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March, 2016:

Hong Kong’s hybrid electric buses found to use more fuel than normal ones

‘The numbers don’t look satisfactory,’ says environment official

Hybrid electric double-decker buses actually guzzle more fuel than conventional buses because of Hong Kong’s hilly roads and hot weather, according to preliminary results from an ongoing trial.

Environmental Protection Department officials admitted the six hybrid buses, trialled over a year, were “not as efficient as they thought”. They pointed to heavy use of air conditioning systems, which accounted for up to 40 per cent of the energy used in the summer.

Although fuel performance was better in winter, the buses still used 3.4 per cent more fuel on average than regular buses.

“The numbers don’t look satisfactory right now,” assistant director for air policy Mok Wai-chuen told the legislature’s environmental affairs panel on Wednesday.

“Because buses in Hong Kong use a lot of energy in air conditioning, the benefits of the hybrid mode are not maximised. We are allowing [the manufacturer] time to improve designs … and will come back to report on this later.”

The government spent HK$33 million helping the three franchised bus companies acquire the six hybrids in a bid to explore less polluting vehicle options. The two-year trial began in November 2014.

Lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen questioned why none of the obvious issues were identified before the start of the trial and feared the experiment would end up being “futile”.

Separately, the department announced the start of its latest review of the city’s air quality objectives. These objectives were last tweaked in 2014.

It set up a working group to conduct the review and look into control measures “for other lesser air pollution sources” such as aviation emissions and volatile organic compounds, a major component of ozone.

The latest official data shows ambient concentrations of PM10, PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide dropping 21, 24, 13 and 31 per cent respectively from 2011 to 2015.

Roadside concentrations fell 26, 21, 19 and 33 per cent in the same period respectively. But harmful ozone pollution at both general and roadside stations is still on the rise.

The Clean Air Network urged the government to set the new objectives according to the World Health Organisation’s most stringent air quality guidelines, as several of the current objectives only met its interim targets, which it said did not provide adequate protection to public health.
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How to save a billion gallons of petrol

In four minutes, you can improve your car’s fuel economy by 4%.

Back in 2008, during one of the more memorable exchanges in the US Presidential race between then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain centred on offshore drilling — its value to the American nation, or lack thereof. Sen Obama took an unusual approach to the argument: He focused on tyre pressure. “Making sure your tyres are properly inflated, simple thing, but we could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tyres and getting regular tune-ups,” he said. “You could actually save just as much.”

Replied Sen McCain: “My opponent doesn’t want to drill, he doesn’t want nuclear power, he wants you to inflate your tyres.”

Obama’s claim — that simply maintaining proper tyre pressure could save as much fuel as the country stood to gain from offshore drilling — sent fact-checkers scurrying for answers. Could it be true? Could such a simple trick — managing four tyres’ PSI can be accomplished in about four minutes — really improve fuel economy by 4% and, collectively speaking, save a billion gallons of petrol a year? The answer, according to the US Government Accountability Office, is an emphatic yes. Notes a GAO memorandum dated 9 Feb 2007: “The Department of Energy’s designated economist on this issue indicated that, of the 130 billion gallons of fuel that the Transportation Research Board (TRB) estimated were used in passenger cars and light trucks in 2005, about 1.2 billion gallons were wasted as a result of driving on underinflated tires.”

The memo notes that in 1999, underinflated tyres contributed to the deaths of nearly 250 motorists and caused the injuries of some 25,000 more.

World’s first pure electric double deck buses hit streets of London


The Transport for London (TfL) has put into service five all-electric double deck buses thereby making London the first city in the world to have pure electric public transport.

Manufactured by Bye Europe, each of the pure electric vehicles measures 10.2 meters in length and features full air conditioning offering seating for 54 passengers with a further 27 standees spaces (total passengers: 81). The buses pack BYD Iron Phosphate batteries that deliver 345 kWh of power and can run for up to 190 miles of typical urban driving according to the internationally recognised SORT test conditions. Recharging takes just four hours and can be completed overnight using low cost off peak electricity and this is more than enough to handle most daily duty cycles, BYD says.

The buses were commissioned into service at a short ceremony on March 16 with London’s Deputy Mayor of Environment and Energy, Matthew Pencharz formally receiving the first bus from BYD Europe. London has become the first city to have on its revenue services routers, world’s first zero-emission, long-range, all-electric BYD Double-Decker buses.

