Sustainablog

This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.

30.3.10

Alternative Energy & Energy management Newsclips for March 30, 2010: Czechs, Brazil, Cisco, Microsoft; is diesel better than electric?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/7500669/Oil-reserves-exaggerated-by-one-third.html

Oil reserves 'exaggerated by one third'
The world's oil reserves have been exaggerated by up to a third, according to Sir David King, the Government's former chief scientist, who has warned of shortages and price spikes within years.
By Rowena Mason, City Reporter (Energy)
Published: 9:51PM GMT 22 Mar 2010

Comments 43 | Comment on this article

Worker at an oil pump - Oil reserves 'exaggerated by one third'

Worker at an oil pump - Oil reserves 'exaggerated by one third'


The scientist and researchers from Oxford University argue that official figures are inflated because member countries of the oil cartel, OPEC, over-reported reserves in the 1980s when competing for global market share.
Their new research argues that estimates of conventional reserves should be downgraded from 1,150bn to 1,350bn barrels to between 850bn and 900bn barrels and claims that demand may outstrip supply as early as 2014. The researchers claim it is an open secret that OPEC is likely to have inflated its reserves, but that the International Energy Agency (IEA), BP, the Energy Information Administration and World Oil do not take this into account in their statistics.


 
Related Articles
Barclays and BoA see looming oil crunch
Rowena Mason's energy blog
Garry White: it's not just oil prices that are going up
Richard Branson warns Britain over oil crunch
Oil shortages by 2020 due to Western 'profligacy'
Britain faces 'oil crunch' within five years


"It is necessary to investigate ambiguities and sources of error that are broadly acknowledged but not taken into account in public data due to political sensitivities," the researchers said. The paper also raises concerns that public statistics have started to incorporate non-conventional reserves such as the Canadian tar sands, where oil and gas are much more difficult to extract and may never be economically attractive to develop.
Sir David said that although the IEA was doing a good job of warning that more investment in oil and gas exploration is needed, governments need to pay more attention to independent research.
"The IEA functions through fees that are paid into it by member companies and has to keep its clients happy," he said. "We're not operating under that basis. This is objective analysis. We're not sitting on any oil fields. It's critically important that reserves have been overstated, and if you take this into account, we're talking supply not meeting demand in 2014-2015."
The concept of "peak oil" has gained traction in recent years, although energy companies such as BP and Shell insist that production will be able to keep pace with growing Asian energy needs.
Sir David said he was "very concerned" that Western governments were not taking the concept of "peak oil" – where demand outstrips production – seriously enough, while China is throwing all its efforts into grabbing as many energy resources as possible.
Sir Richard Branson , founder of the Virgin Group, and Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish & Southern Energy, are members of the Peak Oil Industry Taskforce, which is trying to raise awareness of potential shortages in the coming decade.
Dr Oliver Inderwildi, who co-wrote the paper with Sir David and Nick Owen for Oxford University's Smith School, believes radical measures such as switching freight transport to airships could become common in future.
"The belief that alternative fuels such as biofuels could mitigate oil supply shortages and eventually replace fossil fuels is a pie in the sky. Instead of relying on those silver bullet solutions, we have to make better use of the remaining resources by improving efficiency."

http://planetark.org/wen/57165

Brazil To Invest $57 Billion In Electricity By 2013
Date: 17-Mar-10
Country:
 BRAZIL
Author:
 Denise Luna

Brazil To Invest $57 Billion In Electricity By 2013 Photo: Paulo Whitaker
Labourers install power lines at the construction site of the Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge in Sao Paulo February 20, 2008.
Photo: Paulo Whitaker

