looked in a tunnel vision way at the carbon that came from their office, from business travel, and from commuting, which is generally only 10 or 20% of the total carbon impact of a business.
We built this whole carbon data engine under the hood at Watershed that X-rays a company’s supply chain and looks at who they are buying from and where those goods are traveling to try to figure out carbon emissions as granularly as possible.
My big thought on the accuracy of carbon data is that we should be asking a different question. We should be asking the question: What is it going to take to deliver carbon data to companies that enables them to take the right action? What is the kind of approach to carbon data oriented around actionability?
I think a good example of that is around the supply chain. Traditionally, companies would measure their supplier emissions by roughly estimating the total spend in a category, roughly estimating the carbon emissions of each dollar spent in that category, and then having that be their footprint. The problem with that is that that doesn’t actually motivate you to take the right action. It doesn’t motivate you to change suppliers or change materials or redesign your product. We’re really asking the question: How can we get companies’ data that’s granular enough to actually enable them to take the right step to reduce emissions? This isn’t just a measurement game — it’s an action and reduction game.
The data has to be topical enough that people can do something with it?
Yes, exactly.
That seems like a much better question to ask than looking retrospectively. If you look into the future, where do you hope Watershed is in 3 to 5 years? 
We work backwards from the goal of putting as big of a dent in climate change as we can. If we’re trying to get to five hundred million tonnes of CO2 reduced or removed by Watershed customers every year fast, we don’t have any time to waste. We’ve only got a decade to turn the tide on the carbon problem. We’re obsessed with scaling Watershed as fast as we can to as many companies as we can in as many geographies and sectors as we can, with a laser focus on enabling companies to take the right type of climate action. That’s focused on reductions, not offsets, that prioritizes permanent carbon removal and that engages suppliers. Three to five years from now, I hope we’re preventing half a gigaton of carbon from going to the atmosphere every year.
What else would you be doing if you weren’t a co-founder at Watershed?
We’re at a moment where the imperative is to work on the climate crisis. The question I would ask myself is, “What’s the other way to have a lot of impact on climate change?”
And any thoughts?
I think policy is the other lever. I think businesses and policy are the two levers that matter. We’re excited about Watershed and we’re excited about what our customers are doing because businesses control so much of the carbon in the economy. Policy, the rules, regulation, politics: that matters in a big way, and we’re seeing that right now with the climate bill embedded in the Infrastructure Bill in the Senate in the United States, with COP26 around the corner.
The rules of the road determine how companies determine what investments make sense. Smart policy is such a key lever in the climate fight. If I weren’t working on this I’d be trying to contribute to that in some way.
That might be even more difficult than what you’re working on right now. 
I think we need both. We cannot solve this problem without both.
How do you think of cost at Watershed? Cost for people paying for Watershed, but also costs that Watershed can help customers to avoid in the future. What’s your sort of cost vision?
The companies we talk to are living in the future, knowing that a cost on carbon is going to manifest somehow. Whether that’s explicitly in carbon taxes or implicitly because of regulation and expectations from investors and so forth kind of create a de facto cost on carbon. Companies know that that’s where the puck is headed. They view Watershed not as a charity investment but as a deep investment in safeguarding their business for the future, because they know that in a world where carbon has a cost attached to it, getting ahead of the curve on managing that cost by measuring and reducing carbon across the whole supply chain is going to future-proof them for a decarbonized world.
The other big kind of motivation we’re seeing is coming from the investment community. CFOs are the ones driving climate action at a lot of Watershed customers. CFOs know that Black Rock, the SEC, and regulators in the UK and Europe expect carbon to be reported with as much rigor as financial results, because carbon is going to be a key driver of financial results in the future. That’s the other big tidal wave that’s propelling a lot of this work.
So would you say that Black Rock is sort of like the government? That if Black Rock puts in a theoretical carbon tax, we’re halfway there?
