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Optimism about electric cars?

by Colman Tue May 27th, 2008 at 09:59:23 AM EST

There's an upbeat piece about the prospects for electric cars in the FT today:

If oil prices continue to rise and battery prices fall, he thinks electric vehicles could come to account for more than 25 per cent of the European market and 10 per cent globally. The estimate does not include hybrids, which have combustion engines but are powered partly by batteries that recharge from energy released by the car.

If so, it would mark one of the biggest technological shifts in a century of automotive history. Hybrids today account for a tiny portion of total automotive sales – less than 10 per cent even for Toyota, which is by far the market leader. Pure electric cars are rarer still, seldom sighted outside California.

What can change that – and what can still get in the way? After all, electric cars have had false starts before, failing to win consumers’ acceptance because of their cost, performance or driving range. General Motors discontinued its pioneering EV1 in 2003, citing related concerns and, in the words of a recent documentary, “killing the electric car”.

Yet surging petrol prices, advances in lithium-ion technology and growing environmental pressure on manufacturers and motorists to adopt greener vehicles are giving electric and hybrid models a new and arguably permanent lease on life. Carmakers are fast-tracking an unprecedented number of electric and hybrid vehicles through their product pipeline. By 2010 GM will be using lithium-ion batteries in three of its Saturn and Chevrolet brand hybrid cars. GM is introducing hybrids at the rate of one per quarter and says it will have 16 by 2012.

I can't actually tell if this would be a good thing or a bad thing in the long run: where are the hidden resource constraints here?


Display:
Whatever about personal transport, to what extent can the utility fleet be electrified, and how fast?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 10:00:09 AM EST
100% of the private fleet if you don't get completely religious about all-electric all the time and go for far more practical EREVs aka serial hybrids.

100% of the scheduled route vehicles, the kinds which are doing loops around a depot: buses, delivery trucks, garbage pick-up, etc.

0% of long-haul freight trucks. It simply doesn't make sense. But that's why trains were invented.

All in all, I think the journo is way too pessimistic. If the technology takes off and oil remains where it is, the market will be 90% EVs and EREVs in 10 years. Selling a ICE car, new or even second-hand will be nigh impossible. No one will buy such an antiquity.

by Francois in Paris on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 10:19:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For scheduled route vehicles there are electric options with more limited need of battery. Overhead lines has been used to power buses in the past and can be used again. I guess battery bus/overhead line bus/streetcar is a matter of how intensely it will be used.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:10:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Overhead lines still power plenty of buses in Geneva. The things mostly work fine, the only problem is that occasionally they get detached and then you've got a delay and the resulting traffic jam.
by MarekNYC on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:16:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Detachment seems to happen quite rarely. At least for the new buses. And the drivers are pretty quick to hook the old ones back up when they do come lose.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:20:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My days of riding the 3 back and forth on my way to school ended with the late eighties, so yeah, I'm not to up to date. Back then it would happen to me every couple weeks and while it would only take five to ten minutes for them to get restarted, it did cause problems during rush hour.
by MarekNYC on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:26:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And if you fitted them with batteries that allowed the bus to continue running while attempting reattachment?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 04:09:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean, running while somebody on the roof is struggling with two long and heavy metal rods ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 08:08:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You could replace the poles with pantographs, or something. Or do those only work if you're on rails and you need the poles because the distance between the bus and the power lines is not reliable because of the ability to steer?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 02:44:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The distance between the bus and the power lines is also unreliable because the street's surface is not as tightly controlled as that of rails... If you want a more precisely flat surface, you might as well build a tram.

And with much fewer cars on the streets since we are in an expensive oil scenario, trams may become the proper solution.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 05:23:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the two poles are needed to get the back loop on the electrical circuit.

If you have a pantograph, you need to have the bus going on electrically conductive rails. That's a tramway.

Here a picture of the trolley bus (wih two poles) we are talking about. There are a lot of towns in France having this kind of transportation. I know for sure Grenoble, Limoges and Lyon, but there are more.

It's cheaper than tramway.



