China is putting effort into developing its electric vehicle industry, but industry reports say it is falling behind other countries in terms of "EV readiness." (Source: Treehugger.com)

In 2010, A123 Systems, a leading advanced lithium-ion battery manufacturer, opened the first and largest U.S. manufacturing facility to produce batteries for electric vehicles (EVs). The project was supported by a $249 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. But when President Barack Obama called to congratulate A123 Systems on the milestone, which he said foreshadowed “the birth of an entire new industry in America,” he never would have imagined the subsequent bankruptcy of this rising star and its acquisition by China’s Wanxiang Group in 2012.

Although this overseas acquisition is one of Wanxiang Group’s highest profile actions, the company has long been quietly acquiring and investing in dozens of auto parts manufacturers. Wanxiang has expressed interest in supporting the struggling Fisker Automotive, a manufacturer of luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and a previous client of A123 Systems. Wanxiang chairman Guanqiu Lu’s strategic ambitions to be an electric vehicle manufacturer are becoming closer to reality than ever before. According to the global consulting firm McKinsey, in 2010 China ranked third (together with Germany) in financial support for clean-vehicle technology development, just behind the United States and France.

As early as 2001, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) had included electric vehicle technologies as a key project in the National High Technology Research and Development Program (863 Program). In order to reduce dependence on oil, compete with more developed foreign automobile industries, and reduce air pollutants, MOST proposed focusing on three types of vehicles: hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV), electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), as well as three key components: battery/fuel cells, electric motors, and power controls, with an investment of 880 million RMB (US$106 million) within five years.

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automobiles, China, electric vehicles, Green Technology, hybrid vehicles, low-carbon, transportation

Worldwatch is happy to announce the launch of the much anticipated 2012 REN21 Renewables Global Status Report (GSR). GSR 2012 details worldwide developments in the renewable energy sector through 2011. The report highlights a number of key developments, including market and industry trends, investment flows, the shifting policy landscape, advancements in rural renewable energy deployment, and the evolving synergy between renewable energy and energy efficiency.

REN21 Renewable 2012 Global Status Report (source: REN21)

The new GSR data highlights many remarkable worldwide trends, demonstrating that the renewable energy sector has emerged from the global finical crisis stronger than ever. In 2011, new investment and added power generation capacity for renewables broke their all-time records yet again. Global investments in renewables were estimated at US $257 billion in 2011, an increase of 17 percent over 2010. Investment in renewable energy power generation was $40 billion greater than investment in fossil fuels in 2011.

Total renewable power capacity grew by 8 percent in 2011, reaching over 1,360 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity by year-end. Renewable energy technologies now account for 16.7 percent of total final energy consumption and over 25 percent of the world’s installed power-generating capacity. China, the United States, Germany, Spain, Italy, India, and Japan are leading in new renewable investments and now account for almost 70 percent of the world’s non-hydro renewable power generation capacity.

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electricity, energy efficiency, feed-in tariffs, green economy, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, transportation, wind power

President Obama announced last week that automakers must enhance the future performance of their cars and light trucks if they want to continue selling in the United States. The fleets for Model Years 2017 through 2025 will need to meet a combined highway/city performance equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) and 163 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per mile according to EPA test procedures. The new standard extends one established in 2009 that requires a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) of 35.5 mpg and 250 grams of CO2 per mile by Model Year 2016. For passenger vehicles, the standards increase by an average of five percent annually from 2017 through 2025.

The CAFE requirement includes a flexibility mechanism that provides credits allowing automakers to reduce their fleet-wide efficiency performance by designing a variety of systems including efficient air conditioning, flex fuel engines, and compressed natural gas treatment. These ‘accounting tricks’ combined with the possibility of a slight rebound effect in driving behavior may undermine fuel efficiency improvements. Meeting the higher fuel economy standards may not be so far out of reach for automakers even without flexible crediting, considering the efficiency levels achieved by cars on the road today, such as the Toyota Prius, which gets 50 mpg. Nonetheless, the new standard is leaps and bounds beyond the 27 mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard for passenger cars that had been in place since 1985.