Pencharz during the event that the running costs of these buses as well as some of the maintenance and operations cost are much lower than currently used buses. With zero-emission and zero-tailpipe-pollution, there is a huge environmental benefit specifically for London where pollution levels are relatively high compared to some similarly sized and populated cities around the world.

Leon Daniels, TfL’s Managing Director for Surface Transport, said: “BYD are a brilliant supplier. They lead the world in electric bus technology and we thank them for their efforts to make this new double decker a reality”.

As the plan goes, currently TfL is commissioning five of the all-electric double decker buses on Route 98 operated on behalf of TfL by Metroline. Route 98 was chosen given its status as a pollution hotspot in the city.

BDY Europe will be providing support to TfL and Metroline for installation of fast charging equipment at Metroline’s Willesden Bus Garage in north London. Additionally, BYD will provide driver training for the bus operators.

BYD, the world’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer, designed and developed the vehicles to Transport of London’s specifications. The five buses scheduled for deployment are more than 33 feet long and feature air conditioning, seats for 54 passengers with space for 27 standing passengers (81 total).

The buses are equipped with BYD-designed and built Iron-Phosphate batteries, delivering 345 kWh of power that come with a Industry-benchmark 12 year battery warranty, the longest electric battery warranty available. The batteries can power the bus for over 24 hours and up to 190 miles of typical urban driving on the service routes with a single daily recharging requiring only four hours. TfL plans to charge the buses overnight using low-cost, off-peak electricity to provide additional cost savings.

Huge health impacts from Balkan coal plants

New study quantifies the public health costs of polluted air from existing coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans at up to €8.5 billion per year.

New estimates of the huge health costs associated with air pollution from coal power plants in the Western Balkan region were published in March by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). The report provides an estimate of the total health damage from air pollution released from coal power plants in five countries: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo.

Currently home to 15 existing coal plants with an installed capacity of 8.1 gigawatt (GW), the region could see the installation of 24 new projects with 7.8 GW capacity. The estimated health costs of future coal plants are also shown in the report.

For its energy production, the region is heavily dependent on coal and lignite (the most polluting form of coal), and seven of the ten most polluting coal-fired power stations in Europe are located here (see table).

Table : The ten European coal power plants with the biggest emissions of sulphur dioxide (tonnes).

Table : The ten European coal power plants with the biggest emissions of sulphur dioxide (tonnes).

Air pollution is at levels that are up to two and a half times above national air quality safety limits and well beyond what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends. According to the WHO, the estimated economic cost of early deaths from air pollution in Serbia amounts to 33.5 per cent of its GDP; in Bosnia and Herzegovina 21.5 per cent, in Macedonia 19.9 per cent and in Montenegro 14.5 per cent. By comparison, the figures for Germany and the UK are respectively 4.5
and 3.7 per cent.

The study puts the costs to health of emissions from existing coal plants in the five Western Balkan countries at up to €8.5 billion per year. This estimate covers costs directly related to air pollution from coal-fired electricity plants, including from premature deaths, respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions, new cases of chronic bronchitis and lower respiratory problems, medication use and days of restricted activity due to ill-health, including lost working days.

A large proportion – more than half – of the health costs caused by air pollution from coal-fired power plants in the five Western Balkan countries is borne by the population in surrounding countries due to the transboundary effects of air pollutants being carried by the wind. According to HEAL, this shows that the EU’s current efforts to improve air quality in its member countries should not stop at its borders.

EU policy-makers should also put their weight behind demands for strong air quality and pollution control measures in its Western Balkan neighbours.

“Our new report quantifies the huge health costs associated with coal power generation in the Western Balkans, and uncovers the myth that coal is the cheapest form of energy,” says Anne Stauffer, Deputy Director of HEAL.

She continues: “Opting out of coal offers the prospect of a healthier and more prosperous future. The EU should encourage the change to a healthy energy future by significantly increasing financial support for renewables and energy savings – for example, under the pre-accession programme. It would improve air quality and help tackle climate change in both the Western Balkans and in the rest of Europe.”.

Christer Ågren

Source: HEAL press release 15 March 2016.

