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Powering public transport in New Zealand

I recently authored a report for EECA titled “Powering public transport in New Zealand.” In this report we considered a range of emerging public transport technologies and whether they might be suited to small to medium sized cities in New Zealand.

The first question to answer is why do we need this study? Surely there’s loads of comprehensive international studies out there that we can use? Well, yes and no. International studies are useful and we did use them in our report. The second question is why is renewability relevant? Well, it’s relevant because 1) NZ has a ongoing incentive to reduce carbon emissions and 2) a renewable and efficient PT system provides us with a hedge against higher energy prices.

The local NZ context is also relevant for several reasons. Most  importantly the local context defines the broad characteristics of our urban form (low density), as well as the scale and structure of our PT systems (small). The local context also informs the price and availability of fuels (limited). And then the reconstruction of Christchurch presents a unique opportunity for us to embed PT into the urban fabric of a city from the outset. Lastly, our cost structures – especially labour – are different from elsewhere, so you can’t just say “country y is building technology x” so we should do that too.

So in our study we took the approach of using international research to identify some potential “winners”, which were then evaluated in more detail for their suitability in NZ. In this post I won’t go into too much detail; I’d encourage you to simply download the report and read it for yourselves (only 40 pages with lots of pictures and graphs. But for those of you (like Patrick) who have short attention spans I thought I’d summarise our key findings:

  • Alternative fuel pathways - we consider that there are three potentially viable pathways for New Zealand cities:
    1. Diesel substitution pathway, which would make use of increasingly efficient diesel vehicles (such as hybrids) and non-mineral diesel fuels, namely biodiesel and synthetic diesel. This pathway is attractive because it offers immediate, albeit incremental, improvements in PT renewability. Public transport is an ideal testing ground for such fuels, because it provides a concentrated point of demand/distribution. On the downside, to be feasible the price differential between mineal and non-mineal diesel would need to decline over time.
    2. Biogas pathway – which may be suitable where large quantities of biogas can be generated from landfills. Best suited to cities where reticulated CNG is available as a back-up, and that support large PT systems. Scale is important because the switch from diesel to CNG buses will incur fixed capital costs, e.g. in maintenance facilities, which would ideally be spread over as many vehicles as possible.
    3. All-electric pathway – While the low energy density of batteries does create some range and speed limitations for electric buses, our literature review noted just how quickly these issues were being circumvented with innovative in-service recharging facilities, such as over-head and inductive charging points. These re-charging facilities meant that battery electric buses can now get through the day without needing to be taken out of service for re-charging. One of the interesting advantages of battery electric buses is that they tend to charge overnight when electricity prices are low, whereas trolley buses and light rail draw down during the day when prices are high.
  • Alternative vehicle pathways – in a future of sustained high oil prices, such as those forecast recently by the IMF, alternative vehicles, such as hybrid and battery electric buses, because cost-effective alternatives to diesel buses. Fixed route electric vehicles, such as trolley buses and light rail, struggled to be cost-effective due to their high capital costs. Going forward, we would expect newer technologies, such as hybrids and electric buses, to develop more rapidly and only extend their comparative advantage over fixed route options.
Three of the more advanced vehicles are illustrated below, namely 1) the ADL Enviro 400-H double decker; 2) the Arctic Whisper with fast overhead re-charging; and 3) the BYD all-electric bus, of which 1,000 are currently operating in Shenzhen.

ADL Enviro 400H – Hybrid diesel electric

Hybricon’s Arctic Whisper – Electric battery bus with rapid over-head re-charging and back-up diesel engine

BYD’s all electric battery bus, with fast re-charging

 

If you wanted my personal opinion on what pathway(s) were most likely, I suspect the best way forward is to focus on purchasing more efficient diesel buses, before subsequently embracing all-electric battery buses when they become viable. Of course the circumstances of individual regions and operators will vary considerably, which is why we hesitate to make an universal, all-encompassing conclusion about what is best fuel/technology mix.

Based on our results we made the following recommendations:

  1. Central government should closely monitor alternative public transport technologies, because these technologies are evolving rapidly.
  2. Undertake a systematic analysis of the barriers to uptake of emerging technologies, such as weight and mass restrictions.
  3. Engage with bus operators to gain feedback on which technologies they see as having the most potential.
  4. Investigate whether trials can be used to gain on the ground experience of new technologies.
  5. Perhaps most importantly: Central government should establish a public transport vehicle procurement forum to help realise economies of scale in bus procurement.

