Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Science Guys Debate Whether There is Hope Now for Electric Cars

Here are a couple letters to the editor from two sources – one an engineer with years of experience in the aerospace and satellite sector, and another with years spent in the world of biochemistry. Their opinions (especially those of the anonymous engineer) at first activated a dark, ominous, inner voice that told me such things as, “We’re all doomed!” However, it is important to explore all of these issues and concerns, especially from people with the capability of gauging and examining the technical/scientific side of the journey, which does not include me. I can learn more and translate such concepts into everyday language, but that does not make it easy. So thanks to Anonymous Engineer and Khanh Nguyen for contributing.

Electric cars are not green unless they are charged with local solar or wind sourced electrons. It is true they do not spew CO2 locally, but it is being spewed at the electric plant – polluting a lower income person's air who has to live by a power plant, rather than the rich person who can afford an electric car in the hilly suburbs.

To exacerbate the carbon, when transmitting the power over power lines... there is loss (it’s a physics thing), so you actually need to burn more fuel in a power plant to power an electric car than the car itself would burn.

If an electric car driver plugs his car into his house plug and does not have solar panels on his roof, he is 90% likely to being dark brown, rather than green.

As of two years ago, it took more energy (from what source?) to manufacture a solar cell than it can produce in its life. Not to mention the toxic waste residual to the manufacturing process.

Which means for now solar energy is not green.

Solar energy can be converted to electricity without solar cells. The large reflector plant built by ARCO in the ‘80s out near Dagget is an example we need to be motivated to do that type of plant, and spend more on research.

Someone should bother to develop a solar cell that puts out more power than it takes to manufacture.

There is stuff to do... we may not be able to get everyone renewable, but I don't want people buying a Volt when it is a fallacy. 

Anonymous Engineer 

And a second letter to the editor…

Are the electric cars even carbon and energy neutral? That is, if combustion efficiencies and carbon emissions are better controlled in a large electricity generating plant than on individual combustion engines, and if transmission loss is minimized to the point where the overall result would be neutral - lots of technological advances here. Of course, neutrality is only a break-even point; the idea is to lessen impacts on the planet. What would be the answers to these queries? I see a mutually beneficial study for an environmental group and the oil industry here.

Khanh Nguyen, Biochemist

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