Tag Archives: Electric Car

Cheap Books, Random Thoughts

ADDED, ANOTHER CHEAP BOOK YOU MIGHT WANT:Dune

The following random thought will eventually become a more carefully written blog post, but I want to get this out there sooner than later.

Mention electric cars, or solar panels, or any other kind of thing a person might buy and deploy to reduce their Carbon footprint.

Mention that to enough people and some wise ass will eventually come along and tell you how wrong you are. About how electric cars are worse for the environment than gas cars because bla bla bla, or how solar panels are worse for the environment than burning natural gas because of yada yada yada.

I guarantee you that in almost every case, said wise ass is either using bogus arguments they learned form the right wing propoganda machine and that they accepted uncritically, or they are working with two year old information or older.

The electric car, or electric bus, or what have you, is very often, most of the time, and in the near future, always, the better option. If you are reading this sentence and don’t believe me, let me tell you now that your argument from incredulity does not impress me.

I’m particularly annoyed about the anti-electric bus argument. Electric busses already usually pay for themselves well before their lifespan is up using today’s calculations, but a machine designed to run for decades is going to be in operation years after we have almost totally converted our power system over. If you are a state or school board or something an you are currently working out the next five years of planning, there is a chance you may be thinking now about buying a bus that will be in operation in the 2050s. Are you seriously thinking about buying an internal combustion vehicle for that? Are you nuts?

Anyway, that was that thought. Now, for your trouble, a book suggestion. Have you read “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John Le Carré? In some ways this is Le Carré’s best novel, but it is also totally different than all his other novels, in that it is short, a page turner, quick, not detailed. It is like he wrote one of his regular novels then cut out 70% of it. If you’ve never read Le Carré and you read this, don’t expect his other novels to be the same. They are all great, but they are also denser, longer, more complex, demand more of the reader.

I mention this because right now you can get the Kindle edition of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold for $1.99. I’ve not read this novel in years, but I think I’m going to get this and add it to my growing collection of classics on Kindle, which I may or may not eventually read.

By the way, there was a movie.

Two other books, both sciency, both cheap in Kindle form, I’ve not read either one, but maybe you know of the book and are interested.

Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Saint Phocas, Darwin, and Virgil parade through this thought-provoking work, taking their place next to the dung beetle, the compost heap, dowsing, historical farming, and the microscopic biota that till the soil. Whether William Bryant Logan is traversing the far reaches of the cosmos or plowing through our planet’s crust, his delightful, elegant, and surprisingly soulful meditations greatly enrich our concept of “dirt,” that substance from which we all arise and to which we all must return.

Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization

Ten thousand years ago, our species made a radical shift in its way of life: We became farmers rather than hunter-gatherers. Although this decision propelled us into the modern world, renowned geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells demonstrates that such a dramatic change in lifestyle had a downside that we’re only now beginning to recognize. Growing grain crops ultimately made humans more sedentary and unhealthy and made the planet more crowded. The expanding population and the need to apportion limited resources created hierarchies and inequalities. Freedom of movement was replaced by a pressure to work that is the forebear of the anxiety millions feel today. Spencer Wells offers a hopeful prescription for altering a life to which we were always ill-suited. Pandora’s Seed is an eye-opening book for anyone fascinated by the past and concerned about the future.

Should you buy an electric car if you live in a coal state?

If most of the electricity used to charge your electric car is made by burning coal, is it still worth it, in terms of CO2 release, to buy an electric car?

Yes. And you will also save money on fuel.

mo2006Don’t believe me? Want me to show you? What, are you from Missouri or something? Fine. I’ll show you.

A few years ago, when there were no affordable electric cars that were real cars, we decided to look into buying the next best thing, a hybrid. We wanted to get the Toyota Prius because it looked like a good car, had long proven technology, and all the people we knew who had one were happy with theirs.

I mentioned this to an acquaintance, also noting that I expected that we would save money on fuel. His response was that we would never save as much money on reduced fuel use to justify the extra cost of this expensive car. Just look in any car magazine, he said. They all make this comparison in one issue or another, he said. You are crazy to do this, he said.

I disagreed with him about the crazy part. Failing to do something that you can afford to do that would decrease fossil CO2 emissions was the crazy decision. You know, given the end of civilization because of climate change, and all. But, I was concerned that we would simply not be able to afford to do it, so I resolved to look more closely into the costs and benefits.

