Streetwise Professor

July 26, 2017

Europe Has Always Been at War With the Diesel Engine!

Filed under: China,Climate Change,Economics,Energy,Politics,Regulation — The Professor @ 7:26 pm

Europe is at war with the diesel engine. Paris, Madrid, and Athens will ban diesels starting in 2025. Even Stuttgart (home of Daimler and Porsche) and Munich (home of BMW) are following suit. France and Britain have pledged to eliminate internal combustion engine cars by 2040.   The cars–diesel in particular–are too polluting, you see. And so the Euros are intent on replacing them with electric vehicles.

Europe has always been at war with diesel!

Um, not really. Like Oceania and East Asia, Europe and diesel were once fast allies. In its early days of the fight against climate change, Europe figured that since diesel engines burn fuel more efficiently than gasoline ones, they could reduce carbon emissions by forcing or inducing people to switch to diesel. They gave tax breaks and incentives that led to 1/3 of the European car fleet being diesel.

Then reality crept in. Diesels create more particulates, which create nasty pollution, particularly in urban areas. The Euros thought they could address this by strict emissions standards. So strict, that auto companies couldn’t meet them economically. So they lied and cheated. Brace yourself: even morally superior German companies lied and cheated! So Europe bribed people to pollute their cities. Well played!

Further, even by its own objectives the policy was a failure. Even though diesel has lower CO2 emissions, it has higher soot emissions–and soot contributes to warming. Whoops! Further, the CO2 advantage of diesel has been narrowing over the years, due to improvements in gasoline engine technology. So at best the impact of diesel on warming has been a push, and maybe a net bad.

But never fear! The same geniuses who forced diesel down Europe’s throat have a solution to the evils of diesel: they will force electric cars down people’s throats.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, off the top of my head.

First, in the near term, a good portion of electric cars will be powered by electricity generated by coal. This is especially true if China goes Europe’s way.

Second, the green wet dream is for renewables to replace coal. Don’t even get me started. Renewables are diffuse and intermittent–they don’t scale well. They have caused problems in the power grid wherever (e.g., Europe, California) they have accounted for over 10 percent or so of generation. They consume vast amounts of land: air pollution (if you believe CO2 is a pollutant) is replaced by sight pollution and the destruction of natural habitat and foodstuff producing land. Renewables are a static technology (e.g., the amount of wind generation is limited by physical laws), whereas internal combustion technology has been improving continuously since its introduction in the 19th century. Really economic renewables generation will require a revolution in large-scale storage technology–a revolution that people have been waiting for for decades, but which hasn’t appeared.

Third, disposal of batteries is an environmental nightmare.

Fourth, mining the materials to produce batteries is an environmental nightmare–and is likely to benefit many kleptocrats around the world. Are greens really all that excited about massive mines for rare earths (notoriously polluting) and copper springing up to provide the materials for their dream machines? Will they pass laws against, say, blood cobalt? (And when they do, will they acknowledge–even to themselves–their culpability? Put me down as a “no.”)

Fifth, depending on the fuel mix, carbon emissions over an EV’s lifetime are not that much lower than those of an internal combustion car using existing technology–and that technology (as noted above) will improve.

Like I say, top of my head. But there’s an even bigger reason:

Sixth, unintended consequences, or more prosaically, shit happens. Just like the diesel box of chocolates was full of things the Euro better thans didn’t expect, and didn’t like upon consuming, the EV craze will also present unintended and unexpected effects, and in this type of circumstance, these effects are usually negative.

But they know better! How do we know? Because they keep telling us so! And because they keep telling us what to do!  Despite the fact that their actual record of performance is a litany of failures. (I cleaned that up. My initial draft had a word starting with “cluster.”)

Given such a track record, people with any decency would exercise some restraint and have some humility before embarking on another attempt to dictate technology. But no, that’s not the elite’s way. That’s not the bureaucrats’ way. They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing and will continue to prove that until someone stops them. Sadly, short of revolution it’s hard to see how that can happen.

