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April, 2016:

Technical staff in mainland China to blame for Hong Kong electric bus prototype going up in flames: report

Compromised water sealing of battery casings led to short circuit in HK$3.8 million vehicle

A sudden fire that destroyed a HK$3.8 million prototype electric bus last year was caused by “operational errors” by mainland technical staff, who compromised testing procedures, an investigation has confirmed.

The locally designed bus, the city’s first, was part of a HK$40 million project funded by the government’s Innovation and Technology Fund for the Hong Kong Productivity Council to develop electric vehicle technologies.

The council partnered with Green Dynamic Electric Vehicle, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed China Dynamics (Holdings), which splashed out HK$20 million for the project and was granted the intellectual property rights to the technologies.

The council’s incident report stated that several Green Dynamic technical support staff members who conducted tests on the bus in Dongguan last October had kept the council in the dark about some performance test results.

“Some of the technical support staff … compromised the water sealing of the battery casings during performance tuning and inspection. Subsequent seepage of water into the compromised battery casings eventually led to short-circuiting,” the report said.

The bus was reduced to a charred wreck after it went up in flames at a parking site in Yuen Long last December, just after it had passed a road test and was ready for commercialisation.

While it was designed for Hong Kong’s winding roads, the vehicle was made on the mainland due to a lack of manpower and space to build it in the city.

The report ruled out vandalism and battery overcharging as possible causes.

A spokesman for the council said that although the prototype was destroyed in the fire, the testing and research and development work had already been completed by the end of November last year, meaning Green Dynamic can obtain the intellectual property rights for the acquired technologies.

“This is a very precious experience for us so we will pay more attention in monitoring the work of technical staff for other projects,” said Jonathan Ho, the council’s general manager for corporate communication and marketing.

China Dynamics’ chief investment officer Godfrey Mak Shiu-chung said originally they expected to roll out the electric bus to the Hong Kong market early this year at a market price of HK$5 million.

“Because of this accident, our plan has been delayed,” he said. “So far we have not received any orders. A lot of Hong Kong buyers told us they would wait for the investigative report first and see.”

Mak pledged they would not repeat the same mistake as the battery casings will be tightly sealed off preventing any water seepage.

The report made a series of recommendations, including installing devices to prevent unauthorised opening of the battery casings and automatic fire extinguishing systems in the compartments housing the battery casings.
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What is behind the diesel cars emissions scandal?

All 93 vehicles tested in Germany and UK exceeded EU-set limits on air quality and pollution in real-world situation

The air pollution scandal that hit front pages around the world last year with VW’s admission it had been cheating emissions tests has got much bigger.

A UK government-sponsored trial launched in the wake of the VW revelations has found that every single one of the diesel-fuelled vehicles tested had higher emissions of nitrogen oxide pollutants than permitted under EU laws. For some models emissions were 12 times the legal limit.

None of the 56 vehicles tested in Germany and 37 in the UK was found to have a defeat device aimed at artificially lowering its emissions under test conditions, such as those used by VW. But all were found to exceed the EU-set standards on air quality and pollution when driven in real-world situations. Clearly there are important questions for manufacturers.

So what is happening? Crucially, the higher emissions were found to be the result of engine management systems that are routinely used by manufacturers to improve the performance of their vehicles. One by-product is more polluting emissions.

Environmentalists say the result is not unexpected. “This confirms what experts have been saying for years: deadly emissions are far higher in the real world than in controlled tests in the lab,” said Oliver Hayes of Friends of the Earth.

“Governments say they are championing ‘real driving emissions’ but this is a smokescreen. These standards are far weaker than those that currently exist.”

This points to the inadequacy of current testing regimes, but it also reveals a much more alarming truth: that manufacturers are tuning their vehicles’ engines in a way that hurts all of us. Engine management systems have become standard across the industry, and these new tests make it clear that they are there for one purpose: to improve the performance of the car, even if that comes at the expense of those breathing in the air from their exhausts.

