Originally published at EVobsession by Zachary Shahan.
Electric Vehicles 2015
The following are electric cars that are for sale today in the US or are supposed to be for sale at some point in 2015.
The first prices listed are base prices before the federal tax credit, and in parenthesis are prices after the federal tax credit (normally $7,500, but often less than that if the cars aren’t 100% electric cars).
Other tax credits and rebates potentially available in your city or state (such as the $2,500 California EV rebate or $5,000 Georgia EV tax credit) are not included.
Range and MPGe/MPG data come from the EPA.
Check these electric cars out and go test drive some this weekend!
The BMW i3 is BMW’s first 100%-electric car built electric from the ground up. It is part of BMW’s “born electric” i series. It’s price puts it somewhat in the middle of the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S.
Despite looking a bit bulky, the BMW i3 is the lightest electric car on the market, thanks to its carbon fiber body. It’s a smooth & sweet drive. Compared to BMW’s overall sales, the i3 is selling very well, making it clear that BMW is one of the auto-manufacturing pioneers in the electric vehicle space. Read my full BMW i3 review here.
Chevy Spark EV
The Chevy Spark EV is a low-priced 100%-electric car that has gotten good reviews (compared to its gasoline cousin, that is) but is only available in a few markets. The Chevy Spark EV was the first car on the market that could use the SAE Combo Fast Charging system.
Ford Focus Electric
The Ford Focus Electric is Ford’s only 100%-electric car has long been overpriced and simply unable to compete with competitors like the Nissan Leaf. It has long been priced considerably higher than the Nissan Leaf — which is also more widely available — but Ford finally knocked the price down by several thousand dollars in recent months… but with very little broadcasting of the price drop. Needless to say, it still isn’t selling nearly as well as the Leaf.
The Fiat 500e has gotten great reviews. However, the head of Fiat apparently hates electric cars (I know, crazy) and is only producing the 500e in extremely limited quantities for a couple of states (basically, because it has to in order to sell cars in California).
Hopefully the cute electric car will someday soon be available to a broader market. With its relatively low price, good reviews, and cool styling, it could give some of the top-selling electric cars on the market a run for their market.
Kia Soul EV
The Kia Soul EV is a snazzy electric vehicle with a bit more space on the inside than the average car, and a clear youngster appeal. With good specs and a decent price, the Soul EV could sell well… if Kia really tries to sell it.
Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric
The Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric is an extremely close competitor to the BMW i3, and is a first-offering from Mercedes in this department. It has Tesla’s interior, and reviewers have been split between it and the BMW i3, with some preferring the i3 and some preferring the B-Class Electric. One of my friends recently bought the B-Class Electric and reviewed it for us here.
The Mitsubishi i (aka Mitsubishi i-MiEV) is one of the most basic electric cars on the market, but also one of the cheapest. As noted below, the Citröen C-Zero, Peugeot iOn, and Mitsubishi i all have essentially the same design but serve different markets.
The Nissan Leaf is seemingly the most competitive electric car on the market. It is the world’s best-selling electric car, and sales have only been increasing (thanks to falling prices and word of mouth). After test driving several EVs myself, I have to say that it would be hard to beat the Nissan Leaf for the money… unless you have enough money to dump on a higher-end EV, like the Tesla Model S, Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric, or BMW i3. Read my full Nissan Leaf review here.
The Renault Twizy is a cute and fun little two-seater that comes in at a super affordable price. With just two seats, it’s clearly not a “family car,” but it is a ton of fun to drive and very adequate for most driving needs.
Despite (or because of) its small size, the Twizy was the 10th-best-selling electric car in Europe and 15th-best-selling electric car in the world in 2013.
It’s really a blast to drive. I’d recommend it. Read my full Twizy review here.
Smart Electric Drive
The smart electric drive could be the cheapest electric car on the US market… if you don’t own or lease it for very long.
However, due to an $80/month battery rental, the price rises to about the same as a 2014 Mitsubishi i within 3 years (note that the Mitsubishi i seats 4, while the smart electric drive seats two). Within about 6 years, the smart electric drive is about the same price as a 5-seat and much more plush Nissan Leaf.
In my personal opinion, the smart electric drive is a hard sell — unless you really want a tiny car or only want it for 2 to 3 years. Read my review of the smart electric drive here or the review of an owner who sold his Camaro for the smart electric drive here.
