Too Much Climate & Too Many Cars for China?

Too Much Climate & Too Many Cars for China?

Tim Hughes heard about Australia devastating floods while in China and noted that the world’s largest country  – now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases  – is seriously worried about its climate, pollution, water supplies and also its international reputation. Meanwhile, Singaporean-Australian businessman William Tien is helping write the next chapter of automotive history, with his silicon battery technology mirroring the way companies assemble computers in China for sale globally.

John Mangan in The Age (16 January 2011):

FROM an unassuming office in South Melbourne, Singaporean-Australian businessman William Tien plans to help write the next chapter of automotive history.

After a century of hopes and promises, electric cars are set finally to establish themselves as realistic alternatives to petrol-burning vehicles, and Mr Tien’s Alpha company has licensed a unique silicon-based battery technology for a Chinese-built car, the Lujo.

Australians bought 1,035,574 motor vehicles last year, – up 10.5 per cent, or 98,246 vehicles, compared with 2009.

Mr Tien, whose background is in financial services and information technology, wants a modest slice of that action. He has three Lujos scheduled to undergo Australian compliance testing at the end of February. After that, he says, the car will go on sale for less than $25,000.

It will certainly be a cheap alternative compared with other electric vehicles, including the I-MiEV by industry leader Mitsubishi, which became available last year on lease plans that cost more than $60,000. Mitsubishi has 110 cars on the road in Australia at the moment and expects to double that number this year.

Prefer a supercar? The American 212km/h Tesla Roadster went on sale here last week for $206,000. Nissan also has an electric car, the Leaf, due for release this year. EDay, a new Australian company, plans to have a $10,000 Chinese-built car with a top speed of 80km/h on the road by the middle of the year.

Blade Electronic Vehicles, based in Castlemaine, has been pulling the insides out of small Hyundais and inserting its own electric motors and batteries for four years. Founder Ross Blade and his team have sold 35 Blade Electrons to a mixture of government and private customers, and have a new model scheduled for this year, the Blade Runner, a two-seater that doubles the range from about 100 kilometres to about 200 kilometres.

An Electron costs about $45,000, or $32,000 if you lease the batteries. The new Blade Runner will cost $55,000 or $32,000 with leased batteries.

While Mr Tien promises his Chinese-built cars will be price-competitive with similarly sized conventional vehicles, Mr Blade joins established manufacturers in lamenting a lack of government support for the technology: ”Every other developed country on the planet is encouraging development of electric vehicles by offering substantial subsidies.”

Andrew McKellar, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief, says there is ”a legitimate role for some sort of time-limited consumer incentive” for low-emission vehicles, including electric cars.

He supports a ”cleaner-car rebate” the federal government has proposed, arguing that it should particularly target low-emission cars. ”The proposed rebate would be for $2000, which is probably on the skinny side,” he says.

Skinny indeed. Low-emission cars in France get a $6680 subsidy. US electric cars qualify for a sales tax deduction of up to $7600. Japanese cars receive a large subsidy, based on the price difference between the electric car and its nearest petrol equivalent.

After price, ”range anxiety” is the greatest issue for potential electric car owners, as recharging a battery can take eight hours.

ABC science pundit and New Inventors judge Bernie Hobbs, who bought her Blade Electron IV six months ago, is a satisfied customer. ”As a science broadcaster I’ve been banging on about the environment for the best part of 10 years. I couldn’t bear the thought of buying another petrol car.”

Her electric car drives, she says, like a small automatic. ”If you usually drive more than 100 kilometres a day, forget it. My car is not for you. But I’m usually driving, at most, 50 kilometres. You plug it in overnight, charge it up at the off-peak rate on 100 per cent green power. It’s no inconvenience until your girlfriend forgets to plug it in overnight!”

Mitsubishi corporate communications head Lenore Fletcher says ”fast chargers” that restore half a battery’s power in 15 minutes will be rolled out in South Australia this year.

”That’s going to be a whole different ball game,” she says. ”We’ll see them popping up in shopping centres and workplaces.” As for price, Ms Fletcher says the technology may well develop like other consumer electronics. ”Look at plasma TVs. Ten years ago they cost $20,000. Now you can get one for under $800.”

Mr Tien is also inspired by the consumer electronics revolution. His buying of car bodies used for a Chinese petrol-engine car and inserting of his company’s battery technology mirrors the way companies assemble computers in China for sale globally.

The inventor-businessman is excited about expanding into the vehicle industry. ”I love cars and I’m interested in anything that’s green.’


China powers ahead to cut carbon emissions by 2020

Tim Hughes in the Courier-Mail (17 January 2011):

WE have had a terrible reminder of just how disastrous weather events can be. I watched the events of last week from China, where I was attending an investment conference.

While the two might appear to be quite disconnected events, in fact I sat through four days of presentations where climate change, energy efficiency targets and reduced carbon emissions were mentioned in every single session.

What science is telling us is the frequency and severity of extreme climate events will increase as the planet warms.

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and it is seriously worried. Worried about its climate, pollution, water supplies and also it’s international reputation.

Without waiting for the rest of the world, it has voluntarily adopted a target to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced per unit of GDP by 2020, by 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 levels.

But it is a demanding target and will require some very major changes in energy use in China. It is also likely to have profound impacts for Australia.

Over the past five years China has already reduced its emissions per unit of GDP by around 15 per cent. But the easy gains from closing down terribly inefficient old power stations and the like have already been had.

The new five-year plan has not yet been finalised but is expected to seek a targeted further 15 to 20 per cent improvement in carbon efficiency.

The problem is that China, like us, it is very much a coal dependent economy.

Despite having the world’s fastest growing wind, hydro and nuclear programs, none of these can be expected to significantly help China meet its target.

Rather, the most likely solution to China’s carbon problem is lying in deep coal beds in central Queensland and off WA’s North-West Shelf natural gas.

Per unit of electricity generated, gas produces roughly half the carbon dioxide of coal.

That said, the magnitude of China’s challenge is, if it was to meet its target by switching to gas, there is not enough readily available to do it.

The good news for Australia and for Queensland is, while we dominate China’s coking coal imports, we only export a relatively small amount of thermal coal to China. But when it comes to gas, we have projects in spades ready to go.

Last week’s go-ahead from Santos, following on from BG’s Curtis project, is probably just a taste of things to come.

From what I heard in Beijing, the Shell/PetroChina project cannot be far behind.

Already Gladstone is on its way to becoming an energy superpower, primarily driven by a world becoming concerned about climate risk.

Tim Hughes is a director of Value Capital


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