Brazil is expected to invest 100 billion reais ($57 billion) in its electricity sector from 2010 to 2013, of which the BNDES national development bank will finance 60 percent, the bank's energy department manager Alexandre Esposito said.
The Brazilian government has been acutely aware of the importance of expanding capacity in its electric energy sector since it had to ration energy in 2001-2002, which sent the economy into recession.
With the slow pace of bringing new large hydroelectric projects online, the government has put considerable effort in keeping investments in expansion moving given the expected surge in demand from the fast growing economy.
The upcoming 11,200 megawatt Belo Monte hydroelectric project planned for the Xingu River in the Amazon is expected to absorb 12 billion reais in financing from the bank.
The total cost of the project, which has taken over two decades to make it to auction and is due to go on the block by May, is valued by the government at nearly 20 billion reais.
From 2003 to 2009, the BNDES financed 60.7 billion reais in energy generation, transmission and distribution, the bulk of the 105 billion reais of total investments in the sector.
In 2009 alone, the bank provided credit for 15.5 billion reais for the sector, versus 16.7 billion reais in 2008.
The BNDES is still actively seeking to exit its 49.99 percent stake in Brasiliana, the holding company that controls AES Eletropaulo and AES Tiete. The stake has been on the market since before the global financial crisis worsened in 2008.
AES has first rights to buy the bank's share of Brasiliana but it also has "drag along rights" which permit it to any buyer to purchase 100 percent of Brasiliana.
"If we exit, the bank will earn a nice profit, but it depends on the time of the sale. If AES doesn't buy the stake, it will have to do a drag along," he said, adding that this would make it more difficult to find a buyer.
Esposito said that the recent return of AES' interest in investing in Brazil, which has weathered the global financial crisis superbly and whose economy is expected to grow 6 percent in 2010, was a surprise.
Analysts have been forecasting increased activity in mergers and acquisitions in Brazil's energy sector.
"AES went from a seller of assets to a buyer," he said.

http://planetark.org/wen/57170

Czechs Seek To Temper Solar Investment Boom
Date: 17-Mar-10
Country:
 CZECH REPUBLIC
Author:
 Michael Kahn and Jan Korselt

The Czech Republic does not spring to mind as one of Europe's hot spots, yet an over-used subsidy scheme has created a bonanza for solar power that has ignited fears of a spike in energy prices and grid instability.
Lawmakers are now gearing up to cut the country's generous solar incentives, which investors say is needed to cool off the boom that made the Czechs the third-largest builders of solar capacity behind Germany and Italy last year.
This year, new projects will dwarf those of last year before cuts in feed-in tariffs -- which are currently up to 469 euros per megawatt hour -- push some investors further south to sunnier places than the central Euroepan Czech Republic, such as Bulgaria, investors said.
The generous tariffs have, together with falling prices of solar panels, led to a spike in returns in parts of the sector to around 30 percent per year.
"The Czech Republic is overheated at the moment," Peter Richards of private equity firm 3TS Capital Partners, told a recent renewables conference in Prague.
"It is likely a race to connect to the grid in 2010. It was quite easy to be a developer in 2008 and 2009 but those days are gone because of government regulation and uncertainty."
Feed-in tariffs -- prices utilities must pay to generators of renewable energy -- will be the solar sector's lifeblood until grid parity, the point at which renewables cost the same as fossil fuel-based power, is reached.
PRICE CUTS AHEAD
Under current law, the regulator can cut the feed-in tariff by 5 percent annually for new plants, and has to guarantee that tariff for 20 years.
The lower house of parliament will on Wednesday cast a final vote on a proposal that would give regulators the freedom to make bigger cuts when investor returns hit a certain level, or another that would raise the limit on cuts for new projects to 25 percent every year.
"Right now, we have a market that is probably not functioning in a very rational way," said Michael White, managing partner at Prague-based Enercap, which invests in renewables in the region.
"You have a lot of people viewing the solar market as a way to lock in high yield without debt."
The country had registered photovoltaic plants with a combined capacity of 490 megawatts at the beginning of March, compared to 54 megawatts in January 2009, but industry officials have said the figure could rise to 1,000-2,000 megawatts this year.
Global solar stocks plunged in January when it emerged the government in Germany -- the world's largest solar market -- planned to make additional cuts to the tariffs, arguing the industry was overly subsidized and needed to become competitive faster.
On Monday, however, Germany's ruling coalition agreed to delay the cuts in solar power incentives by two months.
INVESTORS SEEK SMALLER REDUCTION
The Czech photovoltaic association has called for the reduction to be around 15 percent, warning that anything more could cripple the industry.
Enercap's White believes investors can still make money with a steeper cut.
The current rate in the Czech Republic is 12.25 crowns per kilowatt hour (0.481 euro). This compares to the recenty reset German tariff of EUR 0.39/kWh.
"A 25 percent reduction in the Czech tariff would be at EUR 0.36/kWh, so still above the German tariff but with similar irradiation, should provide a return for investors which is deemed attractive as panel prices are still declining," he said.
Daniel Kunz, chief executive at solar company Energy 21, said the key for investors was for lawmakers to provide a visible regulatory landscape in which to operate.
Apart from the new legislation, Czech investments may be hampered by system operators who say the grid will become overburdened by the erratic output from solar plants and threatened to block new projects.
"Regulatory risk has increased in the past few months," Adam Schwartzman, an investment officer at the International Finance Corporation, the private sector lending arm of the World Bank told a recent conference. "We will see significant pushback over high tariffs in coming years."
(Editing by Amanda Cooper)