Tesla Model S
So, for many people, if they can afford a $70,000–$120,000 car, the Model S is as good as it gets.
This car has flipped the electric car and overall auto world on its head in many respects.
It is a top-selling luxury/performance car, and it was the 2nd- or 3rd-best-selling electric car worldwide in 2013, despite its high price tag. All the while, it was production-limited rather than demand-limited.
The Volkswagen e-Golf is VW’s second electric car, following close behind the VW e-Up! Clearly, it’s an electric version of VW’s extremely popular Golf model.
The e-Golf is one of the closest competitors to the world-leading Nissan LEAF, so it could potentially see very big sales numbers. However, its significantly higher price is certainly keeping sales down a lot, so VW will have to change that if it actually wants to sell this car. Read our VW e-Golf review here.
The BMW i8 is BMW’s second i-series car. It’s one of the most expensive cars on the market — actually, the most expensive on the mass market today.
It comes with a ton of style and great acceleration (0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds only trails the Tesla Model S P85D’s 3.2 seconds amongst electric cars). It’s hard not to covet this beauty.
The Cadillac ELR is a high-end, luxury, plug-in hybrid electric car that hit the market at the very end of 2013. In many respects, it is essentially a more luxurious Chevy Volt.
It is pretty. Though, its high price was hard to justify compared to other options on the table, so you can now find the car for a price much below its MSRP… as in, cuts of nearly $30,000.
Chevy Volt Plug-in
The Chevy Volt is one of the most widely acclaimed electric cars on the market. It is the top-selling electric car in the US to date.
In 2013, it was the 2nd-best-selling electric car in the world. Volt owners are known as Voltheads and were “the happiest drivers” in the US for two years running… before the Tesla Model S arrived (as per Consumer Reports owner satisfaction surveys).
Ford C-Max Energi
One of two cars in Ford’s Energi (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) lineup, the Ford C-Max Energi has quite good specs for someone who doesn’t drive very far on most days but wants to take very long trips fairly regularly. It’s also good for larger families, as it seats up to 5 people. Despite seating 5, it is cheaper than the Chevy Volt… until you factor in the federal tax credit.
The C-Max Energi is also the most efficient plug-in hybrid electric car on the market. As a result of all of this, the car has sold quite well. Despite only being available in the US, the C-Max Energi was the 8th-best-selling electric car in the world in 2013.
Ford Fusion Energi
Quite similar to the Ford C-Max Energi but with a few more bells & whistles, the Ford Fusion Energi has done quite well since its introduction in February 2013.
The Ford Fusion Energi certainly offers some competition to the Chevy Volt, the Toyota Prius Plug-in, and its sister, the C-Max Energi.
Importantly, for some people, it is larger than all three of these competitors. It has a bit less electric range than the Volt, but it has enough seats for five passengers.
(It has much more electric range than the Prius, and the same as the C-Max Energi — both of which seat 5.) And it is quite the looker.
Honda Accord PHEV
Coming in a bit higher in price than the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-in, Ford C-Max Energi, and Ford Fusion Energi has certainly hurt the Honda Accord Plug-in‘s sales. However, limited availability has likely had an even stronger impact on those sales.
Furthermore, having just 13 miles of electric range doesn’t particularly excite would-be electric car buyers. The good news is that the Accord Plug-in is very efficient when using the electric motor. But, yeah, this is a compliance car.
Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid
Following the successful Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid (see below), Porsche launched the Cayenne S E-Hybrid at the end of 2014. The Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid can go from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds, and has a top speed of 151 mph. I think “wicked” is the word for that.
Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid is a plug-in hybrid electric sports car that is everything you’d expect — awesome. It can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in ~5 seconds.
The Panamera S E-Hybrid now accounts for nearly 10% of all Panamera sales.
Toyota Prius Plug-in
The Toyota Prius Plug-in was either the 2nd- or 3rd-best-selling electric car worldwide in 2013. Unfortunately, its electric range is just 11 miles, then the gas engine kicks in. The Prius PHEV is most likely aided by the strong, high-selling Prius brand.
It mainly competes with the Chevy Volt, Ford C-Max Energi, and Ford Fusion Energi, but it has more seats than the Volt and is almost $10,000 cheaper than the Fusion Energi. So, its closest competitor is probably the Ford C-Max Energi. This seems to be a good place in the EV spectrum, as both cars have been doing quite well. Of course, the C-Max Energi has 10 more miles of electric range, almost double the Prius PHEV’s 11 miles.