Recommendation #5 is potentially the most interesting. What we’re encouraging central government to do here is to take a leadership role in the procurement of public transport vehicles. This has two positive consequences. First, it creates opportunities to gain economies of scale in vehicle ordering, which in turn drives the price down. Second, economies of scale are especially important when you’re trying to buy new technologies. As such, by facilitating a public transport procurement forum central government can help us to gain access to cheaper, better buses.

As the report notes, participating in the vehicle procurement forum would be completely optional and moreover self-funding through charging a small commission on successful orders. And ultimately by helping to lower the costs of vehicle procurement (which are a not insubstantial cost of the PT system) we should see reduced demand for PT subsidies and higher quality, more renewable vehicles.

It’s also a useful example of how our Government could take a leave out of the Scandinavian economics text book, by working  more closely with the private sector to coordinate strategically interdependent “win-win” outcomes.

 

  *** I’d like to acknowledge the contribution of Jörn and Liz at EECA for supporting this study, as well as Ian Wallis for helping to make it happen ***

48 comments to Powering public transport in New Zealand

  • Globally there are two interrelated problems: The decline in the availability of cheap liquid fuels and the huge sunk costs in an infrastructure predicated on their presence.
    Looked at through the lens of Energy Return On Energy Invested [EROEI]:

    1930s+: We built the auto world on fuels with an EROEI of around 100:1
    1970s+: We doubled down at around 25:1
    now it’s around 10:1 and below, with Oil sands, Shale Oil, Ultra Deep water, Arctic etc
    and getting even more desperate; plant Ethanol is pretty much 1:1. In other words simply moves energy from one state to another.
    Coal-to-liquids and Gas-to-liquids are said to have an EROEI in negative territory about 0.6:1

    These declining returns show that we are scrapping the bottom of the barrel [reflected by high oil price despite falling demand], and painfully addicted to liquid fuel. So why would you bother diverting farm production as they do in the US to make Corn Ethanol at return on investment of 1:1 or below? Because the alternative is to put energy into reducing society’s structural reliance on these inputs and in the US like for most here there seems to be little appetite to face this.

    At least in NZ we have a strong core of our own renewable electricity, and the potential to expand that, especially with micro generation, increased efficiency at point of use, and further wind development [intermittency able to be balanced by existing hydro].

    But how to get that electricity to power the transport sector?

    1. Invest in processes that turn electricity into liquid fuels, which is essentially what wood ethanol is. Expensive capital investment, diversion of forestry output. Low EROEI.

    2. Power as much of the sector by electricity as possible: How to do that? Without changing our mode balance: Wait for electric cars to become cheaper and better and then for everyone to replace their current vehicle with an EV. Capital cost and technology problems here, this plan really requires a huge improvement in battery weight to power ratio and length of life.

    or

    2a. Invest aggressively in increasing efficiency of transport sector, redesign freight sector around rail core, work towards electrifying rail freight network. In cities and towns invest in Transit systems for moving people [the demand is already there] and shift as much of these systems to electric drive as possible over time. Tethered large vehicles; trains, trams, trolleys are proven and existing technologies and can be complimented by the various vehicles shown above. But where does the money come from? Well from the vast sums we are currently wasting building on an out of date model for a passed age: RoNS.

    At the very least we should not be aggressively still building for the world that has already passed. This is a disaster and an extremely risky gamble that it will all be somehow ok and just the same as before. Also it represents a huge failure of analytic thinking and the applied observation to both history and current data. Change to last century’s way of life is not just coming; it’s here, and no amount of bluster and pigheadedness by Joyce or anyone else will alter this fact.

    We will keep trying to do 1. And that may work out to some degree. Cost will be a factor as will volumes I suspect.
    2 will work out to some degree- ie for the rich.
    2a is what we as a nation should be doing urgently…. will we?

  • Also, of course, be sure that all new spatial arrangements are not so dispersed and inefficiently connected. Ie stop subsidising sprawl, and incentivise compact growth and the encouragement of the local.

  • Matthew

    I don’t know the economics to do so, but Wellington is going to have an excess of Ganz-Mavag trains sitting in yards. By stringing up some wires above existing tracks in provincial cities could these be used to provide train services in places like Hastings-Napier-Napier Airport, Port Chalmers-Dunedin-Mosgiel – Dunedin Airport, Tauranga to the Mount, or even Waikawi-Invercargill-Bluff? Rip out some seats and put in bike racks from the start and bring integrated bike-train getting around in the provinces. They don’t even need refurbishment. They are quite good as they are.

