Will Electric Cars Save Your Future?
Well, car manufacturers don’t seem to be having a good time of it right now, do they (”Hey, Congressman, buddy, can you spare $35bn?”). This might seem good for the environment - after all, transportation accounts for a boatload of our carbon emissions, so fewer cars means less of that going up into the atmosphere, and less of us going up in smoke as the Sahara pays a visit to Europe / Nevada decides to move in on Washington.
The problem is that Big Business is founded on the principal of Business As Usual. For people making cigarettes, that meant having lots of ’scientists’ saying that they don’t cause cancer. For people pumping oil out of the ground, ditto, but this time poo-pooing climate change.
Auto manufacturers though are facing up to the reality of climate change, and have recognised that it’s a major threat to their Business As Usual. Thankfully though, they’ve got some of that new, improved Greenwash to reassure us that it’ll be a different Business As Usual - one that’s good for you, good for your kids, and good for the planet.
Electric Cars (cue fanfare)
That’s right - the future is electric. Like this idea from Ford, or this one from Chrysler, or this effort from GM. The logic is that electric cars are cleaner and greener because, like, there’s no exhaust gas, dude!
Leaving aside that electric cars humming around our towns and cities won’t solve the fundamental problem that traffic speeds now are no better than they were at the end of the Victorian age, this sounds like the perfect solution.
Except of course, the electricity has to come from somewhere, and right now, for most of us, that means generated by traditional methods - burning coal or gas. And here’s where it gets sticky.
The engine in your car turns petrol, gasoline, or diesel into motion, at an efficiency of somewhere around 30%. So for 1 Mj of combustible material, you get around 300kj of Va-Va-Voom.
When you generate electricity, you burn the same combustible material, and convert it to motion in turbine generators at somewhere around the same 30%. You then put this through a distribution network, which is something like 95% efficient, and charge up the car’s batteries - again something like 95% efficiency. The energy in the batteries is then converted to much quieter va-va-voom at around 30% efficiency.
So for your initial 1Mj input, you get
1Mj x 0.3 x 0.95 x 0.95 x 0.3 = 81kj of motion.
Or put another way, that trip to the shops just cost you, your children, and the planet nearly four times as much. Or, even to stay still on your carbon emissions, you need to have 73% of all your electricity generated from zero carbon sources.
Now, here’s the killer. The energy business, and by that I include mining & drilling, as well as generation is a Big Business. And as such, they’re also very much in favour of Business As Usual. So the solution they’ve come up with to solve this problem is called Clean Coal.
At this point, I would normally refer you to Wikipedia for an explanation of what that means. Except on an issue as controversial as how on earth we’re going to generate 73% of the energy requirements for today’s transportation from zero carbon sources, I don’t trust Wikipedia at all. Business As Usual has a habit of infiltrating public sourses of information when its income is threatened (paranoid? Me?). But have a look at Wikipedia anyway - if the Clean Coal - Criticism section’s still there, maybe it’s worth a read.
Instead, what I’ll show you is this:
My advice if you’re thinking of getting one of those nice green electric cars?
Get a bike.