The not-so-distant future of driving will be first increasingly semi-autonomous and then fully automated, as technology to build self-driving cars gains traction, promising both safer driving and lighter-weight vehicles that save on gas.
The development of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) will first see some seemingly innocuous changes in the way we drive—from autonomous driving in traffic jams, parking and lane-changing assistance on highways and pedestrian detection cameras to predictive emergency braking. Essentially, the first semi-autonomous steps will free up hands to so a bit of illegal texting on mobile phones and keep us alert to avoid traffic accidents.
Audi's ADAS is getting increasingly personalized, with advanced systems taking into account how an individual driver operates, assessing his or her driving patterns and driving history. (Related article: Clarifying the Clean Energy Innovation v Deployment Debate)
In its parking assistance, Audi is working to be able not only to alert a driver to available parking spots in congested urban areas, but also to add a Big Brother element that would let a driver know when someone else’s parking meter has expired so they can have the car ticketed.
And if you aren’t paying attention, this advanced human-machine interface technology will snap you back into focus. When that fails, an adaptive cruise-control (ACC) system could be put into effect to keep drivers safe. ( Continue… )
Sales of the Nissan Leaf roared to life in March, breaking the record for sales of electric vehicles in a month that may turn out to be the industry's best yet.
"[I]t’s looking like a record-breaking month for plug-in sales," wrote Genevieve Cullen, vice president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, a Washington-based advocacy group, in an e-mail. "The numbers show a growing, robustly competitive market, in part because of the increasing number of options that manufacturers are offering."
It's a notable jump for electric vehicles, but less significant in the broader automotive market.
Last month, Nissan sold 2,236 Leafs, a 286 percent increase over March 2012. To put that in perspective, analysts estimate total March 2013 car and truck sales reached nearly 1.5 million.
"To sell a couple thousand in a month, it’s a drop in the bucket," said Cosmin Laslau, an analyst at Lux Research, a Boston-based research and advisory firm. "I don't mean to dismiss it entirely, but the bigger question is: How do you get that number from 2,000 to 200,000?"
One way to do it is to lower prices – a strategy that seems to be working for Nissan. Electric car batteries are expensive and the company has moved manufacturing plants to the US in an effort to make the Leaf cost-competitive. The March sales numbers reflect the first full sales month for the new, lower-priced Nissan Leaf 2013. ( Continue… )
Exxon Mobil dispatched more than 100 responders to a community in Arkansas to address a release from its Pegasus pipeline system. So far, the company said it has managed to recover thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil and water from last week's spill. Though no major waterways were said to be polluted from the spill, the Environmental Protection Agency categorized the incident as a major release. The accident comes roughly two weeks before U.S. State Department officials head to Nebraska to vet public comments on the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Critics of the project, however, got in line early following the Arkansas spill.
In its latest update, Exxon said it had 15 vacuum trucks, 33 storage tanks and 120 employees in Mayflower, Ark., responding to a release from the Pegasus pipeline system. The company said around 12,000 barrels of oil and water were recovered, boom was deployed and a claims hotline was already established. In response to the incident, the company said nearly two dozen homes were evacuated, though no oil has managed to migrate to nearby Lake Conway.
Late last month, U.S. pipeline safety regulators recommended Exxon pay a $1.7 million fine for a 2011 spill from its Silvertip pipeline into the Yellowstone River in Montana. About 1,500 barrels of crude oil spilled from that release, which was said to be tied to river scour. The government said in that case that Exxon (NYSE: XOM) didn’t take seasonal flooding, erosion and river scour into Silvertip safety considerations. No cause was indicated yet for the Arkansas release. (Relative article: Keystone XL – Why Protestors Should be Focusing on a Much Bigger Issue) ( Continue… )
Tesla Motors announced late Sunday it expects to report a profit for the first time in the electric carmaker's 10-year history. Meanwhile, Fisker Automotive, its main competitor, may be careening toward bankruptcy.
The contrasting narratives are not unusual in an electric car industry marked by highs and lows. Fisker shut down production of its plug-in hybrid Karma last November after its battery manufacturer declared bankruptcy. It has struggled, and failed, to restart production of the luxury sedan ever since.
Tesla is no stranger to hiccups either. A calamitous February test drive by a New York Times reporter created a public relations headache. The ensuing spat between Tesla and the Times raised questions over the ability of the Model S battery to perform in cold weather – a sensitive topic for an industry that has worked to assuage public concerns about the battery range of electric cars.
But Tesla rolled with the punches and has suffered fewer blows than its rival. It expected to sell 4,500 Model S cars in the first quarter of 2013, but the company announced late Sunday it sold 4,750 units. Shares of Tesla stock shot up 16 percent in trading Monday. The success is a departure from the last three months of 2012 when the company reported a $75 million loss. ( Continue… )
France’s Total SA (NYSE: TOT) will sell its 49% stake in its Canadian oil sands project to Suncor Energy Inc. for $500 million, netting the French oil giant a $1.65 billion loss on the beleaguered project.
Total would have had to spend another $5 billion (at least) on the Alberta oil sands Voyageur Upgrader project over the next five years—an investment that cannot be justified according to its executives.
The project is beleaguered by increasing labor costs, a shortage of labor and the falling prices of Canadian heavy crude against rising US oil production. Profit margins have narrowed to the extent that the project is no longer economically feasible.
