Plug-in cars are not a solution to the time-criticality of GW

by Ginosar  


Toyota announced recently that it will come up with plug-in electric cars that will have short mileage, just 10 miles per electric charge. Other car makers are talking about up to 40 miles per charge. Let's look at some of the issues involve and also ask some questions about the appeal of electric cars.


The key problem with plug-ins is their batteries must have huge energy capacity. Batteries do not have high energy density per unit weight, and will have to be very large and heavy to supply the energy needed for longer trips. Also, batteries can be discharged to just one third to one half of their capacity to have a reasonable life. That is, if you discharge the battery too deeply, the life of the battery deteriorates rapidly and this huge investment must be replaced frequently at very high cost.

You simply can not afford it. And this is the reason why Toyota was against self modification of their Prius to plug-in. Toyota can not afford to replace the batteries under this condition. It will cut their 100,000 miles life expectancy, and warranty, by probably three to one, depending on use profile.


There is something more important than the mileage issue here: what is the energy life cycle cost of these cars? Why are we attempting to replace gasoline driven cars by electricity driven cars? We assume that the electric cars will cause considerably less greenhouse gases that the oil driven cars. Hopefully that is the case, but we are not looking at the total picture.

We must be focused because we do not have time to spare. Because of the time-criticality of global warming we need to focus on the best techniques to reduce the maximum amount of greenhouse gases at the fastest rate. Nationally I would concentrate on efforts to replace the largest number of gas guzzlers by low gas consuming cars at the shortest time possible. Most of the public would not buy plug-ins for many years, until they have improved by a significant amount and proven themselves.

We need, however, to tax GHG- producing fossil fuels soon to change the buying habits of the public. We should increase the price of gasoline to levels approaching Europe, and start with a minimum of five dollar a gallon. In conjunction with this we need to compensate low income people along the way to reduce their economic pain during this necessary transition to low fossil fuels use.


We should continue to develop electric cars, but don't look at it more than an R&D effort for years to come. Battery technology is the limiting factor because, it is hard to replace gasoline since it contains considerable amount of energy in a very small volume. We need to cut our driving and not expect that by the magic of electricity we could continue our wasteful way of life, in my opinion. Please note that half of US electricity would continued to come from coal power plants, and PV solar panels can contribute just a miniscule amount of energy to the total national use. PV is window dressing and is not likely to generate much electricity until its price drops to one tenth of present level, according to Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu.

A word on the very important aspect of public transportation. This is an essential part of the reduction of our national dependence on private cars and all the negatives associated with it. I will only say here that we must enhance public transportation in a cost-effective way that benefits the largest number of potential riders. The desire for light rails and high speed trains is misdirected in many cases. Less dramatic and less "exciting" solutions, such as city busses, are often more useful to the community.


And what is the energy life cycle cost of these cars? It may be high. I attempted to find out but could not since Toyota refused to provide this information even under court orders to do so in both the U.K. and New Zeeland, according to what seems reliable internet information. Toyota agreed to reduce their green claims rather than answer the courts.

The batteries are high energy users, they are very costly since they use rare materials, (disposal problems?), are very complex to make, and it is also hard to achieve high safety levels with these complex batteries.

In summary, to find the real story we need to dig below the superficial level we normally approach most problems in the US.






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