Either due to the increasing competition, people simply deciding they want more electric range, or Toyota cutting supply, sales of the Prius Plug-in fell off a lot toward the end of 2014.
Basic Electric Vehicle Information
Electric vehicles (EVs) run on electricity. Some EVs run on 100% electricity, while others (hybrid electric vehicles HEVs) run partly on electricity and partly on some other fuel (e.g., gas or diesel).
Vehicles that can at times run solely on electricity, and can be plugged in to charge their batteries, are called plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). 100% electric vehicles and PHEVs are clearly much better for the environment (and thus, humans) than their gasoline-powered cousins. Their fuel (electricity) is also much cheaper.
Originally published at EVobsession by Zachary Shahan. This article is posted here with the authour’s permission.
by John Brian Shannon
(Originally published at JBSnews.com)
Air pollution has a very real cost to our civilization via increased healthcare costs, premature deaths, lowered productivity, environmental degradation with resultant lowered crop yields, increased water consumption and higher taxation.
However, air pollution is only one cost associated with fossil fuel use.
There are three main costs associated with energy
- The retail price that you pay at the gas pump or on your utility bill for example
(which is paid by consumers)
- The subsidy cost that governments pay energy producers and utility companies
(which is ultimately paid by taxpayers)
- The externality cost of each type of energy
(which is paid by taxpayers, by increased prices for consumers, and the impact on, or the ‘cost to’ the environment)
Externality cost in Europe and the U.S.A.
A recent report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) states that high air pollution levels (one type of externality) in the EU cost society €189 billion every year and it’s a number that increases every year. (That’s $235 billion when converted to U.S. dollars)
To put that number in some kind of context, the cost of the air pollution externality in the EU annually, is equal to the GDP of Finland.
Let’s state that even more clearly. The amount of taxation paid by EU taxpayers every year to pay for airborne fossil fuel damage is equal to Finland’s entire annual economic output!
It’s getting worse, not better, notwithstanding recent renewable energy programs and incentives. Even the admirable German Energiewende program is barely making an impact when we look at the overall EU air quality index.
That’s just Europe. It’s even worse in the U.S., according to a landmark Harvard University report which says coal-fired power generation (externality cost alone) costs the U.S. taxpayer over $500 billion/yr.
“Each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, and combustion—generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment. These costs are external to the coal industry and thus are often considered as “externalities.”
We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually.
Many of these so-called externalities are, moreover, cumulative.
Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of non fossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive.
We focus on Appalachia, though coal is mined in other regions of the United States and is burned throughout the world.” — Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal by Dr. Paul Epstein, the Director of Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment, and eleven other co-authors
The report also notes that electricity costs would need to rise by another .09 to .27 cents per kilowatt hour in the U.S. to cover the externality cost of American coal-fired electricity production.
The externality cost for solar or wind power plants is zero, just for the record
Dr. Epstein and his team notes: “Coal burning produces one and a half times the CO2 emissions of oil combustion and twice that from burning natural gas (for an equal amount of energy produced).”
There’s the argument to switch from coal to natural gas right there
Also in the Harvard report in regards to the intrinsic inefficiency of coal: “Energy specialist Amory Lovins estimates that after mining, processing, transporting and burning coal, and transmitting the electricity, only about 3% of the energy in the coal is used in incandescent light bulbs.”
“…In the United States in 2005, coal produced 50% of the nation’s electricity but 81% of the CO2 emissions.
For 2030, coal is projected to produce 53% of U.S. power and 85% of the U.S. CO2 emissions from electricity generation.
None of these figures includes the additional life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal, including methane from coal mines, emissions from coal transport, other GHG emissions (e.g., particulates or black carbon), and carbon and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from land transformation in the case of MTR coal mining.” — Harvard University’s Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal report
It’s not like this information is secret. All European, American, and Asian policymakers now know about the externality costs of coal vs. renewable energy. It’s just that until recently everyone thought that the cost of switching to renewable energy, was higher than the cost of fossil externalities.
It’s not only an economic problem, it’s also a health problem
“Air pollution impacts human health, resulting in extra healthcare costs, lost productivity, and fewer work days. Other impacts are reduced crop yields and building damage.