Diesel engines produce much higher levels of air pollutants than petrol-driven engines, although they produce less carbon dioxide. This has led EU member states to encourage drivers into diesel cars, reducing the impact of driving on climate change but vastly increasing the problem of air pollution.

The UK is one of the few EU countries that tax diesel at the same rate as petrol, as most countries skew their taxation levels to favour diesel (although tax parity still favours diesels because they do more miles per gallon).

It is ironic that the push for lower carbon dioxide emissions to combat climate change has led to higher air pollution. And the European commission has been slow to get to grips with the problem. A major announcement on air pollution in late 2013 failed to even mention diesel cars.

But the problem is now pressing, as new research is revealing the extent of the damage being done routinely to our health, particularly the majority of the world’s population who live in cities. About 7% of deaths are caused or contributed to by air pollution, according to the World Health Organisation, and the effects on people’s quality of life is even greater. Long a silent killer, air pollution is now being recognised for its devastating effects, particularly on small children and older people.

The question those breathing the pollution will be asking is whether governments are prepared to act.

San Francisco adopts law requiring solar panels on all new buildings

Tech capital is first major US city to require all new buildings of 10 storeys or under to have solar panels, reports BusinessGreen

San Francisco has this week passed landmark legislation requiring all new buildings under 10 storeys in height to be fitted with rooftop solar panels.

The city’s San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the new rule on Tuesday, making the metropolis the largest in the US to mandate solar installations on new properties.

Smaller Californian cities such as Lancaster and Sebastopol already have similar laws in place, but San Francisco is the first large city to adopt the new standard.

From January 2017 all new buildings in the city with 10 floors or fewer must have either solar PV or solar thermal panels installed. The measure builds on existing Californian state law which requires all new buildings to have at least 15% of their roof space exposed to sunshine, in order to allow for future solar panel use.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who introduced the legislation, said the new measure would put San Francisco at the forefront of the US fight against climate change.

“In a dense, urban environment, we need to be smart and efficient about how we maximise the use of our space to achieve goals such as promoting renewable energy and improving our environment,” he said in a statement.

Wiener is also working on legislation that will allow “living roofs” – which provide low-cost insulation, minimise storm flooding issues and provide new wildlife habitats – to also be eligible to meet the new requirements. The proposals are expected to be introduced in the coming weeks.

“This legislation will activate our roofs, which are an under-utilised urban resource, to make our city more sustainable and our air cleaner,” Wiener added.

San Francisco has a target to source 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and has emerged as one of the US’s leading clean tech hubs with a raft of Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs backing a host of green technology start-ups in the region

EU dropped climate policies after BP threat of oil industry ‘exodus’

Oil giant warned industry would pull out of EU if laws to cut pollution and speed clean energy take up were passed, letter obtained by the Guardian reveals

The EU abandoned or weakened key proposals for new environmental protections after receiving a letter from a top BP executive which warned of an exodus of the oil industry from Europe if the proposals went ahead.

In the 10-page letter, the company predicted in 2013 that a mass industry flight would result if laws to regulate tar sands, cut power plant pollution and accelerate the uptake of renewable energy were passed, because of the extra costs and red tape they allegedly entailed.

The measures “threaten to drive energy-intensive industries, such as refining and petrochemicals, to relocate outside the EU with a correspondingly detrimental impact on security of supply, jobs [and] growth,” said the letter, which was obtained by the Guardian under access to documents laws.

The missive to the EU’s energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, was dated 9 August 2013, partly hand-written, and signed by a senior BP representative whose name has been redacted.

It references a series of “interactions” between the two men – and between BP and an unnamed third party in Washington DC – and welcomes opportunities to further discuss energy issues in an “informal manner”.

BP’s warning of a fossil fuel pull-out from Europe was repeated three times in the letter, most stridently over plans to mandate new pollution cuts and clean technologies, under the industrial emissions directive.

