So, I’m watching the McCain acceptance speech on Thursday evening, and what do I hear the man pull out as an energy promise? The Electric Car. I merely rolled my eyes.
One of the biggest frauds perpetrated by the environmental movement is the wonder of the electric car. Not that an all-out electric car that matches the performance of a standard gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle isn’t possible. It just isn’t possible over the next eight years. Or, at least, I don’t see it.
Maybe it’s my bias. But my bias exists for a reason.
Author’s note: yes, I am aware that the Chevy Volt is a hybrid car, not a pure electrical car.
The notion that the electric car is something new is pure nonsense. Electric cars have been around since the early 1900s, and development of them has been ongoing for about a hundred years. You’d think that in all that time, someone would have developed better technology to advance what is actually a novel idea: cars that run on electricity alone. The nice thing about electricity is that it can be generated from any number of sources; be it coal, nuclear, solar, wind power, geothermal, etc. Generating electricity is one thing, transferring it from the power source is another. And therein lies the problem.
The issue is the electric car itself: a mobile, off-grid mode of transportation that, from its inception, will be compared by the consumer to petroleum-powered vehicles that perform the same function. No consumer, in their right mind, is going to buy something that offers less than what they can already get on the free market. Buying an modern electric car is like buying a CD player that plays five minutes worth of songs from a CD that contains sixty minutes worth of music. Then, to play the next five minutes worth of music, you have to let the CD player rest for an hour. No consumer with a brain in their head would buy such a worthless piece of crap, especially when they can get another CD player that will play the entire CD in one sitting.
And this illustration is the exact reason why electric cars, as they exist today, are doomed to failure in an open marketplace. They have extreme limitations. But wait, I’ll highlight these one-by-one.
Range. You want to know the main problem with most electric cars? It’s the vehicle’s range. Currently, your average electric car has a hard time cracking a forty-mile range barrier. There are numerous reasons for this, but your first limitation is the fact that battery technology does not meet consumer expectations. Propelling something as heavy as a car requires a tremendous amount of energy. It’s the reason why gasoline needs to be so explosive, because the energy released by the combustion of gasoline to move a piston is rather high. The more combustible something is, the more efficient the fuel. Adding the weight of passengers and cargo requires the engine to work harder, and thereby consume more energy. Now, you can extend the range of any vehicle by adding more storage capacity, just like adding a bigger hard drive to hold more stuff on your computer. However, unlike a hard drive, adding more batteries consumes more space in a limited form (cars can only be so big and so wide), and they add a hugeamount of weight to the system. It is the battery and the electric engine that consumes the lion’s share of the vehicle weight of an electric car. This is the main reason for the electric car’s limited range, and why the vast majority of them are two-seater designs. They are also incredibly light, which makes them fairly dangerous especially in slick conditions, and in northern states where we have ice and snow for a good portion of the year.
Now, with better battery technology, there are a few electic cars that have started to crack the one-hundred mile barrier. The Chevy Volt, even with newer lithium-ion battery technology is still limited to about forty miles on a full charge. Tesla Motors touts a car that gets anywhere from 170 to 230 miles on a full charge, which is impressive. However, it is important to note that the Tesla vehicle is a two-door, and the Volt a four-door compact. Thus, Tesla has already excluded average family drivers – two parents lugging their kids to soccer practice, and such.
With gasoline vehicles, such as they are, you can haul all sorts of stuff around. It all depends on how big of a vehicle you want. As for range, a full-size Ford Econoline Van can get about three- or four-hundred miles on a single tank of gas. Want more range? Add a bigger gas tank. The amount of extra weight carried by an extended fuel tank is negligible when compared to the hauling capacity of the vehicle’s engine.
So, petrol-based engines can go further, and haul more. The only way this limitation can be fixed on an electrical car is by creating a battery that is (by my estimation) about ten to one-hundred times the capacity of vehicle batteries as they exist today. Given the present rate of technological advances in this area, I don’t think we’ll see this in our lifetimes. It may happen, but I kinda doubt it. And no one knows, at present, what it will take to make such a storage device feasible. Maybe something environmentally hazardous? Who knows…
Which brings me next major limitation on electric vehicles:
Recharge. How long does it take to fill up your vehicle? A minute? Two minutes? Wanna know how long it takes to do a full recharge on a Chevy Volt?
About six to seven hours.
