The Top 5: “The Car Century Was a Mistake. It’s Time to Move On.”

Happy Thursday friends!  Here’s my now monthly take on the five most interesting developments in future fuels and vehicles trends in June in more of a condensed form so that you can easily scan and jump to the item(s) that are of most interest to you. Items I selected this month run the gamut from a piece advocating the end of personal transport to renewable energy, fossil fuel subsidies and the importance of bioenergy as a decarbonization option. I couldn’t resist, once again, including a few honorable mentions as well.

1. The Washington Post: The Car Century Was a Mistake. It’s Time to Move On. – “Removing vehicles from our streets would make urban life cheaper, safer, quieter and more pleasant. Repurposed parking spaces and, in some cases, travel lanes would provide ample land for walking and cycling, plus any essential street-running public services, such as light rail, trash collection and emergency services. The surplus land can be devoted to public purposes — imagine Manhattan with sidewalks 15 feet wider and room for sidewalk cafes.” The writer, J.H. Crawford, is not alone in expressing such sentiment as a number of cities, most recently Oslo, London, Paris and others are considering such measures.

2. Financial Express: Reliance Jio’s ‘Energy Internet’, and Other Cool Buzzwords on Mukesh Ambani’s Mind – What kind of buzz words are we talking about here? Think: high octane, low carbon fuels standard and self-driving cars. Meantime, an expert takes the Indian government and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) to task for the government’s plan to transition the Indian fleet to EVs. Calling it a “red herring”, the author criticizes the RMI report upon which the plan is based on several fronts: lack of electricity and infrastructure availability, expected vehicle prices and potential impacts to jobs, among other issues.  What would be the alternative? Methanol. “Not only are the synthetic fuels produced by this route less costly than those obtained by refining crude oil, so long as the price of crude oil remains around, or above USD 60 a barrel, switching to them requires no change either in the design of automobile engines or the energy infrastructure of a country. The social cost of switching to biomass-based fuels is zero.”  Under those terms alone though, methanol could be difficult when considering crude oil is hovering around US$40/barrel and headed downward.

3. 100% Renewable Energy Not the Only Way to a Low Carbon Future – As I said in my original post, before you keep scrolling or clicking on something else because renewable energy issues are just not in your wheelhouse and/or much of a priority, stop. This one’s important. This blog post, by Varun Sivaram, highlights a paper that he and a number of experts recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this week that challenges the notion that a 100% renewable energy future is possible (at least by around 2050). And this is important for a couple of reasons. First, that notion is heavily influencing policymakers around the world, not just in the U.S. Second, and as a byproduct, I believe that this is influencing the selection of electrification as pretty much the only transport decarbonization solution out there. And though it will be part of the equation, it’s not the only game in town.

4. Carbon Brief: Explainer: The Challenge of Defining Fossil Fuel Subsidies – You may recall that G7 ministers, including the U.S., last year pledged to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025. That pledge was dropped from the latest communiqué last month, but included in the recent G7 environment ministers meeting in Italy. But, Carbon Brief, points out: what constitutes a subsidy? Surprisingly, there is no standard, commonly accepted definition. This interesting article attempts to capture the different definitional approaches that different international organizations such as the IEA and OECD use. Why does this matter for transport? Experts say that fossil fuel subsidies and a lack of a carbon price (or other scheme) distort fuel markets and make it difficult to commercialize emerging technologies (e.g. biofuels, electrification, etc.).

5. IRENA, et al.: Bioenergy for Sustainable Development – The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), IEA and the UN Food & Agriculture Organization put a short paper out this week noting that bioenergy is a major type of renewable energy and is key to supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The authors note: “The attitude towards biomass production for food , bioenergy and other purposes should evolve from single end-use orientation to integrated production systems that ensure high resource use efficiency and reward sustainable production and use. The output of such systems should be used with great care, striving to minimize waste and maximize efficiency while maintaining a healthy resource base for future generations.”

Honorable Mentions:

1. The Guardian: London Mayor Considers Pay-Per-Mile Road Pricing and Ban on New Parking – I continue to follow closely the mayor’s actions to combat air pollution and congestion in London as a harbinger for how other cities will address the same problems. In short, the mayor this week released a plan that aims for 80% of trips in the city to be on public transport, foot or bicycle. “We have to make not using your car the affordable, safest and most convenient option for Londoners going about their daily lives. This is not only essential for dealing with congestion as London grows, but crucial for reducing our toxic air pollution and improving the health of all Londoners,” Mayor Kahn told The Guardian.

2. de Man, German: Certifying the Sustainability of Biofuels: Promise and Reality – This paper, published in Energy Policy, explores the question to what extent does the application of biofuel certification standards effectively contribute to the sustainable production of bioenergy? Three elements of the effectiveness of market-based certification standards are reviewed: the substantive scope of emergent standards, the effectiveness of implementation, and levels and trends in market conversion. The authors say that, “The proliferation of certificates for low quality standards, deficiencies in the certification process and low market conversion suggest that certification is an inadequate substitute for public regulation. For certification to hold any meaningful potential to strengthen sustainability governance in the biofuel sector, it must be embedded within a public governance system committed to redressing these deficiencies and structuring accountability not just towards global environmental values, but to local people and place.”

3. Goldman Sachs: Rethinking Mobility – Another study noting the potential of ride-hailing as a US$285 billion opportunity by 2030 and a precursor to broader transformation.

4. CNN: The Case For Bicycles’ Inevitable Triumph Over Cars – “Bikes’ flexible nature will aid their popularity. You can park a bicycle in your home or your office. A bike can be carried on a bus, car or train. A car doesn’t offer this versatility. A similar case of disruption played out with cameras, as the always-in-your-pocket nature of smartphones helped them leave traditional cameras in the dust. Bikes have another edge on cars — speed. New York’s shared bicycles have already been shown to travel at a faster average speed than city taxis during peak hours. They’re also more affordable per mile.” We’ll see.

 

Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.