http://www.greenercomputing.com/news/2010/03/17/ciscos-energywise-additions-make-green-no-brainer

Cisco's EnergyWise Additions Make Green a No-Brainer
By Matthew Wheeland
Published March 17, 2010
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Tags: Computers & GadgetsEnergy EfficiencyMore...

SAN JOSE, CA — Green business practices often make sense from a cost savings perspective, from a social responsibility perspective, and from a stakeholder engagement perspective. But there often remains the obstacle of actually implementing a new solution, and that obstacle can be insurmountable without the proper incentives.

Cisco today is announcing a slew of hardware and software additions to its year-old "Borderless Networks" platform, focused on energy management, network security, and video streaming capabilities across a company.

But the innovation that may have the biggest impact is one that will make it practically automatic for thousands of companies to upgrade to sophisticated energy management tools. For free.

The 
new EnergyWise Orchestrator platform, an energy management platform that lets the IT department manage the energy used by any device connected to the network -- from servers to PCs to wireless routers. And, according to Inbar Lasser-Raab, Cisco's senior director of network solutions, that platform is available to almost any company that bought a Cisco switch in the last five years.

In an interview today, Lasser-Raab explained that companies that have purchased Cisco fixed switches that are still covered under the maintenance contract can download the Orchestrator software for free and begin using the energy management tools right away.

There benefits to the EnergyWise Orchestrator are significant; by enabling centralized, policy-based control over both power-over-ethernet (PoE) as well as PCs, companies can save as much as 30 percent on their energy bills right away.


Related News & Blogs

Microsoft Puts Its Weight Behind IT's Energy-Saving Potential  GreenBiz.com
Startup Brings Crowdsourcing to Green Smart Grid Tech
How Cisco's Packaging Diet Saves $24 Million a Year GreenBiz.com
E-Waste Gets Its 15 Minutes of Fame
Bovis Lend Lease Teams with 1e to Cut Energy Use by 90,000 kWh  GreenBiz.com



Lasser-Raab said that, depending on which analysts' figures you look at, Cisco has about 50 percent market share for fixed switches, so the Orchestrator rollout could have potentially huge energy savings.

As a generic example, Cisco offered a county government office building with 10,000 PCs. Without any energy management software in place, the organization will pay $770,000 a year to its energy company. By using EnergyWise to turn those PCs off at night, it will save $280,000 a year, and by including non-PC assets in its energy management policies, it will save an additional $150,000 a year.

More specifically, the Zurich airport in Switzerland has been using the Borderless Access platform across the site, and has cut its power consumption by as much as 50 percent, while still allowing internet access to staff, partners, maintenance crew, and airline passengers.

Cisco has also created an 
EnergyWise Business Value Calculator to allow companies to estimate their savings and ROI for a network upgrade.