The “fast” recharge on a Tesla vehicle takes anywhere from three to four hours. That’s nice if you plan to charge the stupid thing overnight, but not so swell if you decide to use the car for the family’s vacation. First, with the Tesla vehicle, you’d have to strap the kids to the hood of the car (who knows, they may like it), and then you’d have to wait for about four hours before you can complete the trip to Aunt Martha’s house, some four-hundred miles away. What took you less than a day to drive with your Hyundai Sonata, now takes you several days with your Chevy Volt.
Not exactly versatile, are they?
The reason for this massive limitation? Well, when you recharge a battery, what’s happening in the vehicle is a chemical reaction. Most chemical reactions generate something as a side effect: heat, gasses, and so on. So, to minimize the stress and strain on the battery itself, a battery charger has to do what is known as a trickle charge. In short, a battery charger only supplies a fraction of the battery’s full capacity per second. Depending on the battery, if you try to shove too much current into the cell during a recharge, the chemical reaction inside can do any number of things: rupture the battery, cause the thing to explode, or set your vehicle on fire. The capacity of a battery in an electric car is, relatively speaking, massive; it has to be. As I’ve already stated, it takes a huge amount of energy to propel a vehicle one mile. Add all of these factors up, and you’ve got one lengthy recharge time on your hands.
Even the best batteries are prone to rupturing or even exploding on a normal recharge. It’s rare, but it does happen. I once worked at a place that was devastated by an office fire: destroyed the entire building, and even warped the huge two-foot thick beams that supported the roof. What started the fire? A cell phone battery that shorted-out while sitting in the recharger.
But overcoming the stress factor during a recharge is only one limitation when it comes to filling up your electric car. The second is the line you use to supply the energy. Because of a trickle charge, you can safely recharge your vehicle at home, in your garage. You can use a common household outlet – rated at, say, fifteen amps – and an extension cord to plug in your vehicle. The current supplied by this is limited. Implementing something like a fast charge would probably melt the wiring in your house, and take out the transformer that hooks your home up to the electrical grid. Then there’s the little matter of the thickness of the copper cable that would be required to hook up the vehicle for a fast charge – so thick that you probably wouldn’t be able to bend it.
As you can clearly see, there are major problems here with energy transmission and transference just so you can have the same convenience you already have with a gasoline engine-powered vehicle.
Reliability. The constant cycle of charge and recharge wears down most batteries. After a while, they will begin to hold less and less capacity the more they are used. Thus, after a time, the need to be replaced. The specs on the Tesla indicate that the battery life is about five years, or 100,000 miles. The Chevy Volt claims a 10 year battery life, but when you dig deeper into the claim you find that the people at GM have no clue as to how long the batteries will last over time and extended use. So, it’s a crap-shoot. What is guaranteed is that when they do go, it won’t be an inexpensive proposition to replace them.
So, while the manufacturer of an electric vehicle says that you can get 200 miles from a recharge on your vehicle, that range may drop with wear-and-tear on the vehicle batteries.
Right now I own two vehicles that have over 100,000 miles on them, and most powertrain warranties these days extend beyond 60,000 miles. So, the petrol-based engines have proven themselves far more reliable over time and in far more exacting conditions.
The Electrical Grid. Now, I’ve already kind of hinted at issues with connecting your car into the public utility electrical grid. However, this single issue is perhaps one of the most technologically problematic of all the issues I’ve cited thus far. The fact is, our present electrical grid runs at a pretty high percentage of capacity…I’m estimating it’s something like 90%. Hooking up a few thousand electrical cars to this system may seem inconsequential at present. Hooking millions of these things up, given their power requirements, will undoubtedly bring our electrical services to their knees. Even now in the summer, when everyone turns on their air conditioning units, portions of the grid fail because of the excessive energy draw.
And now we want to start tapping that for something as energy-intensive as passenger vehicles? Have they lost their minds?
There will need to be huge upgrades in transmission systems, and in power generation that most environmentalists oppose. Yet these SAME people demand emission-free vehicles. We can’t even return to horse-and-buggy days because the expanded population of horses will fart and produce greenhouse gasses.
And as I’ve illustrated in my first post about another blatant enviro-fraud – wind power – the only really guaranteed, efficient generators of power for the electrical grid is coal-fired and nuclear power plants. Solar and wind farms are too hard to manage, do not supply continuous power based on demand, are as costly to operate.
So driving your electical car inadvertantly pollutes the environment.