What I would say is that we are seeing these converging waves of government regulation, government disclosure requirements, investor expectations, employee expectations, customer expectations, that are all combining into this new imperative for companies to bake climate into corporate governance. That’s the bottom line here — climate governance is going mainstream for companies around the world. It’s a step beyond just climate disclosure. Climate governance isn’t just reporting your number, it includes having a team, board level targets, and accountability for actually driving those numbers in the right direction.
These converging waves are making governance an imperative for basically every company.
I really like calling it climate governance. If you think about cleantech and climate, what do you think are the most overlooked opportunities?
There’s an interesting inverse relationship between how charismatic a climate solution is and how impactful it is. A couple of examples: two of the highest impact immediate ways to bend emissions downward are eliminating harmful refrigerant gases and eliminating methane leaks around the world. Those are both a lot less charismatic than planting trees and soil projects. But arguably, a lot more impactful. A lot of what we try to do at Watershed is to guide customers towards what the numbers say are most impactful, not just what sounds good.
Another good example is in the food space. Companies spend a lot of time thinking about packaging. Packaging is important, but it matters a lot less than what is being packaged. The difference between a beef supplier or a cheese supplier way outweighs the difference in carbon impact depending on whether or not packaging is compostable. We are really focused on bringing math, data, rigor, and results to carbon decisions, and sometimes that leads companies in the direction of solutions that aren’t obvious.
That’s the nice thing on climate, that you can put numbers behind it. 
It’s a math problem, a data problem.
If you talk policy, what policy would you enact if you could enact one or several?
The one I wish we would enact in the United States is the clean electricity payment program, CEPP, that was a part of the budget bill in front of the Senate, which the New York Times reported on. Senator Joe Manchin has torpedoed it. That one policy was going to get us most of the way towards reducing US carbon emissions 45% by 2030 at a frankly minimal cost to the economy. There is no silver bullet in climate change, but if there’s one thing the US could have done this year to turn the tide on climate and carbon, that’s it. I hope that the Biden administration is going to find a way and I hope that companies will stand up to demand that it gets back in the bill, because we are going to have a very harrowing path to our climate targets without that policy in our toolkit.
And do you have any idea why Mr Manchin torpedoed it?
I don’t know and it’s frustrating because the state he represents, West Virginia, is the US state most at risk of elevated flooding with the impacts of climate change. The bill would have created tons of new jobs for people in West Virginia. The coal industry in West Virginia needs a bridge to the future, and that bridge to the future is probably going to run through the clean economy, not to try and keep coal on life support. It seems highly misguided to me.
I wish companies spoke up more on this. I actually think it has been sad in the US to see companies that have talked the talk on climate change not stand up. A few did, like Salesforce, Logitech, and a couple of others. We need companies to speak up a lot more on these types of climate policy issues.
It seems a company which doesn’t want to get ideological can still speak up on climate policy, as it’s much more of a math problem, much less political. 
Right.
You want to move as fast as possible, so what are the major challenges at Watershed? Is it hiring people or getting customers, or onboarding customers, or what are the challenges for Watershed?
Our big challenge right now is building the team. We are hiring like crazy to try to find great people to join us in a whole bunch of different roles. And we’ve got a lot of work to do.
You raised funding through investments. How was it working with investors? What were the responses you received?
We really optimized for the caliber of person that we would have on the team. We’re trying to build this company for the long haul and we need people who are dedicated to building a really enduring business to do that. We jumped at the chance to work with John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins, and Michael Moritz from Sequoia Capital. The last time they co-led a Series A investment was actually for the Series A of Google.
That puts some expectation on the company.
That’s right!
One more question: Do you have a favorite cleantech or climate company or organization that inspires you? You can name Al Gore, he’s still out there. 
I think he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the work he did to spark this whole movement and to educate, train, and inspire a whole generation of climate leaders that are taking it forward. We owe him a lot. He’s been working on this for 40 years.
I sometimes say he is going to be remembered when many Presidents are going to be forgotten. Let’s see. 
Yep.
I’m investing in positive companies and am passionate about climate action and long-term human challenges. Early partner at BEAM (United People of Climate Action) and CleanTechnica (#1 cleantech-focused new & analysis website in the world), among others.