Almost all attempts by states to dictate technology are utter fiascos. The knowledge problem is bigger here than anywhere, and the feedbacks are devilishly complex and hard to predict. Look at something seemingly as prosaic and well-understood as the production of oil and gas. Ten or twelve years ago, only a few visionaries glimpsed the potential of fracking, and I doubt that even they would admit that they foresaw the transformation that has occurred. Trying to dictate a technology that is dependent on myriad other technologies, and which may be rendered obsolete by technologies not yet developed, is something that only fools do.

But alas, there are many fools in high places.

The Orwellian switch from Europe and Diesel Have Always Been Allies to Europe Has Always Been at War With Diesel is particularly revealing because rather than recognize that the experience of Europe’s pro-diesel policy makes a mockery of policymakers pretenses of foresight, the failure of that policy is spurring them to embark on an even more speculative binge of coercion!

If you think CO2 is an issue, tax CO2 and let the market figure out the optimal way of reducing emissions: there are many margins on which to adjust, including technical innovation, fuel substitution, changes in lifestyle. Yet these madmen (and women) and fools insist on dictating technology right after their past dictates have proved failures. Worse than that: they are issuing new ukases because their old ones were crashing failures.

We are in the best of hands.

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  1. “Will they pass laws against, say, blood cobalt?”

    Surely the answer is yes. I don’t think Greens look ahead far enough to realize that the effects of such regulations might engender backlash that could undermine their own political agenda.

    “If you think CO2 is an issue, tax CO2 and let the market figure out the optimal way of reducing emissions”

    I suspect Mankiw’s Pigou Club will never win on this because any attempt to pass a CO2 tax will turn the question of estimating the social cost of carbon into a salient political issue, and there does not exist a genuinely intellectually defensible estimate of the SCC, let alone one that would justify a CO2 tax that is high enough to be consistent with Green rhetoric on the severity of the problem.

    Comment by Sam — July 26, 2017 @ 8:52 pm

  2. “madmen (and women)” – that seems a bit outdated, like the enlightened diesel policy. In this day and age of enlightened EV policy, a much longer list of options is required, including, I am told, attack helicopter.

    Comment by Ivan — July 27, 2017 @ 12:31 am

  3. When the fuss about particulate pollution in London started up a few months ago, one or two quiet voices pointed out that some of that pollution was caused by wood-burning stoves, of the sort hipsters and cool people install – probably in defiance of the Clean Air Act. Since when, silence has reigned on that front.

    Comment by dearieme — July 27, 2017 @ 4:22 am

  4. Quite a few technical exaggerations about combustion engines there:
    – Yes, early diesels emitted a lot of particles, but a well-maintained diesel particulate filter (ubiquitous since the mid-2000s) can mitigate a huge proportion of that. Visible soot from European passenger cars is almost non-existent.
    – Auto companies can meet the emissions regs economically, it’s just that some of them chose not to because they were allowed to get away with it. Volvo, Merc and many others started using urea injection to control nitrogen emissions to great success. Just because VW claimed to be able to do it through magic of electronic fuel control and were subsequently found to be lying doesn’t mean that NOBODY complied with the regulations nor that they couldn’t do so economically. Incidentally, the Germans tried to pull a similar stunt with particulate filters in the 2000s, and they were shown-up by the French (who went in for filters).
    – The recent improvements in gasoline are largely illusory (just Google “divergence in fuel economy results”). Though with EU regulators now FINALLY acting on behalf of citizens (instead of the auto industry) and introducing more realistic fuel economy and emissions testing, we will see what’s what.
    – The idea that wind-power doesn’t scale is demonstrably untrue: Turbines have been getting bigger for years, culminating in the monster 9MW Vestas V164, with a diameter of over 500ft. The only limit on how much wind power can be extracted is how many and how big… just like fossil fuels! (I’m not saying it’s cheap, but it gets closer to competitiveness every year).
    – Sight pollution: This is not a real kind of pollution.
    – Cars have gotten immensely cleaner since the 1980s. Mostly lead by, you’ll note, those useless beatniks in California and us cluster-f**** in Europe.
    – The goal of banning combustion cars from city-centres is only based on local air quality – even if they claim otherwise, it’s not about saving the planet. Automotive pollution is concentrated in cities, as are people – it makes sense to separate the two.
    – Blood cobalt. Terrorist oil. Not that I like either option, but is one really worse than the other? At least the first option leaves the option of improving corporate governance (since more western firms are involved in mining), it’s good for one’s trade-balance and the cashflows are orders of magnitude smaller.