Particulate matter and ground-level ozone are two of the main pollutants that come from coal.
90% or more of Europeans living in cities are exposed to harmful air pollution. Bulgaria and Poland have some of the worst pollution of the European countries.
An estimated 400,000 premature deaths in European cities were linked to air pollution in 2011.” — CleanTechnica
Externality cost in China
Remember the Beijing Olympics where the city’s industry and commercial business were shut down to allow visitors and athletes to breathe clean air during their stay (and Wow!) look at their clear blue sky for the first time in decades. Great for tourists! Bad for Beijing business and industry, with the exception of the tourism industry (for one month) of course.
The Common Language Project reported in 2008 that premature deaths in China resulting from fossil fuel air pollution were surpassing 400,000 per year.
“China faces a number of serious environmental issues caused by overpopulation and rapid industrial growth. Water pollution and a resulting shortage of drinking water is one such issue, as is air pollution caused by an over-reliance on coal as fuel. It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.” clpmag.org
The die is cast since it is becoming common knowledge that renewable energy merely requires a small subsidy to assist with power plant construction and grid harmonization — while fossil fuels continue to require truly massive and ongoing subsidies to continue operations.
Subsidy cost of fossil fuels
Already there is talk of ending fossil fuel producer subsidies, which in 2014 will top $600 billion worldwide
Want to add up the total costs (direct economic subsidy and externality cost subsidy) of fossil fuels?
Add the $600 billion global fossil fuel subsidy to the to the $2 trillion dollars of global externality cost and you arrive at (approx) $2.5 trillion dollars per year. Then there is the more than 1 million premature deaths globally caused by air pollution. All of that is subsidized by the world’s taxpayers.
Compare that to the total costs of renewable energy. Well, for starters, the economic subsidy dollar amount for renewable energy is much less (about $100 billion per year globally) and there are no externality costs.
No deaths. No illness. No direct or related productivity loss due to a host of fossil fuel related issues (oil spills, coal car derailment, river contamination, explosions in pipelines or factories) for just a very few examples.
The fossil fuel industry is a very mature industry, it has found ways to do more with ever-fewer employees, and it gets more subsidy dollars than any other economic segment on the planet.
By comparison, the renewable energy industry is a new segment, one that requires many thousands of workers and it gets only relative handfuls of subsidy dollars. And, no externalities.
It becomes clearer every day that high carbon fossil electricity power production must be displaced by renewable energy
No longer is it some arcane moral argument that we should switch to renewables for the good of the Earth; Fossil fuel is proving to be a major factor in human illness/premature deaths, it sends our money abroad to purchase energy instead of keeping our money in our own countries, and the wholly-taxpayer-funded subsidy cost of fossil is out of control and getting worse with each passing year.
The time for dithering is past. It’s time to make the switch to renewable energy, and to start, we need to remove the worst polluting power plants from the grid (and at the very least, replace them with natural gas powered plants) or even better, replace them with hybrid wind and solar power plants.
To accomplish this, governments need to begin diverting some of the tens of billions of dollars annually paid to the fossil fuel industry to the renewable energy industry.
Germany’s Energiewende program was (and still is) an admirable first step. Once Germany has completed it’s energy transition away from oil, coal and nuclear — having replaced all of that generation capacity with renewable energy and natural gas, only then can it be hailed a complete success — and German leaders should go down in history as being instrumental in changing the world’s 21st century energy paradigm.
Dank an unsere deutschen Freunde! (With thanks to our German friends!)
If only every nation would sign-on to matching or exceeding the ongoing German example, we wouldn’t have 1 million premature deaths globally due to fossil fuel burning, we wouldn’t have almost 2 trillion dollars of externality cost, we wouldn’t need $600 billion dollars of direct subsidies for fossil fuel producers — and we would all live in a healthier environment, and our plant, animal, and aquatic life would return to their normally thriving state.
Taxes would reflect the global $2.5 trillion drop in combined fossil fuel subsidy and fossil fuel externality costs, employment stats would improve, productivity would increase, the tourism industry would receive a boost, and enjoyment of life for individuals would rebound.
It’s a truism in the energy industry that all energy is subsidized, of that there is no doubt. Even renewable energy receives tiny amounts of subsidy, relative to fossil.
