producers and importers of oil would remain on a level playing field
as the levy would be collected from both. Since the GEE is revenue
neutral, consumers would also come out even, paying lower income and
retail taxes in compensation.
regions would not be cheated through the new system either. For
example, the levy that Albertans would pay to the federal government
would not go to other provinces but would be received back as per
the principle of revenue neutrality. The reverse would also be
true; the levy that other provinces would pay the federal government
would not go to Albertans but back to themselves.
What would change is
that fossil fuel consumption would go down. It would undeniably be
good for the environment everywhere, including producer
regions. Oil not sold now would only be preserved for the future.
As such, the wealth from producer regions would not be lost or given
away but a source of income for them over a longer period of time.
A Biofuel Strategy
are gaining in popularity. Increasingly, big North-American car
manufacturers are producing flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) capable of
running on both gasoline and ethanol blends up to 85% in
The new fuels are
cleaner burning and more carbon efficient than pure gasoline and
diesel. Furthermore, they can use existing distribution
infrastructure. They are also good for local economies, benefiting
the agricultural industry.
A New Set of Problems
Over the years, the
U.S. and Canada have subsidized their agricultural industries
by the hundreds of millions of dollars because, among other things,
of the low market price of some commodities. In Eastern Canada,
potato crops were often destroyed to prevent an oversupply and a
price collapse. Now, they could be turned into ethanol.
A biofuel strategy
would be very positive in those sectors, and things have already
begun to change. In the fall of 2005, France announced that it
would turn part of its overly plentiful wine production into
ethanol. Canadian and American farmers are already doing better
from the rising demand for biofuels.
The shift to
renewable energy would reduce waste and losses and generally make
agriculture much healthier financially. The new economic landscape
would eliminate the need to subsidize it with taxpayers' money. It
would also result in cleaner burning fuels, lower greenhouse gas
emissions, and a reduced dependency on oil.
everything is rosy about biofuels. Food prices are rising partly as
a result of crops and land being diverted to the production of
ethanol. Italians made headlines in 2008 for complaining about a
sharp rise in the price of pasta. The United Nations was talking of
a potential food crisis in developing countries as people could
no longer afford the skyrocketing price of rice following the high
cost of oil in the summer of that year. World grain reserves were
at historical lows. This was the result of not only the production
of biofuels from edible crops but also rising fossil fuel prices and
The New Economic Reality
Biofuels do present a
number of challenges. There is obviously the question of
competition with food crops for arable land. But this does not have
to occur. Alternative fuels can be generated from garbage, inedible
plants grown in unused fields, and agricultural and industrial
byproducts. Governments would therefore be able to intervene and
exercise some control on the problem.
That would be
important, especially in developing countries where many people can
already barely afford food. The use of edible crops and good
agricultural land for the production of biofuels can be
regulated. It is a problem for which there is a solution.
A second issue is
that of low net efficiency: it takes a lot of energy (often from
gasoline and diesel) to produce biofuels. The issue should improve
with research and technology. More importantly, the Green
Economic Environment will make it possible for renewable energies to
sort themselves out through markets. Because fossil fuels would be
taxed, biofuel sources with low net efficiencies (i.e. requiring a
lot of energy to be produced) would be less profitable and, as a
result, attract less investment when not abandoned completely.
Note that electricity
generation from hydro, wind, tidal, geothermal, and solar sources is
not expected to affect the price of food. It does not compete with
it for land. As such, not all new alternatives would cause
problems. Electric cars have begun to hit the roads and are
increasingly becoming a viable option for the future. That will
decrease the demand for ethanol.
Biofuels and other
sources of renewable energy will be an evolving landscape for some
time. We should not panic as new problems and challenges emerge.
Most will be solved.
New Land for Agriculture
Can new land be
developed for the production of energy? Areas that are valuable to
us for one reason or another (old-growth forests, wildlife habitats,
etc.) should be protected, but could other types of land be
converted and have a positive effect in terms of carbon reduction?
Large tracks of
tropical forests are currently being cleared and planted with palm
trees for the production of vegetal oil for biodiesel. Wetlands and
grasslands are also being targeted for conversion to biofuel
production. Unfortunately, these are already carbon sinks (i.e.
areas that store significant amounts of carbon). As such, many
argue that their clearing adds to global warming problems (Common,
2008, January 25).
The real question is,
would we be making the same mistake as we did before by trying to
create new land for agriculture: treating the symptoms rather than
the disease? Clearing strategies would lead to the
of the planet by the replacement of forests, wetlands, etc. with
crop fields. Is this really the answer, or is it the problem?
put us into this mess in the first place is unbridled consumption
and population growth. A permanent solution to environmental
problems will need to address these issues.
The new economics of
the environment will have to be closely monitored and regulated.
The science will evolve as we go along, and governments will find
out what works and what does not. Efficiencies will likely
improve over time and with economies of scale. The new green
environment would certainly create new challenges and call for
changes in laws and regulations.
In the long run, food
prices will probably trend higher not because of any biofuel
strategy but because the cost of oil will keep increasing.
This is just the new reality of resource depletion, a reality that
we have only begun to get a taste of. The GEE would slow down that
process by promoting alternative sources of energy, hence preserve
oil reserves and slow down the increase in price of the commodity.