Sure enough, it was easy to find an article in a car magazine that analyzed the difference between buying a new internal combustion engine car vs. a Prius, and that analysis clearly showed that there wouldn’t be much of a savings, and that we could lose as much as $500 a year. Yes, each year, the Prius would save gas money, but over a period of several years, the number would never add up to the thousands of dollars extra one had to spend to get the more expensive car. Buy the internal combustion care, they said.

But the article said something else about “green energy” cars that set off an alarm. It said that cars like electric cars would never catch on because they were quiet. Everybody likes the sound of the engine, especially when accelerating past some jerk on the highway, even in a relatively quiet and sedate car like a Camry.

Aha, I thought. This article is not about making rational decisions, or decisions that might be good for the environment. It is about something else entirely.

Hippie punching.

Then I thought about my acquaintance who had suggested that the Prius was a bad idea. And the hippie punching theory fell neatly into place.

So, I continued my quest for information and wisdom. I learned years ago that when you want to buy something expensive, contact a seller that you are unlikely to buy from to ask a few questions. Don’t take up too much of their time, but start your inquiry with a business that sells the product you want, but that you will walk away from in a few minutes. That lets you discover what the patter in that industry is like, what the game is, how they talk to you and what you don’t necessarily know, without it costing you dumb-points along the way. This way, when you talk to the more likely seller (in this case, the Toyota dealership on my side of town, instead of the other side of town) you are one up on the other noobs making a similar inquiry.

So I made the call, and said, “I’m really just interested in trying to decide if the Prius is worth it, given the extra cost, in terms of money saved on fuel.”

“OK, well, it often isn’t, to be honest. And I won’t lie to you. I sell the Prius and I sell non-hybrids, and I’ll be happy to sell you either one.”

Good point, I thought. He doesn’t care. Or, maybe, he just tricked me into thinking he doesn’t care! No matter, though, because I’ve already out smarted this car dealer with my “call across town first” strategy.

As these thoughts were percolating in my head, he said, “So, it really depends on the numbers. So let’s make a comparison. What car would you be buying if you didn’t get the Prius?”

“Um… actually, it would definitely be a Subaru Forester. That’s the car we are replacing, and we love the Forester. No offense to Toyota, of course…”

“Well,” he interrupted. “Everybody loves the Forester. But, it does cost several thousand dollars more than the Prius. So, I’d say, you’d save money with the Prius.”

Huh.

We bought the Prius. From him.

And now the Prius is getting older. It is still like totally new, and it will be Car # 1 for a couple of more years, I’m sure. But as the driver of Car #2 (an aging Forester) I am looking forward to my wife getting a new car at some point so we can further reduce CO2 emissions, and I don’t have to have a car, for my rare jaunt, that is likely to need a towing.

And, when I look around me, and ask around, and predict the future a little, I realize that by the time we are in the market for a new car, there will be electric cars in the same price range of that Prius, if not cheaper. So, suddenly, buying an electric car is a possibility.

And, of course, the hippie-punching argument that we will have to deal with is this: Coal is worse than gasoline, and all your electricity for your hippie-car is made by burning coal, so you are actually destroying the environment, not saving it, you dirty dumb hippie!

There are several reasons that this argument is wrong. They are listed below, and do read them all, but the last one is the one I want you to pay attention to because it is the coolest, and I’ve got a link to where you can go to find the details that prove it.

1) Even if we live in a state that uses a lot of coal to make electricity, eventually that will change. Of course, my car might be old and in the junk yard by then, so maybe it is still better to wait to by the electric car. But in a state like Minnesota, we are quickly transitioning away from coal, and in fact, the big coal plant up Route 10 a ways, that makes the electricity for my car (if I had an electric car), is being shut down as we speak.

2) Even if the electric car is a break even, or a small net negative on carbon release, it is still good, all else being nearly equal, to support the energy transition by buying an electric car and supporting that segment of the industry.

3) It is more efficient, measured in terms of fossil CO2 release, to burn a little coal to transmit electricity to an electric car than it is to ship the gasoline to the car and burn the gasoline in the car. This sound opposite from reality, and many make the argument that making the burning happen in your car is more efficient than in a distant plant, but that is not ture. While this will depend on various factors, and burning gas may be better sometimes, it often is not because the basic technology of using electricity driven magnetic energy is so vastly more efficient than the technology of using countless small controlled explosions to mechanically drive the wheels. Electric motors are so much more efficient than exploding liquid motors that trains, which are super efficient, actually use their diesel fuel to generate electricity to run their electric motors, rather than to run the wheels of the train.

