Who killed the electric car?

This is a documentary I can’t wait to see. On June 28th Sony Pictures Classics will be releasing Who Killed The Electric Car? in New York and Los Angeles and in other cities throughout the summer. Commentators in the movie include Joseph Romm (author of The Hype about Hydrogen), Frank J. Gaffney Jr. (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan), Mel Gibson (an electric vehicle driver) and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Check out the site — there’s good background information. This documentary’s release may further explain the timing of Tesla Motors’ coming announcement in early July.

Below is the movie’s synopsis:

It was among the fastest, most efficient production cars ever built. It ran on electricity, produced no emissions and catapulted American technology to the forefront of the automotive industry. The lucky few who drove it never wanted to give it up. So why did General Motors crush its fleet of EV1 electric vehicles in the Arizona desert?

WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? chronicles the life and mysterious death of the GM EV1, examining its cultural and economic ripple effects and how they reverberated through the halls of government and big business.

The year is 1990. California is in a pollution crisis. Smog threatens public health. Desperate for a solution, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) targets the source of its problem: auto exhaust. Inspired by a recent announcement from General Motors about an electric vehicle prototype, the Zero Emissions Mandate (ZEV) is born. It required 2% of new vehicles sold in California to be emission-free by 1998, 10% by 2003. It is the most radical smog-fighting mandate since the catalytic converter.

With a jump on the competition thanks to its speed-record-breaking electric concept car, GM launches its EV1 electric vehicle in 1996. It was a revolutionary modern car, requiring no gas, no oil changes, no mufflers, and rare brake maintenance (a billion-dollar industry unto itself). A typical maintenance checkup for the EV1 consisted of replenishing the windshield washer fluid and a tire rotation.

But the fanfare surrounding the EV1’s launch disappeared and the cars followed. Was it lack of consumer demand as carmakers claimed, or were other persuasive forces at work?

Fast forward to 6 years later… The fleet is gone. EV charging stations dot the California landscape like tombstones, collecting dust and spider webs. How could this happen? Did anyone bother to examine the evidence? Yes, in fact, someone did. And it was murder.

The electric car threatened the status quo. The truth behind its demise resembles the climactic outcome of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express: multiple suspects, each taking their turn with the knife. WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? interviews and investigates automakers, legislators, engineers, consumers and car enthusiasts from Los Angeles to Detroit, to work through motives and alibis, and to piece the complex puzzle together.

Canada’s own Lithium-ion play: Holy Moli

Leave it to a U.S. magazine like Red Herring to draw my attention to a Canadian Lithium-ion developer. Maple Ridge, B.C.-based E-One Moli Energy has been around since 1977 — a spinoff, it appears, from a Lithium-ion research program at the University of British Columbia — but I bet few have heard of this 430-employee company. Not sure how Red Herring stumbled across it, but the magazine listed Moli Energy as one of its top private energy companies in North American for 2006. “E-One Moli Energy has developed high-powered lithium-ion batteries that it says are environmentally friendly and safer than competitors’,” the magazine states. “Milwaukee Electric Tools incorporated them into 28-volt tools last year, and the batteries could one day be used in hybrid vehicles.” The magazine also mentioned Moli Energy in an earlier article on Lithium-ion advancements alongside A123 Systems. If Web sites are any measure of potential (which, obviously, they’re not), Moli Energy needs a major online facelift. The company’s site looks quite amateurish.

Canada’s own Lithium-ion play: Holy Moli

Leave it to a U.S. magazine like Red Herring to draw my attention to a Canadian Lithium-ion developer. Maple Ridge, B.C.-based E-One Moli Energy has been around since 1977 — a spinoff, it appears, from a Lithium-ion research program at the University of British Columbia — but I bet few have heard of this 430-employee company. Not sure how Red Herring stumbled across it, but the magazine listed Moli Energy as one of its top private energy companies in North American for 2006. “E-One Moli Energy has developed high-powered lithium-ion batteries that it says are environmentally friendly and safer than competitors’,” the magazine states. “Milwaukee Electric Tools incorporated them into 28-volt tools last year, and the batteries could one day be used in hybrid vehicles.” The magazine also mentioned Moli Energy in an earlier article on Lithium-ion advancements alongside A123 Systems. If Web sites are any measure of potential (which, obviously, they’re not), Moli Energy needs a major online facelift. The company’s site looks quite amateurish.

On the topic of China… a few tidbits

Reuters has a story here about widespread use of solar thermal heating systems in China. It quotes an academic in Beijing who points out that at least 30 million Chinese households have a solar thermal system and last year 4 of every 5 systems sold in the world were in China. “We are at 15 to 20 per cent annual growth and I don’t see that slowing down,” said the academic.

UPDATE: The San Jose Mercury News also wrote about solar thermal in China.

Meanwhile, the solar race continues. China Daily reports on plans for a massive solar farm in North China. Inner Mongolia Ruyi Industry Co. Ltd. is reportedly working with Germany-based Solar Millennium AG on a project that would ultimately see a 1,000-megawatt solar-thermal farm that would use the heat it produces to create steam for power production. Construction could begin before the end of the year, with the initial phase being 50 megawatts at a cost of about $163 million (U.S.). The rest would be completed through to 2020 at a cost of $2.5 billion.

If you’ve ever had any doubts about how sincere China is with its approach to renewables, alternative energy and conservation, I strongly advise you to read this working paper from Christian Constantin, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia’s international relations institute (Thanks to Mike Brown, co-founder and executive chairman of Chrysalix Energy, for pointing it out to me). Constantin’s thesis is that the current generation of Chinese leaders, as of 2003, have moved away from the state-centric, oil-focused approach to energy security and now view oil as part of a much larger energy picture where conservation, efficiency and renewables play a much larger, even dominant role. China, he argues, is taking this approach to both leapfrog other developed countries, such as the United States, and take a moral high ground in the international community. But perhaps most important, it realizes at has no choice if it wishes to grow its economy and reach a western-world standard of living without completely destroying its environment and seriously impacting the long-term health of its population. Of course, it helps to be a state-run society…