In addition, it would favor green goods and make them cheaper. And
that includes food.
A Market-Based Biofuel Strategy
Could governments use
regulations to force the addition of 10% ethanol or more to gasoline
and promote a transition to renewable energy that way? Technically,
yes. However, the move would cause problems in that the oil
industry would have to purchase quite suddenly a large amount of
ethanol for which there is little supply at the moment. This could
result in high costs for the fuel and chaotic gasoline prices.
The best approach
could include regulations, especially initially, but should be based
primarily on market forces. A high and stable oil price would make
ethanol blends and biodiesel more competitive, which would
promote a natural switch to these cleaner and more environmental
options without creating a supply crisis. The higher the target
price, the more competitive biofuels would become. As such,
governments would be able to implement a strategy progressively
and control the speed of the process.
A market approach to
bioenergy would ensure a gradual and smoother transition by allowing
production to grow and respond to demand as opposed to using
regulations and creating a supply crisis.
A biofuel strategy
would create markets, sustain crop prices, and prevent the loss of
investment and jobs. The growth of the industry would ensure a
thriving agricultural sector for the future and help redistribute
Hydrogen: Panacea or Illusion?
Hydrogen was the focus
of much media attention a couple of years ago. This potential
energy of the future captured the imagination of the public because
its combustion or use in fuel cells to create electricity is
essentially pollution free, water vapor being the only exhaust
The main reason why
hydrogen seems to have overtaken electricity in the race for
clean power in transportation is that it provides a longer driving
range. The best electrical storage technology (batteries) to
date could satisfy urban commuting needs but remains impractical for
longer range or heavy transportation.
There are a number of
problems with hydrogen. Firstly, the gas is highly explosive. Safe
storage technology is under development, but costs are high and may
remain an issue. A second concern is that it is only an
intermediate fuel. There is no source of hydrogen per se. There
are no vast pools of it underground as there are for oil. It needs
to be produced from or with other sources of energy, for example,
coal, natural gas, etc. An obvious issue is that producing
hydrogen from fossil fuels would release in the atmosphere large
quantities of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. As such, it would
not be an alternative or a renewable energy.
Hydrogen can be
produced with electricity through a process called electrolysis.
However, each time you transform one energy into another, there is
not only the cost of doing so but also a conversion loss. 100 units
of electrical power could yield only 70 of another energy. As such,
it is better to use it directly rather than convert it into
something and then back into electricity in the fuel cell of a car.
Different avenues are being explored
for hydrogen production, but it is unclear at this point in time
whether or not the gas will become the energy of the future.
A third concern is
the massive amount of capital investment a conversion to hydrogen
fuel would require. Simple, well understood, and cheap
infrastructure already exists for electricity: knowledge,
distribution lines, motors, etc. Such is not the case for
hydrogen. Capital expenditure for a hydrogen society would be
high and probably fairly risky as a lot of government planning would
be involved. It would require a huge commitment and a leap of faith
into a future that may never happen.
A fourth concern is
the old chicken or egg problem. Which came first? Do you build a
huge and expensive distribution system first, hoping that people
will switch to hydrogen transportation? Or do you build cars for
which there is yet no fuel distribution system?
change the odds for hydrogen, but currently there are still too many
questions left unanswered. An educated guess at this time points to
limited applications and niche markets.
A large-scale future
for this fuel may come through if research leads to ways to convert
the world's massive coal resources to the gas without carbon
emissions or pollution. But again, even the large reserves of the
fossil fuel will also eventually run out and its mining is a
significant source of pollution. These are aspects that will also
need to be considered for hydrogen.
Compared to the
renewable energy sector, the fossil fuel industry is highly
concentrated. Its immediate and long-term interests are not
necessarily the same as those of society as a whole. Global
warming problems preclude our continuing down the fossil fuel
road. Diversifying into decentralized renewable energies would
spread wealth around and benefit future generations.
Possible Breakthroughs for Electricity
For a few years now,
EEStor (a U.S. company) has been working on a super battery, the
EESU (Electrical Energy Storage Unit). The ultracapacitor would
triple the current driving range of electric cars to about 300 miles
(500 kilometers) and would recharge in minutes. This would surpass
by a long shot lithium-ion batteries and the best technology
available to date.
The battery would be
nontoxic and apparently would not degrade over time from recharging
like others on the market today. This would make it more
conservational and less harmful to the environment. EEStor also
reports that its self-discharge rate is very low and that it would
perform well at low temperatures—unlike other batteries—making
electric vehicle transportation much more viable in colder climates.
Zenn Motor Company, a
Canadian manufacturer of electric vehicles, has heavily invested in
the technology and the EEStor company. It is the only automobile
manufacturer with a license for the use of the ultracapacitor in
cars. It had originally planned to put out vehicles with EESU
batteries at the end of 2009, but that schedule has been
postponed. 2010 should be the do or die year for the EESU.
Skeptics believe that
such a technological leap is impossible and warn about the dangers
of meltdowns for the high-energy battery in car accidents. The
technology has had successful initial testing in independent labs,
but the final word is not out yet.
What is certain is
that if the EESU does come through, it would change the whole
picture for the transportation industry. Electric cars would then
be able to replace gasoline vehicles without the usual
inconveniences. This would likely kill the market for both the
hydrogen and hybrid technology and would revolutionize
transportation and our urban environments.
