3p Contributor: Phil Covington

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on electric vehicles and sustainable business matters in general. Twitter: @PhilCovBlog

Recent Articles

Lighter and More Fuel Efficient, Boeing Delivers the First 787 Dreamliner

| Friday September 30th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Boeing 787 Dreamliner

This week, US aircraft maker Boeing celebrated the delivery of it’s first new-generation 787 Dreamliner to the Japanese carrier, All Nippon Airlines (ANA). This follows a series of setbacks which have beset the launch, delaying deliveries by around three years.

Despite the setbacks, Bloomberg reported in August that the 787 is the fastest selling aircraft ever. With the number of orders already secured, production of the 787 represents about 7 years of work for the company. These orders were all placed prior to 2011 however, and orders for 26 planes have been cancelled during 2011.

Still, the new plane continues the trend among aircraft manufacturers to increase fuel efficiency and reduce running costs for airlines, so the roll out of the 787 is an important one.

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Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? Maybe Sometimes

| Wednesday September 28th, 2011 | 1 Comment

The Sunday New York Times Review section ran an interesting piece this week that posed the question, Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? The premise of Mark Bittman’s article was to debunk the often repeated notion that the reason people are obese is because it is cheaper to fill up on calorie-dense junk food than it is to prepare healthy meals at home.

However, the author explains that this is not in fact the case. He illustrates the point by revealing that a variety of McDonald’s meal options for a family of four will run you $27.89, whereas a healthy meal cooked at home from pinto beans, rice, green peppers, onion and finished off with bacon, can be had for just $9.26.

So, while it’s certainly possible to eat healthily and cheaply at home,  I decided to head over to the golden arches myself to do some rapid field research.

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Ford Develops E-Bike Protoype

| Tuesday September 27th, 2011 | 4 Comments

So far, the only concept image we could find...

Earlier this year, Ford announced its ongoing commitment to vehicle electrification. The automaker will be sticking to expansions in four-wheel offerings, but, surprisingly they’re also also turning their attention to two-wheelers: E-bikes. While this change represents a radical departure from the company’s core offering, it’s a logical move nonetheless.

Vehicle electrification might be the sort of technology that forces a paradigm shift in personal transportation. Although electric vehicles have been around for as long as those powered by internal combustion engines, advanced batteries, sophisticated software controllers and modern and compact electric motors have created new opportunities to reinvent traditional vehicle platforms – the bicycle included.

Furthermore, despite the fact that most of the media buzz surrounds the new crop of electric cars hitting the market, projections suggest that E-bikes will sell in far higher numbers than will electric cars over the next decade. As such, Ford’s exploration into this space could prove to be a smart development for them.

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Is the Future of Solar Technology Looking Bright? Experts Discuss

| Wednesday September 21st, 2011 | 1 Comment

These are tough times for the solar industry. Companies such as Evergreen solar and SpectraWatt have filed for bankruptcy, while most famously, Solyndra, a recipient of tax dollars under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, closed up shop this month. On top of this, an excess supply of photovoltaic (PV) panels, especially from China, is causing price suppression; cutting the margins for those manufacturers still in business.

Timely therefore, that Renewable Energy Focus magazine hosted a webinar yesterday concerning the prospects of competing solar electric technologies. However, as editor and host David Hopwood conceded, many are asking whether it is less a question of which competing solar technology will win out, but rather, how robust the entire industry is compared with other renewable or traditional power generation industries?

The panel consisting of the CEO of solar company, Amonix, as well as the principals of solar consulting companies Navigant Consulting and SolarVision Consulting, didn’t try to sugar-coat the situation. But ultimately, they all remain resolute that solar will be a cost competitive renewable energy source in the long run. But given the current woes, what do these experts see as trends in the industry?

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American Green Vehicle IP Goes to China

| Friday September 16th, 2011 | 3 Comments

More traffic in China?

Though we have all become accustomed to China as a major net exporter of goods to global markets in recent years, in the automotive world, China’s burgeoning domestic car market inspires all the major global auto companies to compete vigorously for a piece of the action.

The size of the Chinese market is set to grow hugely in the near term, which explains why veteran companies like GM and Ford, along with leading European car makers, are keen to establish a significant footprint in China, especially since their own domestic markets are likely to remain flat. In doing so, they will be forced to go up against China’s own manufacturers; who themselves are keen to lead in green automotive technologies. And here is the dilemma – if foreign auto makers want to enjoy generous green-tech incentives to sell into China, they may be required to hand over their intellectual property. Will they be prepared to do this?