Cost. Normally, I don’t make an issue with cost when it comes to new technology. But cost may be thebiggest inhibitor when it comes to rolling out electrical cars as an alternative to what already exists. The reason? A lot of it has to do with the product life cycle.
The one thing that’s good about the “evil”, idle rich is that they spend their money on some of the stupidest things. Remember when CD players first came out? CDs and CD players were horribly expensive, and only people with a lotta cash to throw around bought them. They paid, by today’s standards, exorbitant sums for what amounted to very little performance. But the “evil” rich can do that, because they have money to burn. They can buy new technology, and fund innovation just so they can look cool and impress their friends. The same was true with DVDs, VCRs, personal computers, and even the first automobiles themselves. The rich, through their thriftless spending habits, are the drivers of innovation.
This paradigm is actually more efficient than something like government funding, because if the technology sucks, of fails to impress, the “evil” rich won’t buy any more of it. Whereas, bureaucrats will fund useless crap for decades because it justifies their existence within the nameless mass of civil seventy. It’s the reason why people in the US had a better standard of living than their counterparts in the Soviet Union, even though both nations were technologically similar. The Soviets funded virtually all of their advancements through government funds, and in the US the consumer was king. It is also why the Soviet Union went under, because a burdensome and useless bureaucracy bankrupted the nation.
So, the thriftless rich fund the initial technological advance. This, in turn, eventually drops the price where the not-so-rich are able to acquire these new technologies, In turn this outlay of cash then fuels the advances such that the Great Unwashed have access to what was one the exclusive privilege of the “evil” rich snobbery.
This same pattern has happened time and time again to any number of consumer products. It works, and it works well. But the pace of such advancement it limited to the technological complexity of the item in question. For computers, it took a couple of decades, for CD players maybe a decade.
For electric cars, it’s gonna take a while.
Why? The Tesla vehicle has a base price of $109,000.00. The Chevy Volt it targeted to be about $30,000 (and it competes with other hybrids that are priced in and around that range). Compare this to a Toyota Prius, which gets a maximum of 48 MPG, and costs $22,000.
Now compare these to a 2008 Hyundai Elantra (33 MPG) at $13,870.00, a 2009 Ford Focus (35 MPG) at $14,995.00, or even a 2009 Toyota Yaris (36 MPG) at $11,500.00 and you see the IMMENSE price difference between the two technologies. What you save in fuel, even with tax incentives, is offset by the cost of the initial purchase. Some have estimated that it would take years (around five, if I recall correctly) before you realize a cost-savings by purchasing an electric or a hybrid vehicle. What further complicates matters is that you can get any of the petroleum-based vehicles mentioned above pre-owned at a significant cost reduction.
So, given the amounts of money involved, your average consumer is gonna take a pass on buying either a hybrid, or full electrical vehicle. What’s worse is because of the limited range of electrical vehicles, it almost requires the purchase of a longer-range vehicle for an extended trip, thus forcing your Average Joe to purchase two cars, when he would normally need one. That’s almost DOUBLE the amount of resources required – double the amount of steel, double the amount of aluminum, and so on – for effective transportation. That means more mining, more refining, and so on. Somehow, I don’t think that this is what the Sierra Club had in mind.
Now, assume all of the other drawbacks that I’ve mentioned thus far are somehow fixed in the next year – which I can virtually guarantee won’t happen. It would STILL take a decade or more of people gradually buying electric vehicles before the entire fleet of US transportation is rolled over. Most “average” people don’t have ten grand just lying around to go buy a car. They keep their vehicles for a couple of years, lease a new one, and so on. I personally buy my cars used, and drive them until the wheels fall off. My van is approaching its twelfth year of use, and my passenger car is six years old. I don’t intend on buying a new car until I have to. And I’m not the only one in that kind of situation.
So, putting a huge number of electrical cars on the road is probably going to result in government subsidies and/or funding, which has ALWAYS proven to be a financial disaster. How many times have we heard about the obscene spending that goes on when the government purchases military equipment? How often do we hear about the National Debt, and the budget deficit? Government subsidies would only force the government to spend more of what it doesn’t have, and/or impose tax increases on the population which will reduce the amount of money they have available to purchase an electric car. Such a plan would be a fiasco of staggering proportions.
If the light’s going off in your head at this point, you’re starting to see where promising electrical cars as the transportation of the future is promising something about twenty-years out, if not more.
Presidential terms are limited to eight years.
Even in the age of “new math” no one is going to make this equation work.