Category Archives: Renewable

Energy, Gold, and the Currency of the Future

 

Two events, one in my personal life and the other in the global news, have brought me to the conclusion that we need and will soon return to the gold standard.

First off, I see investors pouring money into energy “technologies” that are known to be unworkable. To combat this problem, I have been working on a training course and video to teach investors about energy, energy physics, and energy products. I think it is quite conceivable that we are close to an energy revolution that will create the “Rockefellers” of renewable energy and drive technical society to new heights. The market exists, the energy exists, and the technology does not seem out of reach. Achieving this energy revolution is as simple as avoiding investments in totally unworkable energy projects and instead funding the development of energy systems that can work.

In the news, it is the growing instability of unbacked currencies that has caught my attention. It is fair on its face that unbacked exponential monetary systems eventually fail catastrophically. From an engineering point of view it is very simple. The Earth is a spheroid and the unbacked exponential monetary system creates an unbounded exponential function. Plotting these on a graphing calculator reveals that the spheroid stays on the screen and the unbounded exponential function goes off the screen.

The “off the screen” event is of course the failure of the monetary system.

Unlike bridges or aircraft systems, our current monetary systems are not designed for reliability or long term stability. They are negatively stable systems by their nature. One only needs to look at the history of hundreds of unbacked currencies to understand the final outcome of these systems.

I have been very frustrated watching the slow creep toward total failure of today’s currencies and the “investment” in energy “technologies” that are not only fully known not to work, but accelerate our energy decline. I now believe that monetary system failure and doomed energy investments stem from the same lack of understanding some basic rules of nature. Several generations of humans that have been raised without seeing the failure of an unbacked currency. This has created the situation where people now believe that money has power over nature.

This is not true.

Mankind’s ability to print money that works is a result of his success with manipulating the physical world. The reverse is not true. Money cannot be printed that will manipulate the physical world.

At this point, is appears likely that it will take a catastrophic currency failure and massive disruptions to return people to the understanding that moneys lacks power over nature and that nature has power over money.

The gold standard solves all of this. You can consult any “Gold Bug” for a run down of all of the reasons that gold always returns to money as a result of monetary failures. They are all real and true. But there is another advantage of the gold standard that is not frequently discussed. Gold ties the money to the physical world. With gold, there are no “off the screen” events. Gold by its very nature of existing in the physical world, directly ties the monetary and the physical worlds. This has implications that go far beyond what they may seem. Instead of investors needing to learn about energy, energy physics, thermodynamics, and having to speculate about technical societies’ ability to negotiate the problems that arise as the universe ages, just to understand the status of the monetary commitment on the physical world, they can just count the money.

This is indeed a good thing, and solves a lot of problems.

As the instability of today’s monetary systems continues to present itself and crisis ensue, it should be very comforting to all of us that there is a way forward that will eventually solve not only the problems we are seeing with failing monetary systems, but will also help us get to a workable energy future.

Government Policies Are Shaping Our Countries Energy Future

As the United States government has grown, so has its influence on our society.  An area that the government has had an increasingly large influence is energy.  The government influences the type and quantity of energy and fuel sources we use today.  In order to finance ethanol producers the federal government has bolstered ethanol, a fuel source, through laws requiring its usage and through subsidies.  The strong support from the government has created a market for ethanol, but the large demand for ethanol would probably not exist if the government was not involved.  As many of you know ethanol offers a low Energy Returned On Energy Invested (EROEI); corn-based ethanol is roughly 1 and at worst has a negative EROEI.  Would a fuel that behaves like an energy converter be in high demand if the market were allowed to decide?  I would probably say no.  I believe the only thing that has been propping up ethanol is the strong support it has been getting from the federal government.  If the government were not supporting ethanol, it would have probably failed by now and we might see other more viable options.  Ethanol is not the only case, but ethanol is one of the best examples of why government should not be making energy decisions.

The United States Capital Building

Courtesy of Wikimedia

With promising advancements in fields like algae, diesel engines, and ammonia, it makes no sense for the government to endorse a fuel like ethanol.  Many of these more promising advancements are in the background operating quietly, which is a shame.  These advancements are competing with every other energy advancement on the market, but they have one major disadvantage, they have not yet gotten the full attention of the U.S. government.  Even without the full support of the federal government many of these other energy advances are progressing.  Imagine what might be if these energy technologies were only competing against other energy advancements, and not the government too.  While the government is out supporting things like ethanol in our gasoline and battery powered electric vehicles, which aggravate our energy problems, individuals are working hard trying to come up with real energy solutions.  It amazes me that our country is relying on politicians to dictate our energy future, when the free market should be.