A free fox in a free henhouse!

by Xavier in Paris on Wed Jun 4th, 2008 at 07:45:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can't you close the circuit with two pantographs?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 4th, 2008 at 07:51:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, you need the bus to be able to move sideways, since it's in traffic and not guided by rails. Which means you don't have a guarantee the bus stays straight under the lines, which poses a problem for pantographs, whereas poles stay attached in such a case.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Jun 4th, 2008 at 08:28:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I will put the number in 15 years...

do not forget the extra investment time and money to increase spare capacity in the electric grid. I made the numbers.. it is important and one can not neglect it...

other than that... I could not agree more about hte trucks.. it does not made sense.. until soemone solves the fuell cell "high power in less than 0.01 ms" problem..... and thanks for reminding me.. trains exist for a reason... get rid of trucks :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 12:49:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I think that's about the right time scale too. 15 years or so.
by Francois in Paris on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 01:38:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The time scale of one complete replacement of the car fleet?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 04:08:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. It takes about that to renew the fleet.

It's also consistent with the time scale to bring significant power generation on-line. It matches the full-on period of the French electro-nuclear program.

by Francois in Paris on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 05:32:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
we indeed have the same numbers :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 06:01:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And another transition problem... right now, energy spare capacity in a normal country is around 15 %...if you change all cars one night I think I recall you need more than that (another 15% should be plenty)...

It's not just a question of spare generating capacity for the electrical grid. At least in the US, the transmission capacity has to be increased as well, and urgently, because the transmissions lines which constitute that electrical grid are barely adequate even now.

Yes, it will help to charge up the cars only at night, but that will mean the transmission lines will be running close to full capacity 24 hr/day, especially in the US summer air conditioning season, when we occasionally have brownouts anyway.

Not a good situation. If the grid were to be significantly damaged by overloads, we would be in trouble.

by Ralph on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 10:59:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Yes, it will help to charge up the cars only at night, but that will mean the transmission lines will be running close to full capacity 24 hr/day, especially in the US summer air conditioning season, when we occasionally have brownouts anyway.

Not a good situation. If the grid were to be significantly damaged by overloads, we would be in trouble.

A smart grid could allocate power as available.  Smart households could set priorities within a household, depending on available power, amongst priorities such as charging the car(s), running the A/C or heat pump, and/or switching to economizer mode and circulating outside air, depending on air temperature.

In sunny climes distributed sources, such as solar panels on businesses could allow employee recharge during the day, either as an employee benefit or for a fee, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Solar panels on residences would further mitigate grid and transmission strain. Combine that with home storage batteries comparable to two EV batteries and solar time-shifting is possible.

Were individual property owners afforded the opportunity to treat a future source of daily mobility  as an affordable capital investment, they may be eager to do so if the cost of purchasing the requisite energy for that daily energy is confidently expected to continually increase.  Taken together, these steps would also make the grid massively more resilient. Were most of a region's commuter vehicles plugged into the grid except when in transit and were the grid able to, for a fee, withdraw a certain portion of that stored energy in emergencies, local power outages could be greatly reduced.  Surge capacity would be impressive.

As about 2/3 of the USA's oil consumption goes to transportation, possibly a little less for the whole developed world, most of which is imported this would greatly improve balance of payment situations and strengthen national currencies.  We just need to break the stranglehold of big oil and coal on energy policy.  Just that! The fact that they are running out of reserves and can't get new sources on line quickly and cheaply enough to prevent serious dislocations will tend to delegatimize their power.  Once that fact seeps into general consciousness they are just like lame duck politicians.  After the coming US presidential election many of their hirelings and front men WILL be lame duck politicians.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 02:14:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Most countries do not have this problem though..

the grid network is cosntantly upgraded and regualted by the central government in Spain... most countries do the same...

So it is true that it is a problem.. but is mostly  a US problem (maybe Uk too, but I am not sure).

So in europe, 15 years... maybe more in the US.. but the US is so f*** up in so many ways  that I am sure we could find other problems which would be make add years to this number...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 06:00:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's wrong. The Spanish energy grid is so backwards not having embraced financial innovation that they got lucky. We must liberalize it immediately.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 06:17:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The hidden resource constraints would be lithium at very low cost, that is a few $ per kg as lithium carbonate.

It takes about 250 g of lithium per kWh of battery capacity with current technology. We can reasonably expect that to go down to 125 g/kWh with 65 g/kWh being the ultimate physical limit on ~4V cells.

So, count about 4 kg for a 16 kWh battery like in a Chevy Volt EREV. Even at 100 x current prices for the raw LiCO3 material assuming very low grade resource, it would account for just a thousand bucks on a car or so.

by Francois in Paris on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 10:11:54 AM EST
And easily recycled?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 10:20:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, very easy to recycle. Lithium is not particularly toxic and can be landfilled. It's just stupid to do throw it away.