    I’m totally with you on the nonsense of governments imposing technical choices on populations, but just like the environmentalists, if you’re going to base it on such disputable arguments, you’ll not convince anybody…

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — July 27, 2017 @ 5:49 am

  5. I was in London a month ago for the first time in many years. I didn’t realize that the car engines there turn off when they come to a stop (at alight or stop sign). When the light turns green on a busy road, there are big billows of diesel exhaust coming from all the cars at the light starting up (like a gas-powered golf cart does when you press the pedal). It was quite nauseating. I asked the driver why they wanted to constantly stop and start their engines rather than letting them stay warm and idle efficiently. He replied that it was a government mandate in order to protect the environment.

    Comment by Pacy — July 27, 2017 @ 7:51 am

  6. I’m working at Daimler now. We got a letter from the CEO, Dieter Zetsche, today discussing this same topic. He’s basically doubling down on Daimler’s ability to create better diesel engines and that banning them is unnecessary. (like in the article you linked to) To paraphrase, they “are worth fighting for.” This supports most everything you say above. That Stuttgart is wanting to ban them makes it all the more interesting.

    I haven’t delved into the CO2 tax issue enough. On the surface, it just seems like you’re doing the same thing as the government picking a technology. Is picking a molecule any better?

    Lastly, there will be no blood cobalt until a Republican starts running some of these renewable companies. Just to pull their chains, the Koch brothers should buy one of these companies. Then you’d see riots in the streets saying “No blood for green energy.”

    Comment by Howard Roark — July 27, 2017 @ 10:11 am

  7. I believe the Tesla needs a 75amp charger for its battery. Most homes have 100amp service, although many have 200amp. The electric grid cannot support the 75amp charging stations needed to support an expanded electric car market. And, of course, the most efficient fuel for power generation is coal.

    Comment by Peter M Todebush — July 27, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

  8. “If you think CO2 is an issue, tax CO2.”

    Do not give them ideas!

    Comment by Thomas Jefferson — July 27, 2017 @ 12:41 pm

  9. @HibernoFrog,

    The VW “cheating” was illegal; the cheating done with gas ICE is legal, if silly. Since 2001, large displacement engines have been rapidly replaced with small-displacement, four cylinder engines with increasingly complex electronic controls. To make up for the lack of power, the builders have added large amounts of turbo boost. Small engine using little boost makes the test (and, not coincidently the sales sticker) numbers look good to great. Now, out on the road, drivers are using all that boost to perform like their old V6 or V8 did. SPOILER ALERT: fuel consumption is miserable, even worse than the old engine in the real world. I’ve rented several Ford EcoBoost cars–not one, even with the small four in an Focus could match my Mercedes C350 on the highway.

    As Ford should advertise EcoBoost–you cam have one or the other, but not both.

    Comment by The Pilot — July 27, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

  10. @HibernoFrog

    If you truly believe that wind power generation “gets closer to competitiveness every year”, then please elaborate on why they still need massive subsidies to stay in business?

    Here in Australia, we have subsidies as well as “renewable energy targets”; these have resulted in a country with some of the most abundant energy sources (coal, gas, uranium, thorium…you name it, we’ve got it!) to go from the cheapest electricity in the world to the most expensive & least reliable in a bit over a decade!