This reform “has the potential to have a massively adverse economic impact on the costs and competitiveness of European refining and petrochemical industries, and trigger a further exodus outside the EU,” the letter said.

The plant regulations eventually advanced by the commission would leave Europe under a weaker pollution regime than China’s, according to research by Greenpeace.

BP said any clampdown would cost industry many billions of euros and so pollution curbs “should also be carefully accessed with close co-operation with the industrial sectors”.

Last year the EU’s environment department moved to limit the coal lobby’s influence on pollution standards, after revelations by the Guardian and Greenpeace about the scale of industry involvement.

The commission had previously allowed hundreds of energy industry lobbyists to aggressively push for weaker pollution limits as part of the official negotiating teams of EU member states.

The Green MEP Molly Scott Cato said that the UK’s robust advocacy of BP’s positions was a cause of deep shame, and illustrated how Brexit would increase the power of fossil fuel firms.

She said: “It reveals how the arm-twisting tactics of big oil seek to undermine the EU’s progressive energy and climate policies. BP’s covert lobbying, combined with threats of an exodus of the petrochemicals industry from the EU, are nothing short of blackmail.

“This document paints a disturbing picture of the degree to which global corporations subvert the democratic process, influence the commission and threaten the vital transition to a cleaner, greener Europe.”

A BP spokesman said that the letter was intended to “highlight the risk of ‘carbon leakage’, where EU policy to reduce carbon emissions may result in industry relocating outside the EU, rather than achieving any actual reduction in emissions. Avoiding this perverse outcome is of critical importance to climate policy.”

In his reply to BP, Oettinger said that his department was finalising an energy prices report and “your thoughts are very valuable in this context”.

Before the report’s publication, Oettinger’s team removed figures from an earlier draft which revealed that EU states spent €40bn (£32bn) a year on subsidies for fossil fuels, compared to €35bn for nuclear energy, and just €30bn for renewables. The commissioner’s office argues that the numbers were inconsistent and “not comparable”

Early in his tenure, Oettinger had been forced to back down on plans for a moratorium on deepwater offshore oil drills in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Within two years, he had become an industry champion, arguing that Europe was competitively disadvantaged by a reluctance to take offshore drilling risks.

Oettinger regularly hosts alpine retreats for government ministers, bankers and captains of industry. In 2013, these included executives from Shell, Statoil, GDF Suez, EDF, Alstom, Enel and ENI, although not BP.

A spokeswoman for Oettinger said: “When the Commission prepares formal legislative proposals, there is a full public consultation exercise in which all stakeholders can participate.

With the majority of the EU legislation referred to, Commissioner Oettinger was not the Commissioner in the lead.”

An alignment between the commission’s eventual climate proposals and BP’s positions was “unfound,” the official added.

In his reply to BP, Oettinger said that he shared the firm’s views on a guarantee for unlimited crude oil and gas exports being included in a TTIP free trade deal and welcomed more “thoughts” from the company.

Along with Shell, BP began lobbying for an end to the EU’s renewables and energy efficiency targets in 2011, but the scope of its lobby intervention went further.

In its letter, BP strongly opposed renewable energy subsidies, particularly in Germany, and a planned cap on certain biofuels which studies have shown to be highly-polluting.

Over the year that followed, an EU state aid decision on renewables went against Germany, while a cap on the amount of first generation biofuels that could be counted towards EU targets was also weakened.

Europe’s efforts to cut carbon emissions should be built upon market-based tools such as its flagship emissions trading scheme, BP said in its letter.

But EU proposals to label tar sands oil as more polluting than other oil – which could lead to additional taxes – risked companies “being penalised subjectively on the basis of adverse perceptions”, according to BP.

The tar sands proposal was vehemently opposed by the UK and the Netherlands, and the plan was eventually dropped in 2014.

Jos Dings, the director of the sustainable transport thinktank Transport and Environment said: “In case anyone doubted why Europe chose to treat all oil – regular and high polluting – the same, here’s the answer: Big Oil telling the commission that really its impossible to tell them apart.”