The real argument for recycling right now is to recover the cathode material in lithium-cobalt chemistry but the industry is moving away from cobalt (and cobalt availability would be a big road-stop on large scale deployment).

If you want more details, read that report of the Argonne National Laboratory. A bit dated but a good overview:
http://www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/TA/149.pdf

by Francois in Paris on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 10:45:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They could recycle the lithium into tiny capsules which could then be supplied to oil industry executives.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 05:53:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Snarff! They'll certainly need it when it hits them :)

Note though that it looks like they got the message

If you look to Exxon stock buy-back - $8 billions of buy-backs every quarter - and believe what your lying eyes are seeing, well, we have an unusual case of corporate auto-cannibalism. If Exxon keeps going like that, buying itself back out of the stock market, the company will run out of equity stock to buy about the same time they ran of oil stock. 15 or 20 years.

by Francois in Paris on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 06:33:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Used in lithium cells.

According to wikipedia a production bottleneck is expected:

Although current molybdenum production meets demand, refiners, or roasters, are expected to run into a shortfall between 2009 and 2015, depending on demand.

A roaster processes the moly into a fine powder, pellets, or other forms. Total world moly roaster capacity is currently 320 million pounds per year, barely enough to meet demand. There is not much excess roasting capacity, and no one is actively permitting for the production of any new roasters in the United States. Global roaster capacity also looks limited, and a future roaster shortage is predicted. The data above are based on the assumption that mines will be able to increase output.

Western demand is projected to increase by around 3 percent annually, while China and the CIS demand is projected to increase by around 10 percent annually, increasing overall global demand by around 4.5 percent annually. Increasing demand can be attributed to two main factors. Hydroprocessing catalysts are becoming essential for crude oil. The other contributing factor is the increase in nuclear reactor construction. There are 48 nuclear reactors to be built by 2013, and approximately 100 are to be built by 2020. The International Molybdenum Association (IMOA) says that an average reactor contains about 520,000 feet of stainless steel alloy. Some larger reactors contain over 1 million feet of stainless steel alloy. Unless moly mine production picks up at a rapid pace, shortfalls of the metal are expected to arrive around 2009.

Wasn't there a shortage of the necessary metals for mobile phone batteries a couple of years back? I could imagine the same thing happening with cars. Just on a much bigger scale.

by Sassafras on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 10:54:10 AM EST
A quick google doesn't indicate it's a necessary constituent, and the report Francois references doesn't either. There are articles about research with it though.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 10:59:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, not "used in lithium cells".

It's just one material among others proposed to replace graphite at the anode. Not critical.

by Francois in Paris on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:01:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A good thing, I think, with one caveat.  How do we charge all those batteries?  I think a case can be made that a lot of the charge time, at least for personal vehicles, would tend to be at night -- off peak hours for most electric utilities.  That is in general a good thing, as it would tend to better utilize more economical baseload generation, giving the utilities better peak to average load ratios.  On the other hand, at least in the US, a large portion of that baseload capacity is still coal fired.  Until we do something about that, it could be argued that we are no better off than before and quite possibly worse.

Now where are we going and what's with the handbasket?
by budr on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:07:17 AM EST
Wind, tidal, geothermal, solar and, of course, for the real thing, nuclear.

What's the problem?

by Francois in Paris on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:09:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fewer kWh's - we get poorer and or the population decreases, and I'm not talking about the transition period, I'm talking about full implementation.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 04:14:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Crazy Horse was talking about smart grids before. I think you charge them when energy is cheap, and that the grid tells you when it is. So when there's lots of wind (say) power is cheap and the car charges all the way up. When there isn't much wind, and there's something more expensive in use, the car only tops itself up if it needs to, unless you tell it otherwise.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:11:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's one example, but micro smart grids can manage loads as well, i.e., household appliances, industrial motors, air conditioners and heat exchangers.  Smart Grids allow the grid manager to adjust loads to current grid conditions, either when supply shortages occur or when cheaper baseload is abundant.  They also, on a larger scale, manage the networks, pathways and interchanges between local and regional networks.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:09:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, if the CO2 is being dealt with, then coal fired might not be a problem so much. Certainly better than a gazillion badly maintained cars.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:12:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, even now, an EV charged off a decently depolluted coal IGCC plant is way better for public health than an ICE.