But it is now apparent that over the past 100 years, getting ‘the best (energy) bang for the buck’ has been our nemesis. The energy world that we once knew, is about to change.
The world didn’t come to an end when air travel began to replace rail travel in the 1950’s. Now almost everyone travels by air, and only few travel by train.
And what about the railway investors didn’t they lose their money when the age of rail tapered-off? No, they simply moved their money to the new transportation mode and made as much or more money in the airline business.
Likewise, the world will not come to an end now that renewable energy is beginning to displace coal and oil. Investors will simply reallocate their money and make as much or more money in renewable energy.
Truism: Whenever and wherever the unemployment rate is low anywhere in the world, drug abuse, crime, and homelessness drops.
Jobs prevent the depression that leads to drug abuse, crime, and eventually, homelessness.
Because corporations in North America prefer a high-ish unemployment rate (to guarantee they get the choicest and hungriest applicants, and to ensure a large pool of seasonal labour, and as a device that works to continuously dampen calls for a higher minimum wage) we have the follow-on problems of depression, leading to drug abuse in some cases, which eventually leads to crime and later, homelessness for many of the working poor.
Which results in higher costs to society and it’s the taxpayers who must cover those costs, one way or another
To solve this utterly predictable set of problems, all levels of government should be working with corporations to ensure that corporate needs are met — but without destroying the lives of many people who would frankly, rather be working!
Nordic countries ask; What societal problems?
Sweden has mandatory job sharing in those industries that can’t employ all of their workers. Except for retired people, students, those with chronic illness, or the very wealthy, everyone in the country works for *at least* 6 months of the year. Which neatly prevents such societal ills.
If you’ve ever visited Sweden, you’ll notice nobody lives in dumpsters there
Some industries in Sweden can’t use all of their available workers, so if you’re a worker in that particular industry it simply means that you’re ‘on work’ for 6 months and you’re ‘off work’ for 6 months of the year.
The ‘alternate person’ steps in and does ‘your job’ for 6 months while you’re on mandatory time off. Both people get Unemployment Insurance (UI) from Day 1 of their respective layoff dates.
It’s not like layoffs in North America. It’s more like, “Your scheduled time ‘off work’ is coming up, Anders. So, have you arranged the dates with your temporary replacement? You have? Thank you.”
In Sweden, you ‘own’ your job, you’re responsible for it, and you want to perform well for the company that has given you the responsibility for making sure that ‘your job’ is done properly
Also, even though you’re ‘off work’ for 6 months, you’re still expected to be available to fill that position whenever the alternate worker is ill, or can’t make it to work for any other reason. You like that a lot, because their UI system doesn’t penalize you for kindly making yourself available to the company AND you get to keep the wages you earned that day.
If you’re ‘on work’ for your 6 months and suddenly want a day ‘off work’ to go buy a house, propose to your partner or whatever, you just arrange it with your job sharing partner — and you’re covered. They come in and do your work for you. You inform the company merely out of courtesy that this will be happening. It’s ‘your job’ after all — not the company’s job.
So, let’s say that you’re off work for 6 months and ‘Sven’ (the person doing your job) has a skiing accident and needs 10 days off work to recover, you not only get your regular UI payment, you also get the normal wages for each day that you replaced Sven.
In this hypothetical job sharing scenario, the job of ‘Anders’ and ‘Sven’ is totally covered no matter what, 365 days of the year
Overtime wages? Unknown in Sweden. With one phone call the company simply adds another already trained worker to the project, and can keep them employed any number of days, or until project completion. Then, they send them back home until the company calls again to help with another project.
Everyone has a job, or is on UI for part of the year. Consequently, depression, drug abuse, crime, and homelessness are almost unknown in Sweden
Everyone has a job. Whether you are ‘off work’ for a time, or ‘on work’ for a time — you have a job, you have a place in society, you belong to a community. You may work 100 days per year, you may work 200 days per year, or any number of days between 100 to 365 days per year in Sweden. It depends how busy your particular industry is in that particular year.
The takeaway point is; If you live in Sweden — you’re a worker, you’re a valued person, you’re part of Sweden’s ongoing success, you belong.
When everyone matters — corporations work better, society works better, and the UN scores your country highly on the UN Happiness Index
Corporations like this employment policy, because more employees than they can afford to keep employed year ’round ‘own’ their particular position and over the course of a year, both workers communicate often, to make certain that every single working day of the year is ‘covered’ for the company.