In a free market profit motive is typically at the forefront of the decision-making.  This is directly related to EROEI without the people making the decisions even knowing it.  That is because typically a good EROEI will equate to a profit.  This is the type of force we need driving our energy future, not politicians that are swayed for personal and political reasons.  In the end the market will hopefully prevail and the energy advancement of the future will be chosen, but this is only if the federal government doesn’t make it impossible to exist.  The federal government should not be making decisive decisions about what energy we should use, but the government can help all possible alternative energy technologies by giving tax incentives.  Stopping the subsidizations of alternative energy would be ideal, and instead implementing tax incentives so the free market can have more freedom to work.  I believe that in order for new energy advancements to be successful, government must have as little interaction with them as possible.  Government is not capable of choosing the correct energy path for our future.

 

Can the Electric Vehicle Replace Liquid Fuels?

Electric cars are making headlines all the time theses days.  Governments are promoting electric vehicles through tax credits, loan guarantees, and regulation.  For many it seems like the age of the electric car is finally coming upon us (especially with vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf on the market).  It seems to me that electric cars are getting disproportional amount of attention when you consider that there are other options for future transportation.  I believe that we cannot replace the vast majority of our liquid transportation fuel with electricity.

Why I Believe Liquid Fuel is Still in the Future of Transportation

With electric vehicles usually comes increased electrification of society. Unfortunately, that does not mean that all vehicles can use electricity as their main energy source. There are some major points that I think people overlook when considering electric vehicles:

  1. Large vehicles (like semi-trucks) will still need a liquid fuel to power combustion engines
  2. Electric vehicles take too long to charge, and do not offer long distances
  3. Electrical demand will require more power generation and eventual grid upgrade(s) (smart grid)

In order to power large engine driven equipment like dump trucks, front end loaders, boats, etc…, we will need a liquid fuel source because no technology exists to power these pieces of equipment using electricity (batteries).  Perhaps you’re wondering if these pieces of equipment be powered using batteries.  The answer is possibly in some cases, but it is unlikely that we will see batteries powering a large barge going to the other side of the world anytime soon.  These types of vehicles need to be able to refuel quickly and have the ability to run for a long duration, something that electric vehicles do not currently offer.  It is because of these types of heavy duty equipment that we must still use liquid fuels and combustion engines for the foreseeable future.  If we must continue to use liquid fuels for the above equipment, why not also use liquid fuel for average cars too?

Can you imagine trying to drive form Michigan to Florida with a Nissan Leaf?  With a maximum of roughly 100 miles, it would take a VERY long time to go such a distance (not that it doesn’t already).  In order to travel long distances you must have a vehicle that can obtain an energy source very quickly (like getting fuel at a gas station).  It is this type of situation that has made Chevy engineers put a combustion engine in their ‘electric vehicle’ (the Chevy Volt).  When a person needs to go somewhere, they usually cannot afford to wait around for several hours before traveling.  The convenience of electric vehicles is not quite there yet.  For many, the distance issue may not be a problem on a daily basis, but on some occasions a different form of transportation will be needed (train, plane, combustion based automobile).

If electric vehicles take off, the demand on the electrical grid to power these vehicles will also take off. If the electrical demand rises, the use of fossil fuels in the power generation sector will have to rise too.  I know many electric vehicle advocates promote renewable energy to generate power, but the simple fact is that without a smart grid it is more likely we will see a larger proportion of fossil fuels being used instead.  In order to minimize the power loss, and because the current grid doesn’t offer the control to distribute electricity efficiently enough, fossil fuels will continue to see high usage.  Fossil fuels have the luxury of being placed closer to high power demand locations than alternative energy installations.  The lack of a smart grid will equate to little renewable energy buildup in comparison to what we really need.  This is not to say that renewable energy generation won’t increase, but rather that large renewable energy sources will remain few (in comparison to what we need and expect in order to replace fossil fuels and keep up with demand).  For example, large wind installations have been delayed or even cancelled due to the lack of quality grid infrastructure (see previous posts, Advancing Wind Power and The Power Grid Unable to Meet Our Needs).  I believe that the use of electric vehicles will be fine with our current system for a while, but eventually the need to implement a smart grid system will become a necessity.