With more and more companies adopting building energy management as a cost-saving and emissions-reducing measure, Cisco's EnergyWise is a step toward a unified tool for managing the entire facility's energy use. And Lasser-Raab said that Cisco is in discussions with 
Schneider Electric to bring the two firms' technologies together for a deeper level of building energy management.

In addition to the EnergyWise Orchestrator launch, Cisco today is releasing a number of new hardware devices, including new fixed switches in its Catalyst line, a new Integrated Services router, and new software for its ASR router series. 

The new hardware is designed with energy efficiency in mind, and Cisco expects the devices to save as much as 50 percent of the energy used by previous generations of hardware.

"Every time we roll out new products, we're putting a lot of empahsis on power usage and our own footprint," Lasser-Raab said in an interview yesterday. "EnergyWise can elevate that to a whole new level."

Full details about today's announcements are online at 
Cisco.com.


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http://www.greenercomputing.com/blog/2010/03/16/microsoft-puts-weight-behind-it-energy-saving

Microsoft Puts Its Weight Behind IT's Energy-Saving Potential
By Marc Gunther
Created 2010-03-16 11:04

Much conversation around the greening of information technology is, frankly, boring. Energy-efficient data centers, PCs that sleep automatically, cloud computing that uses server capacity more efficiently -- all important, to be sure, but dull.

What's more intriguing are the ways IT is being used to attack big environmental problems.

IBM has gotten lots of attention, and rightfully so, for its Smarter Planet campaign, in which data is used to help unclog traffic congestion or develop new types of biodegradable, biocompatible plastics.Google has its power meter, which helps consumers manage energy consumption, and RechargeIT, an effort to speed the adoption of electric cars. Not to be outdone, Microsoft has developed several consumer-friendly services that use the power of data to save energy and preserve the environment.

Related News & Blogs

Accenture Aims to Bring Smart Grid Data to Manageable Size
Cisco's EnergyWise Additions Make Green a No-Brainer
A Sneak Peek at Designing Electronics for the Environment
Intel Westmere Chips Usher in Next-Gen Green Servers
Bay Area Internet Solutions Lands $750K Rebate from Silicon Valley Power

Hohm helps homeowners save energy and money. Bing maps with real-time traffic information help commuters avoid fuel-wasting traffic congestion. Eye on Earth, currently available only in Europe, provides gives citizens air and water quality information they can use to protect their health, and to become more politically active.

04-21Bernard_lg"This is about the democratization of information," says Rob Bernard, Microsoft's chief environmental strategist (pictured at right). The company is taking data that was previously unavailable, or available only to specialists or insiders, repackaging and distributing it. "We're one of a very small number of companies that can have a massive impact," he says.

Rob, who became MSFT's first environmental strategist in 2007, oversees, coordinates and promotes a slew of activities inside and outside of the company, from the compostable plates in the company cafeteria to fieldwork by researchers who analyze the decline of salmon in the Russian River basin. He spoke last year at FORTUNE's Brainstorm Green conference and we met again last month at GreenBiz's State of Green Business forum in San Francisco.

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Hohm was introduced last June. Using analytical tools licensed from the the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy, the online application enables consumers to understand their energy costs, save money and reduce pollution. The software is easy to use in the sense that it's intuitive. It's time-consuming, though, most people have to enter their energy bills manually, and answer nearly 200 (!) questions that, if you're like me, require some research. (Do you know the square footage of your house, or what year it was built? I don't.)

I confess that I gave up about halfway through the signup process, mostly because I'm already well aware of simple ways to cut my energy costs, like plugging leaks around windows where the wind seems to whips into our house in winter. I've been meaning to caulk for months, but for some reason the job never rises to the top of my to-do list.

06-24niagara_homepage_lgIf, however, you are a customer of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Seattle City Light or Xcel Energy in places where those utilities have signed on as partners, the software will take less time to set up, automatically import your bills and help you track your costs. Hohm is likely to get more useful and "smarter" over time, as more utilities sign up, more users input data and smart meters help customers better understand and manage their energy usage. (Think about how much more useful Quicken or Turbo Tax is once you can import data from your bank or mutual funds.) You can read more here at theHohm blog.