Imagine Paris or LA without car exhausts ...

by Francois in Paris on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:22:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Imagine Paris without car exhausts"

Ah, this is my dream!

By the way, few people realise how much is spent in cleaning the buildings (over a billion euros a year just for the state-owned buildings in Paris if I remember well).
That and the reduced health expenses would be very significant savings, even though people will only mention the huge costs that removing fossil fuel engines would incur.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 05:23:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I made the numbers some years ago.. and the limit and cost is transition time. P. Krugman is correct on this one as far as I can see. The problem is the heavy investment we made in the previous system... the cost of the transition

Private cars, trains, light trains and buses can all go electric right now if you look at the resources needed for the battery and any other part of the car, bus. But the transition time looks like awful.

First, you have to set a lithium mining world program, then you have to stablish a  full battery recicling program (otherwise you can not do it once you want to get the next generation of cars). then you have to allow electricity charge at night in the garage...then you have to use an hybrid if you still want to get very high speed for more than 500 km (or just get rid of this nonsense or hgigh spped for so long, take the train for Xsakes)...

And another transition problem... right now, energy spare capacity in a normal country is around 15 %...if you change all cars one night I think I recall you need more than that (another 15% should be plenty)... so there is the wind and solar and nuclear program (or coal if you do not care about global warming) to increase electricity production... which is again a matter of investment.

Frankly.. I do not see how this can be done in less than 15 years...and that's the problem.. and the reason why less private driving and the elimination of world's SUV plus house isolation is the only way to get the 15 year cushion we need to make the transition easy.

I forecast a bumpy road.. but not as much as other people think around the internetssss.... 15 years is roughly what is needed.. and high oil prices (8-16$ a galloon) will force those changes...

Of course, increasing taxes on oil to get money for the investment transition is right now a no-brainer speeding up the solution..and a dead-politician item ..so no politican or citizen will push for it as jerome says.. we will follow a path more painful than necessary.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:50:59 AM EST
That's roughly my thinking: an exciting transition period, settling into something that doesn't rely on fossil fuels to anywhere near the same extent.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:52:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and possibly a more rational transport system at the end of it as well: individual cars are not an efficient use of resources in any case.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 11:53:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the number really do not lie... but Krugman said in a blog post.. just think of all the money invested in oil stations... ok.. now invest in all eehm and all garages to get electricity.. tricky ain't it?

Aviation and big trucks will have more serious problems in this 15 year term... so oil wil have to go for them and agricutlrue in the next 50 years (at 40 million barrels per day, enough for all the world). After that, either we find second-generation (namely algae) biofuel production or some crazy genius gets to solve all the problem of a high power motor when hydrogen is used (you will need fuel cells by the way, batteries is impossible).

We will watch the transition... and seethe great  antrhopologicahl mistery is: quick and easy will people take it. we know there will be no riots, and there will be no general fights.. but people can get indeed very pissed.. and the political outcome can become nasty.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 12:44:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 
just think of all the money invested in oil stations... ok.. now invest in all eehm and all garages to get electricity.. tricky ain't it?

Land use zoning would not have to change, nor would the buildings, lifts, etc.  Good mechanics are used to "keeping up" with technical innovations.  I would expect my L.A. mechanic and my mechanic here in Arkansas both to be proficient at and equipped for maintaining hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles long before they became 20% of the market, just out of good business practices.  They are neither stupid nor bad businessmen. There are businessmen selling and servicing pure electric, street legal vehicles in Little Rock right now.

If gasoline prices continue on this trajectory another 18 months the change-over will become a train and no one will want to be in its way. $6/gal gas by September will start getting everyone alarmed, if not panicked. People will start to see their lives and those of their neighbors coming apart.  The best way to make money will be to offer to ameliorate the impacts.

I wonder if the rate of increase will noticeably increase after the U.S. Presidential elections.


