I Sing the Auto Electric

There are two major things the peoples of the world can do to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and protect the environment, and they don't involve wind or solar power. The first is to build new nuclear power plants, as people in Europe, Asia and elsewhere are doing apace. The second is to insist that your next automobile is either a pure electric or a plug-in hybrid. Auto manufacturers from Detroit to Shenzhen are racing to bring new vehicles to market, while forward looking cities like New York and Paris are installing recharging stations in anticipation of the electric future. As stated in The Energy Gap, electric and hybrid vehicles are the only way to cure the world's fossil fuel addiction.

While there are a plethora of alternate energy sources to choose from for generating electricity, powering factories or heating homes, the same cannot be said about transportation. With the exception of some lightweight local rail that is electrically powered, practically all human transportation relies on fossil fuels. This dependence on burning hydrocarbons to get from place to place throws a major kink into plans for building an import independent, greener future. Though some propose powering land vehicles and even airplanes using hydrogen, there is no realistic hope of creating a hydrogen economy for decades, if ever.

Electric vehicles have been around for more than 100 years. In 1900, there were a total of 2,370 automobiles in New York, Chicago, and Boston. Of these, 1,170 were steamers, 800 were electrics, and only 400 were gasoline powered. The first gas electric hybrid had already made its debut. At that time it was not clear which form of vehicular power would come to dominate the automotive market. Each of the three types of automotive power had distinct advantages and shortcomings. Today, we are poised to revisit the question of automotive power. It may well be that humanity's 100+ year love affair with the internal combustion engine is coming to an end.

The 1900 Lohner-Porsche serial hybrid.

Recently reported in IEEE Spectrum, a Coulomb Technologies charging station has been installed in New York City. It is the first of 100 to be deployed in the coming months across the city's five boroughs. New York gets about 40% of its electricity from nuclear power and hydropower plants, so the power used to run the expected hoards of electric vehicles (EV) will only be partially green. Regardless, the switch to electrics should reduce air pollution in, as former mayor Ed Koch put it, “the city where the future comes to audition.”

New York City is not alone in planning for an electric automotive future. Car Charging Group Inc., has announced it has partnered with national parking company, LAZ Parking NY/NJ, LLC, to provide charging stations for electric vehicles at LAZ Parking locations throughout the New York and New Jersey metropolitan areas. Backed by government funding, expect to see charging stations spring up in other states.

The 2010 Nissan Leaf electric car.

The US Department of Energy is a major funder of the $230 million EV Project, the largest deployment of electric vehicles and chargers in history. Nissan, which makes the all electric Leaf, and Chevrolet, maker of the Volt plug-in hybrid, are partners in the enterprise as well. The project will put nearly 15,000 ECOtality charging stations in 13 cities in five states: Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona and Tennessee. And the electric boom is not limited to the US.

Renault-Nissan will hold large-scale tests for its new electric cars in the Paris and Milan regions next year, ahead of planned mass production in 2012. Start-up Better Place has launched battery exchange programs in Isriel, Denmark and China. In partnership with the Japanese Ministry of Economy, it recently demonstrated the world’s first switchable-battery electric taxi cabs in Tokyo. The complete Better Place solution integrates charge spots, in-car software, operations centers, cars, and batteries, in addition to switch stations, all managed as an intelligent network. By year-end, Better Place will test all components of its solution in Israel as the company continues to gear up for commercial launch in Israel and Denmark in late 2011.

Competing with Better Place's battery swapping technology, Coulomb Technologies has announced that it will set up nearly 5000 electric vehicle charging stations in nine US metropolitan areas: Austin, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Sacramento, San Jose/San Francisco, Redmond, Wash., and Washington, D.C. Reportedly, Coulomb provided 700 such stations to 130 customers worldwide in 2009.

Drawing on $15 million of US government stimulus money, the $37 million project will install recharging stations with hose-and-nozzle type plug built to the SAE J1772 standard. The network of stations, known as ChargePoint America, will be available to any plug-in EV driver, with no down payment. Cars like the Chevrolet Volt, the Ford Transit Connect Electric, and the Ford Focus Electric can be recharged at the stations, along with the forthcoming electric version of Daimler’s Smart ForTwo. Expect the battle between recharging technologies to rage for several years.

If this sounds like nothing but hype, think again. Electrics and hybrids were everywhere at last year's Detroit Auto Show (see the slide show). And it wasn't just the familiar manufacturers trying to catch the green wave. Green start-ups, like Tesla, with its electric Roadster, and Fisker, with its sleek Karma plug-in hybrid, received far greater visibility than expected. The same applied to Chinese manufacturers BYD and Brilliance as well. Want further proof that this isn't just rampant speculation or a flash in the pan?

Back in 2008, fabled investor Warren Buffett bought a 10% stake in BYD Co. Ltd., a Chinese company in the forefront of electric automotive development. MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., a subsidiary of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and owner of the Portland-based electric utility Pacific Power, said it agreed to buy 225 million shares of Shenzhen-based BYD—a $230 million investment.

