Monday, April 27, 2009

The electric car is a great idea, except --

First, a question: Why does it seem that those who might be in love with the concept of those ugly and expensive energy-efficient, albeit awash in mercury, fluorescent light bulbs that governments are threatening to make mandatory, are also the same people that think electric cars are the bees’ knees?

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.



Blogger meggie said...

A very thoughtful post, Ian. I agree, with your thoughts & also loathe those ghastly fluro light bulbs.
I think it would be hard for a country like Australia to provide enough electricity for the cars.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Leesa said...

I think we should genetically alter butterflies to eat hydrocarbon waste. Then the world would have a bunch more butterflies and get rid of the hydrocarbons at the same time.

Of course, the sale of windshield wiper fluid would go through the roof.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Janice Thomson said...

A very valid point Ian since the electric grid is in severe need of upgrading.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really need to give it up about the CFL's. They are adorable and better for the world. Don't know if electric cars will be the answer, but Im glad people are trying to find a solution to our dependance on fossil fuels.

3:56 AM  
Blogger Dr. Deb said...

I'd like to drive one of those compressed air cars. Wonder what they're like.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Ellee Seymour said...

let's hope you don't have to buy oil from the Russians.

4:33 PM  
Blogger beachgirl said...

Nice thoughts Ian.
I often wondered how high your electric bill would be if you charged your car on a regular basis. Kind of a catch 22.
I also live in the Miami area. How fast can you go on the highway and can I get out of the way of an SUV fast enough not to get squished. Just a thought. People never see me in my miata.

1:14 PM  
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12:28 PM  
Blogger Moggs Tigerpaw said...

Leesa had a great idea and it would stimulate the economy for screen wash manufaturers and provide employment for those guys that wash screens at lights.

A friend of mine figures they have got their sums wrong on the 'energy efficient' bulbs.

He pointed out to me that most lights are on for most of the time indoors and in the darker colder parts of the year.

Any so-called extra heat put out by them is heat that central heating systems don't have to put out.

Take away that bulb heat and it has to be made up by the heating system, so no overall energy saving.

11:24 PM  
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10:04 AM  
Blogger dragonflyfilly said...

what about kinetic energy, ian?

i too dislike the new lightbulbs, and have they not been shown to be dangerous in some instances. (exploding if the wattage is too high or something)...i have only used one, because it was free, but i am going to stock up on the "old-fashioned" ones, just in case.

drop by and see me something, eh?

cheers for now,

11:50 PM  
Blogger Ellee Seymour said...

I think we have a long journey to make with electric cars before discovering what is going to work.

12:31 PM  
Blogger the fly in the web said...

I'm for nuclear....I'd like to know what happened to an idea developed in South Africa called Pebble Mill, setting up small nuclear plants for a local area.

I'm hazy on having a nuclear car,though.....

11:46 AM  
Blogger marshallhayek said...

Electric cars would have to give birth to a new electric charging industry. Batteries need to be recharged and that power has to come from somewhere. I guess that an electric industry is better than the polluting oil companies.
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