As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 06:18:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The rate of increase in gas prices, I mean, although the rate of increase in movement towards an alternative transportation system is also a legitimate question.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 02:22:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
[hollow laughter]

any transport paradigm where the vehicle carcass and power pack are 80+ pct of the total transported weight is doomed in an energy-scarce (aka sane) economy...  unless the vehicle is self-fuelling and self-reproducing (i.e. horse) and offers other side benefits like agricultural productivity, edibility, etc...

what we call "car" is inherently too heavy, and our fossil-fuelled fantasies about acceleration and top speed to grandiose, for any sane energy economy.  it would have to be something slower, lighter, smaller, to begin to make any physical sense.  simply electrifying the existing "car" concept imho is deck-chair rearrangement at its finest.

and then there's the energy cost of the entire associated infrastructure for private auto transport:  an enormous amount of fossil energy goes into road construction (mining, crushing, hauling, bitumen, asphalt, earth movers -- are we suggesting elegant lithium-battery-powered Caterpillar tractors and backhoes, now?) and maintenance -- oh lord, the maintenance.  [have I mentioned recently that the entire US Amtrak budget, annually, is less than what the Fed highway department spends for one line item:  the removal of roadkill?]  a road network for the private auto transport paradigm is insanely energy-expensive (and I'm not even talking about biotically destructive -- the roadkill issue, the overpaving and toxic runoff, the noise pollution, yada yada).  the US already cannot afford to maintain its road network, at existing energy prices.  welcome to reality.

my bet is that we will indeed see electric cars, but private auto ownership will start to devulgarise pretty quickly during the same period.  there will be enormous demand among ordinary people, as car ownership recedes again to the upper strata of society, for affordable public transport -- light rail, trains, subways, better bus service -- combined with strong pressure for relaxation of Levittown-era zoning restrictions, relocalisation of shopping and business, etc.  (I expect a boom in bike sales, bike repair, bike parts, etc.)  the unfortunate thing is that all this urban retooling, though a grand idea, also requires enormous energy investment -- it's not cheap to lay new light rail line or to demolish the vast concrete triumphalist architecture of the Car Era -- and hence much of it is unlikely to be attempted, or if attempted, completed.  

therefore I expect a stronger and stronger divergence between the plebes living in jury-rigged, imperfectly adapted villages carved out of old retail space and repurposed carburbs -- getting around by bike, foot, horse, oxcart, bus, jitney, carpool, whatever works -- and the elite living in beautifully-engineered "Green" eco-trophy-homes in carefully-designed "transit villages" with 3 e-cars in the garage, driving on private highways or taking (risibly inefficient, but oh so reassuringly private a form of "public transport") "PRT" to the "green building" office.  [actually, on bad days I look at the aftermath of Katrina and I look at the contracts KBR and Halliburton are getting for detention centres inside the US, and I expect a lot worse than this.  but that's on the bad days.]

the private auto paradigm is simply so energy-hoggish that I don't see how anyone but the wealthy will be able to maintain the habit in an energy-expensive future.  given the number of people killed each year by the vagaries and structural assumptions of the paradigm, this is probably a Good Thing (TM).  WHO might have to revise its expectation that death-by-car would by 2020 become the 2nd leading form of premature mortality worldwide.

around here -- on the coast of BC -- we speculate a lot about the fate of large power boats (the maritime equivalent of SUVs).  so what will happen to all the big Bayliners and their ilk, when no one can afford the multiple $K for a fill of their gaping gas tanks?  will they be repowered with smaller engines?  occupied by squatters?  dragged up on shore for emergency housing?  already they are virtually unsaleable except at the highest end of the market where people don't have to ask.  at some point the FT will doubtless offer us a reassuring article RSN on the bright future of clean, green, electric-powered luxury yachts :-)  but that won't restore Bayliner ownership and operation to the achievability horizon of Joe and Jane Sixpack.  I expect a resurgence, at long last, in small boat mfrg and sales -- and in kayaking and related gear (already happening).

I think when the FT is "upbeat" about something we have to remember who its readership is, or who its intended readership is.  it's the people who don't have to ask :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:02:46 PM EST
Remind me again why electricity is going to be so expensive and scarce?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:16:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...because... well, seems to me the process of rebuilding the power infrastructure has to be done using the last of the fossil fuels -- at $150 -- $200 -- $250 a barrel? -- and so (imho) far fewer new generation plants of whatever kind will be built than we fondly dream when we imagine "transitioning to an electricity-based economy," because the costs of construction will skyrocket during the construction period -- and costs of construction have to be paid back, with interest... so the prices charged for electricity after the new plants start generating will, most likely, have to repay the extremely high terminal costs of construction under the sagging canopy of the fossil fuel economy -- debt financing, as Chris Cook has often discussed.  projects also may be abandoned by municipalities or private parties unable to stay ahead of the budget overruns.  

