"Electric Cars Should be Called Coal Cars": The Heretic.
13 Apr, 2011 10:24 am
Even if we could make enough electric cars fast enough to curb our oil consumption significantly, the provision of green electricity for them remains a probably insurmountable obstacle. If governments are serious about electrifying transportation, a move from personal to mass electric transport, e.g. trains and trams might be the better way to go.
I saw a wonderful play at
the Royal Court Theatre in London recently: "The Heretic" by Richard
Bean. In a nutshell, the plot centres on a female academic, Dr Diane
Cassell, who is researching sea-level rise. She finds none at some
measurement point in the Maldives, but realises that both land and sea
are rising together. Thus, while sea-levels are indeed rising, the
islanders are unlikely to be forced from their lands by them. If she
publishes her results, the department stands to lose a very lucrative
contract from an insurance company and so her Head of Department
forbids her to go public which she does, and on national television at
that, so getting fired from her job. The Human Resources person is
It's a great play, insightfully written and skilfully performed, and raises many themes woven around the veracity of climate change, and the dubious politics of academia. The latter seem to fall increasingly in line with the plot of my novel, University Shambles, intended originally as a black comedy rather than some prescient vision of the future. http://universityshambles.com
In the play, one of her students with utterly green credentials including eating lots of garlic to apparently curb his own bodily greenhouse-gas emissions, refuses to go on a field trip in the university minibus on the grounds that it runs on fossil fuels, preferring instead to cycle forty miles there and forty miles back.
Diane asks him: "In your green future, how would we get fourteen students fifty miles to the North Yorkshire Weather Station?"
He replies: "There should be like an electric car/minibus. Electric cars don't have any emissions."
Diane responds: "Electric cars should be called coal cars. 30% of our energy comes from coal. Electricity is not naturally occurring in nature."
Now this does raise an issue about the "cleanliness" of electricity, which is all the more salient in view of the U.K. government's aim to install thousands of electric charging points around the country for electric cars with the aim to "wean us off imported oil". However, the majority of electricity in the U.K. is generated using power stations fired by coal (28%) and gas (45%), and hence even if a substantial substitution of the present 30 million British oil-fuelled cars by electric vehicles could be made, it would entail the consumption of vast quantities of these other fossil fuels instead to provide the additional electricity for them.
The green energy company, Ecotricity refers to electric cars as "wind-cars", to stress that they could run on electricity made from green sources such as wind. Indeed, the U.K. has made the decision to focus on wind-energy to meet its carbon-emissions targets, and plans to build offshore wind-farms on an impressive scale to do the job. It is advised by the Committee on Climate Change that by 2020, 1.7 million electric cars should be on Britain's roads, or just over 5%, which I don't honestly see would make a serious hole in our demand for imported crude oil.
To decarbonize the national grid would require another 30 - 40 GW of green generating power, or "the equivalent of a hundred large offshore wind-farms," according to the chief economist of the CCC. These would need to be large indeed. Assuming a rated capacity per turbine of 5 MW, and a capacity factor (actual output) of 30%, we have 1.5 MW for each. Thus we need around 20,000 - 27,000 turbines to produce 30 - 40 GW of power. So that means 100 wind-farms with 200 - 270 turbines each. If one turbine per day were manufactured, no mean feat given present manufacturing capacity, the process would take 55 - 74 years to complete, with the installation of them as a separate effort. As noted in previous posts, there is the further question of whether there will be sufficient quantities of rare earth elements (REEs) available on the world markets to make the turbine magnets which need about one tonne of neodymium per 4 MW of rated capacity.
Clearly, we have a serious problem in switching from dirty oil cars to green electric cars, which will need to be built themselves. There are many issues of the materials needed per se, and a hybrid car e.g. a Prius needs 1 kg of praseodymium for its motor plus 15 kg of Lanthanum for its battery, while a fully electric vehicle will require much more of each. Personal electric cars are still a far better option than personal hydrogen cars for all kinds of reasons, but if governments are serious about introducing electric transportation in place of oil, the creation of electrified mass passenger transport, e.g. trains and trams would be the better way to go.
"Carbon Confusion," by Sylvia Rowley. http://www.guardian.co.uk/electric-vision/electricity-supply-fossil-fuels