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emissions reductions, energy efficiency, energy security, European Union, fuel economy, green jobs, low-carbon, manufacturing jobs, transportation, United States
'Stena Europe' in dry dock, Belfast

European Commission: Let's get to work on transportation (Ross/geograph.ie)

By: Alexander Ochs and Will Bierbower

Several news items out of Europe in recent weeks demonstrate that the European Union is continuing to lead the push for policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on oil imports. The United Kingdom released its Carbon Plan with concrete steps for how the country will meet its target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions 34 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and the EU continues to prepare for the third phase of its Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS).

The European Commission also officially approved a roadmap last week outlining how the EU can meet its long-term goals to streamline and coordinate transportation across member states. In the plan are 40 initiatives meant to help build a transportation system that increases mobility and improves security and safety, while reducing carbon emissions and reliance on oil imports.

The Commission expects that carrying out the roadmap’s initiatives will facilitate a 60 percent cut in carbon emissions from 1990 levels in the transportation sector by 2050. The EU has already set an overall carbon emissions reduction target of 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. The target for transportation, despite being lower than the overall goal, is ambitious given that this is the only sector in the EU where emissions have continued to rise from 1990 levels. Transportation emissions have grown more than 25 percent in the past 20 years, due in large part to the inertia of current transportation infrastructure and a lack of economically viable alternatives to fossil fuels.

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European Commission, European Union, Roadmap, Single EU Transport Area, transportation

This entry is the latest in a Worldwatch blog series on innovations in the climate and energy world.

This SARTRE at least provides an exit

Have you ever seen The 6th Day? It’s a forgettable Arnold Schwarzenegger movie about human cloning, and the one thing I remember from seeing it a decade ago is that it imagines a future of not just “6th day violations,” but automated cars as well.  I can’t speak to human cloning, but a group of scientists and engineering in Europe is now attempting to move us one step closer to self-driving vehicles.

The Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, a partnership of companies based in the U.K., Spain, Germany, and Sweden, is tasked with examining the viability of vehicle “platoons” as a method of future highway transport. The concept is relatively simple: a lead truck or bus operated by a professional driver guides a coordinated ‘train’ of cars and other trucks/buses along a highway, sharing the road with vehicles driven manually. Each vehicle in the train would be outfitted with equipment to wirelessly track and mimic the movements of the car in front of it. Cars would have to constantly gauge the distance between themselves and the forward car, as well as that car’s speed and direction, using a combination of cameras, drive-by-wire technology, and car-to-car communication.

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autonomous driving, fuel efficiency, google, Innovation, platoon, road safety, road train, sartre, stanford, technology series, transportation, volkswagen, volvo

On January 5, the Financial Times* reported that China was considering merging its two large state-owned rail manufacturing companies: the China North Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp (CNR) and the China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp (CSR). The combined company would control more than 90 percent of the Chinese rail equipment market. For this reason, some Chinese government agencies oppose such a move, wanting to maintain a degree of competition.

[*For full access to Financial Times articles linked in this blog post, a subscription is required.]

A merged company would be the largest in this industry worldwide. And supporters feel that a merged company would be a formidable force for capturing export orders—of crucial importance for the years after China’s current investment spree peaks in 2013.

This all comes against the backdrop of a remarkable development. China’s high-speed rail manufacturing industry has emerged in the span of just a few years. China has linked its domestic transportation goals—transforming its once outdated and overburdened rail sector into a strong competitor against environmentally less-benign modes of transportation—to a strong manufacturing policy that included tough deals with foreign rail manufacturers.

In 2007, China set a goal of building about 12,000 kilometers of high-speed lines by 2020, subsequently revised to an even-more ambitious 25,750 kilometers—equivalent to about two-thirds the length of the Equator. China’s massive rail investment program has been mostly debt-financed.  The Financial Times reports that “the proportion of railway construction funded by debt has increased from under 50 percent in 2005 to more than 70 percent” in 2009.