there's a definite chicken/egg problem -- the transition should have started at least 40 years ago, when fossil energy was still cheap :-)  now the transition itself is very expensive -- and in conflict with other potential uses for the fossil fuels, some of them preferred by powerful interests.  (now let's see here, shall we fuel the US air and water fleet to go flatten Iran, or shall we build some new power plants?  which sounds like more fun, Daddy Warbucks?)

the focus of our thinking -- especially that of entrenched elites whose fortunes depend on biz as usual -- is still "how can we keep doing things pretty much like we have since 1950, but [waves magic wand, twingggg!] without fossil fuel?" rather than "how differently do we have to do things to live w/in the solar budget?"  imho the private auto paradigm is one cultural signature that only evolved out of insanely cheap fossil fuels, and can't continue except in that very special, bizarre environment... sort of an extremophile cultural development.  in the absence of absurdly cheap energy -- to maintain the expensive infrastructure and overcome the inherent inefficiencies of the model -- it just doesn't work.  so will electricity be absurdly cheap in the future?  place your bets...  I bet "no".  cheaper than the last drops of fossil fuel, almost certainly;  but never as absurdly cheap as fossil fuel was in its heyday.

I imagine private vehicles of the future looking more like the Twike and Sparrow (the Smartcar and GEM car are already wandering off down that evolutionary path) cropping up, crossbreeds of the bicycle and the motorbike/sidecar and the smallest cars (like the old 3 wheel Reliant).  basically, electric bikes with 3 or 4 wheels and a lightweight hard or semirigid canopy, and some cargo space.  all the features of a "car" except for absurd mass, insane accelerations, and pedestrian-annihilating travel speeds :-)  [heaven only knows what macho muscle car drivers will then have to do to enact their masculinity in public places -- let us draw a curtain of decent reticence over the possibilities, and move on.]

thanks to the wonders of markets, we can all place our money where our mouths are -- all those who believe electricity will be "too cheap to meter" (or at least relatively cheap) w/in 15 years should go out and buy electric powered SUVs equipped with as many drink holders as possible, on-board refrigerator and TV screens for the kids embedded in the seatbacks, and so on.  those who believe all delivered energy -- fossil dregs, electric, biomass -- will be relatively expensive compared to today... well, move closer to work (or buy some land and start permacultivating), sell the car(s), get a bike, insulate your house, blah blah.  you know the drill by now.  pack light 'cos it's going to be a long rough ride.

btw, iirc both Kevlar and CF are extremely energy-intensive to produce -- exemplars of the fossil-fuelled "heat, beat and treat" paradigm of materials engineering.  so... CF may be getting even more expensive soon.  I kinda doubt that a CF car body -- like CF bike frames -- will ever be a breadnbutter model.  hey, we can always hope I'm wrong :-)  but since I have no plans ever to own a car -- or fly in an airplane -- again, I take a fairly detached view of the whole enchilada.  much more concerned at present about the cost of resins, hardeners, polyurethanes, extruded fibers, zinc, etc.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 09:25:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
heaven only knows what macho muscle car drivers will then have to do to enact their masculinity in public places

Are you talking about soccer moms here?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 02:49:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually I was thinking specifically of monster trucks, having that very day had a narrow escape from the driver of one, whose personal expression of masculine panache involved ignoring zebra crossings.

Soccer moms, in my limited experience, tend to be more distracted than aggressive -- but at the helm of 6000 lbs of steel [oh gawd, the resources, the energy, the pollution generated just to make the damn thing let alone drive it!!!] distracted is just about as dangerous as aggro.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 12:37:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When I was a student there was this huge jacked-up pickup truck parked in my apartment complex. One morning I was <gasp> walking to campus when I saw this really short guy heave himself up to the dricer's seat (and I say heave because he was so short and the truck jacked up so high he couldn't put his foot up to the step to get in. Some time later he was selling it for 3 times my teaching assistant stipend.

As for the soccer mums, my observation is that the larger the SUV the smaller the soccer mum driving it. They must also be compensating for something.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 06:13:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by redstar on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 06:22:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...because... well, seems to me the process of rebuilding the power infrastructure has to be done using the last of the fossil fuels -- at $150 -- $200 -- $250 a barrel? -- and so (imho) far fewer new generation plants of whatever kind will be built than we fondly dream when we imagine "transitioning to an electricity-based economy," because the costs of construction will skyrocket during the construction period -- and costs of construction have to be paid back, with interest... so the prices charged for electricity after the new plants start generating will, most likely, have to repay the extremely high terminal costs of construction under the sagging canopy of the fossil fuel economy -- debt financing, as Chris Cook has often discussed.  projects also may be abandoned by municipalities or private parties unable to stay ahead of the budget overruns.

