Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The $300 million challenge

proposed by Senator McCain for the development of a better battery for electric cars would be a waste of tax dollars, because the battery is not the limiting factor for electric cars.

What do I mean? Suppose there were a battery that was the size of a pack of cigarettes, held enough power for a family of four to travel 500 miles, was non-flammable, non-toxic, biodegradable, and cost $0.29 to manufacture- it still wouldn’t make the electric car viable. Why? Because the battery has to be recharged- and we simply don’t have the electrical capacity to do it.

Look- a gallon of gas is equal to 36.6 kw/hrs. We go through 400 million gallons of gas a day. That equals 14.6 gigawatt/hrs/day. We generate 4 million gigawatt/hrs per year... divided by 365, that makes 11 gigawatt/hrs/day. If we did nothing but recharge our cars every day, we’d still have only 2/3 the electrical capacity needed. Even if you assume vast improvements in efficiency for the electric car, we still can’t generate even a fraction of the electricity needed for electric cars. Heck, we can’t even generate enough electricity to avoid rolling brownouts on really hot days as is.

McCain was on a better track when he proposed building 45 nuclear power plants by 2030- the only thing wrong with that was its timidity. We need 400 more nuclear power plants, not 45. France gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear- we only get 20%. If we got 80% of our power from nuclear, we’d cut our carbon footprint far, far below Kyoto standards... if we doubled that we could then have our electric cars as well, and not only be independent of foreign oil, but take our carbon emissions back to 1890 levels, not 1990.

If anyone can tell me why it wouldn’t work, I’d love to hear it.


Martin Voelker said...

Actually, my neighbor Steve Stevens recently installed additional PV solar panel to feed the plug in hybrid he ordered.
But what kills your suggestion to vastly increase nuclear power production is that it, too, depends on a rapidly dwindling resource, uranium.
The other thing you overlook is that car batteries would be recharged primarily at night when powerplants don't know what to do with their yield.

Joel Monka said...

The figures I was quoting were for total generated, day and night combined. While the evening hours do have less demand, the difference is not enough to allow nearly doubling the total demand, which is what mass use of electric cars would do.

As to uranium supply, it's not dwindling that rapidly, just getting more expensive to produce. Unlike oil, however, the cost of the fuel in nuclear reactors is a minute fraction of the cost of operation- thus we can use more expensive extraction methods from lower grade ores- of which there is a vast supply- without having the costs expand like oil. And, uranium is not the only possible nuclear fuel. See:




Will said...

Are you suggesting we not try to develop that ideal battery that you described? Seems like we need to do it all--build nuclear plants, develop battery cars, drill for oil, exploit the oil sands, work on solar and wind, develop new coal technology.

And conserve. Never enough talk about that.

Ethanol is the only one that seems to me to be a boondoggle.

It's a shame that our Congress seems incapable of putting something good together.