Conclusion

Electric vehicles offer only one possible benefit at this time, reducing the use of oil.  The likelihood of electric vehicles reducing the use of oil, or even fossil fuels, is pretty low at this point.  Electric vehicles use batteries which require the use of rare earth minerals, manufacturing, transportation, and proper disposal.  All of these requirements take energy that requires the use of oil and/or fossil fuels.  When you factor in the use of fossil fuels on our nations electric grid with the fact that batteries require a fair amount of energy to produce and dispose of, the benefits of these electric vehicles really comes into question.  It seems like fossil fuel usage is being moved from the transportation sector to other sectors like manufacturing or electricity generation.  With the invention of other storage techniques, increased usage of renewable energy via the smart grid, or a low energy method to produce and handle batteries, we might see more benefits to the electric vehicle.  Until these things happen I don’t see how going to buy a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt is going to help reduce fossil fuel usage, reduce oil consumption, or produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Note: The Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt are the two mainstream vehicles currently available so I am using them as examples.

 

 

Peak Oil: The Limiting Factor Behind Government’s Social Programs

Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was one of our Countries biggest proponents of progressive politics.  Through government initiatives like The New Deal, which created Social Security, and his Second Bill of Rights, FDR made a major impact on our Country’s social landscape.  This new social landscape promised services to individuals as if they were rights.  All of these services required additional resources and energy to maintain the social landscape that was being promised by the government.  These promises were easily maintained when cheap crude oil was abundant, making continued growth seem eminent.  In order to maintain these new rights, our country will be required to have continued energy production growth from limited energy resources, but continued growth can not continue.

As the world continues its plunge towards and beyond Peak Oil, creating a society that is energy efficient is very important.  All aspects of society must be considered, even the type of government that is implemented.  In a lower energy society anything that can promote hard work, innovation, and self-reliance is very beneficial.  I believe the United States Constitution creates the best government structure possible for post-Peak Oil.  The Constitution creates a system that does not require continual energy gathering in order to maintain a fully functional, and healthy nation; this is because The Constitution does not promise services to individuals, it only promises freedoms and creates basic structure.  Any philosophy that promises services to individuals will require the government to constantly take energy (resources) from one entity to give to another entity, in order to keep the promises made to the people by that government.

In a world where energy prices are high, and conventional crude oil has peaked (according to the 2010 IEA World Energy Outlook, pg. 6) is it possible to continue the never ending resource gathering?  The short answer is NO, so how can we expect ideals like FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, and services as rights be sustainable when the only way to maintain these ideals is through continuous gathering of limited resources (i.e. oil, natural gas).

What do you think, do you believe limited resources will shape our government structure?  Comment below.

What is the future of Ammonia as a fuel?

When considering future energy systems, it is very important to separate energy from fuel.

One of the characteristics of petroleum (oil) that makes it a perfect product is the
fact that it is both a “Primary Energy Source” and a “Fuel.” While in the context of
petroleum, these can be considered the same thing, future energy production
and fuel systems require that primary energy sources and fuels be understood as
two different things. This is due to the fact that there are no replacements waiting in the
wings that offer both properties.

Industrial mankind’s largest challenge at this point is replacing the large quantity of energy that
is currently provided by petroleum. Replacing oil as a fuel is also a serious problem, in large
part because the primary energy problem is so serious. If the primary energy problem is “solved,” many fuel solutions are available.

Combining carbon dioxide removed from air and hydrogen split from water using a Fischer–Tropsch like process could produce high quality diesel fuel essentially from air and water. Unfortunately, this process is so energy intense that it is not really considered a viable solution. And it is considered unlikely that we will come up with a primary source of energy so plentiful to make it viable.

So although this system is not viable, it does demonstrate that the most difficult challenge facing Industrial Man is replacing the energy that currently is obtained from fossil fuels.

Because the energy sources available to replace fossil fuel are of lower density and higher cost than fossil fuel, the energy efficiency of the fuel is also very important. Energy efficiency of fuel in this context refers to how much additional energy must be used to obtain, manufacture, use, and dispose of the fuel and its ingredients.

The most useful fuels are hydrocarbon fuel or fuels that are made from hydrogen and carbon. The hydrogen provides the large quantities of energy that are desirable in a fuel, while the carbon provides the storage and handling characteristics that make a fuel like diesel, jet, gasoline, and alcohols so desirable.

Carbon represents two serious challenges in regard to its future use as an ingredient in fuels.

1. Obtaining it:

Obtaining the clean carbon that is necessary to manufacture large quantities
of hydrocarbon fuels is not a trivial task. This is often overlooked as
carbon in the form of CO2 (carbon dioxide) is considered a pollutant at
nearly all points that it is emitted. But closer examination reveals some
problems.