Lisa Nandy, the Labour’s shadow energy and climate secretary, called for the EU’s climate policies to be strengthened. “By working together with like-minded governments across Europe we can ensure that big companies cannot water down environmental safeguards,” she said.

BP recently topped a survey of the most obstructive company on climate change, and is increasingly a target for fossil fuels divestment campaigns.

Report reveals secret meeting by environmentalists to target Exxon, oil industry

Environmentalists backing a Big Tobacco-style government probe of oil companies plotted their strategy for targeting companies like ExxonMobil at a closed-door meeting in Manhattan earlier this year, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The report sheds new light on an evolving campaign against the fossil fuel industry that has drawn in several attorneys general who are now investigating ExxonMobil.

According to the Journal, the January meeting in Manhattan was a key moment and brought together several veteran environmental activists to discuss how to “establish in [the] public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm.”

Critics described the meeting as proof of “collusion” in the campaign against ExxonMobil.

That push has developed as several AGs — most recently in Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands — have launched their own investigations into claims that oil companies misled the public about the risks of global warming.

The company went to court Wednesday to try to block a subpoena by the Virgin Islands attorney general.

“The chilling effect of this inquiry, which discriminates based on viewpoint to target one side of an ongoing policy debate, strikes at protected speech at the core of the First Amendment,” the company’s court filing said, according to the Journal.

The newspaper reported that environmentalists want to encourage state prosecutors, as well as the Justice Department, to launch investigations.

“It’s about helping the larger public understand the urgencies of finding climate solutions,” Lee Wasserman, head of the Rockefeller Family Fund which hosted the January meeting, told the Journal. “It’s not really about Exxon.”

While the state investigations utilize different laws, they all aim to replicate the success of the federal government’s 1999 case against Big Tobacco, in which the industry was accused of misleading the public about smoking and nicotine risks.

Exxon representatives say the accusations against the oil giant are “laughable” and “not credible.”

Hong Kong electric company plans floating LNG terminal near Soko Islands

CLP Power says project will open city up to additional source of gas supply and help meet post-2020 fuel mix requirements

CLP Power is eyeing the eastern waters of the Soko Islands, off southern Lantau, for a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal that will enable it to tap more gas from international markets.

This will come nearly a decade after it shelved a land-based version of the project in the southern Sokos despite government approval. A 25-year gas deal with the mainland was signed instead.

The project will help it meet new requirements for half of the city’s electricity needs to come from natural gas after 2020.

CLP, which supplies Lantau, Kowloon and the New Territories, remains tight-lipped on details such as costs and tariff implications, but said the facility would provide the city with additional sources of gas at more competitive market prices and spread out price risks.

CLP’s gas is now piped from Central Asia via the Second West-East Gas Pipeline as part of the contract with the mainland and from the depleting Yacheng gas field near Hainan. As a result,it has little bargaining power over prices.

HK Electric, which supplies Hong Kong and Lamma, obtains Australian and Qatari gas via an LNG receiving terminal in Dapeng, Shenzhen.

“If we don’t have another source…we will have to continue to buy gas from the mainland and our bargaining power will remain weak,” said CLP senior director Edward Chiu On-tin.

The offshore facility, spanning less than a hectare in size, will likely handle about 30 to 50 carriers a year. LNG transferred to the terminal will be converted back into gas and piped to Black Point Power Station in Tuen Mun for use in power generation.

While 22 such terminals are already in operation worldwide, Chiu admitted such a project would be first for Hong Kong. “We will have to consult the Town Planning Board and the Marine Department” on planning and regulation matters, Chiu said.

The company will be submitting a project brief to the Environmental Protection Department in due course.

From there, an environmental impact assessment will be conducted, which will address issues such as impacts on the planned Soko Islands and Southwest Lantau marine parks. Chiu expected “temporary impacts” during the construction phase, but did not foresee any major ecological harm in the long-run as no land reclamation was required.

Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu said the project did indeed have a smaller footprint than the original land-based project, but posed the same environmental challenges.

“The main facility is located in key habitat used by the finless porpoise and undersea gas pipes are likely to pass through other marine parks around Lantau.”

WWF-Hong Kong’s Samantha Lee mei-wah said regasification – a process which involves pumping seawater to heat the LNG back into gas form – could disrupt fisheries. “This freezing water is discharged and the sudden reduction in seawater temperatures can harm marine life,” she said.

CLP says other locations are being considered, but the waters east of the Soko Islands will remain a “high priority” option.

Energy Advisory Committee member Dr William Yu Yuen-ping said the facility would provide Hong Kong with cheaper gas, but would likely be an expensive fixed asset with a long payback period.

The Environment Bureau said it would review the plan upon receiving CLP’s project proposal.
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Stricter air pollution rules for machinery agreed

Emissions from non-road mobile machinery are a significant source of air pollution, especially nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

The non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) directive – which dates back to 1997, but has been amended and extended several times since then – regulates emissions of the major air pollutants from diesel and petrol engines in a wide variety of off-road applications, including bulldozers, trains, chainsaws, larger inland ships and many other forms of machinery.

Despite the emission limits set by the NRMM directive, emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particle matter (PM) pollutants from this sector are still high and have grown in relative terms. This is explained by the steep increase in the number of non-road machines put into service and by the fact that the emission limits set for NRMM are less strict compared to those mandated for similar engines used by road vehicles.

In 2010, the NRMM sector was responsible for around 15 per cent of the total NOx emissions and 5 per cent of the total PM emissions in the EU. While the PM share is expected to decrease, the NOx share is expected to increase to nearly 20 per cent in 2020.

Against this background, in September 2014 the Commission proposed a new regulation to strengthen the emissions standards. According to the Commission’s impact assessment, the stricter standards would bring benefits of between €26.1 and 33.3 billion by 2040, while the costs would be in the range of €5.2 to 5.8 billion in the same time period.

Negotiations between the EU’s decisionmaking institutions resulted on 6 April in a deal on new pollution limits and an implementation timetable that is largely in line with the Commission’s original proposal. The main exception is a weaker emission limit for NOx from barges.

The new harmonised type-approval conditions, including emission limit values, for new engines installed in non-road mobile machinery will start to apply gradually from 2018 up to 2020 depending on the category of the engine.

Added to the agreement is the possibility of retrofit requirements for existing engines to reduce their emissions. The Commission is tasked to assess the possibility of establishing EU-wide rules in this regard by 31 December 2018.

Moreover, a review to establish whether further emissions reductions are needed is to take place by 31 December 2020, with a particular focus on barges and trains.

Environmental groups criticised the weaker rules for barges and the fact that no particle number (PN) limit had been adopted for diesel locomotives.

Julia Poliscanova, air pollution manager at Transport and Environment (T&E), said: “More diesel machines will now be required to clean up their act with diesel particulate filters. But diesel trains and inland barges shouldn’t be allowed to belch toxic fumes while the technology to clean up the emissions is available and routinely fitted to modern trucks.

Moving more goods and people by rail and water shouldn’t result in a trade off for higher air pollution.”

Regarding the possible retrofitting of existing diesel off-road machinery, Julia Poliscanova said: “The Commission should present an ambitious proposal to clean up existing trains, barges and construction machinery, which will continue to be used for decades.”

Diesel exhaust is carcinogenic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and diesel machines are a major local source of urban air pollution near some railway stations and construction sites. Every year air pollution causes more than 400,000 premature deaths and over 100 million sick days, costing society hundreds of billions of euro.

Before being finally adopted, the first-reading agreement will have to be confirmed by the Parliament and the Council, in accordance with the EU’s ordinary legislative procedure.

Christer Ågren

Sources: Council press release 168/16, 6 April, and T&E press release, 7 April 2016.