Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, briefed the prime minister and state premiers on his special report into the nation’s electricity market and recommends a transition policy as cold-fired electrical generation is phased out. The study was requested by the federal energy minister last fall as the country struggled with several wide-spread power failures in the state of South Australia which is highly dependent on renewable energy for its electricity. Finkel found the nation’s existing electricity market is not equipped to deal with a transition from coal to renewable energy and, if not addressed soon, could impact energy reliability and security. More than three-quarters of electricity produced in the country comes from coal. By 2035, about 70%% of existing coal generating plants will have reached the end of their life span and will not be replaced. They are likely to be replaced by a number of smaller wind, solar and new natural gas-fired generators. However, the existing electric grid and policy framework “is not well suited to co-ordinating the transition ahead”. Dr Finkel said the situation can only be improved if federal and state governments can agree on a new national energy policy. The focus would be to create an orderly rollout of new generation into the market to improve reliability and prevent the blackouts that have rocked South Australia. In addition to adopting a renewable energy target, Dr. Finkel calls for a greater use of natural gas and placing a larger focus on energy storage. The Prime Minister announced that the state and federal governments will report back in August as to how Dr Finkel’s findings can be implemented.

While not mentioned in the Finkel report, experts in Australia say that adopting his recommendations will cause electricity costs for consumers and business to rise, and perhaps a quite a lot. Finkel wants all new renewable energy systems to have built-in storage facilities, which will raise the cost of renewable electricity. In addition, he wants substantial new investment in the nation’s long-distance electricity transmission network, an additional cost to be born by energy consumers. These sums could easily add up to tens of billions of dollars. This inevitably opens the political discussion of who should pay for these upgrades and how much should they pay. As one expert noted:

“If you go on a big infrastructure spend, households and small businesses will pay – but you need to allocate that cost in line with people’s ability to pay. System security doesn’t come cheap. This transition is costly. It is one of the biggest infrastructure challenges we’ve got – this is big dollars, and will wash through onto the household bill.”

While China is recognized for building an enormous amount of renewable energy capacity, the story not being told is about how much of that capacity is standing idle. Although the capacity has been put in place, in many regions it is either not connected to the country’s electric grid or is being bypassed for coal generation. In western China’s Gansu province, 43% of energy from wind went unused in 2016. In the neighboring Xinjiang region, the figure was 38% and in northeast China’s Jilin province it was 30%. The nationwide figure, 17%, was described by the nation’s Global Wind Energy Council as “shockingly high”. Experts say wasted energy will continue to be a drag on Chinese renewable power potential until the country’s electrical grid is modernized and provincial officials end their preference for coal, which provides almost two-thirds of the country’s energy. The problem of electricity going unused could get worse before it gets better. More solar and wind is planned in Chinese provinces that already have more power-generating capacity than they can use now. Additional coal plants are also supposed to come online. And China’s problems are not unique. Almost all of the increased electricity demand in coming years is expected to come from developing nations, according to projections from the International Energy Administration. Edward Cunningham, director of China programs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said:

“Developing nations, such as India, with aggressive wind and solar deployments do face and will face these same challenges.”

Strategy Analytics predicts self driving cars will be a $ 7 trillion global industry by 2050. In addition, self-driving vehicles are expected to free more than 250 million hours of consumers’ commuting time per year in the most congested cities in the world. See Accelerating the Future: The Economic Impact of the Emerging Passenger Economy.

Honda announced it expects to deliver self-driving vehicles by 2025. By that time the company plans to introduce “highly-automated” vehicles, featuring the ability to handle nearly all situations on the road without driver intervention. Honda will sell a Level 4 (High Automation) autonomous vehicle, which means it will still have a steering wheel but rarely needs the driver to take over. Exceptions include bad weather and “unusual driving environments.” With this announcement, Honda joins BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, GM, Toyota, Renault-Nissan, Volvo, Hyundai, and Tesla in aiming to have a self-driving car on the road within the next 3 to 8 years.

New Atlas takes us through the 6 levels of autonomous vehicles  (no automation level 0 to completely autonomous level 5). The concept of “autonomy levels” was originally published by the international Society of Automotive Engineers in 2014, as part of its “Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to On-Road Motor Vehicle Automated Driving Systems”. The report outlines six levels of autonomy that automakers would need to achieve on their way to building the no-steering-wheel self-driving vehicles of the future. Many automakers talk about putting Level 4 vehicles on the road.  Level 4 is defined as:

Level Four: High Automation

Hands, off, eyes off, mind off – a car that can drive itself almost all the time without any human input but might be programmed not to drive in unmapped areas or during severe weather. This is a car you could sleep in.  A level four vehicle can be driven by a human, but it doesn’t ever need to be. It can drive itself full time under the right circumstances, and if it encounters something it can’t handle, it can ask for human assistance, but will park itself and put its passengers in no danger if human help isn’t forthcoming. At this point, you’re looking at a true self-driving car. This is the level Google/Waymo‘s test cars have been operating at for a number of years now.



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