Technology is advancing at a breakneck pace and while this is exciting for most, we do have a social responsibility to ensure that new developments do more good than harm. The automotive industry is one sector where change is happening rapidly, with future cars promising to be bigger, better and more beautiful than ever. And while in many cities owning a car is largely redundant as public transport is so reliable, there will still be times when you want the sense of freedom and control that owning your own vehicle brings. But, with global resources dwindling and many shoppers becoming more and more eco-conscious, will traditional automobiles as we know them, still have a place in society?
None of the carbon, all of the fun
Motor cars and powerplants have something in common in that they both rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity. But where many governments have taken a proactive approach to move towards more sustainable power generation methods for our homes, workplaces, and recreation, the automotive industry has been a little slow to make similar changes – until now. Naturally, nobody wants to drive a nuclear-powered car (at least we hope not), and solar or wind energy are not particularly reliable in smaller, mobile configurations.
We have had some success with storing kinetic energy through regenerative brakes, but generating electricity within our motor cars just doesn’t make sense. Thus, engineers have skipped over this step completely, instead relying on external electric power, which is stored in onboard batteries and directed towards the motors that move the axles. The success of this technology has been astounding, not just in improving fuel economy, and thereby reducing the environmental impact of our vehicles, but the same technique can also be used to improve performance on already athletic motors.
However, hybrid technology was just the beginning, and now, more and more automakers are laying out their business roadmaps and making promises that they are going to produce more fully electric cars. Tesla is an excellent example of this practice, showing that performance and efficiency don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Following suit, Lexus has announced that all of its future products will be electric vehicles (EVs). But it is not the only company to jump on the green bandwagon; BMW and Mercedes-Benz each have several models in the works set to challenge the market dominance of Tesla and Porsche.
Who’s driving you home tonight?
There is more to our daily drivers than just what goes under the hood. As engineers work to maximize mileage and minimize environmental impact, others are just as passionate about improving the safety and comfort of drivers and passengers alike.
Advanced driver-aids were seen as luxuries not too long ago, but now, every vehicle produced in the States needs to meet certain requirements, such as being equipped with a rearview camera. But most manufacturers go far beyond this, with features like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane keep assist coming standard on even the base model of many affordable nameplates.
However, automakers are always pushing the envelope, which is why we are seeing more new vehicles equipped with even fancier gadgets, like large infotainment screens, color head-up displays, and even autonomous driving systems. In most places, this is still a very novel technology that requires much caution and testing. But as time passes and we put more and more of our trust in the computers than seem to manage every aspect of our daily lives, it doesn’t seem so unlikely that we will soon allow them to plan our routes and even drive us around town. Luckily, the advances in driver-assistance features are just as helpful to an artificial driver as a real one, so the two seemingly disparate systems actually work hand in hand to deliver a remarkably safe driving experience – at least in theory.
It is not just commuter vehicles that have begun adopting this revolutionary technology en masse, though. We certainly couldn’t simply replace the entire public transport system, but it is only natural that larger people haulers like buses and vans start moving in the direction of alternative fuels, too. Gasoline-powered buses are veritable factories of greenhouse gasses, but we overlook this because they do less harm than if each passenger were to drive their own car. But that does not mean there isn’t room for improvement.
Electric buses are perhaps even more novel than personal cars, and only a few cities around the world have made any real effort to add them to their existing fleets. Most of these are in China, believe it or not, with only a few to be seen on the roads in the USA. However, some states like California are taking the matter more seriously. By 2029, every new bus purchased by the Golden State will need to produce zero carbon emissions.
A similar approach is likely to be adopted by those in the cargo-hauling sector. There are already several automakers getting in on the ground floor of what is bound to be a lucrative business. Daimler has a model set to go into production in 2021, the Freightliner eCascadia, while the Phoenix-based Nikola Motor Company is almost ready to launch the Nikola One and Nikola Two. Of course, Tesla doesn’t plan to sit idly by and let others encroach on its territory. The Tesla Semi was originally set to debut in 2017, but several delays have plagued the project. Still, it will likely be the first electric freighter on our roads, with a late 2020 release planned.
What to look forward to
New cars are being released every day, with even more planned for the coming years. Naturally, not all the information has been released for the latter, but here is a short list of some of the most exciting upcoming cars:
- BMW X8
- Mercedes-Benz EQS, EQE, and EQC
- Mazda MX-30
- Aston Martin Valhalla
- GMC Hummer EV Pickup
Each of these vehicles will have at least a hybrid powertrain, like the Aston Martin’s twin-turbo V6 engine rumored to make around 1,000 horsepower, or a fully electric setup like the Merc EQC, which relies on a pair of motors to develop in excess of 400 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. This means that they will possess much better mileage than their predecessors, but you can also expect a much higher starting MSRP than a gas-fed variant. The Mercedes is planned to go on sale for around $67,900, while the Aston Martin will set you back in the region of $1,3 million.