  • Location:  Is the carbon source stationary or moving? Since we are usually talking about a gas, capturing and transporting it is expensive.
  • Cleanliness:  Most processes require clean carbon. If the source produces dirty carbon, cleaning it up can be a very energy intensive and financially expensive proposition.
  • Timeliness: Is the primary energy available at the same times as all of the other ingredients of the fuel? If not, what is the energy and financial costs of the storage?

2. Disposing of it:

What is the cost of disposing of it? Carbon is increasingly being implicated as a pollutant. This status means that the cost of using it as a component of fuel is likely to increase. It remains to be seen what the carbon taxes of the future will look like, but it looks increasingly likely that there will be clear penalties for emitting carbon into the atmosphere.
Hydrogen is often seen as the fuel that will be used to replace hydrocarbons. Hydrogen has some very serious limitations, including:

  • Very low density: The density of hydrogen is so low that shipping it as a gas using tanker type equipment that is similar in design to the equipment that is now used to transport petroleum is out of the question. Shipping it as a refrigerated liquid improves this substantially but is energy intense, and creates another challenging set of storage issues.
  • Flammability: Hydrogen is extremely flammable, it takes very little energy to ignite, and can self ignite under certain circumstances.
  • Leakage and embrittlement: Hydrogen can leak through many container and plumbing materials, and can make them brittle and dangerous. The most common and cost-effective materials for tanks and plumbing cannot be used.

There is one fuel that can replace hydrocarbons in many of the applications where
the density of hydrogen is too low. This fuel is ammonia. Ammonia is similar in
handling characteristics to propane and it is already commonly used in
industry and agriculture.

The advantages of ammonia in comparison to hydrogen are:

  • Higher Storage Density
  • Reduced Flammability
  • No Carbon.

Ammonia is composed from nitrogen and hydrogen, and therefore can be made using several
known methods from air, water, and large quantities of energy. Since we currently don’t
know how to capture large quantities of renewable energy, most ammonia today is made from natural gas.

Ammonia has some challenges that often disqualify it from consideration as a fuel.

  • Toxicity: Ammonia is toxic enough that is will likely not be approved for common, untrained use.
  • Odor: Ammonia has a very strong odor, although this is desirable as it is nature’s defense against the toxicity.
  • Storage Considerations: Ammonia is a gas at standard atmospheric conditions. Its storage characteristics are similar to propane, with about half the energy density. This disqualifies ammonia for some uses, such as aviation.

While clearly ammonia is not the magic bullet that some seek, a survey of the realities of carbon capture and disposal, photosynthetic efficiency, battery efficiency, and storage density indicate that there are no other fuels that are as ready to be pressed into service as ammonia.

Ammonia is already one of the most commonly used and synthesized chemicals. The most common use is fertilizer, and without ammonia fertilizer there would be large scale starvation. Although ammonia may be too difficult and toxic to handle by untrained operators, it is ready today for professional use.

Now we just need the energy.

Transportation: Future Energy Source(s)

Oil is continually becoming more scarce and more expensive to acquire, because of this finding a substitute is very important.  Unfortunately, there has yet to be a feasible substitute for oil, so we are faced with a future that will probably involve several different alternative fuels.  T. Boone Pickens recently released a new video outlining his plan, and mentions that he sees a world with multiple energy types for transportation.  This made me think and as I thought about this it began to make more and more sense.

We currently have no energy source that is adequate to replace oil, so we will have to use many different energy sources for particular uses.  This means, we could end up seeing electric vehicles for in-city driving or local commuting and hydrogen, fossil fuel, and/or alternative fuel vehicles for a multitude of uses.  Each energy type will play a role in our future, depending on geological location and vehicle usage.  Vehicles that are used for heavy loads may operate on diesel or natural gas, and vehicles that are used for every-day city driving may be electric, hybrids or alternative fuel powered.  Using multiple energy sources will complicate the consumers purchasing decisions, because consumers will need to choose vehicles based on energy type and predicted usage.

Our energy future must rely on sources of energy other than oil, and because of this we will see several different energy sources emerge.  Consumers will need to have a basic understanding of energy.  Energy will play a MAJOR role in the majority of our future decisions. In addition to alternative fuels, I also believe we will see an increase of rail-based transportation being used.  Rail transportation is generally energy efficient and relatively convenient.  Using energy without thought will become a thing of the past.

Here are my thoughts, i look forward to seeing some of your thoughts/comments below.

What Is The Future Of Offshore Oil Drilling in the United States?