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Technology Versus Willpower: Getting The Grid Ready For EVs

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Hi, what are you looking for?
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Connected and intelligent charge management is one of the many proposed solutions to assist the mass adoption of EVs.
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The Technology versus Willpower battle has raged for over a century. Innovative minds have often pushed beyond what was considered logical and possible and, in doing so, changed everyday life. Yet, when internal the combustion engine (ICE), cellphone, and computer were introduced, people resisted the changes they represented.
But change did come about with these and other technologies. The 20th century, in fact, introduced the airplane, the rocket and other interplanetary probes, electronics, atomic power, antibiotics, and insecticides — all of which relied on electricity in one way or another. A consequence of this ever-expanding consumption of electricity in industrialized countries has been the linking of local systems to provide vast power grids, or pools.
We used to think that those grids were sorta miraculous, in that power could be shifted easily to meet changing local needs for current. No longer is that the case, especially with the expected mass adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). As the Washington Post pointed out recently, converting the nation’s fleet of automobiles and trucks to electric power is a critical piece of the battle against the climate crisis.
While much of today’s narrative about EVs focuses on auto manufacturers and new models, stories about another component of the conversion to all-electric transportation — the grid — need to be told. That is, will the US electric grid be able to overcome challenges and succeed in delivering the necessary clean energy to power all those EVs that are soon to be charging in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and public spaces?

The Biden administration has set goals for EVs to become half of all auto sales by 2030. New York State has enacted a ban on the sale of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and trucks starting in 2035. A 2020 executive order directs California to require that, also by 2035, all new cars and passenger trucks sold in the state will be zero-emission vehicles. And those states are only the beginning.
The country’s 20th-century point-to-point grid, delivering energy over long distances, will not be adequate to serve this century’s needs. By 2030, according to a study from the Brattle group, the nation will need to invest as much as $125 billion in the grid to allow it to handle electric vehicles toward transmission line construction and upgrades. That’s $20 billion less than is contained in the current Congressional infrastructure bill.
As the author Amitav Ghosh said, “The climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and, thus, of the imagination.” The problem of the grid isn’t innovation or invention, as Common Dreams relates, since we have R&D that can put solar panels and wind turbines across the planet. It’s technology versus willpower, as lots of people don’t have a vision of how systemic energy change can build a new world and a livable future.
Embracing that vision is the first step to systemic change.
Most of the US electricity transmission system was built in the 1950s and 1960s and was expected to last 50 years. An estimated 70% of the electricity grid’s transmission lines and power transformers are at least 25 years old, and the average age of power plants is at least 30 years old. High-tension lines don’t have enough capacity. A 2020 study by New York ISO indicates, for example, that New York’s smaller grid areas could face curtailments of as much as 63% without improvements in transmission as renewables take hold. This would inhibit the 2030 state zero emissions goal significantly.
How will an already stressed system that need expensive upgrades — and perhaps a totally new model of energy production — handle an eventual 2 million electric vehicles and overcome the technology versus willpower dilemma?
Building 22 new transmission lines and operating them for the next 50 years could lead to total emissions reductions of about 6.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide, says Cullen Howe, a grid specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. That’s “roughly equal to the total yearly amount of greenhouse gas emissions for the entire US. In other words, building just key transmission projects would enable a massive cut in greenhouse gas emissions.” Cullen adds, in addition to congressional action, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will need to put in place rules that will enable the construction of new regional and interregional transmission lines.
A technology called dynamic line rating, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), refers to the active varying of presumed thermal capacity for overhead power lines in response to environmental and weather conditions. This is done continually in real time, based on changes in ambient temperature, solar irradiation, wind speed and direction, with the aim of minimizing grid congestion. Dynamic line rating reduces congestion on power lines, optimizes asset utilization, improves efficiency, and reduces costs.