Surging electricity demand is putting power systems under strain around the world
Global electricity demand surged in 2021, creating strains in major markets, pushing prices to unprecedented levels and driving the power sector’s emissions to a record high. Electricity is central to modern life and clean electricity is pivotal to energy transitions, but in the absence of faster structural change in the sector, rising demand over the next three years could result in additional market volatility and continued high emissions, according an IEA report released today.
Driven by the rapid economic rebound, and more extreme weather conditions than in 2020, including a colder than average winter, last year’s 6% rise in global electricity demand was the largest in percentage terms since 2010 when the world was recovering from the global financial crisis. In absolute terms, last year’s increase of over 1 500 terawatt-hours was the largest ever, according to the January 2022 edition of the IEA’s semi-annual Electricity Market Report.
The steep increase in demand outstripped the ability of sources of electricity supply to keep pace in some major markets, with shortages of natural gas and coal leading to volatile prices, demand destruction and negative effects on power generators, retailers and end users, notably in China, Europe and India. Around half of last year’s global growth in electricity demand took place in China, where demand grew by an estimated 10%. China and India suffered from power cuts at certain points in the second half of the year because of coal shortages.
“Sharp spikes in electricity prices in recent times have been causing hardship for many households and businesses around the world and risk becoming a driver of social and political tensions,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “Policy makers should be taking action now to soften the impacts on the most vulnerable and to address the underlying causes. Higher investment in low-carbon energy technologies including renewables, energy efficiency and nuclear power – alongside an expansion of robust and smart electricity grids – can help us get out of today’s difficulties.”
The IEA’s price index for major wholesale electricity markets almost doubled compared with 2020 and was up 64% from the 2016-2020 average. In Europe, average wholesale electricity prices in the fourth quarter of 2021 were more than four times their 2015-2020 average. Besides Europe, there were also sharp price increases in Japan and India, while they were more moderate in the United States where gas supplies were less perturbed.
Electricity produced from renewable sources grew by 6% in 2021, but it was not enough to keep up with galloping demand. Coal-fired generation grew by 9%, serving more than half of the increase in demand and reaching a new all-time peak as high natural gas prices led to gas-to-coal switching. Gas-fired generation grew by 2%, while nuclear increased by 3.5%, almost reaching its 2019 levels. In total, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power generation rose by 7%, also reaching a record high, after having declined the two previous years.
“Emissions from electricity need to decline by 55% by 2030 to meet our Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, but in the absence of major policy action from governments, those emissions are set to remain around the same level for the next three years,” said Dr Birol. “Not only does this highlight how far off track we currently are from a pathway to net zero emissions by 2050, but it also underscores the massive changes needed for the electricity sector to fulfil its critical role in decarbonising the broader energy system.”
For 2022-2024, the report anticipates electricity demand growing 2.7% a year on average, although the Covid-19 pandemic and high energy prices bring some uncertainty to this outlook. Renewables are set to grow by 8% per year on average, serving more than 90% of net demand growth during this period. We expect nuclear-based generation to grow by 1% annually during the same period.
As a consequence of slowing electricity demand growth and significant renewables additions, fossil fuel-based generation is expected to stagnate in the coming years, with coal-fired generation falling slightly as phase-outs and declining competitiveness in the United States and Europe are balanced by growth in markets like China and India. Gas-fired generation is seen growing by around 1% a year.
Canada’s bold policies can underpin a successful energy transition
Canada has embarked on an ambitious transformation of its energy system, and clear policy signals will be important to expand energy sector investments in clean and sustainable energy sources, according to a policy review by the International Energy Agency.
Since the IEA’s last in-depth review in 2015, Canada has made a series of international and domestic climate change commitments, notably setting a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2030 and a commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
To support those climate and energy targets, governments in Canada have in recent years worked on a number of policy measures, including an ambitious carbon-pricing system, a clean fuels standard, a commitment to phase out unabated coal-fired electricity by 2030, nuclear plant extensions, methane regulations in the oil and gas sector, energy efficiency programmes and measures to decarbonise the transport sector.
“Canada has shown impressive leadership, both at home and abroad, on clean and equitable energy transitions,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, who is launching the report today with Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources. “Canada’s wealth of clean electricity and its innovative spirit can help drive a secure and affordable transformation of its energy system and help realise its ambitious goals. Equally important, Canada’s efforts to reduce emissions – of both carbon dioxide and methane – from its oil and gas production can help ensure its continued place as a reliable supplier of energy to the world.”