The early high-speed trains were produced by foreign companies and exported to China. But this changed rapidly with the help of stiff local-content requirements that stipulate that 70–90 percent of rail equipment be manufactured domestically. China has deftly used its lucrative market as a lure for foreign manufacturers, striking technology-transfer agreements with companies like Bombardier, Alstom, and Siemens that permitted Chinese manufacturers to reproduce technologies and rail vehicle designs in local factories, and soon thereafter emerge as low-cost competitors.

The Financial Times speculates that foreign companies may have transferred more of their rail technology than they admit publicly, in a strategy to curry favor with China over their competitors but which ultimately benefited Chinese companies.

French and Japanese rail industry executives have criticized China, accusing it of forced technology transfer and even technology theft, while others, such as Siemens of Germany, have been reluctant to complain or insist they are comfortable with China’s policies.

Leading Global Rail Equipment Manufacturers

CNR and CSR have grown into formidable global competitors—selling light rail, commuter, and subway vehicles to a broad range of countries, and increasingly bidding for high-speed projects. (See Figure above.) Although Chinese companies still lag behind world leaders technologically, they are able to compete internationally on price, and the national government plays a key role in providing low-cost financing to help these companies scale up.

China’s rise in rail manufacturing is far from an exception. In industry after industry, the country has risen to the top of the global ranks in a remarkably short amount of time, via similar strategies that also entail generous domestic subsidies. This approach has led to a growing trade row over the promotion of green technologies. In December 2010, the Obama Administration filed a case against China at the World Trade Organization, complaining about Beijing’s subsidies for wind energy. The danger is that such battles—eco-protectionism versus eco-mercantilism—will take precedence over more cooperative policies in pursuit of green technologies.

China, eco-mercantilism, eco-protectionism, high-speed, investment, rail, transportation

Spain committed to heavy rail investments beginning in the late 1980s.  The country now has the largest high-speed rail construction program in Europe, and its network recently surpassed France’s in length.  Its track length rose from just 470 kilometers in 2002 to about 2,000 kilometers at present.  Government plans call for 10,000 kilometers by 2020, which would allow 90 percent of Spaniards to live within 50 kilometers of a station, and make high-speed rail a meaningful alternative to automobile and air travel for much of the country’s population. (See Map.)

High-speed rail ridership is still small compared with France and Germany, but grew tenfold in 1992–2008 and now accounts for 23 percent of total rail travel in Spain.

Spain's Growing High-Speed Rail Network

In 2004, the Spanish government adopted a new strategic plan for transportation through 2020 called the PEIT (Strategic Plan for Infrastructures and Transport). The plan grew out of a recognition of the uneven quality of domestic rail infrastructure and service, low levels of traffic on some routes, difficulties harmonizing operations with other European railways, and conflicts between rail and urban development.

Remarkably, the plan calls for 44 percent of total transportation investment to be directed toward rail, primarily for expansion of the high-speed network. (See Table below, derived from Michael Renner and Gary Gardner, Global Competitiveness in the Rail and Transit Industry, a report available at Worldwatch’s Web site.)

The PEIT is a social, political, environmental, and development plan with transportation at its core. It seeks to integrate rail with other systems of transport; boost rail’s share of trips undertaken; ensure that traditionally underserved areas of Spain are integrated with the rest of the country; provide a high level of quality of service across the entire system; and adopt the latest railroad technology.

In 2010, with Spain deeply mired in the global recession, the government turned to infrastructure investments, especially in rail, as a way to stimulate the economy while accelerating the modernization for the country’s transportation system. Its two-year Extraordinary Infrastructure Plan, rolled out in April 2010, promised to invest some 17 billion Euros (about $24 billion) in transportation.