LARGEBing traffic maps, meanwhile, make it easier and quicker to plan your morning commute. While other online maps incorporate traffic data, Microsoft says that its technology, called Clearflow, which took four years for its research labs to develop, uses machine-learning techniques to reflect the adaptations drivers make as congestion spills from freeways onto city streets. The New York Times covered the innovation in this blogpost; what's significant is that without the sophisticated software, drivers would be left to their own devices to navigate clogged traffic, wasting time and fuel in the process. Google, by the way, has just added bike routes to its maps.

Eye on Earth is explicitly a green product, developed by MSFT in cooperation with the European Environment Agency. It provides official, real-time data on air and water quality for hundreds of locations across Europe, as well as user-generated ratings, which don't always match. (The EU said today that air quality in Copenhagen was "good," but 66 local people rated it moderate and some called it "smelly" and "irritating.") Bernard says Eye on Earth visualizes existing information in a way that makes it user-friendly. "You take a bunch of data that's hidden in spreadsheets that probably five people in the world could understand, and democratize it," he says. "It encourages citizen action."

None of these are world-changing technologies, but they all reflect the can-do spirit of the IT industry in general and Microsoft in particular. It's no stretch to believe that the people who gave use the PC and Internet revolutions over the last couple of decades will drive the clean energy/climate revolution that we so badly need now.

Eye on Earth



http://www.wbcsd.org/plugins/DocSearch/details.asp?type=DocDet&ObjectId=Mzc2NjM

Electric cars 'no greener than diesel', study claims

EurActiv.com, 2 March 2010 - Switching from diesel to electric cars will not dent transport's carbon footprint over the next 15 years as long as Europe's electricity supply remains based on fossil fuels, according to Danish analysis.

The study, prepared for the Danish Petroleum Industry Association by consultancy Ea Energy Analyses, compared the CO2 emissions of cars using different engine technologies from petrol and diesel to hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars.

It found that carbon emissions per kilometre barely differed between the different cars when considering the full 'well-to-wheel' energy production cycle, a trend that they expect to continue until 2025.

According to the analysis, CO2 emissions from hybrids and electric cars are similar, while diesel cars emit 8% more carbon. Emissions from petrol cars, on the other hand, are around 35% higher due to less efficient use of energy compared to diesel, they said.

The study demonstrates that while electric cars have the lowest 'tail-pipe' emissions, they cannot attain the same travel ranges or top speeds as conventional cars. An electric car that could cover a similar distance with one charge would in fact produce more CO2 emissions than diesel vehicles, as it is heavier and requires more energy, it says.

The main difference between the CO2 emissions of different types of cars thus lies not in the amount but the fact that electric cars produce emissions indirectly in the power stations generating the electricity, while conventional cars spew them out directly through their exhaust pipes, it states.

In the long term, the EU is aiming to raise the share of renewable energies in its energy mix by providing clean electricity for electric cars, the report points out. It estimates that by 2015 around 5% of the electricity supplied to electric vehicles will be based on renewable energy, a figure which could rise to 15% by 2025.

"There is a long-term probability that, after 2020, electric cars and plug-in hybrid cars in combination with investments in the electricity system will become important elements in the efforts to reduce CO2 emissions," the report stated.

EU seeks common strategy

Released in September 2009, the report was originally intended to contribute to a domestic debate on taxing electric cars, but the issues it addresses have gained wider interest since an EU-wide debate on electric cars was kick-started by the Spanish EU Presidency.

Competitiveness ministers, meeting in Brussels yesterday (1 March), requested the European Commission to present an action plan for clean and energy-efficient vehicles, including fully electric cars and plug-in hybrids. The EU executive said it would propose a European strategy on clean and energy-efficient cars in time for the May meeting of competitiveness ministers, followed by an action plan.