The report “The Unpaid Health Bill – How coal power plants in the Western Balkans make us sick” can be downloaded at:

Balance of power: The future for nuclear power in Hong Kong

Today the Post looks at the debate over how to meet Hong Kong’s future energy needs, in the first instalment of a two-part series five years after the Fukushima disaster

In 18 years an agreement under which Hong Kong imports a large chunk of its electricity from Guangdong province is scheduled to come to an end.

The power is generated at Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station in Shenzhen.

That station’s two pressurised water reactors produce 14 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Nearly 80 per cent of that goes to Hong Kong and the rest to Guangdong.

But 2034 will also mark the 40th year of operations at the 1,868 megawatt facility. That’s the minimum age at which an average nuclear power plant must be decommissioned and cleaned up, a costly and complex process that many nuclear powers around the world are only recently beginning to fathom.

As the world marks the fifth anniversary of Japan’s Fukushima disaster this week, energy experts and environmentalists are debating whether there is a nuclear future in Hong Kong beyond 2034.

Pro-nuclear voices believe fission is still the most reliable and stable “baseload” energy source for Hong Kong – one that emits virtually no carbon and is neither subject to the price swings of fossil fuels nor hindered by the supply constraints of renewable energy such as solar and wind.

Anti-nuclear groups believe the 2011 disaster gives reason enough for any country to phase out nuclear power. For Hong Kong and the densely populated Pearl River Delta region the possible impacts of a Fukushima-style breakdown are especially high.

Globally, the nuclear industry appears to be struggling. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 398 plants are now operating, down from 431 the year before Fukushima. With energy prices still bottoming out, competition from cheap coal, gas and subsidised renewables has muscled its way into the equation.

Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at London’s University of Greenwich, said because of these issues, the prospects of nuclear, especially in America and Europe, are being limited.

In East Asia, nuclear power’s future is unclear post-Fukushima. As China and South Korea look to build more reactors, Taiwan’s new government has set a policy of phasing out nuclear by 2025.

Thomas said: “The cost of nuclear and renewables is cost neutral now. But while the cost curve for renewable energy is down, the one for nuclear will only go up.”

Even in Hong Kong the gap in unit cost between nuclear and the likes of coal and gas has widened.

Thomas also pointed to the cost of disposing of spent nuclear fuel “waste” and decommissioning plants. For example, despite a pledged permanent waste facility for Daya Bay’s spent fuel rods, they are stored in a temporary facility a few kilometres from the plant, sparking safety concerns.

“Governments don’t care too much about the decommissioning of plants or the cost of waste disposal because it so far down the line, but in the end, consumers will have to pay,” said Thomas.

CLP, the Hong Kong power company supplied by Daya Bay, said the plant included the charge for spent nuclear fuel and the cost of station decommissioning in the future, “with the intention that future consumers will not pay for today’s consumption”.

Hong Kong’s Environment Bureau remains tight-lipped on anything electricity-related beyond 2025. In an interview with the Post last November, Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing said the government would maintain an “open attitude” to nuclear after the Daya Bay contract ends.

Last year, the government announced that half of its power needs after 2020 would come from locally generated natural gas, with an unchanged 25 per cent from nuclear power.

A spokesman for CLP said the reactors at Daya Bay were, like most others, designed to last 40 years, but the life of most modern reactors could be extended up to around 60 years.

“Given that we still have 18 years to go to 2034, it is too early to comment on its operating life or nuclear power purchase beyond that point,” he said.

The company said the cost of nuclear was relatively stable since a large portion of it covered construction and only a small portion covered cost of nuclear fuel.

An Environment Bureau spokesman said importing power from the mainland grid remained a feasible option in the long-term. But he would not comment on specific details as it would “jeopardise” the government’s position and consumers’ interests amid discussions with the city’s two power suppliers on a new regulatory framework after 2018.

He said a study would be commissioned to look at how interconnection between the mainland’s and Hong Kong’s grids could be strengthened as well as that between the existing grids in the city.

Energy economist Dr William Yu Yuen-ping, a member of the government’s Energy Advisory Committee, said nuclear would most likely remain in the fuel mix, being the practical choice.

“From a perspective of energy policy, nuclear’s function as baseload power source will give Hong Kong impetus to keep nuclear in the mix [after 2034],” Yu said, who also heads the World Green Organisation environmental group.

Yu doubted there would be enough renewable energy, with the unpredictability of sunlight and wind speeds, to fill the shortfall without the city having to increase its reserve capacity.

He also doubted that natural gas could replace it, given its volatile prices.