Unlike the prevailing priorities in the United States (where 80 percent of federal transportation funds go to highways and just 17 percent to public transportation), 70 percent of funds will go to rail and 30 percent to highways. High-speed rail tracks will see $8.3 billion in new investment in 2010 alone. This is about as much as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) makes available.  But on a per capita basis, it is almost seven times as much.

high-speed, infrastructure, investment, Policy, rail, Spain, transportation, US

Shortly before Christmas last year, Spain passed a milestone. The country’s prime minister and king attended a ceremony for the opening of a roughly 400-kilometer high-speed railway line connecting the capital Madrid with the third-largest city of Valencia. That brought Spain’s high-speed network to a total of about 2,000 kilometers, surpassing France’s 1,960 kilometers.

France became Europe’s pioneer of high-speed rail service in 1981 (following Japan, which initiated its Shinkansen trains in 1964 and now has about 2,400 kilometers of track). Spain only entered the high-speed league in 1992, when a line linking Madrid and Sevilla opened. All three countries demonstrate that passenger rail can be a highly attractive and thoroughly competitive transportation option.

France still reigns supreme in Europe by yardsticks other than track length. In 2008, the latest year for which the European Commission offers data, French travelers racked up 52.6 billion passenger kilometers in high-speed rail travel. Second-place Germany had a mere 23.3 billion pkm, followed at a distance by Italy (8.9 billion pkm) and then Spain (5.5 billion pkm).

These figures reflect the fact that France’s high-speed system has been around for a longer time than those in neighboring countries and is thus well established. But France has been able to build up substantial ridership by ensuring that its fast trains (trains à grande vitesse, or TGV) are “TGV pour tous”—that is, affordable for everyone. Thus, discounts are available for the poor, the young, the old, the sick, and large families.

Including all rail trips, fast and slow, France leads the continent with 85 billion passenger kilometers, just slightly more than its neighbor Germany (82 billion passenger km). The United Kingdom and Italy follow at a distance with 52.7 and 49.8 billion pkm, respectively, and Spain with 24 billion pkm. In France, an astounding 62 percent of all train travel took place on high-speed lines in 2008. On the continent as a whole, the average share was one-quarter.

The Figure to the right adjusts rail travel data for the different population sizes of Europe’s five largest countries. Spain still ranks behind France, Germany, and Italy in high-speed travel, but the country’s enormous efforts to expand its tracks (which another Green Economy post will explore) will surely change the picture in years to come. Already, the popular Madrid-to-Barcelona line has drawn many people who formerly traveled by air, and RENFE, Spain’s rail operating agency, expects to quadruple its market share of the Madrid-Valencia distance to 41 percent, again mostly at the expense of airline travel.

To understand why people switch, there is no better way than to experience Spanish rail yourself.  I still recall the pleasant experience of traveling from Sevilla to Cordoba on the AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) train back in 2006. The trains are not just fast, but reliable and comfortable. In today’s world where air travel involves many hours wasted getting to and from airports and waiting at flight gates, and ever-more intrusive security measures, train travel offers an enjoyable alternative.

Spain and its European neighbors remain among the global rail leaders. In 2008, people in the 27 member countries of the European Union traveled 409 billion pkm on all types of intercity and commuter trains. Amazingly, however, that was just slightly more than the rail volume in Japan (405 billion pkm). Given that Japan’s population is just a little over one-quarter that of the EU, that makes the Japanese the world’s rail travel champion. (See Table.)

Passenger Rail Travel and Population Size, 2008

Billion Passenger Kilometers Population (Million) Travel per Capita (Billion pkm)
European Union 409 495 826
United States 37 305 121
Japan 405 128 3,164
China 778 1,325 587
Russia 176 142 1,239

Source: European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy and Transport, EU Energy and Transport in Figures, Statistical Pocketbook 2010 (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2010), p. 106 (for rail statistics); Population Reference Bureau, 2008 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: 2009) (for population data).

European Union, France, Germany, high-speed, infrastructure, Italy, japan, rail, Spain, track, transportation, United Kingdom

Here is another installment in our series of blog posts on rail developments.  Like the earlier posts in the series, this is drawn from our project with the Apollo Alliance that resulted in two reports published last month.