    • The Ganz’s are stuffed, Wellington Regional council was looking at spending 80 million ( $1million per set) on a deep refurbishment, (Total strip down and rebuild)-

      Auckland is going to have a bunch of DMUs that have recently been refurbished and don’t require wires, these are a much better option for any provincial rail services….

  • Callum Dickinson

    Those Ganz-Mavags aren’t fit for service anywhere. They are quite literally falling apart, and some of them have already succumbed to mechanical failure. If they ARE to be used elsewhere, they do need a very extensive (and expensive) overhaul, both inside and outside.

  • SteveC

    Stu, the link didn’t work when I tried it, Google was my friend ; )

    haven’t read the report yet, but did you look at the impact of battery weight on axle loadings and the possible negative effect on passenger loads? also with low floor buses, the batteries would tend to be clustered around the rear axle which would impart a rear weight bias

    I have to admit to being a trolley bus fan (anorak?) and every time I ride in a trolley in Wellington these days I cringe at the speed that they take corners, fully expecting the poles to come off but the overhead is hugely better than in my day and the trolleys don’t seem to have the problem of limited speeds through bend,

    I think that for fixed route services like the Northern Express, trolleys have huge potential; oh silly me, that’s right, two aerial wires are visual pollution but a single wire for light rail is amenity!

    • Stu Donovan

      Hi Steve, I think the days of overhead wires are gone (both for bus and rail). Technologies that allow in-service charging, i.e. induction, or fast overhead re-charge, are developing so rapidly now. They in turn allow you to reduce battery weights and avoid the weight issues you mention.

      The blue bus shown above re-charges much of its battery in 5-10 minutes, which is your average bathroom break/driver layover. So they can just keep on trucking through the day, with small top-ups every now and then.

      • SteveC

        but axle weights due to batteries and their effects on bus passenger capacity? is this an issue?

      • I would be very interested in seeing the battery tech they are using to claim that a fast charge of 5-10 minutes will run a bus for 1-2 hours,
        I have read they use a 400 volt 250 Amp (100KW) charger, but you will absolutely munt the battery life with such quick charges on anything other than lithium batteries, and even then it ain’t great for them.

        The Lithium batteries to run a bus would be very expensive given that the 24KWh battery for a leaf is rumoured to cost 15K a piece

        • Stu Donovan

          I think I may have misrepresented the issue: The buses run on a deep over-night charge and then get topped up for 5-10 minutes at the end of a run. That gets them through the day no problem.

  • Torbayite

    IS it possible to have a bus that has its main power from overhead but can do a bit off his. Wondering if the Nothern busway could be powered and then buses run on other power ( stored in battery I suppose) for other trips and then return to bus way?

    • Stu Donovan

      I’d suggest that there’s actually no need for overhead wires except at the end-points of the busway. The technology is already sufficiently advanced that electric buses have a range of ~200km. Avoiding the need for overhead wires is one of their big cost advantages.

    • Steve D

      Wellington’s trolley buses can do that (for about 10km IIRC). While the wires were being moved to Manners Street, they regularly took down the poles and ran on battery for a few blocks to get through the construction area.

  • Ari

    we also don’t take into account inductive power transfer technology that could be installed at most traffic signals or major bus stops to charge electric buses and extend their range or reduce their battery requirements. stick with some biofuel solution for the average driver and move to electric vehicles slowly over time. increase fuel taxes slowly to subsidize PT and encourage smaller, economic cars.

    • Tomislav

      Inductive charging is horribly inefficient. I would use it only if the power was practically free.

      All available biofuels are also very inefficient, much more so than even current generation of batteries so I see no reason to switch while we have sufficient access to oil and natural gas. I don’t see much point in converting biomass to liquid fuel until we have genuine, economically sound crop that we can farm at scale. As Patrick said, if it takes a litre of gas to plant, harvest and process … a litre of biofuel (corn ethanol process efficiencies), you’ve gained exactly nothing. Make-work.

      I’m also very sceptical that if we switch to electric cars we can support anywhere close to the current numbers of vehicles on the road. The amount of power generation this would require is staggering. PT on the other hand is probably doable in some form or another.

