July 24, 2006
Having missed the premiere event, I got a chance to see "Who Killed The Electric Car?" on Friday and came away both depressed by way our democracy can conspire to suppress innovation, but also optimistic about the strong advocacy that continues for the technologies involved.
Sunday's Oregonian followed up with a nice piece by Jim Mayer on electric vehicles, including the factoid that 216 electric vehicles are registered in Oregon. Are any of them being driven by our readers? If so, I'd love to hear about the specific experiences you're having with them.
July 24, 2006 4:59 AM
Michael Wilson Says:
I don't have time to hunt for it, but Wired magazine had an article on a new electric car that is going into production soon that runs on lithium batteries. I believe, it was this months edition.
July 24, 2006 8:07 AM
jim karlock Says:
Chris: Are any of them being driven by our readers? If so, I'd love to hear about the specific experiences you're having with them.
JK: I’am a near miss. When my car wore out, I looked long and hard at an electric conversion, but just could not predict a reasonable range. Eventually I realized that an electric car cannot be one’s only car due to limited range, so I gave up. (You need to be able to approximate 16 hour per day driving to be able to take a vacation with it, otherwise you need a second car.)
JAMES MAYER: Advocates aren't ready to write the electric car's obituary, though. Gas-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius are popular, and they point to a next-step hybrid that could be plugged in and charged up for a 40-mile all-electric ride before the gasoline engine kicks in.
JK: The importance of this is missed by they way it is typically stated. Here is my way: This is an electric car that can switch to gas for long trips. It can be your only car! I believe that this could easily dominate the market as the ultimate flex fuel vehicle , but with one little problem (below).
JAMES MAYER: The last time America came close to realizing the electric car promise was in the 1990s when California required 2 percent of cars sold in the state to have zero emissions by 1998 and 10 percent by 2003.
JK: This is wrong - electric cars ARE NOT ZERO EMISSIONS because most electricity comes from coal which is plenty dirty (Uranium, Thorium and CO2 (for the believers)). And the overall system efficiency is poor because of the multiple energy conversions steps. The added electricity demand may also be a problem due extending the peak load period into the night. However it does not use imported oil and the electric plants tend to be outside of cities. The real solutions is (read this in a quiet whisper) nuclear - then you really get ZERO emissions.
JAMES MAYER: The film makes clear that there is plenty of blame to go around, but it centers on GM as the prime suspect. In reaction to industry pressure, including a lawsuit joined by President Bush, California eased the regulations in 2003, and the manufacturers quickly discontinued their electric cars.
JK: I really think the car companies figured out the lack of a mass market due to limited range. The conspiracy theories might be believable for Detroit, but Japan?? I doubt that Toyota would give up a good thing if it really was a good thing.
July 24, 2006 8:43 AM
Chris Smith Says:
Jim, I'm curious about your 'would need another car' perspective. If you could get an electric vehicle that handled your day-to-day needs, would it not be reasonable to use a rental or car sharing program for things like vacations?
Also, the movie made the assertion that even if your electricity comes from coal, the cost per mile on an electric was a lot lower than gas (I don't have their data sources).
July 24, 2006 9:53 AM
Jim Mayer Says:
It's reasonable for people to have a limited range electric car for most daily needs, and then rent a car for vacations, butI don't believe enough Americans are prepared to give up the idea of jumping in their car and taking off whenever and wherever they want to support a mass market. That's why the plug-in hybrid has so much promise as an intermediate step.. it takes care of your day-to-day driving mostly electric, but you have the gas engine back-up for longer trips...
As for the cost, the generally accepted figure is that the electricity costs the equivilant of about $1 per gallon of gas.. By the way, there appears to be plenty of excess electric power capacity at night. California power company experts estimate the state could support 14 million electric cars without straining the system..
July 24, 2006 10:01 AM
Chris Smith Says:
Jim (Mayer), I was actually posting the question to Jim (Karlock), but thanks for the response :-)
July 24, 2006 10:16 AM
JK: electric cars ARE NOT ZERO EMISSIONS because most electricity comes from coal which is plenty dirty (Uranium, Thorium and CO2 (for the believers)).
