One of the questions that I have asked repeatedly when blogging about electric cars, both here and at my personal blog, is how will we generate and distribute enough affordable electricity to keep electric cars running? Recently, the Detroit Free Press asked the same questions:
When a Chevrolet Volt is plugged into a 240-volt outlet, it will use about 3.3 kilowatts of power, or about the same amount of power as a dishwasher or air conditioner.
Most people are already familiar with what can happen when thousands of air conditioners are plugged in and running at the same time during the summer: brownouts.
“The last thing we would want is for everyone to come home … and plug them in at 5 or 6 o’clock on a hot, muggy summer afternoon … when we are at our peak,” DTE Energy Chairman Anthony Earley Jr. told the Free Press in an interview last week.
And then there are other challenges: What happens on road trips when drivers need to recharge the battery? What if you live in an apartment without a garage and electrical outlets?
As electric vehicles grow in popularity, so do the challenges.(emphasis added)
Naturally everyone’s energy consumption is different, but during the hottest days of summer (July – September), air conditioning adds about $250 extra dollars a month to my electric bill. My head hurts when I imagine an electric bill that includes air conditioning plus 8 to 12 hours of charging per day for two electric cars.
That added power consumption (hundreds of gigawatts, at a minimum) is going to require a massive overhaul and expansion of our electric power generating capacity and distribution grid. Yet concurrent with their push toward battery-powered vehicles, the Obama Administration is openly advocating a “cap and trade” carbon emissions tax plan that would drastically increase the cost of electricity produced by coal-fired power plants. Right now, coal-fired plants produce 57% of America’s electricity. Which policy will take precedence? We can’t have both. And which ever one we choose, how are we going to pay for it?
After re-reading a lot of my posts about electric vehicles, I realized that I probably have created the impression that I am 100% against them. That’s not true. Electric vehicles have quite a few advantages. For one, their design allows them to be very efficient torque converters, which means that they have the ability to provide precise acceleration very quickly. They also do not emit smog-producing hydrocarbon emissions.
But the American way of life — where we live, where we shop, where we send our kids to school, where our kids play soccer, where we go to church, where we travel, etc. — is directly linked to the gasoline-powered automobile. Electric car supporters often point out the relative ease with which we abandoned animal power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in favor of gasoline power. But the advantage of gasoline powered vehicles over old-fashioned horse power was abundant and obvious. The switch-over was immediately rewarded with a myriad of improvements — speed, comfort, safety, payload capacity, etc.
In stark contrast, the electric cars that we have seen over the last thirty years offer very few improvements. In fact, they mostly offer an unimpressive mix of compromises and limitations — limited passenger space, limited (or non-existent) cargo space, limited speed, reduced safety, reduced range, and so on. And when you add even basic extras, accessories that we don’t even think twice about using on a gasoline-powered vehicle (heat, air conditioning, sound system, windshield wipers, headlights, running lights) performance is limited even further.
The extent to which gasoline-powered vehicles, and the range of their performance, impacts our daily lives as Americans cannot be underestimated. Replacing those vehicles poses an enormous technological and financial challenge, one that our government needs to prove that they fully understand before they commit to something that we may deeply regret later.