      • Stu Donovan

        The last report I read indicated that switching NZ’s entire vehicle fleet to electric would add less than 5% to peak electricity loads, because they charge over night. I’d suggest the electricity demands are not a major issue.

        Note that the diesel substitution pathway includes diesel-electric hybrids, which are 30% more efficient. Also I would hesitate to paint all bio-fuels with the same brush. Biogas and some forms of biodiesel (made from waste products) are relatively energy efficient to produce.

        You could not run NZ’s entire vehicle fleet on biofuels, but you may be able to run PT.

        • 1. If we’re making bio-diesel from wood waste, or even some plantation timber on marginal land without fertiliser inputs and using renewable electricity as the energy input and not going broke doing it then that wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Way better than the US where they are displacing food production in a heavily industrialised and fertiliser intensive process then using natural gas to turn the corn into diesel, using vast amounts of water in a semi-arid environment and greatly affecting the international price of a food staple. Which is getting pretty close to a crime against both nature and humanity, just so overweight Americans can keep driving their oversized cars to buy super-sized junk food for a little longer. And it is subsidised by the state! Land of the free, not I might add a programme of state intervention that the ‘drill, baby, drill’ Republicans oppose.

          But we would still only be changing electricity, at considerable cost, into liquids. This is the unexpressed pact that the Business As Usual crowd have formed. Must have liquid fuels at any cost!

          2. The problem with EVs is less the electricity supply, plenty of potential for that here, and money to invest in it if were are not importing so much oil, but rather the technology itself [weight-to-energy is poor in batteries for the forseeable] and the capital cost of changing the entire fleet, or a big part of it, and the likely problems of battery life [unless there is a near term and instantly scaleable breakthrough in battery technology]. Way, way, better if we can put energy into being more productive while driving a lot less. Perversely the more you drive your EV the higher the chance that its high capital cost can be recovered compared to high mileage in an ICE vehicle. And more driving is no answer to any question.

          I agree with Stu that switching Transit to alternatives is much more in reach. But then just making Transit however it is powered more available and attractive would also enable considerable savings in fuel use and carbon emissions, especially if that was closely followed by a steady rise in petrol tax to incentivise and fund this Transit transition. I repeat: Way, way, better if we can put energy into being more productive while driving a lot less. At least Transit machines are always high mileage so the capex/opex balance should work in their favour.

          3. No expert on Induction charging but I know it has been more expensive than reticulated power for vehicles by a large margin- is this changing?

          • Matthew

            Some rough back of the envelope calculations:

            Whilst I agree that the batteries powering EVs have their problems, and are not quite up to being dropped into a 1.7 tonne family sedan without significant cost, there is potential for many different classes of EVs that will work. The i-Miev, and the Volt both have 16Kwh of battery, and the LEAF 24Kwh. They range in weight from 1.08 to 1.7 tonnes. With their stated (US EPA) ranges they use about 134-154Wh per km per tonne of bodyweight.
            The Myers Motors NMG weighs 600kg http://www.myersmotors.com/. (I don’t know the specs for its batteries) and is a single seat highway speed car.

            Li(NiMnC)O2 batteries cost about US50c an Amp-hour at their cheapest, which means if you engineered the weight out of a one person car styled like the NMG and got it down to say 333kg by using less steel for the panels for instance, and then used about 50Wh per km, then with a US$5000/10KWh battery pack you’d get a range of 200km. With a US$2500/5KWh battery pack you’d get a 100km range. Suddenly a highway speed car with a decent range is under $10,000. At NZ21c a kWh to buy electricity, then that is $1.05 per hundred kilometres, or for the price of a litre of petrol you go 210km. My current car gets 8.7km per litre. That is 23 times cheaper to run.

            Game changer?

            Electric bikes, electric motorbikes also have great performance figures. I think it is a design and marketing problem, rather than a battery engineering problem now.

          • Stu Donovan

            Agree with you here Patrick – making transit more attractive and stopping people driving is probably the best way to reduce energy consumption.

  • Max

    Could someone comment on my (incorrect?) perception that any good quality current-state-of-the-art battery is:

    a) very expensive due to certain rare materials used (and likely to become even more expensive if the technology “takes off”)
    b) wears out after a few years (making them even
    c) have a high ecological footprint due to energetic / toxic production processes?

    I have heard a few things in that regard which always made me sceptical of things like electric cars and electric bikes being the “silver bullet”. But am I just parroting unfounded scepticism, or how serious are these concerns? Anyone can comment?