Not so. I live in portland, and as a Blue Sky energy subscriber I'm supposed to be getting power from wind farms and geothermal sources exclusively. Otherwise I'd be getting it from Bonneville Dam. Coal is dirty, but you don't have to use it. And once you have an electric car, you have a lot of flexibility on where to get the power.
JK:And the overall system efficiency is poor because of the multiple energy conversions steps.
I doubt that. Electricity travels long distances over high-voltage power lines, cleaner and more efficiently than gas travels via tanker trucks. I suspect that hauling coal on coal trains is actually pretty efficient, but then there's that "energy conversion step" of burning it ... really I need to see some numbers on this before I'm going to believe it.
JK:The real solutions is (read this in a quiet whisper) nuclear - then you really get ZERO emissions.
[Personal remark removed] In what universe is nuclear waste not an emission?
July 24, 2006 4:26 PM
Jason McHuff Says:
Oh, and speaking about electric vehicles and how the electricty has to come from somewhere, I found an article that says that TriMet purchases green power for MAX trains. I laughed when I read it because arguments have been made on Usenet that it comes from coal in Boardman.
July 24, 2006 4:40 PM
Michael Wilson Says:
mykle writes: "Not so. I live in portland, and as a Blue Sky energy subscriber I'm supposed to be getting power from wind farms and geothermal sources exclusively."
Can you give us the percentage figures PGE says is coming from wind, geo, and their coal fired plant at Boardman?
July 24, 2006 6:37 PM
jim karlock Says:
Chris Smith: Jim, I'm curious about your 'would need another car' perspective. If you could get an electric vehicle that handled your day-to-day needs, would it not be reasonable to use a rental or car sharing program for things like vacations?
JK: At the time I had two friends about 30 miles away and even getting a credible 60 mile round trip projection wasn’t happening. Now, of course Fry’s is about 20 miles away and would be at the far limit of what I projected possible.
I didn’t consider renting / flex car. But, now that you mention it: both suffer from adding time and money to the trip. Add 5 min out of the way to the rental office, 10 min at the office and you have added 50% to the time it takes to get to Frys. And where do I go to rent a car at 8PM except the airport (added 10 min?) Flex car also requires additional steps and driving out of the way to get to the car and last I heard it was around $0.50 per mile. Then there is transferring any stuff I like to keep around. These are the same problems as with mass transit - too slow, inconvenient and quite expensive (except the user only pays 20% of transit cost). I really like the freedom of being able to decide to go somewhere and be on my way immediately (after feeding the feral cat)
Chris Smith: Also, the movie made the assertion that even if your electricity comes from coal, the cost per mile on an electric was a lot lower than gas (I don't have their data sources).
JK: I haven’t gone through the calculations. Lets have a look:
* Gallon of gas = 125,000 BTU; kW-hr=3,413 BTU. Cost of electricity equal to a gallon of gas at $0.05/kWhr: $1.83 (0.05 x 125,000 / 3413). For equal energy, electricity costs about 60% ($1.83/$3.00)
* Efficiency of an internal combustion engin is around 20%, the electric car probably around 70% (guesses: Charger eff: 95%; battery eff: 85%; motor eff: 90%; controller eff: 95%. Multiply: 0.95 x 0.85 x 0.9 x 0.95 = 0.69%)
Based on the above, the “fuel” cost of electric about 60% that of gas and is used 3.5 times (0.69/0.20) more efficiently for a final improvement of around 5.75 times. Since most of the above is pretty rough, I would guess at least a two to one cost reduction for electric compared to gas at the above prices in the same size car. (Electric will be heavier and therefore use more energy while the above assumes all things equal.)
July 24, 2006 8:56 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
Needed: A vast laboratory devoted to windpower, with sufficient market coverage to realize cost-effective production due to volume.