Several companies are
looking into improving lithium batteries. One of a number of
interesting developments is the use of lithium iron phosphate to
speed up recharge time by up to 100 folds (MIT).
Others focus on
increasing energy storage capacity, among them single crystals of
lithium cobalt oxide (Toyota), silicon nanotube
anodes (Stanford University, Hanyang University in Korea, LG
Chem), lithium-air technology (IBM),
and ionic (U.S.
Department of Energy, Scottsdale) and lithium-sulphur batteries
(NSERC-funded lab, University Of Waterloo, Canada). These new
technologies claim to be able to increase
energy storage capacity by three to ten times and would also change
transportation as we know it.
We will see many other
advances in the near future, some of which should turn out to be
very significant. The automobile industry's recent surge in
interest in alternative cars will result in a lot more money going
towards battery research. However, the technology will also be
crucial for the production of electricity at home, enabling the
storage of intermittent energies (wind, solar, etc.) while
increasing the supply for a rapidly growing electric transportation
As some have already
pointed out, millions of batteries in cars would provide a way to
store large amounts of excess grid electricity. While it is
possible for governments or power companies to orchestrate a system
for this, the GEE would make it happen on its own through market
simply have to offer cheaper rates at peak-production or
low-consumption times—which they already do, excess energy
currently being sold at lower rates to companies that require a lot
of cheap electricity, for example, aluminum producers.
At times of excess
production (e.g., on windy and sunny days) or low demand (for
example, at night), special meters would simply turn on certain
outlets and let home and car batteries be charged with low-cost
energy. The cheaper electricity would simply be used at peak
consumption times at home or for transportation. The rest could be
fed back into the grid.
13. The Automobile Industry
A Blueprint for a Renewable Energy Future
Doing a detailed study
of renewable energies is beyond the scope of this book. Rather,
this section will try to identify major trends and highlight the
issues and factors that may enable us to select policies for the
short term and develop a blueprint for the energy and
transportation sectors of the future.
will be paid to strategies that may benefit us on several counts as
opposed to those furthering a single goal. Policies that may be
able to bridge us to the medium-term will also be given preference
as it makes no sense to develop plans for an infrastructure
that will become obsolete in a decade. Decisions regarding a future
for energy and transportation may ultimately be a matter of social
choices as the various options open to us have different
The Fuel-Cell Future
At the moment, there
are two major trends in the future of transportation and
energy. The first one, fuel cells, is still at an early stage of
development and depends on new technologies. Hydrogen, which
sparked the idea of clean transportation, would necessitate a
huge investment in infrastructure and has fallen out of favor for
this and other reasons. While the wealthier parts of the world may
be able to afford such a strategy, most countries may find it simply
too expensive or not the most cost-efficient option for them.
However, new ceramic
fuel cells have significantly increased the efficiency of making
electricity from natural gas (NG). The process would produce carbon
dioxide but only about half as much as gasoline. NG is also
much cleaner than other fossil fuels in terms of toxic contaminants
such as sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide. It is abundant, widely
distributed around the world, and currently significantly
cheaper than petroleum. As well, the economics of its efficiency in
transportation are very promising (Blakeslee, T., 2009, September
Natural gas is mostly
methane, which can be produced or captured from biomass such as
garbage, sewage, manure, crop residues, etc. Biogas, as it is
called, is renewable and can use the existing infrastructure for NG
Biomass only degrades
into methane under anaerobic fermentation, that is, without
exposure to oxygen. A few apples under a tree will not produce
biogas, but fermenting them in a sealed barrel would generate
methane and be carbon neutral.
sewage lagoons, manure tanks, and large piles of organic matter with
limited oxygen penetration will naturally emit methane. As the
latter is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide,
capturing it from biomass (i.e. not letting it be released into the
atmosphere)—as opposed to producing it—would actually be carbon
negative and have a reduction effect on global warming several times
that of CO2 for an equal weight.
The combination of the
wide availability, low costs, and shared infrastructure of NG and
biogas as well as the renewability and potential for decreasing
global warming pressures of the latter makes methane fuel cells a
strong contender for the future of transportation. The
technology already exists as small-scale 2 kW stand-alone power
generation units but has yet to be adapted for use in cars. Methane
fuel cells could be a very significant avenue for the future of
The Biofuel-Electricity Future
biofuel-electricity future is a mix of both old and new
technologies. Research will lead to exciting new developments
and improve production techniques and hardware, but some of the
science behind it is quite old. Vegetable oils—from which
biodiesel can be derived—have been produced for a long time.
Ethanol—drinking alcohol—is actually something that has been
around for millenniums. Regular gasoline engines can burn 10%
blends without modifications. Ethanol production is relatively
simple and well understood and would be of prime benefit to the
agricultural industry, at least in the U.S. and Canada.
The future of
biofuels would entail low infrastructural spending as a lot of the
technology is already here and can use existing distribution
systems. Flexible-fuel vehicles increasingly represent a growing
market in North America.