    • Max

      Sorry, didn’t finish b) – anyway, if that is the case, b) would make a) and c) concerns even more worrying, if they apply.

    • Stu Donovan

      Electric buses are quite different from other EVs, because they are fixed route and stop/start they can a lot along the way, so much reduced need for a large battery. Actually quick re-charge becomes relatively more important. Also, some of the manufacturers are now using super-capacitors rather than batteries, which are relatively enviro friendly.

      So be sceptical of electric cars, but be optimistic of electric buses would be my suggestion.

      • Like the look of that BYD one; very sleek with a Ninja face…. Bring em on I say.

        As I observed above because of the high mileage that Transit vehicles do the opex savings of electric drive can cover a higher capex much quicker so bus companies or authorities should be amoung the earliest outfits for whom EVs make sense. Don’t ya reckon?

        • Stu Donovan

          Yes the BYD bus is a goodie; it’s even apparently being trialled in the Netherlands.

          In general I think it’s important people distinguish between electric buses and electric cars: The two really have completely different operating characteristics. As you note buses are much better placed on the OPEX/CAPEX spectrum to make use of electric technology.

          And I would not write induction off – it has strengths/weaknesses.

      • Matthew

        And be less sceptical of e-bikes and e-scooters. There are increasing numbers of people riding little kick scooters in Welly, getting off the train with them and scooting along the waterfront. There’s a few adult sized foldable models out there. Mine has 12″ bike wheels (like the smallest kids bike size) and the forks are 100mm apart, which is the same standard as front forks on a bike and hence front wheel e-bike motored hubs fit.
        My summer project is to electrify my kick scooter. I’ll reuse my e-bike battery, which I’ll carry in a backpack and plug a power cable into a socket on the handlebars. I only need a throttle, a motor, and the controller, changing the brakes so they cut the motor. Without the battery it’ll be only 2kg heavier. But I’ll switch out the whole wheel. My battery is 538Wh. The motor is for a 16″ wheel, but I’ll spoke it into a 12″ wheel. I reckon it’ll go about 15km/hr or a little quicker. And with me on it, I reckon I’ll get over 2 hours on a charge. And I can get it on the trains because it is a little foldable bike. It fits under the seats. Since I already have the battery and the scooter, if I can get my hands on one next time I’m in China it’ll cost me less than $200 to get all the parts I need.

        If many people had these and we could ride them on safe separated bike paths then we’d never need to widen a motorway again, ever.

        As for e-bikes – look at http://www.gracebikes.co.uk/ website to see how e-bike technology is maturing.

  • SteveC

    Max, I recall a comment by Terry Tamminen, who was Arnold Schwartznegger’s energy and climate change adviser which went “there’s no silver bullet, only silver buckshot” in other words, there our current situation is the result of a myriad of small decisions by politicians, citizens, oe everyone and it takes a myriad of small changes to address the situation

    maybe a little away from what you were suggesting, but worth keeping in mind nevertheless

    • Max

      Oh, I agree. I am just wary of those who (for right or wrong reasons) do promote it as the silver bullet – like some in our current government, who seem to use it as a fig leaf for not getting serious about doing anything about car dominance (“hey, with electric cars, most of your main complaints disappears, so…”)

      I am particularly hopeful about e-bikes once our cities become more cycle-friendly. E-bikes would remove the “it’s too hilly” argument – but even there I wonder whether they won’t stay something for well-heeled richer folks, who can afford to plonk down several thousand bucks on a new Lithium-Ion battery every few of years…

  • Yes i’d like those questions answered too, Max, have seen both sides argued from particular corners. Couple of things are pretty certain:

    EVs will get cheaper as economies of scale crank up. The Volt is 85k right now! So there is absolutely no incentive to trade in my 12 year ICE car even though it eats gas, especially, ironically, as I am driving so much less now [Transit/cycling/walking more] I’d never save enough on fuel not bought to reach anywhere near the capital cost.

    We don’t yet will know how long the batteries keep performing for in full EVs in real world conditions and if this will be just as costly as buying petrol…. could be a killer for the math.

    • Max

      > EVs will get cheaper as economies of scale crank up.