Solution (at least its a start):http://www.renewableenergyaccess.com/rea/news/story?id=45079. This one is by a Toronto based power supplier, Trillium Power Energy Corporation. The Great Lakes region probably has the both the greatest available wind eneregy (except the Rocky Mountains) and the greatest population concentration in North America. Oh, and Detroit is there, too.
With hopefully declining costs from this big laboratory, other coal and natural gas dependent areas, pinched by affordability issues, could begin their conversion, too. Of course that won't work for many areas, where mean windspeed is less.
According to WIRED article: "Batteries Included" http://blog.wired.com/teslacar the new Tesla car has an electric motor with a brazed copper rotor, instead of an aluminum rotor. Cost of electricity per mile (I'm assuming San Mateo rates): 2c per mile. But the lithium ion batteries I bet would be expensive to replace. And of course this car ain't for the average Joe. But we're headed there. If the 'operating costs" of an electric car can be made affordable, and the range reasonable, I think the demand will be there.
July 24, 2006 9:27 PM
jim karlock Says:
Jim Mayer: By the way, there appears to be plenty of excess electric power capacity at night. California power company experts estimate the state could support 14 million electric cars without straining the system.
JK: Please give me a credible source for this that includes some details. I ask because this appears to be about a 15% increase in electricity usage in a state with strained generation facilities and limited gas pipeline capacity. There would be less downtime for routine maintenance less safety factor to allow things to cool off overnight, etc. The price of natural gas probably would go up. Typically, peak power is provided by the most expensive to run plants that probably aren’t made to run an extra 8 hrs/day.
PS: I just heard on the news that California is facing rolling blackouts unless people conserve. I doubt that there is even capacity there for 1 million cars, especially since some of them will be plugged in when people get home from work, especially if they are going out later.
My suspicion is that this is yet another fantasy from some partisan advocate who has not looked at reality. For another example of this see the current issue (#114, Aug/Sept) of Home Power magazine for a pretty level headed look at the bleak outlook for hydrogen.
July 25, 2006 9:26 AM
Jim Mayer Says:
The source for the 14 million cars figure is electric car advocacy groups, who cite California power company claims. I didn't check this out, so I didn't use it in my story. I agree,it sounds a little sketchy.
Jason: Tri-Met's budget for light rail electricity costs is a little under $3 million a year, so $25K for green power isnt much, but its something...
July 25, 2006 10:07 AM
Bob R. Says:
FYI regarding Electric Vehicle emissions impacts, I found this paper referenced in a CNN.com guest editorial:
It appears to be a summary of a number of studies done by various entities and various scenarios.
It looks like the really big negative impact in terms of overall emissions is sulphur: The more electricity you get from coal, the more sulphur that is emitted, over 200% more than with a gasoline fleet.
Question: We hear a lot about "Clean Coal" and stalled upgrades to plants, etc. Anyone here know anything about the feasibility of cleaning up sulphur emissions at the plants?
One solution might be "day charging" by solar... if EVs catch on to the point where we are concerned about power plant emissions, workplaces may offer covered carports which are actually solar charging stations. Prototypes of these were built in the '90s in California. You could plug-in while parked at work, and your employer could both sell you the energy at a slight profit, and sell surplus energy (from empty parking spaces) back into the grid.
This would both reduce the amount of charging done at night, and reduce daytime inputs into the grid from coal-fired plants.
- Bob R.
July 25, 2006 3:33 PM
jim karlock Says:
Bob R. One solution might be "day charging" by solar... . You could plug-in while parked at work, and your employer could both sell you the energy at a slight profit, and sell surplus energy (from empty parking spaces) back into the grid.
JK: Now give us the cost of this. Last I heard, solar cost 5-10 times what the grid costs.
July 25, 2006 4:06 PM
Bill S. Says:
The real value of introducing electric cars may be that they impose a design consraint on weight, and force people to consider using the minimum energy for their most common transportational need (personal transport, commuting), with an energy storage medium that has 1/14 the capacity of petrolium in the best batteries. The tipping point for the pure electric might be a quicker charging technology, etc, but most of the lightweight designs I see on the horizon (Smart, Loremo, Jetcar) can deliver fuel consumption with the appropriate-sized engine that makes future price increases moot, at least for twenty years.