As global ridership on intercity rail and transit continues to grow, many systems around the world are being expanded or newly constructed. This has led to rising orders for rail vehicles and buses. It has also created an opportunity for countries that lead in this sector to benefit greatly from the manufacturing dollars and job creation this will bring.

Currently, some 400 light rail systems with more than 44,000 rail vehicles are in operation worldwide, another 60 systems or so are under construction, and more than 200 are in the planning stage. Europe has the highest density, with 170 systems and more than 7,900 miles of lines in operation and nearly 100 more in various stages of construction or planning. North America has 30 systems in operation and 10 under construction. But Asia and the Pacific is the region with the fastest growth.

Much of the current excitement is directed toward the expansion of high-speed intercity rail (HSR) lines. In 2009, HSR lines totaling some 6,650 miles were operational, including close to 1,490 miles in Japan and about 1,180 miles in France—the two early pioneers. In 2008, European Union members had a combined high-speed network of close to 3,600 miles. The same year, the world’s HSR fleet consisted of some 2,200 trainsets—1,500 in Western Europe and 650 in Asia (mostly in Japan).

These statistics will change rapidly as more countries jump into the fray. By 2015, the number of trainsets in operation worldwide is expected to rise by 70 percent, to 3,725. The front runners, in order of their track-building ambitions between now and 2025, are China, Spain, France, Japan, Turkey, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, the United States, Sweden, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, Iran, South Korea, Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland. (In the United States, Amtrak’s existing Acela service in the Northeast Corridor is nominally capable of high-speed service, but infrastructure limitations impose effective lower speeds.)

China is in the process of building the most extensive HSR system worldwide, with a total length of more than 15,000 miles. But the densest network is emerging in Spain, which has a goal of 6,200 miles by 2020. If China were to match Spain’s effort relative to land size, it would have to build 118,000 miles of lines; in proportion to population, it would have to build 180,000 miles.

Likewise, if the United States were to match Spain’s commitment, it would have to build 183,000 and 75,000 miles, respectively. This is many orders of magnitude larger than what is currently on the drawing boards. To get anywhere near the effort that countries like China and Spain are undertaking, the United States will need to make a sustained commitment and create a reliable and sustainable source of funding.

Asia, China, Europe, European Union, high-speed, infrastructure, investment, japan, light rail, North America, rail, Spain, transit, transportation, US, world

According to the consulting firm SCI Verkehr, worldwide operations and capital budgets for passenger and freight rail were a combined $590 billion in 2008. Another study by Roland Berger consultants finds that the global market for rail goods and related services (not including operations) was $169 billion in 2007, up from $129 billion in 2006. But how do these numbers break down regionally and nationally, and what does this portend for the future?

The United States—and more broadly, the Americas—retains a big market share in freight rail but lags far behind in passenger rail compared to many countries, especially in Europe and Asia. In 2002, North and South America together accounted for 31 percent of the world’s diesel locomotives and a third of the world’s freight wagons, but for only 1.5 percent of the world’s passenger rail cars and less than 1 percent of electric locomotives.

For transit rail cars, the United States accounts for about 5 percent of the global fleet and for a correspondingly small portion of global demand for new cars. Canada and Mexico add another 2 percent, bringing the North American total to 7 percent. By comparison, Japan is home to 11 percent of the global fleet, and Europe 35 percent. Annual U.S. orders for transit cars are erratic, swinging from a range of some 200–400 cars in most years to isolated peak years of about 1,200 in the early 1980s and early 2000s.

This is where change is critical: It is not enough to have one or two years with large orders for rail vehicles. What is needed is a sustained investment program in the United States. Only then will a rail manufacturing industry re-emerge.

The vast majority of the world rail market is infrastructure-related. Rail vehicles account for close to a third of the market volume. Western Europe currently dominates the market, followed by Asia and the Pacific, although other regions lead in specific industry segments, such as services. (See Table 1.) About two-thirds of the market volume is considered “accessible,” meaning that orders are open to bids from international suppliers.

China, Europe, infrastructure, investment, priorities, rail, transportation, US, world