Dr Luk Bing-lam, who chairs the Hong Kong Nuclear Society, an academic association that champions “nuclear literacy”, said another factor for Hong Kong to consider would be the mainland’s expansion in nuclear capacity, which the central government aims to double by 2020.

Luk said: “China will be using more nuclear so if Hong Kong doesn’t, we will be bearing all the risks but not reaping any of the benefits.”

If Daya Bay was headed for decommissioning, Luk urged the government to make a decision soon on whether or not nuclear would continue to be a part of Hong Kong’s future fuel mix.

“Competition for nuclear with other Chinese cities will heat up,” Luk said.

“Our position will get weaker as more time passes.”

He suggested that the government and CLP could consider tapping into nuclear from four reactors at the neighbouring Ling Ao plant, which – unlike Daya Bay – CLP does not have a stake in.

Greenpeace Hong Kong argues there is no rationale for continuing nuclear in Hong Kong’s fuel mix given the dangers of a Fukushima-style collapse near a densely populated region.

They also point to the dubious safety standards and speed of construction of mainland nuclear plants. As many as 39 reactors, spread across Guangdong province could be up and running within close proximity to the city in the next few decades.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Frances Yeung Hoi-shan urged the government to boost efforts into promoting energy efficiency and to incentivise using renewables. “Hong Kong should go nuclear-free by 2034,” she said.

But how difficult would it be for a city with such a narrow portfolio of fuel choices to ween itself off nuclear as the nation supplying it with nuclear continues to boost the share of atomic energy in its fuel mix?

Yeung pointed to the example of Seoul, South Korea, a city of 10 million which, through tough action by its municipal government has been able to promote more decentralised generation, more renewable energy production and energy sharing schemes, to reduce dependency on nuclear energy from power plants across the country.

This flies in the face of the national government’s policy, which is commits it to increasing the number of nuclear reactors from 24 by the end of 2015 to 26 by 2030.

“Hong Kong officials keep saying everything is too difficult, too expensive,” said Yeung.

“But the problem is there is no perseverance and no innovation. This is something that requires a vision, political leadership, creativity. We must also make use of the autonomy we have in setting our energy policy.”
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Volvo sells 11 plug-in buses to Belgian city

volvo electric bus

Volvo has won an order for 11 plug-in hybrid buses from the city of Namur in Belgium, the largest order to date for the company’s electrified buses. The buses will run on electric power within the city’s new zero-emissions zone.

Public transport authority TEC, which transports more than 250 million passengers per year, is also buying two automated chargers from ABB.

TEC is buying the bus system as a turn-key solution. Volvo will be responsible for maintaining both the vehicles and the charging stations. The new e-buses are scheduled to go into service towards the end of 2016.

Volvo’s 7900 Electric Hybrid has an electric range of about 7 km. The batteries are fast-charged in a few minutes at end stops. The company estimates that the e-buses can be powered by electricity for up to 70% of operating time, and will deliver 60% lower energy consumption than a legacy diesel bus.

volvo electric bus 2

ABB’s bus charging system uses an inverted pantograph, and features a modular design offering charging power of 150 kW, 300 kW or 450 kW.

“Electric bus systems are cost-efficient solutions for cities to reduce the problems of poor air quality and noise. Together with ABB, Volvo has a complete and competitive offer for cities around the world that want to switch to a sustainable public transport system,” said Håkan Agnevall, President of Volvo Buses

China Cuts Coal Use for Second Year in a Row – But can its numbers be trusted?

The announcement yesterday that China decreased its coal consumption for the second year in a row raises hope that the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter might peak its emissions years earlier than it promised ahead of the Paris climate talks, experts said yesterday.

Year-on-year decreases in consumption in 2014 and 2015 show China on a trajectory to meet its pledge to cap emissions by 2030—a promise that helped make a global climate deal possible in the French capital last year.

“It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue, although it is very much in line with the government’s overall goals to peak its CO2 emissions, to transition from heavy industry to services and other low-carbon industries and to fight air pollution,” said Barbara Finamore, China program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The nation’s coal use fell 3.7 percent last year compared with 2014, when it dropped 2.9 percent from its peak in 2013, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

The drop stems from an economic slowdown and from a reordering of the Chinese economy away from the heavy industry that helped it industrialize. Last year, the service industry accounted for 50 percent of gross domestic product for the first time this century. And while a share of that energy- and carbon-intensive production will likely relocate abroad, much of it reflects a drop in domestic demand related to China’s infrastructure needs having been met, said Finamore.