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Toyota Sets Electric Vehicle Lap Record at The Nürburgring

| Friday September 2nd, 2011 | 2 Comments

When auto makers get serious about developing a performance car, they invariably take a trip to Germany’s fabled test track, the Nürburgring Nordschleife, to gather data to engineer a true drivers car. The track is a popular test ground since it offers 40 left-hand bends, 50 right-hand bends with extreme gradients to fully put a vehicle through its paces over its 20.8 km length.

“The ‘ring”, as it is sometimes known, has been the preserve of petroleum powered racing and sports cars since it opened in 1927, and short lap times around the track are badges of honor and a measure of a performance car’s prowess. Now, electric vehicles are being put through their paces here too, and Toyota Motorsports Group just attained the electric vehicle lap record with their P001 EV.

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Sirius XM’s Customers Crowdsource Their Response to Channel Changes

| Tuesday August 16th, 2011 | 19 Comments

There’s a disturbance among listeners of North America’s satellite radio service. Last Tuesday, without warning, monopoly satellite radio provider, Sirius XM, pulled BBC Radio 1 from its channel line-up, replacing programming with an info-loop explaining they were “making way for a new channel.” Devotees of Radio 1 were not happy.

Why did Sirius XM do this? Who asked them to make way for a new channel? and why didn’t they advise listeners before the switch went into effect? Reasonably, former listeners expect answers to these questions – after all, Sirius XM is a subscriber based service. Surely, unlike commercial radio, which is answerable to advertisers, Sirius XM should be answerable to its subscribers – but alas, no such luck. The company is providing no answers or transparency over the decision – and transparency is surely fundamental to good customer care.

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Ford Announces Plan to Sell Rooftop Solar Panels with Electric Vehicles

| Friday August 12th, 2011 | 2 Comments

Auto companies with electric vehicle offerings are increasingly taking the opportunity to build links between their vehicles and renewable energy. Perhaps in response to those who say (incorrectly) that EVs do nothing to help mitigate carbon emissions – due to a prevalence of coal-fired electricity generation – manufacturers are forging strategic partnerships with solar companies to shore up the environmental case for the electric car.

Last month, GM announced a substantial investment in Sunlogics PLC, and in combination with this partnership, will deploy solar canopies at Chevrolet dealers in North America. The canopies will power-up Chevrolet Volts on dealer lots, with any residual power produced going towards offsetting the dealers’ energy needs.

This week, Ford has announced they will team up with SunPower Corp, under their “Drive Green For Life” program, though they will take a different approach than GM as to how they will promote solar. Ford will be introducing an all electric Focus this year, as well as the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid in 2012, and their approach will be to offer customers the option to purchase a rooftop solar system for their home at the point of vehicle purchase. As this Fast Company article humorously reports, when buying your car you may be asked, “Would you like some solar with that?

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BBC’s Top Gear Laughs at Nissan LEAF’s Expense

| Tuesday August 9th, 2011 | 14 Comments

The Nissan LEAF - range panned by BBC's Top GearI’m going to make an assertion here. Any car enthusiast is, by definition, a fan of the BBC show Top Gear. Unless of course, such a person hasn’t seen it, and to that individual I say, check it out on BBC America sometime, you’ll love it!

The show has gained so much international acclaim that the franchise has spawned an Australian and US version. The reason the show is so popular is that it’s pure entertainment. Take the most exotic cars, throw in a few well known celebrity guests, undertake any number of “do-not-try-this-at-home” antics, then combine it all with some well-crafted videography, and you’ve got a winning formula.

But remember, it’s really all just entertainment. It’s not about being fair and balanced.

This is because any story they tell only works providing it meets one of two imperatives – excitement or humor – preferably both at the same time. Enter the Nissan LEAF, and the producers decided to serve the humor imperative.

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Trade War Looms Over Airlines’ Refusal to Comply with EU Cap-And-Trade Law

| Thursday August 4th, 2011 | 1 Comment

In June, I wrote about whether the US was right to seek an exemption from the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) for US airlines. The cap-and-trade scheme, designed to curb CO2 emissions, is being vigorously opposed by the American Air Transport Association, and a month on, it seems things are no less fractious, with the rhetoric from Capital Hill going up a notch.

Business Green reported that the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee stated this week, “This appropriately named EU ‘scheme’ is an arbitrary and unjust violation of international law that disadvantages US air carriers and kills US aviation jobs” adding “..the United States will not participate in this ill-advised and illegal EU program.”

Unsurprisingly, China isn’t pleased with EU ETS plans either. The country has threatened to retaliate, possibly by punishing European Airlines or even taking action against French aircraft manufacturer, Airbus.

Back in June, the EU Climate Action Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, was reported here as having stated “Now is not the time to get nervous over legislation that has already been agreed. This was agreed by all 27 EU member states, by the European Parliament and by the European commission.”

