First, and this has nothing to do with the subject of this post, but I just deleted a blog article. It was a nassively huge rant that did nothing more than allow me to get some frustration off my chest. While it’s a good thing to do that, I think that this blog isn’t an appropriate place for it. My blog is to be (as of right now) a bastion of reason, educated discussion, and asking hard questions so that good decisions can be made about our future. (Thanks for the kick in the backside Christine.)
With that being said, how will we (here in the US) get around without fossil fuels?
Electric cars are wicked cool. I mean check out this gorgeous machine.
OK, I admit that this way out of the price range of most people, but you have to admit it’s a good looking car.
As far as actually affordable cars, in the US we’re limited to the Nissan Leaf and the 2012 Ford Focus. The Mini E has been in a multi-year field trial program and BMW says that it do another field trial with the ActiveE (a BMW 1 series based vehicle).
There are some very interesting hybrids coming out soon, but I think that they are the worst of both worlds. A hybrid has all the mechanical maintenance and issues with an internal combustion engine, but also tries to cram in large batteries and an electric motor. Since there isn’t as much room for the motor and batts, the range and power (horsepower, torque, and watts) are limited.
In terms of an environmentally sustainable future, pure electric cars are the best possible solution. I will make a future case for hydrogen based fuel cells.
The big problem, as everyone knows, is range. How far can an electric car go on one charge? The second major issue (at least for me) is how do I keep an electric car cool when the outside temp is 105F?
The AC (and related heating and cooling systems) in production vehicles will use a combinations of heat pumps and very high efficiency heating systems. For example, the Leaf has seat warmers (http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/08/nissan-leaf-test-drive-and-first-impressions/). “How silly is that?” you think. Talk about wasting electricity. But think about it a second. What’s more efficient? Warming your butt or warming the air in the entire cabin, which then will begin to warm you? Also, you can turn on the heater and AC from your cell-phone. That will get the car cool or warm while it’s still plugged in, reducing load on the batteries.
If you’re lucky, then your morning commute is when it is still dark and you can park in a parking garage (with a handy electrical outlet, let work pay for your commute).
In (very) basic terms, horsepower is what gets you to a high speed and torque is how quickly you can get there. Gasoline engines can get very high horsepower. Gasoline engines can get very high torque. The problem is that those numbers are not where they are useful. In your daily commute, how often do you hit even 75 mph, much less the 120 that most cars are capable of?
No, what you need for your commute is torque, to get you moving quickly from stoplight to stoplight and help get you that boost of acceleration you need to get into your turning lane in front of that other car. Unfortunately, the torque on gas cars (as well as the horses) is at high RPM. That means you have to either downshift or wait while the engine goes faster and faster.
Try this experiment. In a large empty parking lot, get your car going at 10 miles per hour, make sure you’re in third gear and step on the gas… all the way to the floor. What happens? Almost nothing for several seconds. That’s how long it takes for the engine to spin up to where the power is to get you accelerating.
Electric engines have low, low horsepower. For their size, electric motors have way more torque than gas engines. In addition, that torque is available from the moment you hit ‘the gas’. There’s no delay, just full power, instantly. Every report I’ve read has said that pure electric cars are surprisingly ‘perky’. They accelerate very good (better than their gasoline small-car brethren) and are nimble, almost exciting to drive.
Finally we get to the killer… range. Just how far can you go on a charge? First, ask your self this… how far do you drive? Personally, I go 40 miles per day, to and from work and to pick up my son. For the weekend errands, I may go as far as 70 miles, but usually it’s less than 50. So, I could do everything I need to do, everyday, without a drop of gasoline. It almost makes me want to trade in my Subaru.
Most production quality modern electric vehicles will have a range of 100 miles. That’s something of the standard that is needed. OK, running the AC and driving the highway will reduce the Leaf to a range of 70 miles. Big deal. That’s perfectly fine with me.
Results from the Mini E field trial in Germany suggest that most Germans didn’t even recharge their vehicle every day. Just once every two-three days.
Finally, I’ll offer the electric motorcycle as an option. They are small, light, nimble, fast, and almost as expensive as an electric car. But they sure look like fun.
So, it’s not ‘taken care’ of, but since electric vehicles are starting to hit 100 miles in range and still be cars (have you ever seen a G-wiz?), things like this will help.
OK, what if you need to go farther? Well, there are several options.
1) Have an EV for commuting and around town work and have a gas or hybrid for travel.
2) Recharging stations and/or battery replacement facilities.
3) The US keeps saying that they want more railroads. Well, why not develop car carriers for electric rail lines? The car can charge while it’s one the railroad car and you have your vehicle at your destination. So, go shopping in the big city, next weekend, just take the train… and your car.
It will take some rethinking to get everyone’s minds on electric cars, but I really don’t think it will be as difficult as everyone assumes. I also think that electric cars will be much more useful than everyone assumes.