Friday, April 10, 2009

slides from my talk wednesday night

The other night I had a great time presenting at the Beijing Energy Network's wonderfully titled BEER (Beijing Energy & Environment Roundtable) event. The title of my talk was "150 Million and Counting... Controlling the Energy and Environmental Impacts of China's Vehicles." I tried to have fun with it - I presented it at 9pm at a bar, after all - while touching on a range of topics and issues related to the transportation sector in China.

Although I fear the slides may seem a little too bare-bones without the context of my accompanying speech, I did get enough requests to distribute that I figured I might as well put them online:

I welcome any questions or comments either here or by e-mail at livefrombeijing at gmail dot com.

Lastly, apologies for the light posting recently; I have been slammed at work in preparation for a trip to the States this weekend. I'll be gone for two weeks and will post while there if time permits, but no promises...

Friday, April 3, 2009

china's push to be electric vehicle leader

Interesting article yesterday at the top of the New York Times home page - China Vies to Be World's Leader in Electric Cars:
TIANJIN, China — Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.
While it's nice to see China's electric vehicle push making headlines internationally, the article as a whole leaves me a little confused and disappointed. Although much of the article is solid reporting, at times it adopts a strangely negative and sometimes contradictory tone. For example, the author, Keith Bradsher, writes (emphasis mine):
China’s intention, in addition to creating a world-leading industry that will produce jobs and exports, is to reduce urban pollution and decrease its dependence on oil...But electric vehicles may do little to clear the country’s smog-darkened sky or curb its rapidly rising emissions of global warming gases. China gets three-fourths of its electricity from coal, which produces more soot and more greenhouse gases than other fuels.
However, this "may do little" claim is supported by the following paragraph, which directly contradicts it:
A report by McKinsey & Company last autumn estimated that replacing a gasoline-powered car with a similar-size electric car in China would reduce greenhouse emissions by only 19 percent. It would reduce urban pollution, however, by shifting the source of smog from car exhaust pipes to power plants, which are often located outside cities.
"Only" 19% is not a "little." Plus, this number will almost certainly grow as China's power sector improves efficiency and diversifies away from coal. As for pollution, the McKinsey study supports the exact goal of the Chinese government - reducing urban air pollution. Why then, does Mr. Bradsher nay say the environmental impacts of electrifying the vehicle fleet?

Moving on, Mr. Bradsher accurately describes some of the details of the program, and makes some key points about why electric vehicles may be viable in China whereas they have struggled in America:
Electric cars have several practical advantages in China. Intercity driving is rare. Commutes are fairly short and frequently at low speeds because of traffic jams. So the limitations of all-electric cars — the latest models in China have a top speed of 60 miles an hour and a range of 120 miles between charges — are less of a problem.

First-time car buyers also make up four-fifths of the Chinese market, and these buyers have not yet grown accustomed to the greater power and range of gasoline-powered cars.
(That final sentence is key, and something I'll make a note to blog on another time.)

In the final part of the article, Mr. Bradsher mentions that "rechargeable lithium-ion batteries also have a poor reputation in China," but then goes on to say, "these safety problems have been associated with lithium-ion cobalt batteries, however, not the more chemically stable lithium-ion phosphate batteries now being adapted to automotive use." Then why does he bring it up? Is there some evidence that Chinese consumers are reluctant to buy electric vehicles because of battery safety? If there is, he doesn't mention it.

In the end, I'm just not sure what to make of the article. The overall tone seems to be some combination of "lookout America, China is going to leap frog you in this promising clean tech area" and "but don't worry too much, even if they do succeed (which they might not), the impacts on GHG and air pollution reduction won't be that big."

From the perspectives of reducing oil consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution, I think almost everyone agrees that electrifying the vehicle fleet is a good thing. So good that many (including myself) see the electrification of the transportation sector as a core sustainability solution. I need to make time to prepare a longer post on this, but for now, see Joe Romm's post: Plug-in hybrids and electric cars — a core climate solution, nationally and globally.

Related news from yesterday:
- China Car Times reports that Shenzhen will become the first city to offer subsidies to private buyers, though I haven't yet found the original source material to support this.
- NEEDigest's excellent auto zone has a great comparison of companies racing to offer EV's to the Chinese market.

Related post from this blog: subsidies for energy saving and new energy vehicles

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

summary of beijing's 2009 first quarter air quality

Yesterday, Xinhua reported that Beijing achieved above an 80% "blue sky" rate in the first half of this year:
BEIJING, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Beijing saw 73 "blue sky days", 81.1 percent of the total, in the first three months of 2009, Beijing authorities said here on Tuesday.

The city experienced six more blue sky days than in the first quarter of last year, and 24.3 days more than the average of the last decade, said an official of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

Experts at the bureau said active cold airflows had helped particulate matter to disperse.

Efforts to reduce pollution from heating systems had paid off with January having the most blue sky days since 2000, said the official.
For those who prefer original sources, here is the notice from the Beijing EPB (in Chinese).

Let's take a closer look at the data and examine what this means in terms of air quality.

First of all, as a quick introduction for new readers, China defines "Blue Sky Days" as days for which the Air Pollution Index (API) is 100 or below. For a detailed description of exactly what the API is, see this post. Past Beijing API data may be queried from MEP's datacenter, but unfortunately only in Chinese.

For this post, I queried the data for 1/1/09 to 3/31/09, and ran some quick analyses to see what interesting things I could find.

Part 1: Checking Beijing's EPB's Numbers

The Beijing EPB claims "截至3月31日,今年累计73个达标天,占监测天数的81.1%。其中一级7天,二级66天,三级15天,四级1天,五级1天。" The second sentence says that in this time period there were 7 days of Grade 1 (API 0-50) air, 66 days of Grade 2 (API 51-100) air, 15 days of Grade 3 (API 101-200) air, and 1 day each at Grade 4 (API 201-300) and Grade 5 (API 301+).

However, by my count, there were 8 days of Grade 1 (one more than reported) 64 days of Grade 2 (two less than reported), then 15, 1, and 1 days of Grades 3, 4, and 5, respectively (identical to that reported). It seems pretty basic to me that you would want your publicly reported data summary to match your public database, so I can't imagine what's going on here. This is especially true because, in this case, the data indicates Beijing did better than they claimed.

The data for one day, 2/19/09, is missing from the database. If we assume that 2/19 was a Blue Sky Day, though, then at least we do indeed have 73 Blue Sky Days for the quarter.

Part 2: Converting to Pollutant Concentrations

Because API is a unitless index, in order to evaluate air quality we have to convert back to pollutant concentrations. This is a bit tricky, because the API is only reported according to whichever pollutant had the highest daily concentration, meaning that we do not have daily raw data for every pollutant. Still, we can make a rough approximation by assuming that PM10 is the limiting pollutant on all days. (Of the 89 data points, 72 (81%) were reported with PM10 highest, 9 were reported with SO2 highest, while 8 had no pollutant data because no pollutants are listed for Grade 1 air quality days.)

In any case, given the above assumption, this graph shows calculated daily PM10 concentrations for this quarter:

These data yield a quarterly average PM10 concentration of 124 ug/m^3. This is very similar to what I calculated as last year's annual average.

124 ug/m^3 is still well above China's annual target (100 ug/m^3) and well well above the WHO's ideal target for developed nations (20 ug/m^3).


For those of you following along at home, here is an Excel formula for converting API to PM10 concentration (in this example, the API would be in cell E9):


This is based on equations presented at the bottom of this post.