Sunday, January 02, 2011

The electric car fetish

In lieu of my regular weekly post, I'm referring readers to my latest column on Scitizen entitled "The Electric Car Fetish." Here is the teaser:
Many automobile enthusiasts believe that the electric car is the wave of the future that will help save the environment while expanding the availability of private transport to the world's growing middle class. They are likely wrong on both counts....Read more.


Robin Datta said...

Another issue is the 50% to 60$ loss of energy with each conversion of its form; from coal to electricity, from electricity to chemical energy in the battery, from chemical energy to electricity, and from electricity to mechanical energy in turning the wheels. In addition, there is loss in transmission over electrical power lines.

One will need three or four times as much energy at the source as is present in gasoline or diesel fuel.

José A. de Souza Jr. said...

Kurt, I agree with you that private automobiles, no matter what they're powered by, can't be the backbone of a sustainable and resilient transportation system.

Electric cars? Well, they've been around since the Almighty used to run around in diapers and their basic problem remains unchanged: energy density of batteries. At least of the affordable kind.

However, some fellows do come up with some interesting ideas from time to time and might even help us to figure out how to deal with the mess we're in:

Nice article, Kurt.

Henry Warwick said...

Not electric cars. Electric Bikes.

To get to work:

To haul 400 lbs of junk around at will:

And if you're old and your balance sucks:

And if you're young and like to go zoom zoom fast:

They use a TINY fraction of the energy an electric car uses, and are better for you.

I got approval from wife to acquire. So we will. We will likely get the heavy hauler bike, as I will be able to move groceries and fire wood with it.

mattbg said...

I agree with you on electric cars and on conventional cars, too.

But if we downscale the car, what do we do with the roads, which have fixed costs and at the moment also provide passage to mass transit and vehicles transporting goods?

Unless you can provide alternatives for those, the car is the way to go. The only way to keep roads viable is to have as many people as possible paying for their maintenance, and roads are essential to the economy.

Henry Warwick said...


as I said : not electric cars : electric bikes.

We talk about China getting cars - they are actually going to electric bikes in a much bigger way.

in terms of personal transport, electric bikes are the future, and there are a vast variety of them, some enclosed, available now - see my links for examples.

mattbg said...


We need an alternative that people will use.

Bikes are one of those things that people will use -- if they have no other choice. There are obviously enthusiasts, etc. but most of the people riding bikes in the suburbs are doing it for leisure and not to get from A to B for a purpose. They will ride home and get in their cars for that.

Fact is, if people are going to use their cars some of the time then we need roads.

People are probably choosing electric bikes in China for economic and practical reasons -- bikes are cheaper and congestion is bad. Many people don't feel those constraints in North America (an increasing number do, but we're not near a tipping point), so what do we do? Force people to use bikes? They can use bikes already if they want -- the roads are there.

As a mostly-pedestrian, sometimes bike rider, and occasional car user, I find cars incredibly wasteful and sometimes aggravating, but I am just one person, we live in a democracy, and most people don't agree with me.

Shifting over to your vision requires a serious reorganization of life. It can be done over time, but in the short term we need something to bridge the gap, though I don't think it will necessarily be the electric car. Improvements to the conventional car or hybrid-like technology seem most likely to me.