TIR Lëtzebuerg 2016: the Rifkin report (part 3)


Part 1: ..ENERGY (1/2)
Part 2. ..ENERGY (2/2)
Part 3: ..MOBILITY
Part 5:  ..FOOD
Part 6:  ..INDUSTRY
Part 7:  ..FINANCE
Part 12: My conclusion


20Nov 2016, 01:04 UTC: I struggled a bit with the calculation at the end of 3.2.1. ; they should now be definitive.

In this third part I will comment on the chapter “MOBILITY“, which goes from page 66 to page 120. There is much redundancy in the text, and in my opinion the text could have been shortened to about 1/3. Buzzwords and fashionable expressions of-the-day fly around like angry mosquitoes, but there are also some intelligent (albeit not revolutionary new) suggestions. Before going into more details, the main impression I get from this chapter is that Luxembourg is in dire need of a dictator, who will enforce the swallowing of what are mostly bitter pills. The future Luxembourg’s mobility system will be big brother at the power of 10; individual decisions will be a thing of the past, and an almighty state/administration/organization will dictate all aspects of moving around, naturally all this to save the earth from climate change. The remarks concerning traffic congestion and possible solutions like car sharing/pooling seem much more sound, and more convincing.

3.1. A picture to clarify the situation.

I made the following picture to clarify the overall concepts of the mobility as seen by the TIR:


The IoT as given here has three big sub-internets, and the automatic transport internet covers the four sub-systems given in the box. This seems to be a logically sound construct, when one ignores all practical problems of feasibility and public acceptance which are well hidden in this general outline.

3.2. E-mobility (electric cars)

I am not an enemy of electrical cars, for they have, besides the problem of moving out local pollution, some intrinsic advantages: in principle an electrical car is an easy to assemble structure, comparable to a modern PC which is built from a very low number of ready-made sub-components like motherboard, SSD drive, display screen etc. The e-car has no gear-box, can easily recoup some of its kinetic energy through recovery braking, can easily be made as a 4-wheel drive by using wheels with embedded motors etc. But as most of our PC’s today are assembled in low cost countries, the same, albeit to a lesser degree, can apply to the future car industry. Many technical expertise becomes redundant, and the future car builder might well be not much more than an assembler of modules bought around the world. My prognosis is that the e-transport will start a full-blown disintegration of the European car industry, if global trade can operate without any political surveillance and guidance. It is naive to see a future e-transport system as the creator of millions of new jobs. There surely will be some, but globally it would be prudent to expect a loss of jobs, and not an increase.

In the TIR, the main argument for e-cars is decarbonization. Actually writing that they are pollution free is close to a lie: e-cars move the pollution from the streets to the electricity producers. Only if these are capable to deliver the needed energy from carbon-free sources, this close to zero pollution scheme might become real. Again, one can only wonder that nuclear energy, which could without big problems deliver the new electrical energy needed for the e-transport, and this without baroque schemes of  charging prioritization and demand management, is non-existent in the FIR. The many, many times repeated mantra that the marginal cost of the future electrical “fuel” will be zero is ridicule. There will be no zero marginal cost for PV or wind electricity, and surely not electricity produced by biomass or geothermal sources.

3.2.1. How much electricity will be needed for the future 100% electric, battery driven transportation?

Let us start with a blatant incongruity in numbers: at page 30 the report says that total transport in Luxembourg has an energy demand of 6.2 TWh (attention: the comma in the numbers is the delimiter for thousands, so 25,419 GWh means about 25 TWh), which represents 24% of the total energy demand of 25 TWh. At page 70, in the Mobility chapter, we find the sentence that transport energy is 61% of total energy consumption. Both numbers can not be true, as the 61% does not include commuter traffic. So here we have a big understanding problem!

