Electric Flights Between Major Hubs Possible in Ten Years as Tesla Outpaces Ford & GM Market Value

As the impacts of climate change continue to worsen, the opportunity still exists for leaders and individuals at every level to reduce the coming harms by renewing and redoubling the push for clean energy. And in many places, this kind of strong leadership is happening — just not in the Trump White House.

(Battery gigafactories, solar roofs, electric vehicles and many other renewable energy advances are enabling both energy independence and the potential for a rapid response to human-forced climate change. But obstacles imposed by short-sighted and immoral leaders like Trump could get in the way of these much-needed actions. Image source: Tesla.)

In January, China appeared ready to take the title of clean energy leader away from the United States as it planned to shut down 104 carbon and soot spewing coal-fired power plants. California and New York pledged to redouble support for renewables even as they vowed to fight Trump’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan all the way to the Supreme Court (an all-too clear reminder of why the Republican sabotage of Garland really hurt us all). Meanwhile, 25 cities in the U.S. have now set their sights on getting 100 percent of their energy needs from zero-carbon sources.

Tesla Surges Ahead Despite Negative Attacks

The supporting clean energy industry is also still making great strides despite attacks on helpful climate and energy policy by Trump. Tesla this month announced that nearly 30,000 of its electric vehicles were sold in the first quarter of 2017 — that’s a 69 percent jump in sales over the same period for 2016. The news buoyed Tesla stock prices which are now more highly valued than those of the still mostly fossil-fueled Ford and GM. The news shows that confidence among investors for Tesla’s future success is hitting extraordinary high levels, despite what has been an ongoing negative PR campaign linked to fossil-fuel special interests against the clean energy company.

(Elon Musk mocks those in the investor media who’ve been on what amounts to a multi-year campaign to talk down Tesla at all costs.)

Tesla plans to rapidly ramp up electric vehicle production this year with the entry of the Model 3. The clean energy company is presently on track to sell about 400,000 Model 3’s in 2-3 years. And its Nevada Gigafactory is already ramping up the battery production that will support the new vehicle.

Electric Medium Range Aircraft on the Horizon

Tesla owes a lot of its success to its ability to provide high energy density batteries at a relatively low cost. And the company now produces a wide range of clean energy products from battery storage systems to electric vehicles to solar rooftops. Tesla’s ability to leverage advances in energy storage and renewable energy technology has been a primary key to its relatively rapid short-term success. And it’s these rapid advances in renewable energy that are enabling another wave of products increasingly capable of replacing harmful fossil fuel burning — extending even to medium range aircraft in the near future.

(The Wright 1 by Wright Electric is expected to be able to handle up to 30 percent of global air travel without the use of fossil fuels.)

According to reports from BBC, Wright Electric is set to produce a plane that, within the next decade, will be capable of making medium range flights. It expects to produce an aircraft called the Wright 1 which will be capable of making 300 mile flights using electric engines and battery power alone. The aircraft could, for example, make the trip from London to Paris. Wright Electric says that the new craft would be capable of completing 30 percent of global flights. The aircraft is expected to be considerably quieter than conventional, fossil fuel driven craft. And British low cost flyer — Easyjet — has already expressed interest in the design.

Storage Advances Our Options for Fighting Climate Change

In the past, battery storage energy density was too low to support the needs for most air travel platforms. But recently, both increasing energy density in new batteries and falling costs have been enabling electric flight. That said, electric medium range aircraft would be a real sustainability breakthrough — adding to the biofuel option for air travel.

It is becoming increasingly clear that we have strong options for confronting climate change. With each week there seems to be some new advance or positive movement. But we must make the choice to turn away from harmful fossil fuels together. And, unfortunately, this issue has been clouded by harmful political actors which puts everything we’ve worked for up until this point into jeopardy.

Links:

London-Paris Electric Flight in a Decade

Tesla Now Worth More Than Ford, GM

Tesla

Wright Electric

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Hat tip to Greg

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47 Comments

  1. Tesla should reach 500,000 cars a year sales in 2018. This will be enough to take EV & PHEV sales to 5% of US new car/light truck sales. But there will also be a new Leaf, new all electric VW, etc.

    Reply
  2. Vic

     /  April 5, 2017

    Remnants of Tropical Cyclone “Debbie” have reached New Zealand and are now dumping flooding rain across the North Island. Parts of the region have declared states of emergency and are expecting record flooding Wednesday.

    …modelling suggested that the Whanganui River, New Zealand’s longest navigable waterway, would rise to 19.3 m (63.3 feet) at Pipiriki by about 13:00 local time on Wednesday, about 4 m (13.1 feet) above the level of devastating floods of June 2015.

    https://watchers.news/2017/04/04/ex-cyclone-debbie-wreaks-havoc-across-north-island-new-zealand/

    Reply
    • The storm that just won’t quit.