      That is actually one of my worries – are any of the materials in high-quality batteries rare? Some rare metals necessary for cell phones and computers have spiked massively in price once these gadgets took off. So the “economies of scale” is likely, but not given. The opposite (or at least a quick return to diminishing returns on economies of scale) could occur if we suddenly needed HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of batteries weighing half a ton each to power Earth’s vehicle fleet.

      Siemens built some of the first cars that existed with electric motors. It’s no surprise and no conspiracy they didn’t take.

      Heinlein in the 1950s sci-fi literature described the “shipstone”, an (unexplained) energy storage device that revolutionised the world by allowing high-density electric energy storage. We are still searching for something like that. Or at least for a way to easily conduct energy from a grid to a moving vehicle.

      • Max

        From one of the articles you linked, Patrick (note especially the comment about Lithium). Seems my worry was well-placed:

        “I worked out in an earlier post how large a lead-acid battery would have to be to support the entire U.S. energy demand in the presence of solar/wind intermittency. It turned out that our estimates for recoverable lead in the world do not satisfy the need. Lithium and Nickel are even more constrained. It is possible that some other approach like sodium-sulfer or zinc-air can step in. But these are already relatively well-known options and have not blazed a wide path into storage over the past few decades.”

        So – flywheels? I have been thinking of them for a while, but ain’t good enough in physics to make a good guess at their energy density…

        • Max

          Damn it, the guy just answered me half a paragraph later – he seems sceptical of flywheel storage, though mainly for long-term storage, as the friction slows them down again. So maybe for a car, it would work, since we don’t care if the battery discharges itself in a few days – just find the nearby socket?

          We would all need to drive vans with their backs already all full of a dangerously fast-spinning wheels of solid metal, though!

        • Stu Donovan

          Capacitors are an alternative to batteries. And note that we’re talking about electric buses here, not cars. So the maths stacks up a lot easier because buses are driven for much further per day, thus spreading higher fixed costs over more kilometres.

          That incidentally is one of the reasons why hybrids have been taken up so readily by the taxi industry. It’s not just about the green image ;).

          • Max

            Hi Stu – not sure whether that argument holds water (eh… current) since higher usage also means more recharge cycles? And that seems to be what really kills most battery-type systems…

            Re the taxis – do we have figures on percentages of all taxis that are hybrids? I would have thought it is more about the stop-start city traffic where electrics shine more, of course. How comparable are taxi travel patterns to buses?

          • Stu Donovan

            The capital/operating cost trade-off is highly relevant. Because buses get driven for ~14 hours per day, versus ~2 hours for the average car, means that you can afford to spend more upfront on a bus in order to secure operating cost savings. And replacing the batteries every 5-10 years is not that much more expensive than a major diesel engine overhaul, which standard buses undergo at about the same frequency.

          • Max, I always search out the hybrid taxis and also always ask if they are spending less on fuel with the new tech. The answer is always an empahtic ‘yes’. To which I say ‘then why aren’t you charging me less than the other taxis?’ To which they always laugh……

  • TheBigWheel

    This is a really interesting post, and related article, both of which throws some light on a raft of issues, all inter-related, many of which are genuinely open questions.. as the comments show. Here’s my take on some of them..
    I agree the EROEI challenge generally is a risk, over an timescale that could be decades or centuries – though a prudent response would surely be to plan for a range of outcomes, and given the planning horizons here, decades is within range. More specifically, we can all imagine any number of geo-political circumstances that could severely impact the global oil supply chain that are perfectly realistic in the short-term.. i.e. in weeks, months or years. Seriously, weeks! Think about that. These are circumstances over which NZ, given our size and location, has no meaningful means of control or mitigation (such as local supply or storage). Although IEA forecasts are useful, we need also to consider scenarios where the basic availability of oil (petrol, diesel) becomes scarce: that is to say, price is off the scale. Even for a limited period, the consequences of failing to plan accordingly could be severe, particularly for transport (private and public, goods and people). As has been pointed out, NZ’s electrical energy supply is reasonably secure and independent of oil (and is renewable ). More to the point, it’s able to supply a huge number of EVs (assuming peak demand is appropriately managed).
    In terms of EVs, whilst smaller vehicle substitutions are relatively economic (bikes, small cars.. up to a point), the real energy savings come from substituting larger vehicles. Even if the EVs (or hybrids) that replace them aren’t a patch on the smaller vehicles in energy efficiency terms. If that sounds counter-intuitive, think of the fuel consumption in L/100 km terms. One hybrid Lexus SUV can save more oil than a dozen MiEVs. An electric bus does even better of course. Plus, buses are surely an ideal platform for EVs: the size and shape of the vehicle, the performance requirements, the pre-determined routes, with opportunities for in-service re-charging.
    You gotta love that Swedish bus with the overhead re-charging. Trolley buses with no overhead wires.. an excellent idea, which should have potential in Auckland.. well worth trying. Or alternatively, we could exploit one of Auckland’s very few examples of genuinely world class leadership in electro-tech: IPT. Which, incidentally, is able to deliver well over 90% efficiency.. and remember, conductive losses in a directly connected system are also not zero. It’s completely mad that it’s up and running in Italy, but not Auckland!
    Compared to $ bns wasted on RoNS, which only make NZs energy risk position worse, these are all seriously attractive risk mitigation strategies. Not to mention the quieter, cleaner (no particulates) vehicles. Plus there could no doubt also be some upside to operators from exploiting NZ experience in electric PT vehicles overseas.
    On the question of batteries themselves: well over 90% of battery components, including essentially all the potentially nasty metals are recovered and recycled. Battery recycling infrastructure is very well developed, and PT EV batteries would be especially easy to manage in this respect.