A review of optimal management strategies to solve issues of grids impacted by EVs in the Journal of Energy Storage  argues that central coordination reduces load variance, voltage variations, power losses, and computational complexity. It also helps in determining EV charging locations but has less customer stratification. Integration of renewables reduces the burden on local grid, optimizes the production cost, and enhances the charging capacity, but it has intermittent power supply. The authors say that centralized coordination becomes more effective to resolve the EVs issues when addition of smooth power from renewables is included in the system.
Open source software will play a big role, as it has in telecom,” says Shuli Goodman, executive director of a Linux Foundation project called LF Energy. “In the energy sector, rather than having trucks of gear going to individual power stations, upgrades would come via software, instantaneously across large geographic regions.” Goodman adds that, “for a software-defined infrastructure to be optimally deployed, however, utilities need software built with open standards to enable interoperability and to reduce the time it takes for new technologies to integrate with existing infrastructure.”
We’ve thought a lot about the grid as we share insights about clean transportation and energy here at CleanTechnica. Here are some of those articles, in case you missed them.
Decarbonizing the Grids with Demand Response talks about how interactivity and flexible loads are in response to the limitations of onsite solar generation and even the aspirations of net zero energy.
Grid Resiliency may Include Infrastructure Designed to Fail chronicles how researchers are busy designing future grid infrastructure that fails in a controlled fashion, making post-storm repairs easier and faster to accomplish.
Modern Infrastructure Means a Modern Electric Grid describes how limited availability of transmission lines continues to hinder large-scale solar deployment.
Is Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Tech the Answer to Grid Problems? explains how, since EVs have electricity stored in their batteries, their electricity can be used to supply the grid whenever the vehicle is parked. Such reserve power would be a real plus during peak demands when large-scale adoption of EVs complicates the current energy distribution model.
As with all things new and strange, managing a grid that has the stressor of EVs may require a mélange of solutions. Jainhui Wang out of Southern Michigan University outlines how, if appropriate charging/discharging strategies are adopted, EVs can contribute to power system operation in various ways: load valley filling, line congestion, management, demand response, frequency regulation, increased renewable penetration, and V2G. Tackling the challenges to the grid posed by EVs, Wang continues, will require charging management for EVs through tariff incentives, charging load adjustments through optimal pricing, reducing energy loss through a prediction-based power dispatch, and managing the profit risk of an EV aggregator.
“It’s going to be a heavy lift. There’s no question about it,” says Howe from the NRDC. “Is it technically feasible? Yeah, I think it is. We have the technology to do it,” Howe insists. “The question is, do we have the will?”
Image retrieved from NOAA (public domain)
Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She’s won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Just Being An EV Isn’t Good Enough — We Need To Demand More (Part 1)

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As the EV industry grows, and more mainstream manufacturers jump in, we’re seeing less and less energy efficiency. If we really want a better future, we really need to challenge our current transportation paradigms and not just paper over their inefficiencies with giant battery packs.
Even 5 years ago, EVs were a pretty rare thing in most places. 10 years ago, they were a rare thing everywhere. They were hard to not appreciate.
In 2011, there were only a few LEAFs, i-MiEVs, and Tesla Roadsters that had come out of factories. Beyond that, it was the Wild West. For most people, about the only way to get your own EV would have been to build your own in a garage, but that usually meant a car with 20-30 miles of range at best. The need to DIY it, combined with the lack of utility, meant that most people were still waiting for production to increase and prices to drop.
At that point in history, it made sense to encourage and support anything that was an EV. To be useful at all, these first EVs of the current era had to be small, efficient, and light everywhere except for the battery pack. They had to have great aerodynamic efficiency, lightweight bodies, and generally do anything they could do to eke out every last mile of range without costing millions. So, we really didn’t have to push the industry to make environmentally friendly EVs, because that just came naturally.
Today, we’re seeing that trend come to an end as EVs go mainstream. Tesla is currently a leader in efficiency, with continued improvements in watt-hours per mile over time that lead to greater ranges with the same battery packs. In terms of watt-hours per mile, we’re seeing other manufacturers lose their way. The Hummer EV is going to weigh 9000 pounds, and most other EVs coming out have relatively small ranges for their battery size.