Brazil has already
tested and proven the feasibility of a large-scale implementation of
a biofuel strategy. The South American country already has millions
of cars running on ethanol produced from local sugar cane crops—with
very positive results for its economy.
strategy would rely on ethanol and biodiesel for long-range
transportation. Urban commuting would be based on electric
vehicles. At the current state of technology, their shorter range
(about 150 miles or 240 km in better models) does not make them a
realistic option for long-distance traveling, but their lack of
emissions makes them perfect and as clean as hydrogen for commuting
urban transportation strategy would greatly decrease pollution and
smog problems. It would also reduce the need for biofuels, whose
production competes for agricultural land and causes increases in
the price of food.
Looking for Common Ground
directions are paramount in considering options for long-term
strategies. Optimally, current policy choices should support future
options whatever they may be. An interim strategy should yield an
infrastructure that would be able to support both a fuel-cell and a
energy is derived from a variety of sources: oil, natural gas, coal,
hydro, etc. This is for good reasons: needs are so massive that
concentrating on only one kind would result in a supply shortage and
skyrocketing prices. In addition, some types of energy are better
suited for certain applications. As such, we will have to continue
to get energy from several different sources in the future, and the
more options are open to us, the better. To do this, we have to
look for common ground between the fuel-cell and biofuel-electricity
The Convertible Electric Vehicle
A fuel-cell car is
actually an electric vehicle powered by a cell as opposed to a set
of batteries. As such, both could share the same automobile
architecture with the exception of the energy module. Their motors
and other components could be exactly the same.
and developing convertible electric vehicles may be the solution to
the chicken or egg problem posed by a monolithic hydrogen
strategy or to make other new technologies adopted earlier. Cars
using either batteries or fuel cells as a source of energy (and
convertible from one to the other by the replacement of the power
module) could significantly speed up changes in the automobile
industry and prevent investments from becoming obsolete in case
one technology does not come through or falls out of favor.
Convertibility would allow both manufacturers and consumers to
switch from one to the other if the price of one type of energy
The Electrical Grid
The power grid would
essentially be the only infrastructure needed to support electric
vehicle transportation in urban settings. Batteries could be
recharged at off-peak times (either at home or work). The grid is
already a common infrastructure for electricity produced from a
number of sources: hydro, coal, nuclear, etc.
The same network
could support many of the future's renewable energies. In fact, it
has already begun to happen. Governments are increasingly talking
about new policies allowing the buy back of surplus electricity from
households. If there is a significant shift in transportation from
diesel and gasoline to electricity, the consumption of the
latter will increase and drive prices up. New sources will be
needed to meet the rising demand and keep costs down.
As such, electrical
networks would become central in increasing supply. The grid is
already providing support for many wind farms. With little
additional investment, it could also support millions of
micro-producers—for example, anyone purchasing a backyard wind
turbine or solar panels with the intent of selling surplus energy
into the grid. This has already started to happen in many
countries. With increased demand, micro-producers would become an
important source of renewable energy supply. Wind turbines and
solar panels may just become a ubiquitous part of the landscape in
the near future.
The grid would become
central to not only increasing the supply and delivery of renewable
energies but also supporting hydrogen without the need for massive
infrastructural investment. The clean fuel could be produced at
home from grid electricity in small electrolysis machines. At
the moment, efficiencies are not great, but that may change in the
production would remove brokers and retailers from the equation,
meaning that it could favorably compete with commercial ventures.
It could also take advantage of off-peak rates, which would also
serve to lower costs. Although hydrogen has fallen out of favor,
the future might still hold some promises in this respect.
The electrical grid is
a common infrastructure that is already in place and offers the
possibility to significantly increase energy supplies and do so from
The Automobile Industry Under the GEE
The Green Economic
Environment strategy proposed in this book would make most of the
above happen on its own. It would promote renewable energies and
provide stability for the sector, preventing the loss of
investment—as has occurred when the price of oil dropped—and
ensuring growth for the future.
a biofuel strategy would be relatively simple. All that is needed
is for oil prices to be high enough to make renewable energies
competitive (as discussed in the chapter on fossil fuels). The
market would take care of much of the rest. It would make renewable
energy and ethanol blends cheaper than gasoline and diesel, and
ensure that fuels that are carbon intensive (e.g. ethanol produced
from food crops) are more expensive and fall out of favor.
technologies such as methane capture
(but not production) could be the object of further promotion under
the GEE because of its multi-fold impact on global warming from the
removal of a potent greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. The
strategy could be as gradual or as fast as we would want and
essentially without quotas or regulations.
There are two main
sectors in transportation. Each is qualitatively different in terms
of needs, challenges, and markets. Long-range transportation, such
as the trucking industry and holiday traveling, requires vehicles
capable of going over long distances without refuelling.
Electric vehicles are not currently appropriate for long-range and
heavy freight and would not be suitable alternatives for these
purposes at this point in time. As such, long-distance
transportation would continue to be based on gasoline, diesel,
and blends that include renewable fuels.
Urban commuting, the
second main sector, is characterized by a multitude of smaller
vehicles operating within densely populated areas. These play an
important role in urban air pollution and smog problems. As such,
everything should be done to make their emissions as clean and
pollution free as possible. The sector would be an ideal candidate
for electric or fuel-cell vehicles.