    You can google “South Australia energy crisis & blackouts” to get a picture on just how “competitive”, “efficient” or even outright crazy this obsession with wind & solar is.

    The Prof is entirely correct on his assessment of what we now call “ruinables” in Oz.

    Comment by John Bayley — July 27, 2017 @ 5:06 pm

  11. The idea that wind-power doesn’t scale is demonstrably untrue: Turbines have been getting bigger for years, culminating in the monster 9MW Vestas V164, with a diameter of over 500ft.

    That’s scaling the generator, not the electricity generation: if the wind isn’t blowing, that 9MW generator isn’t going to produce any more than a 1MW unit, and adding more windmills isn’t going to help with that. This is why it’s not scaleable in the same way a gas-powered plant is, i.e build another unit and get twice the output.

    But SWP is also right to say wind power is limited by physics. A few years back I attended a seminar of a major energy company who had just pulled all investment out of wind power because they realised there would be no step-change coming that would make the format viable. They were running into the same physical limitations the Dutch did a couple of hundred years ago, mostly associated with what happens when the blades spin too fast. Renewables might be okay now adding in 10% or so the grid, but they will never replace fossil fuels or nuclear without a step-change in technology (possibly even two: one for generation, another for storage). Solar power has potential to provide a step-change in electricity generation, and we’ve seen the units getting better and better and cheaper and cheaper. Wind, on the other hand, has barely changed and is unlikely to.

    Comment by Tim Newman — July 28, 2017 @ 12:49 am

  12. @The Pilot:
    – VW only found out that what they were doing was legal in Europe after the fact. I don’t think they deserve credit for foresight 🙂
    – The Ecoboost engines are impressive technology, but not nearly as eco as expected (same for the Fiat Twin-Air). It’s funny how turbo-petrol engines struggle to manage good fuel economy, while diesels do not. I’d be interested to know why that is…

    Pumped storage (around for decades in its modern form) would go a long way to smoothing out solar and wind variations. It has huge energy density and can run all day long – I’m amazed it’s not more popular. Turbines can be spread-out in places where the wind is fairly reliable and there’s nothing to stop us keeping some coal plants on standby for those days when even those mitigations aren’t enough (I mean, they’re already built…). Well, I say us – but obviously we won’t be seeing anything like this in France thanks to their bias towards nuclear.

    The Feds did help (a bit) with the big recent advances in fracking:

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — July 28, 2017 @ 3:00 pm

  13. The first practical electric motor was introduced in the 1830s.
    Then, from a (ahem) standing start, the internal combustion engine wiped the floor with them a couple of generations later.
    If electric motors are so brilliant why are they so rare on the roads?

    Comment by james — July 28, 2017 @ 7:02 pm

  14. Pumped storage (around for decades in its modern form) would go a long way to smoothing out solar and wind variations.

    In the real world, isn’t pumped storage landscape/geology dependent? Trying to solve a wishful-thinking-inspired problem with a wishful-thinking-inspired solution doesn’t seem especially sensible.

    Comment by Fen Tiger — July 29, 2017 @ 5:30 am

  15. @Hiberno Frog

    “It has huge energy density and can run all day long – I’m amazed it’s not more popular.”

    One reason is mentioned right at the top of the Wikipedia page:

    The main disadvantage of PHS is the specialist nature of the site required, needing both geographical height and water availability. Suitable sites are therefore likely to be in hilly or mountainous regions, and potentially in areas of outstanding natural beauty, and therefore there are also social and ecological issues to overcome.

    I suspect there are others.

    Comment by Ivan — July 29, 2017 @ 6:52 am

  16. Two solutions:
    Arrange traffic lights better. This is the sort of thing that computers and cctv can do better than humans.
    Make cars lighter. It’s absurd that you take a child to violin practice in a vehicle that weighs 100 times as much as the child.

