Sunday, October 25, 2009

Electric vehicles are charging up the automotive industry: Mainstream Media takes heed

Now that we're in the last year prior to the release of several EVs and plug-in hybrids, the mainstream media is beginning to cover the story. The LA Times' Ken Bensinger wrote in Sunday's business section a fair and thorough account of the trials and tribulations we'll encounter as the cars begin to roll out this time next year.

I'd take issue with the comment about replacement batteries costing so much they'll "wipe out the entire cost savings of having a hybrid in the first place," according to a hybrid owner having to replace a battery after 9 years. All one needs to do is consider how much gas will cost in 9 years, or how much battery costs will go down in the same period.

SCE's Ed Kjaer makes a good point saying, "Plug-in cars are not for everybody at this point." He went on to explain that not everyone currently has access to electricity where they park their cars at night. It's also true that the number of EVs and PHEVs will only be in the tens of thousands the first two years, so we're not talking about a lot of cars for some time to come, plenty of time to get the public charging going.

We're used to having minimal public charging for our RAV since it can only use a proprietary inductive charger. We can't even use the ubiquitous 120V plugs that are everywhere. For us, this has not been a big problem. The thousands of charge stations planned for installation over the next couple of years will be more than enough for the early adopters. My wife, Zan, says "people ought to take Prozac to get rid of their range anxiety. It's just not a big deal." She's right.

The print edition had great photos of a dozen cars coming within the next two years, some of them, like the Coda, starting next summer. You can access them on line here. For a more thorough compendium of the coming plug-ins of all types, see Plug In America's vehicle tracker.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Internalize the Externalities!

The cost of driving your gas car and powering your house just got quantified a little better.

And you thought it was just those numbers on the Chevron sign:~)

Whenever I give talks about EVs and renewable energy, I invariably get asked about the price of both. My solar customers ask how long it takes to pay off the photovoltaic system, and those I encourage to buy the coming EVs ask how much they'll cost compared to similar gas burners. These are legitimate questions, of course, but I'm always left with having to explain that the "price" of these things does not reflect the "cost".

"Internalize the Externalities"

That should be a bumper sticker that all enviros use to get across the idea that dirty fuels are not priced according to their true costs. This NY Times article discusses a Congress-authorized study by the National Academy of Sciences that took into consideration some, but not all, of the external costs of fossil fuels.

It turns out that the burning of the two worst fuels, coal and oil, accounts for about $120 billion each year in health costs. The study was very conservative in detailing the costs. They left out any costs attributable to climate change as "too uncertain to estimate" for instance.

"Nor did the study measure damage from burning oil for trains, ships and planes. And it did not include the environmental damage from coal mining or the pollution of rivers with chemicals that were filtered from coal plant smokestacks to keep the air clean."

"“The largest portion of this is excess mortality — increased human deaths as a result of criteria air pollutants emitted by power plants and vehicles,” said Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who led the study committee."

The number of deaths is about 20,000 - EACH YEAR!

How many died on 9/11? What was our response to those deaths?

Specific costs for coal varied depending on whether it was a newer coal plant with modern pollution controls or an older pollution-belching behemoth. The newer plants were assigned 3.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). The older coal plants were assigned 12 cents/kWh, more than the 10.4 cent national average retail price for a kWh! Keep in mind that these costs would be added to the cost of a kWh that you are currently paying. Consult your utility bill to see how many kWh you use each month and do the math.

Oh, how I would love to bid solar systems against those costs!

As for gasoline, the costs range from 23 to 38 cents/gallon. The study also left out the costs of using the military to protect oil imports. One could assume that at least some of the costs associated with the war in Iraq should be attributed to the use of oil. And there's lots more military involvement associated with oil than just that war.

So, as the fight in the Senate over the energy bill heats up, let's all keep this study in mind and use it to refute those who claim there is no justification for putting a price on pollution. When they make the claim, ask them how much the lives of their children are worth. Make them answer the question.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The William Kamkwambe story

A few years ago, a 14 year old boy from Mastala, Malawi read a book about windmills. His village had no electricity with which to access radios or the internet, so he decided to build a windmill himself to improve his community's quality of life. Using the pictures in the book as a guide, he built a working windmill that now powers lights, radios and the internet.

His story is inspirational on many levels. When you see someone from the poorest of classes achieve something this useful on his own, it makes you realize how much of humanity is wasted on frivolous pursuits, or worse, harmful actions. How many more William Kamkwambes are there in the world who only need a little inspiration and access to education in order to help build a better world?

Renewable energy is more than merely a cost effective solution. It's a solution that can enable communities to become more self reliant without resorting to poisoning our environment and enriching evil men.

For the Jon Stewart fans among us, William is tonight's guest. See The Daily Show for more.

** I just saw the Daily Show segment with William. I strongly urge you to see it. Go to the site and watch it all the way to the end. The final comment about Google is pitch perfect.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

AltCar #4 The Last of its Kind

I spent both Friday and Saturday at the AltCar Expo in Santa Monica. This convention has been showing alternative vehicles to the public for four years now, but little in the way of highway capable cars that the masses can buy.

On Friday night, Gov. Schwarzenegger dropped by with an entourage that included CARB Chair, Mary Nichols, and former CA EPA head, Terry Tamminen, the subject of an earlier blog. I watched as the Gov spoke about his Hydrogen Highway with a smug Tamminen beside him. I had to bite my tongue.

At least the Gov was able to see that the rest of the show included plug-in vehicles almost exclusively, and by the time he left, my hope was that batteries had mostly replaced pie-in-the-sky fuel cells in his mind.

As for the show, it was smaller than last year, both in attendance and vehicles. However, there was a palpable feeling in the crowd that wasn't there in years past. Everyone seemed to understand that this was the last AltCar at which you would not be able to buy a highway capable EV from a major OEM. Thus, the countdown has commenced. By the time of next year's AltCar Expo, several major, and a few minor, car makers will have vehicles in the market.

As a testament to this, the parking lot had a sprinkling of Teslas and Mini Es. I expect that next year's event will have much, much more.