      Reply
      • lesliegraham1

         /  April 5, 2017

        Tell me about it.
        Still lashing down right now and rattling the windows. I think this might be the last of it for this area (just south of Auckland) though.
        Rain is always good news here – especially as we have had both the driest year on record (2015) and the hottest year on record (2016). The wettest year on record would give us a hat-trick and replenish the soil moisture deficit that has been building up.

        Reply
        • lesliegraham1

           /  April 5, 2017

          The New Zealand radio DJ’s have suddenly all become climate scientists now and have been endlessly repeating: “It has nothing to do with global warming…squawk!…it has nothing to do with global warming…squawk!…it has nothing to do with global warming…squawk!…it has nothing….” all sodden day.

        • Sounds like a very loud desperation has settled in among the climate change denial media.

        • Thanks for these reports and context, Leslie.

      • Hilary

         /  April 5, 2017

        And from my town (water ankle deep in my yard, the whole town is close to sea level so if one of the many city’s pumps fail….!):
        http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/91249162/napier-city-council-releases-sewage-into-ahuriri-estuary-due-to-heavy-rain

        and the Capital’s airport having weather related problems with their navigation systems:
        http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/91241591/wairarapa-bridge-closed-because-of-flood-risk

        Hilary

        Reply
        • My hometown of Virginia Beach has a similar problem. The land is subsiding, the seas are rising, and whenever we get any significant rain in combination with a coastal storm there’s pretty intense flooding as the water just can’t drain.

          Thanks for the updates from your region, Hilary.

  3. Ryan in New England

     /  April 5, 2017

    It’s like a battle between hope and despair. We have great news in renewable/electric technology, sandwiched between terrible news of climate change effects and the regressive American government.

    It seems battery technology is really starting to take off. When electric becomes cheaper than fossil fuel based transportation (which is what we are currently experiencing) then the average consumer will readily embrace it. What’s happening is market forces are doing more to reduce emissions than the American government.

    This episode of Nova is the search for a super battery. It explains in simple terms how lithium-ion batteries work and the challenges that developers are trying to overcome in order to produce batteries capable of meeting the challenges of the future.

    Reply
    • Ryan in New England

       /  April 5, 2017

      And here’s a documentary about the current breakthroughs in renewable technology, like solar electricity being produced at a lower cost than fossil fuels.

      Reply
    • Thanks for these, Ryan. The potential for renewable energy scaling is considerable. Challenges exist with regards to battery energy density, still, but there’s a lot more innovation aimed at the problem than there was in the past. Obama’s various clean energy initiatives really helped in this regard and the Trump admin trying to uproot them is about as harmful and nonsensical as pretty much everything else they’re doing.

      Reply
  4. Paul PNW

     /  April 5, 2017

    I *think* that gigafactory graphic is a little out of date and they’ve revised the 2020 capacity to 150GWh.

    I’m in position to do so atm but a tesla is the only car I have an interest in buying going forward.

    Reply
    • According to the most recent literature, the initial completed capacity is slated for 50 GWh. There is some scuttle butt about possibly doubling the capacity at this site. Tesla apparently has plans for multiple gigafactories around the world.

      Reply
  5. John S

     /  April 5, 2017

    Short haul shipping shipping also going electric. Scotland already has a few hybrids in operation, this article about Norway’s costal ferries. Note the government leadership and support., also the successful effort to overcome various operational obstacles.

    Each year, some 20 million cars, vans and trucks cross the country’s many fjords on roughly 130 ferry routes.

    Following two years of trials of the world’s first electric car ferry, named Ampere, ferry operators are busy making the transition from diesel to comply with new government requirements for all new ferry licensees to deliver zero- or low-emission alternatives.

    “We continue the work with low-emission ferries because we believe it will benefit the climate, Norwegian industry and Norwegian jobs,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in a speech in April 2016, in which she vowed to help fund required quayside infrastructure.

    Each ferry would save about a million litres of diesel per year, helping to reduce energy costs by 60% or more, says Odd Moen, head of sales at Siemens’ marine division.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/business-39478856

    Reply
  6. climatehawk1

     /  April 5, 2017

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  7. Andy_in_SD

     /  April 5, 2017

    A really well done piece on Southern Florida & rising oceans by BBC. It covers every aspect to the issue, above and below ground.