Canada’s profile as a major producer, consumer and exporter of energy presents both challenges and opportunities for reaching the country’s enhanced targets. Energy makes up 10% of gross domestic product and is a major source of capital investment, export revenue and jobs. Moreover, Canada’s highly decentralised system of government means that close coordination between federal, provincial and territorial governments is essential for a successful energy transition.
“This report acknowledges Canada’s ambitious efforts and historic investments to develop pathways to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and ensure a transition that aligns with our shared objective of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, “ said Minister Wilkinson. “These are pathways that make the most sense for our people, our economy and our country and will also yield technology, products and know-how that can be exported and applied around the world.”
The IEA finds that emissions intensity from Canada’s oil and gas production has declined in recent years, but the sector remains a major source of greenhouse gases, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s GHG emissions. Along with strong action to curb methane emissions, improving the rate of energy technology innovation will be essential for the deep decarbonisation that is needed in oil and gas production, as well as in the transport and industry sectors. Canada is actively advancing innovation in a number of key fields, including carbon capture, utilisation and storage; clean hydrogen; and small modular nuclear reactors, with a view to serving as a supplier of energy and climate solutions to the world. The IEA notes that further federal support for research, development and demonstration would help accelerate progress towards these goals.
The IEA is also recommending that Canada’s federal government promote a comprehensive energy efficiency strategy in consultation with provinces and territories that sets clear targets for energy efficiency in the buildings, industry and transport sectors
The IEA report highlights that Canada’s electricity supply is among the cleanest in the world, with over 80% of supply coming from non-emitting sources, thanks to the dominance of hydro and the important role of nuclear. To further support the expansion of clean power and electrification, the report encourages increased interconnections among provinces and territories to ensure balanced decarbonisation progress across the country.
The IEA commends Canada on its efforts to advance a people-centred approach to its clean energy transition, including initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion in clean energy sectors; programmes to increase access to clean energy in northern, remote and Indigenous communities; and actions to enable just transitions for coal workers and their communities.
“Canada has laid out a comprehensive set of policy measures and investments across sectors to meet its climate targets, including a strong clean energy component to its Covid-19 economic recovery efforts,” said Dr Birol. “I hope this report will help Canada navigate its path toward economy-wide emissions reductions and a net zero future.”
Iran to add 10GW to renewable energy capacity
Iranian Energy Ministry and some of the country’s private contractors signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) on Sunday for cooperation in the construction of renewable power plants to generate 10,000 megawatts (10 gigawatts) of electricity across the country.
The signing ceremony was attended by senior energy officials including Energy Minister Ali-Akbar Mehrabian and Head of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Organization (SATBA) Mahmoud Kamani, IRIB reported.
The MOUs were signed following the Energy Ministry’s public call for the contribution of private companies in a project for developing renewable power plants in the country.
According to SATBA, after the ministry’s public call, so far 153 requests for the generation of 90,000 megawatts (MW) have been submitted to the ministry by private companies.
Speaking in the signing ceremony, Energy Minister Ali-Akbar Mehrabian said: “When the private sector invests in this industry [the renewables], the government is obliged to return the equivalent of the investment plus its interests to the investor.”
Mehrabian noted that the government has allocated over 30 trillion rials (about $101 million) for the development of renewables in the budget bill for the next Iranian calendar year (begins on March 21), saying that it is an unprecedented budget in this area.
Further in the ceremony, SATBA Head Kamani mentioned some of the Energy Ministry’s plans for the development of the country’s renewable energy industry, saying: “Export of renewable energy is a goal that has been targeted by the government.”
“Constructing renewable power plants for the cryptocurrency miners is also being seriously considered,” he added.
Back in December 2021, Kamani had announced plans to create 10,000 MW capacity of new renewable power plants across the country within the next four years.
He had put the current capacity of the country’s renewable power plants at 905 MW, saying that such power plants account only for one percent of the country’s total power generation capacity.
“Currently, 30 percent of the world’s electricity needs are provided by renewable energy sources, and some countries have even declared 2030 as the final year of using fossil fuels,” he said.
“We are far behind the global standards in the development of renewable energy,” he regretted.
Referring to another program for the development of renewable energies in the domestic sector, Kamani noted that to encourage households for constructing such power plants the Energy Ministry has announced that it will buy their surplus generated electricity at a guaranteed price.
He further pointed to the indigenization of the knowledge for the construction of the equipment used in renewable power plants as another priority of the Energy Ministry and SATBA, saying: “Currently, the construction of solar panels and wind power plants is completely indigenized, and we must strengthen our producers to finally become able to build all the required equipment from start to finish, in this regard, of course, some enterprises have announced their readiness.”
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