The electric car is a great idea, except --
About those awful, epilepsy-inducing lightbulbs, I’ve already stated my case. On the other hand, I’m pretty soft on electric cars. I think the idea is superlative if there really was will applied to rendering the concept realistic. Electric vehicles are quiet, non-polluting, and have been too long neglected. If you would like a taste of what an electric vehicle society would be like, and are in the area of Southern California, take a nice day-trip across to Catalina where the internal combustion engine is largely outlawed, and everybody zips around in golf carts. It’s very cool – and quiet.
Back to the lightbulbs. Let’s take a city the size of LA. Greater Los Angeles has a population that is literally half that of the whole of Canada. It is also one of the most vehicle swamped cities on the globe. If you’ve ever driven on an LA freeway, you will know what I mean.
Now, let us say that LA were to take all those hydro-carbon consuming behemoths on those freeways and replace them with electrics. Heavenly. The loss of the noise alone would be worth the price of admission. And, no crap would be spewed into the atmosphere and the carbon footprint of the megalopolis would be reduced substantially. We all would win – right?
Well, not exactly. If you have electric vehicles you have batteries. And for batteries to do their job, they must be charged regularly. Could you imagine the impact on the power grid with 15 million battery chargers doing their duty each and every night. I’m afraid those nasty little lightbulbs wouldn’t balance the thing out.
At present California is power starved and it purchases power for its grid from all over, including British Columbia with its hydroelectric dams. In fact, we sell to California and make a nice penny from it. So, back to reality. California would literally not have the power at present to charge all those batteries.
So, how are they to do it? How are any of us to do it, working from the assumption that electric transport really does catch on? Conventional forms of power generation are all under the gun these days. And, largely they should be.
Hydroelectric, for example (which is dear to the corporate hearts of this part of the world), is clean, but it drowns huge valleys, decimates wildlife, severely impacts salmon runs, destroys forests, and messes up the natural courses of rivers.
Much hyped wind power – go to Palm Springs if you want to see it in a brave new world manifestation – is also clean. But, it’s unreliable and can cause surges and huge strains on electric grids, and don’t even go to the toll those big fans take on birdlife. It is not pretty.
Tidal power seems appealing, but too little is known about its environmental impact on marine life. In my opinion, any innovation that causes greater environmental impact than its use justifies, is to be avoided. I move intellectually and emotionally more in that direction all the time. We’ve been too damn wasteful and heedless for too long, and are paying the price.
Solar power, especially in sunny climes, is great for heating the bath water, and in that regard should be embraced. For operating a mass of computers and TVs, however, not so great.
Thermal? Nice if you’re in Iceland. Not too practical in many other parts of the world.
Coal and oil generation are much, much cleaner than they used to be, but you are still burning hydrocarbons and if the causes of global warming really are caused by this, then you may as well keep internal combustion engine vehicles.
That leaves us with nuclear – or ‘nucular’, as Homer Simpson and George W. would have it – as a considered option. Nukes, of course, cause all sorts of paranoia and people are left with visions of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Hey, accidents do happen, and sometimes with ghastly consequences. The bugbear with nuclear is disposal of both the ‘hot’ water and the nuclear cores. At the same time, however, it is virtually non-polluting, highly efficient and is already widely used. Even some noted environmentalists have suggested that nuclear might ultimately be the way to go for energy hungry contemporary societies.
Otherwise, there’s that old Eveready Bunny. Hey, he can even power intergalactic space ships.
Ultimately, I would be delighted if electric vehicles were to prosper but I cannot for the life of me see how.
Labels: A few problems for the grid