We’re fixing to see Tesla fall a few positions down the leaderboard, though. The upcoming Aptera is going to go around 1,000 miles on the same 100 kW pack that comes in a Model S (smaller batteries will be available, and still highly useful). Because it’s so efficient, it will be able to add a meaningful amount of range from on-board solar cells, making the vehicle largely grid-independent for most owners. Sono’s Sion and other vehicles are also joining the fray.
As automakers move into making electric trucks, this contrast between the mainstream and the companies focusing on efficiency will only become more stark. The Hummer EV is about the most extreme example, but other trucks will still have enormous battery packs. The F-150 Lightning is likely to land around 150 kWh, the Rivian R1T has 135 kWh of battery, and Tesla’s Cybertruck is going to come with a whopping 200 kWh battery as its highest option.
The way that cars are built and used is rooted in a time when efficiency didn’t matter to people. There were abundant and cheap fossil fuels, and few were aware that burning copious amounts of them was creating a problem. Sure, political issues and oil crises made for improvements, but basic ideas in the automotive industry didn’t really get challenged.
Even as we transition to EVs, the basic shapes of cars, how we use them, and the basic idea of fueling them from an external source hasn’t changed. Batteries have come down in price, but instead of making cheaper EVs and more EVs, they’re just putting more and more batteries in them to make up for other poor choices.
If we don’t speak up now, the inefficiencies of the 20th century will get baked in yet again.
“I’m not going to support all EVs,” is something I commonly hear from Tesla fans. Sometimes, it’s because the other EVs are rather sub-par in terms of range, interior, etc.. Other times, people just prefer Tesla and don’t want to see the other manufacturers do things differently. In some ways, this general idea of not blindly supporting all EVs is right, but I think we need to fine-tune the criteria by which we decide whether an EV should be supported and encouraged by our community. Brand is less important than getting what we want in EVs hitting the market.
What we need to do is take a hard look at EVs and figure out whether they can reasonably be more efficient, or whether it would be better to use some other form of vehicle altogether. In other words, we should be encouraging a lot less wastefulness.
The obvious thing we should encourage manufacturers to do is make more efficient vehicles so they don’t need giant battery packs to move them around. But we must be realistic.
Obviously, large packs are going to be needed for trucks that tow. Whether it’s a half-ton pickup pulling a boat or a semi-truck making forty tons of cargo down the road, a lot of energy is going to be needed to make that happen, regardless of drivetrain choice. It would be downright delusional to just say that a semi-truck driver should just switch to something smaller.
But, there’s room to question what’s being towed and find alternatives in many cases.
For carrying cargo long distances, trucks are about the worst way you could do it. They’re convenient (especially for just-in-time delivery) because they can carry things straight from door-to-door without having to load and unload at terminals or going from mode to mode. But carrying heavy loads on rubber tires means there’s a lot of rolling resistance.
Trains would be a much better alternative. Not only is there far less rolling resistance, but the tracks could easily be electrified, either with overhead wires or a third rail. Batteries either wouldn’t be needed at all, or relatively small packs could be used for buffering. Not all cargo could be shifted to rails, and we’d still need trucks for the “last mile” between the rail depot and origins/destinations, but we’d need a lot less battery production, charging infrastructure, and many other needs if more cargo went by rail.
United States waterways are also way underutilized. Not only is there also less friction moving cargo by barge and ship, but electrification can happen along those routes, too. To encourage this, the US DOT has designated “marine highways” so that people can know that there are alternatives to moving goods and materials by truck. Once again, trucks would be needed between ports and the final destinations, but a lot less energy would be used overall.
When it comes to commercial use, one big area that probably can’t be moved to rail are loads carried in rural areas and around farms. Being far from a rail terminal or port still means that many trucks will be needed.
In Part 2 of this article, I’m going to apply this idea to recreation and present more ideas of what we should be encouraging the industry to accomplish this decade.
Featured image: Stella Vita solar-powered RV (Image by Bart van Overbeeke and Solar Team Eindhoven)
Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba

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