BP has been under a lot of criticism lately from citizens, organizations and government officials because many feel that BP is to blame for the Gulf of Mexico oil well leak.  The oil well began leaking oil into the ocean over 40 days ago.  Since that time, BP has tried several different techniques to either control or halt the flow of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  With government officials making comments like, “I think we’re now beginning to understand that we cannot trust BP…BP has lost all credibility, now the decisions will have to be made by others because it’s clear that they have been hiding the actual consequences of this spill”, Congressman Ed Markey.  I’ve began to wonder what will happen to future offshore drilling endeavors.  Do you think that BP wants or likes losing all of this oil into the ocean?

With quotes like that made by Congressman Ed Markey, it seems like we are going to see more government intrusion into the oil industry through regulations and/or the government trying to control aspects of the oil industry.  Do the ‘evil’ bankers ring a bell?

Suddenly, because of this one offshore oil drilling disaster, talks of putting offshore drilling to a halt have risen.  We have been drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico for over 70 years now and on top of that there are thousands of operating oil wells that have a good track record.  I know that the BP oil leak is major, but to consider stopping offshore oil drilling would be halting an important energy source for our nation.  Per President Obama during his BP press conference, “The government is running things…”; since when has the government micromanaged anything very successfully?

The federal government can not continue to attack BP both publicly and legally by launching a criminal investigation into BP.  The plans for this, and all oil wells are presented in detail to the federal government before drilling can begin; only after the approval by the federal government can drilling start.  BP got the plans for this oil well approved so blaming BP for this disaster seems ignorant.  This type of behavior has the potential to scare away companies and to stop future oil well development.

I would love to see the adoption of more renewable energies but we simply can not change the fact that we NEED oil and that finding sources of oil will require us to go offshore.  It is naive to think that government could/can solve this problem, that we should stop our search for oil, and that we have the ability to stop using oil.  Renewable sources have a ways to go before becoming a good replacement for oil, so until then we need to work on gathering more oil and perfecting renewables at the same time.

Sources:

BP Criminal Investigation Launched By Feds – Huffington Post

Obama under pressure on oil drilling ban – The Examiner

Dems:’We cannot trust BP’ – MSNBC

Federal Gulf Distribution by Production Rate Bracket – EIA

Offshore Oil and Gas in the US Gulf of Mexico – Wikipeda

What Caused The Deepwater Horizon Disaster? – The Oil Drum

Obama Defends Response to Gulf Oil Spill, Pledge to ‘Shut This Down’ – FoxNews

What the Kuwait Oil Study Says About Peak Oil

This year Kuwait University and the Kuwait Oil Company released results of a study using a modified version of Hubbert’s curve to predict that oil will peak in 2014.  This study seems to mostly agree with a another study that was popularized by Sir Richard Bronson of Virgin Group Ltd., which predicted that oil will peak in 2015.

There are many different arguments about the time frame of peak oil, some argue that it has already occurred (Dot 2 and/or Dot 3) and others argue that peak oil won’t occur for many years (Dot 1).  I personally do not get too hung up on when peak oil will occur or whether it  has occurred.  Either way you look at it peak oil is not something that can be ignored and as you get near the top of the curve you begin feeling the effects of peak oil.  This is because more costly sources are being used and it is more difficult to increase production.  Many of the economic troubles that we are experiencing today stem from these facts.

Peak Oil Curve

One of the major reasons the Kuwaiti study is so interesting is because a major oil producer is stating that it will no longer be able to keep up with the demand of its product and that the it will be more costly to acquire.  That is like Apple telling its consumers that even though demand for its iPhone is increasing, in a few years it will no longer be able to keep up with demand and the iPhone® price will also start increasing.  No oil corporation would want to admit peak oil’s effects on their business which is why this announcement is so unbelievable.

The really unfortunate part of this whole ordeal is that while oil companies, oil producing nations and numerous other respected organizations are releasing reports that peak oil is REAL and IMMINENT, we continue down the same path.  Cities, states and governments should be having serious discussions about how to deal with peak oil and should also be considering plans to deal with these conditions.  Instead, the United States government is busy talking about things like health care, broadband expansion, cap and trade and numerous other topics that are irrelevant in a world where cheap energy is no longer abundant.  Cities continue to spend money on beautification projects and citizens are living their lives like everything is just going to go back to the way things have always been.  I realize that NO ONE wants to talk about these things because it can paint a grim future for our society, but if we continue to put our heads in the sand we will have a major problem on our hands that no one is prepared for.  If we start planning now we could have a brighter future, but planning can only begin when everyone is mentally prepared to begin serious, tough discussions.