We will retain the 6.2 TWh given at page 30. Now imagine all this electricity should come from local solar and wind producers. Let us assume that all this energy will be delivered by PV, and the electrical efficiency will be three times that of the thermal engines. So only about 6.2/3 = 2.1 TWh should be needed for transportation, seamingly a rather small number. Let us calculate the surface of solar panels giving this annual energy, assuming as in part 1 that we 1100 kWh per m2 and year on a horizontal surface. The number would be slightly greater (about 10 to 20%) if the surface is correctly inclined, but as many factors like dirt, aging etc. reduce the efficiency of solar panels, lets take this number. A PV panel has at most an efficiency of 20%, which corresponds to 220 kWh/m2/year. The needed surface of PV panels is given by the division (2.1*10^12)/(220*10^3) = 10*10^6 m2 or 10 km2. This calculation ignores all the important problems of solar storage and assumes that the stored energy always is adequate for the demand; nevertheless, at a first glance the panel surface seems astonishingly small. If we assume that a normal roof covered with PV panels could have a surface of 60m2, close to 1.7 million roofs would be needed. According to Statec there were about 130000 residential buildings in Luxembourg in 2013. So this 10 km2 area seems not easily attainable by covering roofs with solar panels, but a very big solar farm of 3km*3 km would suffice.

Conclusion: It is not impossible to produce in Luxembourg the amount of electricity needed for transportation by purely renewable resources if 10 km2 solar panels would be used, together with the huge storage to store solar electricity at least for several days.! But one small modular nuclear reactor of 400 MW with a less than 0.1km2 footprint and no supplementary storage would suffice!

3.2.2. Reduction in individual cars

The report clearly says that usage (and acquisition) of individual cars should be slowed down; understandable from a standpoint of solving traffic congestion, this is a big and drastic inroad into individual liberty and choice of moving around. Electric cars should be the only new cars available from 2025 ( in 9 years on!). The automated car (and good delivery by drones) is seen as the solution to many problems. These measures ignore that the situation in the big cities like Esch and Luxembourg are completely different from those in the open country. A worker living in the North and working in Luxembourg will probably be forced to use his car at least to drive to a parking near a bus-stop or train central. There does not exist one solution for all, and the so-called “active moving” (= by foot or bicycle) may be a possibility for a few lucky people whose dwellings are close to their workplace, but not for the majority.

Asking that workplace and residential place should be as close as possible is a pious wish (at page 81 one of the 4 proposed actions is “limiting/revisiting the need for mobility”), whose solution has not been possible in the full last century.

3.2.2. Resilience, recharging the e-cars

The report acknowledges that a lack of sufficient storage (compared to the thermal energy stored in a reservoir) makes e-cars less resilient. It also stresses a problem which is often ignored: as the charging time of an e-car is always much longer than the fill-up time at a conventional pump, many more charging stations must be deployed, with a big increase in land-use.

3.2.3. Transport by trucks: why not hydrogen for all?

The report clearly sees that trucks can not be driven by batteries for the foreseeable future (an exception are small delivery vans, which were electrified more than 100 years ago, as the UK milk van). So with some logic it proposes a hydrogen/fuel-cell technology for these trucks. Now knowing the big problems that batteries have ( about 50 to 90 times less energy per mass-unit compared to gas or diesel), why not adopt for the future the hydrogen solution for all transports? The problems with low refill would not exist, but sure, others would show up, like the problematic venting of H2 from the air in park-houses to avoid spectacular explosions. But at least, instead of two big transformations, only one would be needed. Again, a small nuclear reactor could produce H2 without big problems, as could electrolysis with excess renewable electricity.

3.2.4. Utopia?

At page 96 concerning public policy the following actions are proposed:

  • a reduction of 80-90% of energy consumption
  • a reduction of 100% of GHG emissions
  • a reduction of 80-90% of urban space occupation

These are really extreme numbers; we all know that H2O is a GHG (it is the most important one), so switching to H2/fuelcell cars will increase the emissions of water vapor! An energy reduction of 80-90% also seems way out of every feasibility, and the last point means that no private cars are allowed anymore in urban centers.

I also doubt (as written in page 100) that in 2030 the majority of all cars will be completely (= level 5) autonomous; too many technical and legal problems still exist, and the latter probably will be the most difficult to tackle.

But let us finish this chapter by applauding the report for mentioning something that I continue to insist on: when gasoline and diesel are phased out, and the transport will become mostly electrical, how can the state recoup the immense loss in taxes that are today included in the price at the pump? The TIR suggests at page 115 (as I did many times) that in the future a per-usage tax should be introduced. As the cars of the future are transparent for the authorities in their movements and travel, this could be a not too difficult to introduce policy!

(end of part 3)

(continue to part 4)

5 Responses to “TIR Lëtzebuerg 2016: the Rifkin report (part 3)”

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