Transition in the Automobile Industry
Both the fuel-cell and
the biofuel-electricity future would find a common ground in a
convertible electric vehicle. Governments and industry could work
together in order to design a basic frame for modular electric
vehicles that could be powered by either batteries or fuel cells.
These would initially be operated with the former, making them
highly suitable for urban commuting. They would immediately provide
cleaner urban environments and decrease fossil fuel consumption and
greenhouse gas emissions.
When the fuel-cell
technology comes through, the same modular vehicles could be used.
These commuter cars would provide continued work in and a transition
for the industry. This would mean a cleaner environment now, create
work for the automobile industry, and provide a transition to both
battery and fuel-cell technology.
electricity and fuel cells would allow people to switch easily
between different types of energy according to supply and cost.
This would support a better and more stable price environment,
provide a flexible and diversified energy strategy for the future,
and prevent our being held hostage to fossil fuels ever again.
strategy would conserve an enormous amount of non-renewable
resources as an entire generation of vehicles could be upgraded to
better technology—as is likely to happen in a leading-edge sector
of the economy—as opposed to being scrapped and added to
From a business point
of view, convertibility would provide the egg to the chicken or
egg problem of hydrogen. Ten years from now, battery-operated
fuel-cell-compatible vehicles would already be in wide use.
Infrastructural investment would be less risky and could be provided
by the private sector as opposed to taxpayers and governments. Of
course, that assumes that hydrogen is not dead already.
implementation of a convertible electric vehicle strategy for
commuting would revolutionize the urban environment. Cities would
quickly become much cleaner and quieter. Smog would be
significantly reduced or may disappear altogether.
During the transition
period, we would live in cities where single people would use mass
transit or electric cars to commute to work and rent a hybrid
vehicle for holidays. Couples with two gasoline automobiles might
keep one to commute to work and use for family holidays. The second
one would be replaced by an electric car.
electrical grid policies would have to be implemented alongside
an electric vehicle strategy in order to increase the supply of
electricity and promote renewable sources of energy.
This chapter will
explore in more details future options relating to the automobile
industry, a very important sector in the economy of many countries
and one that will see plenty of changes.
In the short and the
medium term, the GEE would increase the demand for more
environmental and conservational generations of vehicles. In the
long term, two trends would develop as a result of taxation on
manufacturers would begin downsizing cars. Secondly, we would see
part of the production shift to remanufacturing. Automobiles would
be kept for longer periods of time, repaired, and upgraded as
opposed to being bought new. Greater standardization and
increased modularity of architectures would make it easier for parts
to be replaced and reconditioned.
These two avenues of
development would spell a significant decrease in resource depletion
and major changes in our cities and living environments.
The Hybrid Question
What about hybrid
vehicles, those having both a fuel engine and an electric motor?
They are often viewed as being the solution to all problems in the
automobile industry of the future. Undeniably, they are a step
forward. However, they raise several issues.
Early models really
disappointed in terms of improved fuel consumption. There has been
much improvement in the technology since, but they may fall short of
how far the transportation of the future needs to go. As well,
hybrids use up more resources as they call for both a fuel engine
and an electric motor and are heavier and more metal intensive as a
result. This will probably limit their future.
Hybrids might retain
a place as family or holiday car but do not go far enough in terms
of fuel efficiency and resource conservation as far as urban
commuting is concerned. We can do a lot better. In the long term,
they might be able to carve themselves a share of the market if fuel
efficiency increases significantly and competing technologies
like the electric car do not see significant advances. Because
there is so much in the pipeline in that respect at the moment, the
odds are against the hybrid.
For the last 20 years,
there have been many calls for better public transportation in order
to mitigate environmental problems. While the approach can be
effective in large cities, it is not the answer everywhere or to
everything. The reality is that personal vehicles are here to stay
and the automobile will remain pervasive in society. Public transit
has to be improved, but more effective and conservational
vehicles have to be designed for individual transportation.
Mass transit is an
important alternative that offers multiple benefits to society. It
reduces traffic and its related problems, among them, noise and air
pollution. Most larger cities today would grind to a halt without
it. Public transportation reduces the demand for fossil fuels and
promotes the conservation of non-renewable resources.
prevents the use and purchase of millions of vehicles. Moreover,
buses, trains, and subway cars are built to last much longer than
regular automobiles. Because of their initial price tags, public
transit vehicles also tend to be repaired and refurbished more
extensively. That makes them highly conservational, several
times more than current automobiles.
There are different
mass transit models currently in effect in cities around the world.
Some involve standard fares regardless of the distance traveled.
Others are based on a concentric zoning system expanding away from
city centers. Each has a certain amount of built-in inefficiency.
For instance, the standard-fare system charges the same price to
people traveling short distances as it does to those transiting much
longer ones. The zone model addresses this by setting fares
generally based on the distance traveled from city centers but
does not reflect the intensity of travel routes.
In most cities, some
transportation lines are heavily used while others are not. The
buses, trains, or subway cars servicing the latter often run half
empty or worse. That is not good. Despite the longer distances
involved, major routes can be far more efficient than shorter ones
because vehicles are in full use. They generate more revenue, and
the actual cost per person—and to the environment—can be much
lower than what passengers are actually charged.