The company doesn’t care which of the two workers are onsite on any given day, because both are eminently qualified and both feel that they ‘own the job’ and are responsible for it. Which is much better for the corporation when compared to only one person owning that job.
What happens in a Swedish company when an employee has time off due to illness, mandatory maternity leave, vacation times, or car trouble?
Nothing. The alternate worker is likely already on the premises doing the job. Utter, boring, Swedish efficiency! Also known as the Nordic Model — a fascinating mix of social and economic policies which has shown steady, predictable results, going on four decades.
The company knows that every work day of the year, each position in the company will be filled by the regular worker or the alternate worker — no matter what!
The inequality in North America is stunning. And there’s no good excuse for it. It’s merely a lack of leadership. Governments are kowtowing to uninspired, faceless, and unaccountable corporations that only care about the bottom line.
But hey, don’t blame the corporations! They’re in business to make a buck — not to solve social problems — that’s the government’s job.
But when the corporations are the ones causing the social problems via their policy of keeping workers hungry for work through a policy of high unemployment, union-busting, threats to export jobs to Asia, downsizing threats and more — that’s when we need to look at a better model.
And in the case of Sweden and the other Nordic countries, a much better model already exists — not just for society, but one that works better for corporations as well.
While Natural Gas has been touted as the ‘bridge fuel towards a clean energy future‘ three major drawbacks have caused concern in recent months. The first is, of course, the negatives surrounding natural gas fracking which has been well covered by the media and I’m not going to repeat all that has been said on that account.
Rather, I will concentrate of the largely unreported issues of massive methane leaks escaping natural gas well heads, called ‘fugitive emissions’ and the practice of ‘flaring’ at natural gas wells.
Over a 100-year timeframe, methane is about 35 times as potent as a climate change-driving greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and over 20 years, it’s 84 times more potent.
Natural gas drilling could emit up to 1,000 times the methane previously thought, possibly significantly increasing the greenhouse gas footprint of the production of natural gas, the study shows. — Climate Central
There’s no doubt that natural gas has the capacity to be a cleaner fuel than coal and the various fuels that can be obtained from crude oil such as gasoline and diesel. But it isn’t.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is two-fold. Problem number one is methane leakage at natural gas wells, and problem number two is the ongoing practice of natural gas flaring at well heads, distribution centres and gas processing facilities.
Methane emissions from improperly sealed natural gas wellheads, combined with natural gas flaring near well heads, dramatically lowers the advantage of ‘clean’ natural gas as compared to ‘dirty’ coal and crude oil.
Natural gas as a means to produce electricity is being hailed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the fuel that can act as a “bridge” between carbon-heavy coal and zero-carbon renewables, helping to reduce humans’ impact on the climate.
The idea is that burning natural gas involves fewer greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal. The IPCC in its Working Group III report says natural gas as a bridge fuel will only be effective if few gases escape into the atmosphere during natural gas production and distribution. — Bobby Magill
Natural gas has the potential to be 1 million times cleaner than coal or crude oil based fuels if gas industry best practices are employed. But the present situation is so bad that (low carbon) natural gas airborne emissions are almost on par with (high carbon) coal and crude oil airborne emissions — once you factor everything into the equation.
Why not properly seal the well heads?
Cost. Many gas drilling and extraction companies would like to hermetically seal their well heads to lower the death and injury rates of their workers due to raw gas exposure, to enhance overall gas recovery, decrease the waste of an incredibly useful fuel — and to lower emission levels thereby enhancing the reputation of gas as a 21st-century clean energy solution.
The reason companies won’t spend the extra ($100,000 on average) per well head (to fully encase the pipe in concrete slurry) is that shareholders don’t want lowered dividends. Nor do companies want to become less competitive as compared to the ones that don’t seal their well heads. To put this in some kind of perspective within the gas industry, some gas drilling/extraction operators have hundreds of well heads, while others only have tens of well heads.
At the end of it all, it turns out that improperly sealed natural gas wells and natural gas flaring are negating almost all of the benefits of super clean, natural gas — as compared to coal and crude oil sourced fuels.
Feel free to facepalm now.
Why not stop flaring at natural gas well heads?