    Look beyond all the glass and steel, though, and – despite the federal government’s sidelining of the issue – there’s another thrum of activity. It’s the wastewater treatment plant constructing new buildings five feet higher than the old ones. The 105 miles (169km) of roads being raised in Miami Beach. The new shopping mall built with flood gates. The 116 tidal valves installed in Fort Lauderdale. The seawalls being raised and repaired. And the worried conversations between more and more residents every year about what the sea-rise models predict – and what to do about it.

    http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170403-miamis-fight-against-sea-level-rise

    Reply
    • Thanks for this, Andy. It’s a race to adapt for Miami. But unless they can somehow lift the entire city infrastructure along with most buildings and make the whole place very resilient to storms, I don’t see how this works out in the end. Surely the push for development and retaining real estate values is driving these activities. And I understand how tough a spot Miami politicians must be in right now. But ultimately, Miami’s fate depends on cuts to greenhouse gas emissions that aren’t happening fast enough to save the city in the medium to long term.

      Reply
    • Tweeted this, thanks.

      Reply
  8. Dave McGinnis

     /  April 5, 2017

    Robert, thanks for accentuating the positive.

    Reply
    • Cheers, Dave. There are two sides to this story. I’ve tended to focus on threat awareness — which is necessary for a response. But we should be clear that a response is possible.

      Reply
    • NS Alito

       /  April 7, 2017

      Electric planes are good, but will be completely dwarfed by the total amount of operational liquid-fuel fleet for decades to come. IMHO, the much bigger story is the switch to bio-fuels for existing jets, which represent trillions of dollars of investment worldwide.

      Reply
      • It’s tough to switch to biofuels when fossil fuels are so politically strong. I’m thinking insurgent battery advances will tend to disrupt that power base. Hopefully, it will open the door for more biofuel based flights. However, electric aircraft are now possible as well. We live in very interesting and, in this case, innovative times.

        Reply
  9. RJ

     /  April 5, 2017

    Off Topic – Sorry Robert, but I’m not aware of how to contact you otherwise. Here’s an article you might find interesting: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-21/tasmanian-kelp-forests-dying-as-water-warms-dive-operator-says/8289300
    (feel free to delete this post after you’ve seen it. Thanks)

    Reply
  10. Andrew Dodds

     /  April 5, 2017

    I remain somewhat dubious about the potential for long distance electric flight, at least with any significant payload. Energy densities are a long, long way behind (although you do save on drivetrain weight and conversion efficiency).

    In that respect, electrified long distance, high speed rail is already available as a technology and given shorter check-in/check-out times can win on travel time for up to 1000 miles.

    Reply
    • Spike

       /  April 5, 2017

      I agree this is the case in continental Europe. Here in the UK however our railways are so shambolic and expensive since privatisation that many people fly or drive for long distance travel even within the UK. It’s utterly absurd that the least sustainable option is cheapest.

      Reply
      • Rail makes so much sense from the sustainability perspective, the jobs perspective, and the ease of system synergy with renewable energy perspective. It’s basically a no-brainer. But conservative politicians in the western world almost universally oppose it on an ideological basis.

        I think that you can manage air travel with a combination of biofuels and electrical based systems. There is movement on energy density for batteries now and once we start to get medium range aircraft aloft, I don’t think the longer range versions will be too far off. Current path looks like mid 2100s, but could move closer in time if EV and storage scaling move faster than expected.

        Reply
  11. Vic

     /  April 5, 2017

    Tech company Siemens have developed a new electric motor designed specifically to power aircraft, with a power to weight ratio five times stronger than comparable drive systems.

    Since being fitted into an Extra 330LE aerobatic plane in June last year it has been breaking speed records, climb rate records and has become the first electric plane to successfully tow a glider, taking only 76 seconds to lift the glider to a height of 600 metres.

    “This aerotow provides further highly visible evidence of our record-setting motor’s performance capabilities,” said Frank Anton, head of eAircraft at the Siemens venture capital unit next47. “Just six such propulsion units would be sufficient to power a typical 19-seat hybrid-electric airplane.”

    “By 2030, we expect to see the first planes carrying up to 100 passengers and having a range of about 1,000 kilometers,” explained Anton.

    http://news.europawire.eu/extra-330le-aerobatic-plane-powered-by-siemens-propulsion-system-sets-two-new-speed-records-6545123456789/eu-press-release/2017/04/04/

    Reply
    • Fantastic.

      So, as with vehicles, you have to consider the extraordinary efficiency of the electric motor when you look at the whole equation. With electric aircraft, engine weight is considerably less than with conventional aircraft. This helps to mitigate battery energy density issues. As a result, you don’t need a battery energy density with parity to fossil fuel energy density and just need to get within about 200 percent or so to have competitive platforms.