If you are interested in some more information about peak oil, visit one of Dan’s previous articles here.

Sources

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35838273/ns/business-oil_and_energy/

http://green.autoblog.com/2010/03/18/kuwaiti-study-conventional-oil-to-peak-in-2014/2#comments

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/feb/07/branson-warns-peak-oil-close

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5395

Earth Day 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is a good day to reflect on things that you can do to reduce your expenses and to reduce your energy dependence.  Many of you will go do something “green” today, which is good, but Earth Day is more about making life changes.  So, this Earth Day evaluate your life and see if you can find something that you can change or give-up in order to reduce your energy usage.

Below are some past articles that I wrote about how you can add a little green into your life, I hope they help.

Conserving energy, a crucial initiative for societies future.

Transportion With Less Energy (Part 1)

What to do when you’re away from public transportation

Methods to Reduce Home Energy Usage

Taming Home Energy Use in My Home

Living in a “GREEN” world

What About The Electric Car Buzz?

Recently there has been a lot of buzz surrounding electric cars, like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.  Electric cars have been idolized as the cars of the future, the perfect balance of usefulness and cleanliness.  The interesting thing about the electric car though, is that it has been around since the beginning of the automobile.  Electric cars aren’t anything new and breathtaking; the only thing that could be new or breathtaking about an electric car could be some of the technological advancements that are being put to use.

The electric car has been competing with the combustion engine since the beginning. Initially the electric car had a decent market share but as the combustion engine advanced and oil prices lowered, so did the number of electric cars.  The combustion engine has been able to offer everything that consumer’s desire:

  • Long range
  • Convenience
  • Speed
  • Power
  • Affordability
  • Durability

Some of the above bullet points might be debatable, but if you look at the overall history of the combustion engine I think all of these items hold true.  The combustion engine is not without negatives though.  Some of the more widely known are:

  • Pollution
  • Low efficiencies (i.e., fuel economy, energy efficiency, heat, etc…)
  • Wear and tear (i.e., spark plugs, cylinders, etc…)

Overall the combustion engine has and continues to offer many positives that are cheaper and better than anything else currently available.

What is it about the electric car that brings so much excitement and hope?

The electric car has enormous potential, but the problem is that it has a ways to go before that potential can be achieved.  Some of the known potentials of the electric car include things like: being clean, reducing oil usage and getting its energy from renewable sources.  Some of the biggest challenges for the electric car are, battery longevity and reliability, energy consumed to manufacture and dispose of vehicle components, and the integrity of the electric grid.

Fundamentally the electric car hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years, but there are some advancements in battery technology, energy conservation and regeneration that are helping to improve their viability.  In my opinion one of the single most exciting things about the electric car is that the electric motor can achieve 90% energy conversion efficiencies.  This number is amazing when compared to a typical internal combustion engine, which has efficiencies of about 15-20%.  This type of efficiency gain could drastically reduce the overall energy usage of a vehicle.

What sort of drawback does the electric car have?

Up to this point, electric cars have only used batteries as a means to store energy (besides a few experimental vehicles using other storage methods).  Your typical lithium-ion battery has a charge/discharge efficiency rating of roughly 80-90%, which makes the battery a decent storage medium for vehicle applications.  While there have been some improvements in battery technology over the years, batteries still have their share of problems like weight, susceptibility to climate change, durability and expense.  Many of these problems we have personally experienced in our daily lives in devices like cell phones and laptops.

The batteries in the Chevy Volt for example, are estimated to last up to 100,000 miles or 10 years. At which point the cost to replace the battery is estimated to be in the $2,000-$3,000 range, although current costs are actually around $10,000.  This seems unfeasible for typical consumers, not to mention the complete waste of energy and resources used for manufacturing and disposing of the battery.

Conclusion

While the electric car has the potential to be something really great, the battery is a bit of drawback at this point.  Hopefully researchers can continue to improve battery performance or develop other technologies to use as the storage medium instead.  Another key very important thing to consider is where the electricity to charge these electric cars comes from.  Again the electric seems ideal but once you consider the big picture it is far from ideal…at least at this point.

Tell me what you think:
Can the electric grid handle large numbers of electric cars?
Do you think electric vehicles have the potential to overtake the combustion engine?

Sources:

The Wall Street Journal – The Long Road:Electric Vehicles

Wikipedia – Lithium-ion battery

Fueleconomy.gov – Advanced Technologies & Energy Efficiency