The sale to Canada’s Suncor (NYSE: SU)—from which Total purchased the project in 2010--and the resulting loss hasn’t affected Total shares to any significant extent as of the time of writing. These net losses won’t be reflected until Total releases its first quarter 2013 results. ( Continue… )
Resource limits are invisible, so most people don’t realize that we could possibility be approaching them. In fact, my analysis indicates resource limits are really financial limits, and in fact, we seem to be approaching those limits right now.
Many analysts discussing resource limits are talking about a very different concern than I am talking about. Many from the “peak oil” community say that what we should worry about is a decline in world oil supply. In my view, the danger is quite different: The real danger is financial collapse, coming much earlier than a decline in oil supply. This collapse is related to high oil price, and also to higher costs for other resources as we approach limits (for example, desalination of water where water supply is a problem, and higher natural gas prices in much of the world).
The financial collapse is related to Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) that is already too low. I don’t see any particular EROEI target as being a threshold–the calculations for individual energy sources are not on a system-wide basis, so are not always helpful. The issue is not precisely low EROEI. Instead, the issue is the loss of cheap fossil fuel energy to subsidize the rest of society.
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If an energy source, such as oil back when the cost was $20 or $30 barrel, can produce a large amount of energy in the form it is needed with low inputs, it is likely to be a very profitable endeavor. Governments can tax it heavily (with severance taxes, royalties, rental for drilling rights, and other fees that are not necessarily called taxes). In many oil exporting countries, these oil-based revenues provide a large share of government revenues. The availability of cheap energy also allows inexpensive roads, bridges, pipelines, and schools to be built. ( Continue… )
In the energy sector, there are few topics that generate more debate today than the relative merits/demerits of fracking. To see just how strongly-held yet evenly-divided opinion is, check out this online debate moderated by The Economist and sponsored by Statoil (NYSE: STO).
The question is framed simply: “Do the benefits derived from shale gas outweigh the drawbacks of fracking?” Writing in defense of the “pro” position was Amy Myers Jaffe, the Executive Director for Energy and Sustainability at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California Davis. Writing in opposition was Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club.
The final tally of the debate: 51% voted “No”, while 49% voted “Yes”.
Honestly, I lean more towards the “Yes” side of the ledger. While fracking raises significant concerns, I believe that they can be managed — though it’s up to us as engaged citizens to ensure that the powers-that-be fully hold accountable those who participate in fracking activities to the highest standards. ( Continue… )
The federal government proposed new standards Friday that further limit the amount of sulfur in gasoline. Compared with previous reductions, Friday's proposal is slight. But many say it's enough to increase the price Americans pay at the pump.
"New requirements, new regulations are going to drive prices up," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, a gas price analysis website. "This isn’t the biggest change but it will cost motorists."
The jump could be as high as 9 cents in some places, according to the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade association for the oil and gas industry.
"Consumers care about the price of fuel, and our government should not be adding unnecessary regulations that raise manufacturing costs, especially when there are no proven environmental benefits," Bob Greco, director of API's downstream group, said in a statement Friday. "We should not pile on new regulations when existing regulations are working.” ( Continue… )
The production of oil from Western Canada is expanding to the point that existing pipeline capacity is overwhelmed. Canadian pipeline company Enbridge aims to get its Northern Gateway project built for exports from Canada's west coast. TransCanada, meanwhile, anticipates crude oil deliveries will expand from Canada to southern U.S. refineries by way of the Keystone XL pipeline. Expanding oil production from North America, however, may be too much for pipelines to handle and suppliers will need to look to more-expensive rail to get their oil to markets.
New York-based brokerage company ITG estimates that Western Canadian oil production should by 2025 reach 5.7 million barrels per day. The Bakken formation in North Dakota, meanwhile, is producing record-levels of oil, hitting the 770,000 bpd mark on average for December. Production there has doubled between 2010 and 2012 and the state is behind only Texas in terms of oil. ITG says that Canadian oil developments alone should double by the middle half of the next decade and oil sands should about for the bulk of the overall growth. (Related article: Go to the Source - How to profit from Gazprom’s Crumbling Hegemony)
The Association of American Railroads states that nearly a quarter of a million carloads of crude oil traveled on the U.S. rail system in 2012. For the week ending March 16, AAR said deliveries by rail of petroleum products in the United States was up 58.3 percent when compared to the same week in 2012. That’s because, in the United States, there's not enough pipeline capacity to get oil to refineries. In part to accommodate the boom, the state just recently broke ground on a new 20,000 bpd refinery, which should take less than two years to complete. (Related article: Why the High Oil Prices if Supplies Really are Abundant?)
A U.S. State Department draft review of the planned Keystone XL found that rail deliveries should be able to "transport all incremental Western Canadian and Bakken crude oil production to markets if there were no additional pipeline projects approved." AAR, for its part, said it expects crude oil deliveries to pass 600,000 bpd yet this year. While historically rail transport is more expensive, it takes a train about 90 hours round trip from Bakken to the southern U.S. coast versus 40 days by pipeline. ( Continue… )
The world spent $1.9 trillion in energy subsidies in 2011. It was not money well spent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The subsidies reinforce inequality by disproportionately benefiting the wealthiest, largest consumers of energy, according to a report released Wednesday by the global economic organization. Eliminating them would ease budgetary pressures on cash-strapped governments and slow global carbon emissions, the report finds.
"Subsidies cause overconsumption of petroleum products, coal, and natural gas, and reduce incentives for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy," the report reads. "This over-consumption in turn aggravates global warming and worsens local pollution."
Eliminating energy tax subsidies worldwide would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 4-1/2 billion tons – a 13 percent reduction, the IMF study found. ( Continue… )