Every natural gas well head must deal with pressure variables and with the normally-occurring contaminants found in natural gas. This is done onsite in a process known as flaring which is an incredibly toxic way of dealing with the problem of temporary pressure spikes and natural gas contaminants.
Contaminants in raw natural gas
Raw natural gas typically consists primarily of methane (CH4), the shortest and lightest hydrocarbon molecule. It also contains varying amounts of:
- Heavier gaseous hydrocarbons: ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8), normal butane (n-C4H10), isobutane (i-C4H10), pentanes and even higher molecular weight hydrocarbons. When processed and purified into finished by-products, all of these are collectively referred to as Natural Gas Liquids or NGL.
- Acid gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and mercaptans such as methanethiol (CH3SH) and ethanethiol (C2H5SH).
- Other gases: nitrogen (N2) and helium (He).
- Water: water vapor and liquid water. Also dissolved salts and dissolved gases (acids).
- Liquid hydrocarbons: perhaps some natural-gas condensate (also referred to as casinghead gasoline or natural gasoline) and/or crude oil.
- Mercury: very small amounts of mercury primarily in elemental form, but chlorides and other natural gas contaminants can be present.
- Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM): natural gas may contain radon, and the produced water may contain dissolved traces of radium, which can accumulate within piping and processing equipment. This can render piping and equipment radioactive over time.
The raw natural gas must be purified to meet the quality standards specified by the major pipeline transmission and distribution companies. Those quality standards vary from pipeline to pipeline and are usually a function of a pipeline system’s design and the markets that it serves. In general, the standards specify that the natural gas:
- Be within a specific range of heating value (caloric value). For example, in the United States, it should be about 1035 ± 5% BTU per cubic foot of gas at 1 atmosphere and 60°F (41 MJ ± 5% per cubic metre of gas at 1 atmosphere and 15.6°C).
- Be delivered at or above a specified hydrocarbon dew point temperature (below which some of the hydrocarbons in the gas might condense at pipeline pressure forming liquid slugs that could damage the pipeline).
- Dew-point adjustment serves the reduction of the concentration of water and heavy hydrocarbons in natural gas to such an extent that no condensation occurs during the ensuing transport in the pipelines
- Be free of particulate solids and liquid water to prevent erosion, corrosion or other damage to the pipeline.
- Be dehydrated of water vapor sufficiently to prevent the formation of methane hydrates within the gas processing plant or subsequently within the sales gas transmission pipeline. A typical water content specification in the U.S. is that gas must contain no more than seven pounds of water per million standard cubic feet (MMSCF) of gas.
- Contain no more than trace amounts of components such as hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, mercaptans, and nitrogen. The most common specification for hydrogen sulfide content is 0.25 grain H2S per 100 cubic feet of gas, or approximately 4 ppm. Specifications for CO2 typically limit the content to no more than two or three percent.Maintain mercury at less than detectable limits (approximately 0.001 ppb by volume) primarily to avoid damaging equipment in the gas processing plant or the pipeline transmission system from mercury amalgamation and embrittlement of aluminum and other metals — (from Wikipedia)
All of these contaminants are burned off during flaring. The problem is that it is a very incomplete burning cycle, one that is millions of times dirtier than the exhaust that exits your car tailpipe. Indeed historically, there have been many cases where people — or even large numbers of cattle or other livestock — living downwind of flaring stacks have died from breathing the partially burned gas.
Legislation is the obvious solution, but how?
If one state legislates against fugitive emissions from well heads and against the practice of natural gas flaring — all of the gas wells in that state will simply be capped and all gas-related economic and energy activity will cease within that state. That’s how competitive the gas industry is.
In North America for example, if the United States legislates against fugitive emissions and natural gas flaring, the flight of capital and natural gas companies to Canada would result in a huge economic boom for Canada and a dramatic loss for the United States. The reverse is also true.
The Only Solution is a Continental Solution
Therefore, there can only be one solution to the problem — and that is a continental solution to fugitive emissions and to natural gas flaring — whether this is done under the auspices of a Free Trade Agreement or as a standalone convention, it is high-time for such legislation to be passed.
It doesn’t need to be a policy masterpiece nor does it need to be technically perfect. It needs to stipulate one uniform standard that applies to all natural gas drilling/extraction/refining and transportation systems.
Above all else, it needs to be done. Now.