Anyway, GM ground up the EV1's mostly for legal reasons. This is the same company that bought up and dismantled the electric trolley systems in the 30's, and I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a bold initiative from their board in the area of energy independence.
July 25, 2006 4:32 PM
If GM doesn't make "some" smart moves we might just have only Toyota to deal with. Electric cars (which are NOT the only solution) might be closer than one images if GM market share is lost and given up to companies such as Toyota and Honda.
If it rebounds then we just have to wait until they get with the program (not likely) or die.
I'm still putting my bets on somebody else taking over. Carlos Ghosn might be able to help em', but it'll be a reluctant fight.
July 25, 2006 5:12 PM
Bob R. Says:
Regarding cost of solar charging, according to this site: http://www.solarbuzz.com/StatsCosts.htm, solar costs between 2X and 5X the residential rate depending on where the panels are installed (average hours of sunlight per day, local rates, etc.)
But, looking at how much the costs of PV (photovoltaic) systems have dropped since 1993, it is not imprudent to expect them to continue to fall, but at a slower rate.
My original scenario was preceded by an "if"... if electric cars become so popular that increased sulphur emissions are a concern, then there should be sufficiently widespread demand for solar to help push the technology forward, ramp up mass production, and get the prices further lowered. Also, if coal prices rise as more and more energy is consumed (by electric cars and other uses), solar alternatives will become more attractive.
Bill S. -
If GM ground up the EV1's due to legal reasons, then why did Toyota, and to some extend Ford, after receiving the same consumer demands, agree to sell their remaining electric vehicles as the leases expired? Why were the few that were given to engineering schools and museums deliberately disabled to prevent them from ever being driven? Other "concept cars" similarly donated in the past were not always disabled.
You can buy working Ford Ranger and Toyota Rav-4 EVs today, in good condition, with warranty coverage on some of the newer units.
- Bob R.
July 26, 2006 12:24 AM
jim karlock Says:
Bob R. Regarding cost of solar charging, according to this site: http://www.solarbuzz.com/StatsCosts.htm, solar costs between 2X and 5X the residential rate depending on where the panels are installed (average hours of sunlight per day, local rates, etc.)
JK: I was using our electric rates as a base, not Calif., which are around double ours thanks to botched deregulation Enron (+PGE) and greyout Davis.
From your refrence: “Solar Electricity Prices are today, around 30 cents/kWh, which is 2-5 times average Residential electricity tariffs.”
My June electric bill came in at $0.061 which is about 1/5 of the article’s 30 cents.
Bob R. But, looking at how much the costs of PV (photovoltaic) systems have dropped since 1993, it is not imprudent to expect them to continue to fall, but at a slower rate.
JK: I found this on a page linked to your reference: “ Note: As a guide, the industry is looking to drive module prices down to $1.5-2Watt over the next decade, if it is to make large inroads in to the grid tied electricity market, without subsidy.”
At that price, I’ll probably buy as I’ve wanted to do this for years, but insist on it making financial sense.
July 28, 2006 9:40 AM
Ron Swaren Says:
Just ran across this article on plug-in hybrids and the potential (250 mpg?) fuel economy:http://www.livescience.com/technology/050815_ap_hybrid_car.html
February 7, 2007 12:12 PM
William Harding Says:
To all electric car enthusiasts:
I am a business student at PSU.
For the past few weeks I have been trying to gather information about gas to gas-electric car conversion. It may be possible to start an electric car research forum and construction group here at Portland State. I have searched the local libraries for technical manuals and other information and found very little.
My plan is to form a group that could build a street legal electric hybrid using donated parts from local businesses. A more long term goal is to produce a conversion service to the community at large.
If anyone out there would like to spend some time to speak with the electric car enthusiasts here on campus. Please contact me at my email email@example.com. I am hoping to get this group started in spring term.
Student of Business Administration
Portland State University