Well,  interest rates are spectacularly low at the present time in the USA.  Companies with good credit positions are using the "downturn" as an opportunity to renovate and upgrade existing facilities, T.Boone Pickens, not exactly a fool when it comes to money, has  invested $2billion,(out of an eventual $10 to $12 billion?) for 1GW of capacity in G.E. windmills for a wind farm that near Amarillo, Texas that is planned to expand to 4GW by 2014. European windmill manufacturers are setting up manufacturing facilities at the Port of Little Rock, among other locations. Nucor is planning to set up a new, large scale sheet steel facility, probably in Louisiana.  The economics only improve as  oil prices increase.    

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 03:09:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the short term it is going to be. transition cost again...gas prices will increase and a lot of countries have combined cycle power stations as the on-off power stations.. the same goes for coal which could increase price given the huge mill clsigns in most parts of the world.

But after the trasnition... it is going to be rather cheap...

wind, hydro, geo and nuclear (for a couple of centruies at least) are getting extremely competitive right now...and sun probably in less than half century.
I am with you here.. I do not see electricity expensive in 25 years.... the world can duplciate capacity getting rid of coal in 25 years...

25 years are almost two power generation cycles...nuclear can indeed cover for gas and wind, hydro, home isolation can cover for "any of the increases"...at that point coal/global warming force us to get rid of it... I hope sun will come to the rescue....(or huge win sea platforms).

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 06:15:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
are we suggesting elegant lithium-battery-powered Caterpillar tractors and backhoes, now?)

Why not?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:18:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
basically, power density and cost of operation.

battery powered cars have to be made small and light to be feasible/sensible.  backhoes and other earthmovers for highway-scale projects can't be made small and light, or they wouldn't be able to move the dirt required on the time scales we're accustomed to (which we have to achieve in order to "meet demand" from more and more car drivers, yada yada).

has anyone scoped out the mass of lithium that would theoretically be needed to batt-pack, say, the US vehicle fleet?  just curious.  I have a feeling the number would be sobering, if not staggering, but I haven't seen anyone try to compute it yet...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 08:47:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes.. it requires a world mining program....

Optimistic estimates the reserves at 200 million tones of lithium carbonite.. (very) conservative estimates talk about 100 million tones. This is roughly , being extremely cosnervative (95% sure), 8 million tones of useful/available lithium (the standard estimate is 15 million tones of available lithium).. but it was 10 million in the 70's. so I take 8 million tones to be very sure it can be extracted in a global mining program in a 15 years span.

then a typical laptop battery seems to require around 50 grams. I think that at the beginning they will not be very smart and I put 2kg of lithium per battery.

This makes 4*10^9 cars o 4000 million cars.. almost one for every couple on the planet.

this means that, usign realistic estiamtes to change the number of cars, you wil do not need so many cars (less than 1000 million), and probably 1kg will be enough...ths is roughly 1 million tones in a 15 years frame...so you wil have to extract 50.000 tones per year at the beginning.. going towards 100.0000 tones after 10 years.

present mining is very well known: 16.000 tones.

As I said.. a world mining program to increase production by three. Again. transition problem...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed May 28th, 2008 at 06:42:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's a design which attempts to address your excellent points.  A super light, carbon fiber hybrid.

Amory Lovins Hypercar

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:20:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Horses are self-fuelling now?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:24:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
sure, they run on biofuel thus they're just as sustainable as our all ethanol future the folks from ADM are promising us ;)
by MarekNYC on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:34:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
sorry, by "self fuelling" I meant only that no long supply chain of foreign wars, transport tankers, distilleries, tanker trucks, pumps, etc. was needed to fuel a pastured horse, nor are special tools, connectors, cables, etc required.  there are obviously issues of pasturage availability and proper management of grassland (back to Salatin's grass farming techniques, in which iirc horses do not figure largely, but potentially they could).  and in more northerly climes there is always the overwintering issue -- especially with grain prices climbing.

friends of mine who were considering heavy draught horses for their 150 acres have reconsidered and are going for one (on the large side for the breed) Standardbred, which they tell me is an all-round performer for light draught, light carriage, and riding.  she eats less than the heavy horses but for what they need on the farm, she's just as useful for all but the very heaviest hauling.  for that, they can justify the occasional splurge of tractor fuel.  or that's the theory so far;  in a year or so we'll see how it worked out.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 08:54:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and in more northerly climes there is always the overwintering issue -- especially with grain prices climbing.

