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Creeping closer to a useful electric vehicle

The utility industry mostly says attaboy and go-gittum about electric vehicles.  They’re attractive to the power company because, with a little planning, e-cars could all get recharged during a time of day when nothing else is being powered on the grid.  This is like a hotel owner renting out all his empty rooms.  This is like an airline finding passengers for all its empty seats.  It takes existing capacity which is going unused and puts it to work.

At two in the morning, homes and businesses are using minimal amounts of power.  The power company throttles back most of its power plants and shuts down others.  It’d be nice if all that generating capacity could be put to work.  If cars could be programmed to do most of their recharging between midnight and 6:00 a.m., the utility could run its existing plants and turn a nice profit with no additional capital investment.  It sounds too good to be true — green cars, cleaner environment, no new power plants, and utility investors making honest money without a bunch of evil wrangling from a public utilities commission.

When you awaken from the dream, battery technology is lying there in the bed beside you like a scruffy old man with morning breath and wearing a Speedo.  But the morning breath is getting incrementally better.  Lithium-ion iron-phosphate batteries are gradually getting better using brilliant nano-chemistry, solid state physics, and a lot of toil.

And now we’re seeing the emergence of actual, credible electric vehicles.  This isn’t your father’s used golf cart.  The Tesla Roadster offers über-hot rod performance levels on a great looking car that has a 200-mile range.  That’s more like it, yes?  Smith Electric Vehicles has taken a different approach to finding a market niche.  Lots of delivery trucks lumber around big cities where range is not a big issue nearly so much as noise and air pollution.  So Smith is marketing a line of delivery trucks.  Chevy is once again marketing the Volt, although this thing is economical only if the government keeps throwing money at it.  George Will famously hates it.  My personal opinion: If the thing can’t beat gas burners on a straight, head-to-head basis, then it ought to die.  I would have voted against bailing out GM, and I would revoke all their tax goodies if I could.  But since the investment is a done deal, I’m switching gears and wishing them well.  Maybe my engineering brethren at GM will make a car that can compete successfully against other cars in its class.

Your local power company is fervently hoping all these things will catch on.  The benefits to the country could be considerable.  The capital return on power plants would be improved by harnessing all that unused capacity, which means the price for each lump of electric power would go down.  Since most cars burn gasoline or diesel, it would reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil supplies.  The benefit to the environment is obvious with less car exhaust, and the exhaust at the power plant is easier to contain and control.


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