A third model better
reflects actual costs and is also more environmental. The
zones of the second option are modified into a more organic artery
system. The efficiency pattern of public transportation
systems is brachial just like a tree, with trunks and major branches
being highly efficient and smaller ones being less so. The artery
model would make many long-distance routes cheaper and encourage
people living in suburbs to leave their cars at home and reduce
Instead of being
concentric, transit zones would extend like fingers from the central
business district along main arteries. Fares would be cheaper on
primary routes as these would be more extensively used. They
would increase on secondary and tertiary lines.
is a clear avenue for the future and deserves government support.
It has many limitations, such as availability in suburbs and smaller
towns, frequency of service, and practicality in certain situations.
Government support to increase its use and benefits would mitigate
many of its limitations; more people riding would mean more frequent
service and route expansions.
As public transit will
not satisfy all the transportation needs of the future, other ways
of improving traffic, reducing pollution, and conserving resources
have to be explored.
Cycling and Car Pooling
One of the most
efficient means of transportation is the bicycle. It is heavily
used in a number of Asian countries. Unfortunately, it is
increasingly being replaced by scooters, motorcycles, and
automobiles—with disastrous results for both the urban and
Bicycles are not as
popular in advanced countries although they provide a cheap,
environment-friendly, and healthy alternative in terms of exercise.
Many cities lack appropriate paths for them, making their use
dangerous. The bicycle would do better under the GEE and would gain
from being promoted by governments, be it in the form of paths,
safety measures, or financial incentives.
Car pooling is also a
very good and growing environmental option considering that most
daily commutes are done by single persons in four-passenger cars.
conservation of non-renewable resources would mean that automobiles
would be kept longer and repaired more extensively. Many jobs would
eventually shift from the new car industry to the parts and repair
sector as well as pre-owned vehicle retailing. Refurbishing used
automobiles and upgrading power modules would become a growth
industry in the longer term.
would switch from being a disposable good with a seven or eight-year
lifespan to something that is fixed, upgraded, and refurbished for
two to three decades. New cars would cost more, but their resale
value would also be higher.
Obviously, less metal
would be used in designs. Vehicles would be smaller, lighter, and
R&D would shift towards substitutes for metals: plastics,
fiberglass, carbon fiber, composites, and biomaterials. The
industry would focus on longer lasting and higher quality vehicles.
would also move towards more easily reusable uniform chassis
(where most of the metal in a car is located) and modular designs.
Cars would look different on the outside but would be built on more
similar basic architectures and with larger numbers of standard
components to extend their lifespan and reusability.
Conservational and Environmental Cars
vehicles are not yet suitable for long-range transportation,
the technology is essentially ready for the urban environment.
Prototypes were built over 50 years ago. At this point in time, the
best battery technology still leaves us wanting in terms of
long-range transportation, but it is sufficient for urban and work
commuting—which account for most of the driving that people do in
a year. This does not represent a niche but the largest part of the
Since the electricity
distribution infrastructure is already in place, cars would simply
be recharged at home from a regular power outlet, often taking
advantage of cheaper off-peak energy rates at night. That would
change the economics of electricity.
currently an issue in northern climates. A combination of
better insulation and additional infrastructure could help mitigate
the problem. In the Canadian Prairies where winters can be bitter,
parking lots are supplied with electrical outlets so that cars can
be plugged in even while people are at work. That could also be
part of the solution. The additional infrastructure would represent
some expense, but all components are mass-produced, can be quickly
installed, and require little maintenance.
With the exception of
batteries, electrical technology for cars is low cost because it is
already well established and mass-produced. Maintenance for motors
is also much less expensive than for combustion engines as there are
no carburetors, radiators, oil changes, etc. That would also mean a
lot less metal, hence a much lower initial price under the GEE
system. As electric cars are not currently mass-produced, they are
bound to be more expensive than they will be in the future. Their
simpler and lighter technology should eventually make them
significantly cheaper than their gasoline alternative.
environmental cars could be designed and mass-produced relatively
quickly if governments and industry cooperated to speed up the
process. Cross-industry regulations could bring in more uniform
chassis for longer lifespans, maximize the use of standard parts,
and establish modularity to enhance repairability and allow for easy
future fuel-cell conversion.
involvement could bring about a fair amount of synergy, leading to
cooperation within industries, reducing financial risks, and
decreasing the potential for the loss of investments. Both
modularity and convertibility would also prevent a large amount of
resources from being invested in obsolescence.
At the moment, the
incentive to move to clean-powered cars is growing. The GEE would
increase the demand for greener automobiles and usher in new
generations of conservational (smaller, less metal intensive, built
to last) and environmental (powered by clean and renewable energy)
SPV Transportation: Size Does Matter
We have now progressed
from gas guzzlers to convertible electric cars. The GEE would take
us one step further to the single-passenger electric vehicle
automobile is not needed to transport only one person. Significant
amounts of resources and energy would be saved in designing
one-passenger cars for work commutes. The benefits of one-seater
vehicles are many: smaller automobiles are more maneuverable in
congested traffic, easier to park, and generally less costly to
drive. Single-passenger vehicles would cost less, use up less
non-renewable resources in their manufacturing, and probably be more
than twice as energy efficient. Lower weight would also extend
their driving ranges.