    So how / where to start? And who?

    • Max

      > has no meaningful means of control or mitigation (such as local supply or storage).

      Not in the short term. But we would probably do a crash-project to convert our coal resources into liquid fuels. 5 years later, we’d all be chugging along again – twice as dirty.

      Okay, I am doomsaying. But let me have my fun!

      > well over 90% of battery components, including essentially all the potentially nasty metals are recovered and recycled.

      A fair point. Hey, don’t get any of your logic into my doomsaying!

  • TheBigWheel

    You may well be right about the value of coal as an energy resource in the longer run. Why not?! Apart from all the soot etc etc..?! I was just musing on the short term impacts. You can see what happens after only a few days overseas when the petrol supply chain is disrupted.. e.g. tamker driver strikes in the UK, everyone started car pooling and driving at 50 mph on the motorway. Not the usual 85 ;-)

  • A description of the US situation with a withering description of what’s bad about bio fuels there. Very good summary by a smart and extremely well qualified author:

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9619#more

  • Bryce P

    Could it be that fuel companies have slashed their margins in an effort to stay away from the $3 per litre region?

    “Asked why the pricing was not in line with competing service stations, he said BP-to-go continually lost money on 91 and 95, so the premium fuel was where they made up their losses”
    http://m.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10849092

  • A really interesting issue is touched on in the comments in the OIl Drum article above and one we have mentioned a little before too; elasticity. It has generally been the establishment view that both fuel and electricity use is not only inelastic, ie not very responsive to price signal, we will pay whatever we have to because we just have to have it, but also that they both must rise in consumption in order to have a growing economy.

    It is becoming pretty clear that there is in fact more room for wriggle here than has been somewhat lazily assumed. The greatest and most valuable source of domestic oil we can reach is the stuff we cut down on using. So long as we do this without just grinding to a halt. Now this is an area that government should be playing an aggressive role. Spending billions on duplicate highways to help keep big trucks competitive trains has a very poor return on investment compared to other things, like investing in the rail network itself, and of course by optimising urban Transit; low hanging fruit in terms of net energy savings.

    Anyway here’s an observation from my eldest brother in Sydney about the situation there that is instructive, electricity is a bigger issue in Aus because its largely coal fuelled and they rely on aircon so much in their hot cities:

    “And we are seeing analogous reductions in demand for electricity in Australia. To the amazement and horror of the electricity companies, demand for power is actually going down as people learn to switch off because retail power prices have nearly doubled over 5 years. Part of the change is the growing contribution from rooftop solar of course, but plain old efficiency and frugality are making a nonsense of those straight lines projecting never-ending growth. There’s so much fat in our accustomed habits that it’s a breeze to burn less, especially with the help of solar cells and fuel-efficient cars. Hilariously, the headline response from the electricity companies is to blame someone else – redouble their attacks on wind power, solar subsidies and the carbon tax – rather than admit they’ve been asleep at the wheel.”

  • MrV

    Why don’t we just get prisoners to start consutruction on basic infrastructure (cuttings/tunnels etc) for new rail links that would support 330kph electric trains in return for reduced sentences?
    Work 10yrs on railroad and get 10yr off sentence. Might take 100yrs to build, but so what it would be cheap.

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