    Comment by james — July 29, 2017 @ 12:16 pm

  17. @Fen/Ivan: Maybe I’m too much of an engineer about this, but I’ve very little time for “natural beauty” arguments against pumped storage, wind-turbines, solar farms, etc. Even if you don’t believe the global-warming narrative, and even if you ignore the actual pollutants from burning oil (particulates, nitrogen-compounds, carbon monoxide – not all users are as clean as road-vehicles), it’s not like oil-refineries, storage depots, drilling platforms are pretty, and they’re often located on otherwise-beautiful coastlines. It’s no good keeping nature beautiful if you’re just going to kill it in the process.

    As for distance: Transmitting electricity from the nearest big hill to a city ought not be difficult with a high-voltage transmission line. There’s nothing wishful about it – it’s something that is done right now, cost-effectively and at-scale to stabilise electricity grids.

    @James: The Tsiolkovsky rocket equation was first derived in 1813, but it was over 100 years later that satellites were put in space. An electric car revolution is coming… eventually.

    @John: According to the US Dept of Energy, wind power in recently-built plants in the USA average 2 cents per kWh. This is extremely cheap. Australia’s problems clearly stem from poor management of the grid: Either too many renewables with no backup provision for low-wind, low-sun periods, or just outright failure to invest in the necessary capacity. Renewables may be expensive, but there’s no reason at all why they should lead to grid collapse, provided that the grid operator is competent and provided that the population is willing to bear the extra direct costs of doing so. Unfortunately, the US have repeatedly shown themselves unable to bring sufficient investment to their grid to ensure stability (even before the introduction of large-scale renewables).

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — July 31, 2017 @ 8:20 am

  18. Maybe I’m too much of an engineer about this, but I’ve very little time for “natural beauty” arguments against pumped storage, wind-turbines, solar farms, etc.

    This seems to be a strawman: the only person advancing “natural beauty” arguments is you.

    Building pumped storage facilities on the gigantic scale required would be insanely, unimaginably expensive. Maybe even civilisation-threateningly so. Perhaps you’re too little of an engineer about this.

    Comment by Fen Tiger — August 2, 2017 @ 7:03 am

  19. @Fen Tiger:

    The natural beauty was brought up by Ivan (quoting Wikipedia) and is mentioned in the article (as “sight pollution”). Perhaps we are not reading the same webpage? I’m not sure how it can be considered a strawman… ah wait, I see: But the only objections raised were visual and distance, and I answered to both. You’ve raised cost, so I will answer to that. There will be no strawmen here…

    “Building pumped storage facilities on the gigantic scale required would be insanely, unimaginably expensive”.
    In Ireland, we have one such facility: It can generate almost 300MW (about 75% of a typical nuclear reactor) for 6 hours.

    If you’d actually read my comment before making snippy, inaccurate remarks, you’d see that I’m advocating pumped storage for daily load balancing, and fossil fuels as backup, mitigating the cost significantly.

    Ref Wikipedia again (, Ireland consumes 66,000MWh of electricity per day. 292MW for 6 hours is 1752MWh, so Ireland, as a country, would need 38 Turlough Hill power stations for a full day.

    The facility cost 22 million Irish Pounds to build in 1970-ish, which would be worth about €362million in 2016 (sounds about right for two artificial lakes and some turbines). So €13.75 billion for a full day of supply for the whole country (not that you would actually install that much, since you’d use a lot of the power directly upon consumption, and would only need to store the excess). This is expensive, for sure. Maybe prohibitively so. But it is neither insane nor unimaginable.

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — August 4, 2017 @ 7:21 am

  20. That’s about €3500 per person, by the way. But it would be much less in reality, since you could use larger lakes at very little marginal cost to increase storage capacity. The primary factor (in terms of cost) is the power output of the turbines. If I’m right (and I’m open to correction on all the above), that would only require about 10 facilities to meet average demand for the country. Since little power is used at night, you’d need maybe 20 facilities to cope with peak load. But again, that’s a big over-estimate, since you can only store excess power…

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — August 4, 2017 @ 7:29 am

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