There is a market for
SPVs as well as price, conservational, environmental, and traffic
incentives to minimize the size of cars. The new single-passenger
vehicles would be not only shorter, allowing twice as many cars in a
traffic lane, but also thinner, allowing two vehicles to drive
side-by-side within it.
At moderate and high
commuting speeds, SPVs would run staggered on different sides
of four-passenger car lanes, allowing twice the number of vehicles
within a given space as currently while respecting safe driving
distances and easing pressures on circulation. As they slow
down to approach intersections, stop signs, and red lights, or are
caught in traffic jams—where their congestion-reduction ability
would matter most—two SPVs should be able to run side-by-side
within current lanes, a given space packing in as much as three or
four times the number of vehicles it now does.
conservational and environmental cars would nearly quadruple the
current traffic capacity of roads. This could eliminate most of the
circulation problems that plague commuters on a daily basis in most
large cities around the world. Of course, it assumes that we do not
increase the total number of cars on the road. The GEE would not
lead to that if appropriate tax rates are set. It would make cars
generally more expensive, preventing their proliferation.
In fact, increasing
the number of vehicles on the road would defeat the purpose of
designing more conservational cars and result in even more
non-renewable resources being consumed. It would also undermine
environmental alternatives such as public transit, car pooling, and
On their own, SPVs
would yield significant conservational and environmental benefits.
Reducing the total number of vehicles on the planet could further
increase environmental gains but is likely to be politically
unpopular. In the short term, maintaining the status quo in terms
of number of cars on the road is probably the best policy as it
would allow governments to bring in the GEE with much less
resistance on the part of the general public.
Fourth Wave urban
environments will be drastically different. SPVs will mean clean
(emission free), quiet (electric motors can hardly be heard), and,
in many instances, traffic-jam free transportation in urban
Technical Issues Relating to SPVs
There are a number of
technical issues relating to SPV transportation. Car width
would have to be restricted if two of them are to fit within a
single lane. Vehicles would have to be properly designed to prevent
rollovers upon turning. Architectures would have to include such
things as swivel technology and low centers of gravity. Car
speed may have to be limited. Alternatively, cities could choose to
redraw some traffic lanes.
Trends for the Future
transportation would call for much higher quality vehicles,
ones that would be built to last for a long time and be more
repairable and upgradable. Some parts are already fairly standard
in today's cars—wheels, tires, batteries, mufflers, etc.—and
components like brakes can be refurbished. The used car
industry already exists. As such, the GEE would not call for
extreme changes, but it would refocus the sector.
Although advances will
continue to be made, we already have the technology necessary for
electric vehicles. What is currently missing is a market. The
green economic environment proposed here would create one.
How farfetched is all
of this? Since the first edition of this book was published, many
of the things discussed in it have started to happen. There are not
many single-passenger vehicles on the market at this point in time.
However, the electric automobile is in and sizes are decreasing.
The industry is increasingly talking about biocars,
vehicles having parts made with bioplastics and composites
produced from soy, wheat, canola, or sugar cane.
companies have already developed plant-based polyurethane foam for
seat cushions. Volvo claims to use renewable materials in
dozens of its car parts. Mercedes S-Class vehicles are also going
green, their bio-components tipping the scale at 43 kg per unit
(Stauffer, 2008, February 15). SPVs are not here yet, but the
automobile industry is definitely moving into greener fields.
the second half of 2008, the auto sector saw tremendous changes.
SUV sales dropped sharply. Major manufacturing companies shocked
analysts by suddenly deciding to close several SUV manufacturing
plants in the U.S. and Canada. Most automakers started
talking about either developing or producing electric cars and more
energy-efficient vehicles. Some have
models already on the
The Ready Market for SPVs
There is an existing
market for single-passenger electric cars: families that
already have two vehicles. Two multi-passenger long-distance fossil
fuel cars or Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are not needed for simple
urban commuting. The second one—if it is really needed—could
easily be an SPV.
Currently, most cars
making the daily work commute are four-passenger vehicles which
convey only one person. This way of getting around is highly
inefficient not only from a fuel perspective but also from a
non-renewable resource point of view. Two-car families are a ready
market for SPVs.
Other possible buyers
for the one-seater electric vehicle are single people. Instead of
purchasing a gasoline automobile, many of them would choose to buy a
lower cost electric car for commuting to work or school,
especially once the GEE makes vehicles pricier. They would rent a
gasoline automobile or a hybrid once in a while as necessary.
Remember that the GEE
would be revenue neutral, and that while cars would be more
expensive, people would have more money to spend.
Safety for All
The minivan and SUV
markets really took off on the safety issue: the bigger, the safer.
However, the real question is, safer for whom? Although they offer
more protection to their own drivers, they may not be better for the
rest of us. Much bigger vehicles are more dangerous to both other
drivers and pedestrians, at least in theory. Greater safety for all
lies in decreasing the average size of vehicles, not the opposite.
A lack of safety does
not stop pedestrians from crossing the streets or many people from
riding bicycles and motorbikes—which do not provide much
protection in collisions with cars. As such, a market for SPVs will
develop regardless of the safety issue.
Smaller cars are
often thought to be less safe for their own drivers. This is
likely true to some extent. However, design is a large component of
safety. Race cars are smaller, yet they provide higher protection
than your average automobile. Properly engineered SPVs could offer
a reasonable amount of protection. They would also provide much
safer city streets for everybody.