If I remember my 18th century swedish economics an ox had better year round gas milage and was easier to manage while overwintering. A horse - being more expensive - was of course the choice if you could afford it. The SUV of the time.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 10:18:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the US already cannot afford to maintain its road network, at existing energy prices.

Cannot afford or refuses to afford?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:29:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Refuses. Taxes are bad and blowing shit up in Iraq is better than building stuff at home.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 04:10:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The cost is stunning regardless.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 04:16:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bah. In this diary I pointed out estimates that fising all of the US' bridges and roads would cost "$188bn over a generation" while at the same time the likely cost of the Iraq was was estimated at $1tn. When there's a will there's a way.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 04:26:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But moving into the future, is there the steel, the asphalt, the concrete, and the energy to produce them all in the amounts required? Sure, your dollar values point out the extreme social harm of the US military budget, but commodity availability that was always assured in the past may not be there any longer.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 05:46:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and I don't even have an adjective to describe the US military budget. The best ones I can come up with are only snarky.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 05:47:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
unf adjectives don't come with scientific notation...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 09:29:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
any transport paradigm where the vehicle carcass and power pack are 80+ pct of the total transported weight

At what speed can a horse transport 25% of its own weight?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 03:59:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Horses also consume more energy than mechanized vehicles when they're not in use.
by MarekNYC on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 04:01:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But less in production costs.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 05:47:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Debatable. How long is a horse out of production when producing a new horse? How much time and effort goes into raising and training a horse to work? (The correct answer is quite a lot)
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 06:03:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not to mention making and maintaining tack and other gear - difficult when we've all been forcibly converted to vegetarianism and there are no cows -  shoeing the horses and all the other ancillary costs and inconveniences.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 06:23:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Does a horse use up more leather in its lifetime then you can get from it once it is dead?

If so, by what factor approximately?

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 06:53:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that is one of the most nerdy questions in the history of the ET. ;)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 08:55:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
generally afaik horse harness is not made from horsehide, but from cowhide.  this is probably because the turnover in slaughtered cows is very high and cowhide is a "cheap" byproduct?

iirc horsehide was mostly used for furniture in the old days, no? -- perhaps it had a finer grain or texture than cowhide, or the advantage may have been that it naturally came in larger sheets?  gee, we have lost a lot of what used to be basic knowledge.  today, horsehide motorcycle jackets seem to command a higher price than cowhide, fwiw.

a good set of harness well-maintained can last a very long time indeed -- almost certainly the lifetime of a horse and then some!  there are Amish farmers still oiling and waxing harness their fathers used -- with some repair here and there over the decades, to be sure.  

in theory, I'm betting, you could make one set of harness from the hide of one dead horse and it would last the lifetimes of 2 or 3 horses if properly cared for.  but this is speculation... we'd need to know whether horsehide is thick/strong enough for harness making, for one thing.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 09:38:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
cars are the shiny stuffs missionaries went into heathen territory with

cars are the foot between the doorpost of consumers, producers, legislators and boardrooms

cars evoke a demand for base load clean energy, as well as home grown
-- one of these methods addresses falling water tables

cars' usage fades out, when too many are being driven around. More attractive ways of hauling ass will be found

national gov't, NGO's, commercial domain, private individuals won't tip the balance; local actors will

read my lips: serious opportunities showing soon at a theatre near you

Good night and good luck

some links for the reference minded:
http://www.shell.com/home/content/aboutshell/our_strategy/shell_global_scenarios/shell_energy_scenar ios_2050/shell_energy_scenarios_02042008.html
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/01/22/plug_in_hybrids/
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/04/14/solar_electric_thermal/
http://www.trecers.net/downloads/10000_solargigawatts.pdf
http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/007800.html
http://www.autobloggreen.com/2008/05/14/video-san-francisco-mayor-in-talks-with-project-better-place /
http://www.pps.org/info/newsletter/november2004/november2004_joy
http://www.zen-occidental.net/articles1/loy4.html

by emilmoller (emil@beyondthewalls.eu) on Tue May 27th, 2008 at 06:16:24 PM EST


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