With all sides digging in, it’s looking like this can’t end well, and could even tip things into a trade-war. But it’s worth taking a closer look at what is actually at stake here. Firstly though, an explanation.

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UPS Reduces Per Package Fuel Consumption

| Tuesday August 2nd, 2011 | 0 Comments

Most people probably don’t give an awful lot of thought to how the things they buy actually get to them. But the reality is, pretty much everything we consume is touched in some way by a global and interconnected logistics industry that is truly behemoth. We are aware of package delivery trucks running about, but their presence is just the tip of an industry that by some estimates, constitutes as much as 10% of global GDP.

So, when you ponder that such a huge industry must use energy each time it moves goods around the planet, it is no surprise that businesses in the logistics game are keenly aware that efficiency and sustainability are not just factors of corporate responsibility, but business imperatives – the multiplier of small energy efficiency gains are just so tremendous.

UPS is certainly aware of this business imperative, which is clear from their 2010 sustainability report. The scale of the Atlanta-based company is quite impressive – in the process of moving 3.94 billion packages across more than 220 countries in 2010, they employed 400,600 people, operated 99,795 ground vehicles and 216 aircraft. While bringing in net revenues of $49.6 billion for the year, it seems everything they do, both operationally, and technologically, is to to chip away at inefficiency. So, where do they find incremental improvements?

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GM Demonstrates Strong Commitment to Solar Energy

| Friday July 29th, 2011 | 0 Comments

General Motors made two announcements this week, both indicating a strong commitment by the company to solar energy.

On Thursday – GM Ventures – a General Motors subsidiary specializing in developing innovative technologies in the automotive industry, announced a $7.5 million equity investment in Sunlogics PLC – a specialist in commercial solar project development and installation. The funding will allow Sunlogics to open a corporate headquarters in suburban Detroit as well as a manufacturing facility in Ontario, and is expected to create around 300 new jobs.

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Enterprise Holdings Rolls Out Largest Electric Vehicle Rental Fleet

| Monday July 25th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Last week, the National Summit on Energy Security took place in Washington DC. Government, military and business leaders gathered to address America’s reliance on foreign oil. Part of the proceedings involved a war-game like simulation called the “Oil shockWave.” First run in 2005, the simulation serves to generate a number of destabilizing geo-political scenarios, forcing leaders to grapple with, and suggest solutions to, spiraling oil prices along with global turmoil that would likely ensue. According to this piece from the UK’s Guardian, the solution to any foreign oil supply disruption, from some quarters at least, is to default to drilling more domestic oil. This is, arguably, disappointingly unimaginative, and simply serves to address the symptoms, not the cause of our oil dependence.

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Will Electric Cars Require We Deal With “Lithium Dictators”?

| Thursday July 14th, 2011 | 5 Comments

In January, I wrote a piece for Triple Pundit prompted by President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he outlined a goal to put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. I asked the question – is there is enough lithium supply to meet Obama’s EV goal? Since lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries are the preferred battery chemistry for the immediate future, this was an important consideration, and my conclusion was, that yes, there is enough lithium to reach the goal. This was based on known lithium reserves reported by the US Geological Survey (USGS), coupled with mining projections, indicating the manufacture of 4.5 million vehicles could be supported by 2020.

However, on June 30th, Fast Company ran “The Rush to Electric cars will replace oil Barons with Lithium Dictators”, which puts the lithium supply matter into a different context – less about whether there is enough, and more about whether we’re jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire as we move to EVs. Will it cause a shift away from the geo-political problems with oil to potentially equally difficult problems dealing with lithium producing countries like Bolivia, who are less than friendly to the USA? Re-framing the question as to whether or not an EV future requires we deal with dictators, I thought I’d take another look.

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Supply (Not Demand) Explains Sales Differences Between LEAF and Volt

| Tuesday July 12th, 2011 | 11 Comments

Sales figures for the Nissan LEAF and the Chevrolet Volt are being closely watched. Since both cars represent a new breed of vehicle, the relative success of either one may possibly represent the dominant technology for years to come. Whereas the LEAF is an all electric vehicle, the VOLT is a plug-in hybrid (more on the differences here), and as both cars have been on the market for a little over six months, early adoption rates might suggest which technology appears to have the edge so far. Alternatively, of course, sluggish sales of both might bring into question whether there is robust demand for alternative vehicles at all.

If we look at the sales figures for the first 6 months of 2011, we see the relative advantage currently falls to the Nissan LEAF, which has sold 3,875 units compared 2,745 units of the Volt. However, to pick a winner of the popularity contest from sales numbers alone, would be to mislead.

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