Fast-Tracking SPV Transportation
would bring in vehicles about 65% smaller than current
four-passenger cars. That would mean, in theory at least, a 65%
conservation of non-renewable resources—metals—a 65% reduction
in intermediate chemical use, and at least a doubling of fuel
resource-efficient, and more repairable one-passenger vehicles would
offer a number of cost savings. This should initially translate
directly into greater affordability compared to regular cars,
especially under the Green Economic Environment. Mass production
would give SPV transportation an even stronger competitive edge and,
in doing so, achieve massive conservational, environmental, and
To speed up the
development of the industry, governments and automobile
manufacturers could get together to design a uniform chassis for a
one-passenger car that would be mass-produced and used as common
architecture for all manufacturers in their first models.
Cooperation would lower development costs, enhance modularity and
reusability of chassis, and enable mass production even for the
resources would force on the industry efficiencies that would be
beneficial to both consumers and manufacturers. Standardization
could also occur internationally. Modular designs would create a
platform that is both conservational and environmental and do
so on a massive scale, worldwide.
GEE taxation on
non-renewable resources and stable high oil prices would be the
basis that would provide for steady and predictable growth of not
only the renewable energy sector but also SPV transportation.
Appropriate government support and industry cooperation would
eliminate the high development risks and insecure markets for
The consumer would be
happy, the industry would be happy, jobs in the new automobile
sector would be preserved, resources would be saved from building
much smaller vehicles, and energy efficiency would improve.
The demand for
electricity—which has the potential for being produced
cleanly—would increase. The markets for wind turbines, solar
panels, and other renewable energy technologies would take off.
Micro-producers would join in the frenzy, selling excess
electricity back to the grid and improving their own country's
balance sheet. The shift to electric vehicles in urban
transportation would decrease the demand for biofuels and lower
pressure on food prices, perhaps averting widespread instability and
a world hunger crisis.
would mean massive gains in resource conservation and energy
efficiency. Those would occur to a large extent in a
market-friendly manner. As necessary, regulations and
incentives—including tax breaks and rebates on
insurance—could be used initially to enable a quick takeoff for
A huge market for SPVs
would be in developed countries where they could provide an
alternative to many of the cars on the road today. Together with
double-passenger vehicles based on the same conservational and
environmental technology (DPVs), they could take over the bulk of
the market for cars.
Most countries around
the world cannot afford a North American style of transportation.
Neither can the planet. The question of transportation in the
developing world is highly complex. On the one hand, a
proliferation of cars around the globe would be disastrous. On
the other, the automobile is of great appeal to the growing
middle class of many countries.
significant part of transportation in the developing world is based
on smaller vehicles: gasoline rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters,
etc. A switch from fossil-fuel to electricity-based transportation
in their case would be a major improvement. Smog and greenhouse
gas emissions would be significantly reduced. The demand for
cleaner domestically-produced renewable energy would increase,
creating jobs in the local economy.
implemented GEE scheme would lead to gasoline rickshaws,
motorcycles, and scooters being replaced by their electric
equivalents. The technology already exists. Several companies
currently make battery-powered scooters for the North American
market. At present, electric rickshaws are being produced for many
countries around the world. Electric vehicle transportation could
already be a reality in many countries. What is missing is the
incentive structure to make it happen.
Together, China and
India host about one-third of the entire world population. Their
economies are some of the fastest growing today. Each has a growing
middle class. Under the most likely scenario, a significant
increase in the number of cars in these countries is probably
electric vehicles would represent a better option for developing
countries. Their lower cost, lesser use of metals, easier
maintenance, and smaller ongoing energy needs would provide both
affordability and environmental benefits. In comparison, fuel cells
would require more expensive technology and larger investments in
In March 2009, Tata
Motors (India) released a new gasoline sedan, the Nano, which costs
only about 100,000 rupees, or less than US$ 2,200. Although it has
very good fuel efficiency and low emissions, many believe that
it will spell disaster for the planet and the one-billion-people
country because it makes gasoline automobiles affordable to so many
people. The company is planning to expand to the European and U.S.
markets within the next couple of years, offering a version of the
Nano below US$ 7,000.
To cater to its
growing middle class, China will either import India's cheap
automobiles or follow suit with similar models. The country will
likely also want to take advantage of international markets. This
would also be disastrous for the planet. SPVs might be a better
alternative and would have huge potential sales in both the
developed and developing world.
The ready market for
SPV transportation is actually really, really big internationally.
One questions is, do we want a proliferation of gasoline vehicles in
the developing world as it seeks better living standards, or do we
want conservational and emission-free SPVs? A second one is, who
will take advantage of this opportunity first: North America,
Europe, Asia? A third one would be, once India and China start
delivering cheap gasoline cars to world markets, what are the
current leaders in the automobile sector (North America,
Europe, Japan, etc.) going to produce and sell, if not the next
generation of cars?
Tata Motors is
expected to release the Indica EV, a four-passenger electric
vehicle, in Europe in 2009 or early 2010! The North American
auto industry might have already lost that battle, being behind
developing countries in one of the biggest sector of growth for the
Copyright Waves of the Future, ©2010