The plan should encourage the development of battery-charging infrastructure in Europe and spur technological development in batteries, the conclusions of the meeting said. They also stressed the importance of standardisation for green cars, especially in the field of vehicle safety.

The Commission is currently working on adopting a harmonised type-approval system for pure electric and hybrid vehicles.

The ministers also raised the issue of power sources used to fuel electric vehicles. They called for further work on building smart grids and promoting the use of renewable energy to be carried out by member states.

http://www.wbcsd.org/plugins/DocSearch/details.asp?type=DocDet&ObjectId=Mzc5NTU

Renewables investment to breach $200bn in 2010?

Environmental Finance, 18 March 2010 - New investment in clean energy is set to recover to at least $175 billion-200 billion this year, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

But while the analysis firm is forecasting that current policies will drive $200 billion of investments in physical clean energy generating assets by 2030 (not including initial public offerings, mergers and acquisitions, etc), this is far below the $500 billion/year it says will be needed by that date to avoid dangerous climate change.

Yesterday, BNEF published revised historical figures to reflect revisions to its methodology. It found that $162 billion was invested in 2009 across the financing spectrum, from corporate R&D and venture capital through to asset financing. This figure was down 6.4% from the revised 2008 figure of $173 billion. 

Speaking to reporters before the start of a BNEF conference in London yesterday, CEO Michael Liebreich said that investment this year "could be as high as 2008 … given that [government] stimulus money is now coming through at the project level".

While he gave a range of $175 billion-200 billion, he added that "if our past record is anything to go by, I'm more likely to be surprised on the upside."

However, a long-term projection from a new economic model built by BNEF forecasts that investments in renewable energy generating assets will only reach $150 billion by 2020 and $200 billion by 2030, based on existing policies and measures, up from $90 billion in 2009. This would mean that renewables account for 22% of the world's installed power generation base by 2020, up from 13% today, and 31% by 2030.

"These figures must increase significantly in order to avert the worst effects of climate change and achieve an average of 2 t CO2 [tonnes of carbon dioxide] per head by 2050," the company says – namely to $230 billion by 2020 and $500 billion by 2030.

Guy Turner, director of carbon markets at BNEF, said that a global carbon price of $65/tCO2 by 2013, rising to $100/t by 2030, would be sufficient to drive this increased level of investment. "We would get there – we've got the technology, all we need is the willpower," he said.

However, current carbon prices in Europe are at around $15/t, and the US and China – the world's two largest emitters – appear extremely reluctant to begin putting a price on carbon. Nonetheless, Turner insisted that the price on carbon is "affordable – $100/t won't destroy our way of life".

Liebreich said he was unfazed by the failure of the Copenhagen conference to make much progress on securing a post-2012 international climate change deal. "The focus on Copenhagen and Mexico [where UN climate talks will continue, in December], is a distraction, compared with what's actually happening on the ground," with national and regional legislation and policies to support low-carbon investment.

"We'll be negotiating on climate for the next 50 years," he said, noting that "whole other areas of global policy-making", around tariffs and trade, and national and international product standards, are likely to become more important in promoting low-carbon technologies and emission reductions.

http://www.nbs.net/Docs/Climate%20change%20report%20March%202010.pdf
 Thinking Long-Term:Climate Change and the Oil and Gas Industry

http://www.wbcsd.org/plugins/DocSearch/details.asp?type=DocDet&ObjectId=Mzc3NjI

Electric charge is a leap of faith

Financial Times, 9 March 2010 - Volkswagen, a long-time sceptic about hybrid and electric cars, has officially shifted gears.

At last week's Geneva motor show – where nearly every leading carmaker showcased a planned or experimental hybrid or battery-powered model – the German carmaker said it planned an "unprecedented" drive into electric vehicles.

Martin Winterkorn, the chief executive, said the group aimed to increase the cars' share in its portfolio from zero to 3 per cent of its total sales by 2018.