4) Reason 3 assumes an efficiency difference between internal combustion and magnetics that overwhelms all the other factors, but it is hard to believe this would work in a mostly coal-to-electricity setting. But there is empirical evidence, which probably reveals the logic of reason number 3, but that I list as reason number 4 because it is based on observation rather than assumption. If you measure the difference between an internal combustion engine and an electric engine in a coal-heavy state, you a) save money and b) release less CO2.

And to get that argument, the details, the proof, GO HERE to see How Green is My EV?, a tour de force of logic and math, and empirical measurement, by David Kirtley, in which David measures the cost and CO2 savings of his Nissan Leaf, in the coal-happy state of Missouri.

I’ll put this another way. The best way to be convinced that an electric car is a good idea in a state where most electricity is generated by burning coal is if someone shows you the evidence. Where better to examine this evidence than in the Shoe Me State of Missouri???

So go and look.

Tesla’s Insane Mode

Tesla_insane_modePeter Sinclair has a post on “Passenger’s Reactions to Tesla’s Insane Mode“.

The electric Tesla is a car that actually DOES the stuff other cars can only do in commercials.

I went to a conference a while back and parked my car at that location. A friend and I then walked from there to a nearby hotel for dinner. His car was parked there. His car was a Tesla.

After dinner… Continue reading Tesla’s Insane Mode

I want my flying electric car! Forget the jet pack.

If we, Western Civilization, had started out with electric cars, and a century later someone came along with the idea of exploding little dollops of gasoline mixed with air to propel them, that person would be thought insane.

Depending on price, the cost of energy to propel an electric car a given distance can be about 5% of the cost to propel a gas-explosion style car. The electricity to power the electric car can be produced in any number of ways, some icky some cleaner, but much more efficiently. Some of that energy can be generated where the car is parked, at home or work, under a Photoage, a structure with photo cells that serves as a garage. Since most cars just sit there for much of the day, this can be a significant amount. Meanwhile, the car’s batteries can be part of the smart grid, the top 15% or so being used by the grid to store/use electricity keeping supply and demand closer.

I used to think the inefficiency of making all the volts in big giant plants and sending it out over wires obviated all of this but experts tell me this is not true. Also, as the grid becomes more and more localized, and it becomes more and more normal to fit homes or other buildings with solar and use batteries, etc., the source becomes closer to supply. But really, it may be the difference between generating a magnetic field from available electric potential vs. causing a series of explosions inside a big heavy metal thing that matters most.

(This brief comment was prompted by Don Prothero‘s post of the image at the top of the post on Facebook.)

The Electric Car/Hybrid Car Lottery

I would like to propose a lottery.

Cost of ticket: $10.00

Prize: The winner’s choice of an American-made electric car or hybrid car off of an approved list.

The cars would be provided at discount from them manufacturer. The manufacturer benefits from the publicity (free-ish advertising) and from having more of their cars on the road in communities where they might otherwise be very rare.

This would act like a Rotating Savings and Credit Association (ROSCA). A ROSCA is a way that a group of people can obtain a costly item with little available cash and low or zero interest loan. Every member of the ROSCA puts a set amount of money into the fund on a periodic basis, and one at a time each ROSCA member gets access to the entire pool, usually in random order.

The lottery would be run as a government project attached to an existing agency that covers the cost of operation so that all of the money acquired through lottery ticket sales goes into the car purchase. The ticket purchasers benefit from the excitement of a lottery produced by the thrill of possibly winning, and occasionally, by actually winning a new car.

The most expensive car out there that fits the criteria for inclusion on the approved list is probably a Tesla, but not everyone will want a Tesla; some people will want a much less expensive hybrid because the hybrid will not be tethered to charging between uses. So, each winner gets to chose the car they prefer, and if less expensive cars are chosen, then more individuals win on each drawing. It would be required that the winner keep possession of the car for one year or more in order for it to be free, which would discourage people from simply re-selling the car. However, if winners do manage to simply pass the car they’ve won on (in order to get the cash) the objective of the lottery is still met. There will be more cars of this type on the road either way.

I suppose this could be done by a state or a collection of states, but also, why not by a commission set up by the Federal Government?