She said the decrease is also a testament to China’s effort of phasing in clean energy policies in earnest three years ago.

“2013 is the year when China really declared war on pollution,” she said. The government established a pollution control plan in urban areas that year, introduced carbon-trading pilot projects and mandated reductions in coal use.

While yesterday’s announcement establishes a downward trend in coal consumption, it is set against the backdrop of last year’s revelation that China had been underestimating its own coal consumption since 2000. An energy census conducted in 2013 using more comprehensive methods than previous surveys showed that China consumed 17 percent more coal in 2012 than previously estimated.

“This is going to be one of the problems with China in particular,” said Sarah Ladislaw, energy and national security program director for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “What baseline are we talking about?”

Accounting uncertainties

Improving the integrity and transparency of China’s data is necessary if the world is to have confidence in China’s future pledges toward international climate efforts, she said. The Paris Agreement requires a review of implementation in 2018 and invites countries to revise their post-2020 reduction pledges in 2020.

“If everybody is going to be trying to increase ambition based off of Paris—which is clearly the objective—what the underlying assumptions are of what your emissions were going to be or what your baseline number is, is really, really important,” said Ladislaw. “And in China, that is recognizably not reliable information.”

But Ladislaw and others say that last year’s discovery of the error is itself evidence that Chinese data is improving.

Ranping Song, developing country climate manager for the World Resources Institute, said he has greater confidence in China’s report that it has reduced coal use for two years because it disclosed the previous underreporting.

The two-year trend is significant, he said.

“I think it’s an indicator of China’s economic structure is transitioning, and a strong willingness to fight air pollution is much more likely to be a long-term trend rather than just a one year” decline, he said.

China’s drop in energy intensity is the result in part of energy efficiency improvements, he said. The National People’s Congress is due to consider its next five-year plan in March, he said, and if it continues those trends, China will be “well-positioned to implement its Paris commitments.”

Also yesterday, the Chinese government announced that it has moved 1.8 million workers away from the coal and steel sectors to reduce excess capacity. The move shows how quickly an authoritarian government can pivot its economy, especially when it retains control of core industries.

But some questions persist about yesterday’s report. A shift to higher-quality—and higher-emitting—coal may have counteracted the carbon-related benefits of the overall reduction in coal use.

And increases in China’s oil and gas use might have offset the dip in whole or in part.

“What is clear is their economy is slowing, they don’t need to use as much coal, the enormous upsurge in coal use was prompted by very high industrial growth, and the same industries—which were very energy-intensive—have either contracted or stopped growing entirely,” said Derek Scissors, who focuses on China at the American Enterprise Institute.

Chinese industry declining

China will peak its emissions long before 2030, he said. It’s even possible that it has already, though China has not said when its emissions will decline in absolute terms.

But the days of exploding Chinese emissions rates are now over, Scissors said.

“If they had made that Paris commitment back in Copenhagen—where they weren’t at all willing to make it—it would have been a huge deal,” he said, referring to the 2009 climate summit in the Danish capital. “This is all five years too late to be interesting.”

With coal use down and green spending still steady for the time being, China may claim to be an environmental champion, Scissors said.

That may be more than the world’s second-highest emitter can do. U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern is in China through tomorrow to meet with counterparts on the Paris deal and to discuss “bilateral cooperation on climate change, international climate change goals for 2016, and U.S. and Chinese domestic policies to address climate change.”

But while China can point to its coal numbers and other developments, Stern is likely to field questions on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to delay implementation of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan—a pillar of the United States’ Paris pledge.

And that’s not the only question Stern’s counterparts may have, said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.

“God knows, everybody is asking, ‘What if there’s a Republican administration? What happens to the U.S. [pledge]?’” he said. “So those questions are being asked on both sides.”

The Paris Agreement has provisions that are designed to boost the transparency of carbon reporting and accounting, though developed and developing countries start out with different levels of obligations that then converge over time.

Scissors said that China is unlikely to improve its transparency on any issue because of an international agreement.

“They consider information control a core element of the party’s grip on power,” he said.

What matters is whether the Communist Party decides that increasing disclosure on energy and environment issues is in its best interest, he said, adding, “I think there is some suggestion of that.”