      Reply
  12. Syd Bridges

     /  April 5, 2017

    Thank you for a very interesting post. The technology is marching on and, given sane leadership, would probably enable us to avoid the worst climate disasters. But the wrecking crew is in chargeat present..

    Reply
    • The wrecking crew’s power is in significant part aligned with the economic power of fossil fuels. We’re dealing with what amounts to the 21st Century version of slavery here. And though switching energy will not solve the problem of dictators and bad actors that has been with us since the dawn of humankind, it will certainly undermine and remove from power a number of them even as it enables more democratic energy systems.

      Reply
  13. Greg

     /  April 5, 2017

    Thank you for this great piece! Tesla market cap reached more than GM’s today which means it became the most valuable American auto company…and it is of course a technology company foremost. It is a pillar of hope. So are electric aircraft.
    http://insideevs.com/tesla-stock-surpasses-300-first-time-ever-market-cap-52-billion/

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words, Greg. There are a lot of very hopeful trends underway. Reactionary politics are in full reverse, but you just can’t halt innovation once it gets moving. Obama really did help us out in this regard. We’d be at least 5 years behind now if it weren’t for his administration.

      Reply
  14. wharf rat

     /  April 5, 2017

    Future carbon dioxide, climate warming potentially unprecedented in 420 million years
    Date:
    April 4, 2017
    Source:
    University of Southampton
    Summary:
    Over the next 100 to 200 years, carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere will head towards values not seen since the Triassic period, 200 million years ago. Furthermore, by the 23rd century, the climate could reach a warmth not seen in 420 million years, say researchers.

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170404124402.htm

    Reply
    • So this is the problem with fossil fuel burning. You get to worse than the Permian in less time than it typically takes, geologically speaking, to heat up a cup of tea.

      Reply
  15. Jimbot

     /  April 5, 2017

    Thanks for the report RS. All the solar stuff sounds great. There was a big effort to get solar and wind going in the 70s, when it might not have been too late, but it got derailed. Limits to Growth was declared a failed meme in 1980s by neoliberal economist.

    (The Plane, The Plane!) Sorry to say but this actually sounds like fantasy technology. It’s likely a promotional scam. Check Kunstler’s last post on “virtue signalling”. It’s bound to attract investors based on that meme alone.

    Like the atmospheric carbon removal technology that the IPCC touts as the only way to keep a habitable planet ( under 2C). And Elon’s planning to take his rich pals to Mars, already asking $25M to get on the list. They must be worried about something if they’re willing to pony up for such a long shot.

    I agree that rail makes more sense. Obama didn’t seem to make much progress on this. Apparently a big problem in the US is in appropriating the Right of Way. The landowners have too much influence.

    Reply
    • Probability of success for sustainability:

      Rail 10/10 (we have the tech now, we can do it now)
      Solar 10/10 (same as rail)
      Wind 10/10 ”
      Electric Aircraft 8/10 nascent segment now high potential negative carbon impact in 1-3 decades time
      IPCC atmospheric carbon capture 6/10 tough technically, but doable. Scaling an issue.
      Humankind moving to Mars 0/10 Attempting this is a basic admission of failure. Mars is a dead world that will take hundreds of years and the invention of technologies we don’t yet have to habilitate. Small enclosed biosphere like habitats might, in the best case, support hundreds to thousands of people on mars in the 50-100 year timeframe at very high cost. There are more than 7 billion people on Earth and the technical challenges are far, far greater than mere atmospheric carbon capture.

      Kuntsler is a simpleminded, backward-thinking demagogue who has mangled the topic of sustainability beyond recognition and regularly attacks any solutions to climate change. Virtue signaling is a positive market innovation that incentivizes good action and disincentivizes bad action. The fact that Kunstler attacks it is reason enough to support it and to view it as a positive trend.

      Reply
  16. coloradobob

     /  April 5, 2017

    Tornadoes a Threat Yet Again for Southeast U.S. on Wednesday
    Plentiful instability.
    A pool of very warm, moist air (dew points above 70°F) lies south of a warm front that bisected Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia on Wednesday morning. Temperatures were already approaching 80°F before noon in the Florida Panhandle. As the warm front moves north and the upper trough intercepts the juicy air mass, instability will soar to levels more than sufficient for strong tornadoes. Cold air aloft associated with the upper trough will boost the potential for very large hail.

    https://www.wunderground.com/cat6/tornadoes-threat-yet-again-southeast-us-wednesday

    Reply
  1. Electric Flights Between Major Hubs Possible in Ten Years as Tesla Outpaces Ford Market Value
  2. Energy Management

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