In a preview of forthcoming models, VW's Seat brand rolled a sleek, sporty all-electric "concept" vehicle, the IBE, down a catwalk. Porsche showed the 918 Spyder, a hybrid petrol-electric concept car that it said could shift from petrol mode on the highway to hybrid driving in the city, delivering 78 miles per gallon.

Elsewhere in Geneva, VW's luxury competitor Daimler announced a partnership with China's BYD to build a battery-powered vehicle for the world's largest car market under a new brand.

And Nick Reilly, General Motors' European boss, drove the carmaker's forthcoming electric Ampera from Opel's headquarters near Frankfurt to Geneva, where the mud-spattered prototype took a place on the show floor.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renault and Nissan, rebuffed VW's bid for leadership in battery-powered cars, saying the Franco-Japanese alliance would have enough capacity to produce about half a million electric cars and batteries by 2013-2014.

Mr Ghosn predicted a shortage of manufacturing capacity for both plug-in cars and the batteries needed to power them within two years.

"From everything I'm seeing, in 2011 or 2012 we're going to have to rush to build capacity for both batteries and for cars," he said.

Mr Ghosn has predicted that zero-emission cars – primarily electric vehicles – will capture a tenth of the world market by 2020.

But most industry analysts and some carmakers – including those planning plug-in models themselves – predict smaller sales for electric cars and hybrids, which rely on a combination of a large battery and a combustion engine.

While most predict a long-term shift to electrification, they say the cars' higher initial cost and the lack of widely available recharging infrastructure will limit demand initially.

"Ten years down the road, more than 90 per cent of cars will be the conventional cars that we have now," said Al Bedwell, an automotive technology expert with JD Power, the consultancy. "Ten per cent will be hybrids or electric vehicles."

Within that figure, all-electric vehicles would account for just 3 per cent, Mr Bedwell said.

National and local governments around the world are investing or pledging billions of dollars in charging points and tax breaks to promote electric cars, which are not yet widely available, and have not proven they will find a significant market.

The uncertainty surrounding demand makes carmakers' forthcoming electric models – not to mention the billions of dollars being invested in lithium-ion batteries expected to power them – largely a leap of faith.

Early motoring press reviews of pioneering all-electric models such as Tesla Motors' electric roadster or BMW's prototype Mini E have mostly praised the cars, but dwelled at length on the anxiety caused to drivers by the lack of public places to recharge them.

Even hybrids, which have been on the road for more than a decade, are still selling modestly except in countries like the Netherlands and Japan that offer generous incentives to people who buy them.

In Geneva Takanobu Ito, Honda's chief executive, said the carmaker, whose flagship Insight hybrid has sold poorly in the US, had been able to sell hybrids in Japan largely because of scrapping and "eco-car" incentives.

He said he was not expecting high sales for a planned all-electric model, which he said Honda was developing to meet California's legislation requiring zero-emission vehicles.

"Pure battery-electric vehicles will be a rather small figure: under optimistic criteria, for Europe less than 5 per cent in 2020," said Wolfgang Bernhart, a partner with Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. "On a global scale, the figure will be even lower."

The doubts are not deterring Renault and Nissan, which have made leadership in electric vehicles a central plank of their corporate strategy.

The two carmakers are planning eight electric vehicles over the next four years, the biggest line-up of any major carmaking group.

At a dinner with reporters in Geneva, Patrick Pelata, Renault's chief operating officer, dwelt primarily on the carmaker's electrification plans, devoting relatively little time to other questions about the company's current products and markets during one of the most challenging times in its history.

In order to lower the prices of its electric cars, Renault and Nissan plan to lease the batteries to customers, and recycle them as energy-storage units after their natural life in vehicles comes to an end.

The group claims that this – coupled with generous tax subsidies for zero-emissions cars in countries such as France – will allow it to offer its plug-in cars at prices comparable to similarly sized diesel models.

Far from a looming bubble and bear market for electric cars and their batteries, Renault fears the opposite: a global competitive rush to develop them. "The biggest strategic fear is that the Chinese or Indian auto industry will take a shortcut" in the new technology, Mr Pelata said.