China's BYD and Warren Buffett want to sell you a car.

“We are thrilled to be partners with BYD and the people of China,” Buffett said in a news release. MidAmerican Chairman David Sokol said they are attracted to BYD’s commitment to make a “dramatic environmental impact with their products.” BYD is considering Portland as a test market for its electric automobiles. If the “Sage of Omaha” thinks EV technology is a good investment there is probably something to it.

Is an EV right for everyone? Probably not. But they will work for more people than many expect. The Chevy Volt is designed to allow someone who drives less than 40 miles a day to commute without using a single drop of gas. Which means, that for more than 75% of America's daily commuters, a Chevy Volt will use zero gasoline and produce zero emissions. While daily mileage varies, the majority of motorists in Europe, Japan and the US could use EVs, and plug-in hybrids would work for everyone else. For more information see “Plugging In To Hybrid Happiness,” or chapter 13 of The Energy Gap, “The Transportation Conundrum.”

Some auto enthusiastas have bemoned the advent of hybrids and electric vehicles, claiming that they will take all the fun out of driving by killing performance. Not so. Porsche has re-defined what hybrid performance can with its 918 Spyder Concept. it's a 500-horsepower, 78-mpg, 9,200-rpm 3.4-liter V-8 hybrid all-wheel-drive sports car capable of 3.2-second 0-60 mph, 198 mph top speed and a 16-mile all-electric range. Electric motors on the front and rear axles contribute 218 horsepower to the mix. The show car is also drop dead gorgeous, as can be seen by the picture below (more photos here).

The Porsche 918 plug-in hybrid supercar.

As Porsche president and chairman Michael Macht said in the press release announcing its approval for production: “Production of the 918 Spyder in a limited series proves that we are taking the right approach with Porsche Intelligent Performance featuring the combination of supreme performance and efficient drivetrain concepts. We will develop the 918 Spyder in Weissach and assemble it in Zuffenhausen.” Unfortunatly, Porsche had put a 1,000-buyer limit on the 918 Spyder and media reports in Europe have suggested the price could exceed $600,000.

Personally, I long for the day when electric cars and plug-in hybrids are widely available—even if I will never own a Porsche 918. With a plug-in hybrid, I would be able to do my daily commute of ~15 miles without ever firing up the IC engine. No longer would I have to spend money on petroleum; no more subsidies to the petro-thugs and hydrocarbon despots of the world. The future can be clean and green, in more than one sense of the term. So, with apologies to the late Ray Bradbury, I sing the auto electric.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.

Some electric vehicles even look futuristic.

The dependancy of vehicles on

The dependancy of vehicles on fuel is very high. So, the use of electric vehicles nowdays is very important. Hope to see high efficiency of electric vehicles soon with an affordable price.

Us To!

Our Taxi Company Is going with a fleet of electric plugins, we are trying to figure out how we can recharge as much as possible to lower our gas prices.

Test-Driving the Plug-In Prius

There is an article on cleantechies.com, by Adam Vaughan, describing a test drive in the new plug-in Prius hybrid. Here is a snippet from the article:

In London, I dropped some friends off, delivered a parcel and ran some errands on electric-only mode before driving the car off to Oxfordshire – at which point the petrol engine and hybrid battery kicked in automatically. On my return journey I popped into the colossal Westfield shopping centre in West London which with 30 electric car charging points is second in the UK only to the 100 at the Highcross Centre in Leicester.

Overall, the report is quite positive. The author's only real complaint was the small size of the "boot." Link to the full article.

A new charging option

A new charging technology from Evatran uses induction charging to automatically keep the car’s batteries at full charge. Drivers would just have to park over the base unit that is fitted to the floor and an intelligent control system in the vehicle will request charging. The system would use a coil in the base unit to creates an electromagnetic field. A coil in the vehicle would pick up the field by induction and convert it back into electronic current which the vehicle could store and later use.

This system does not have the same level of efficiency as plugging the car directly to the power source and would probably take a long time to do a full recharge. But if you had base units at home and at work, you could be on recharge most of the time, keeping the batteries topped up.

porsche hybrid

Can't wait to see that Porsche hybrid. It's definitely one of the many consumers are waiting for.

I've read that it may be

I've read that it may be possible to cover the seats in an electric car with graphene. This will help collect solar energy and charge the batteries. Obviously not a major breakthrough, but it is just one more thing that can help evolve and improve the design of an electric car.

You don't talk about charging time.

Eight hours of charging for two hours of driving does not seem too appealing to me. On the other hand, if the batteries could be charged in 10 minuets, I might be interested. I don't think the latter is possible, that's a lot of coulombs to be moving about. As far as battery swapping? Sound pretty iffy to me, trading in a good battery for one of unknown quality? I don't really like that idea. The other point is heat. How well will the motors work in the 115 degree heat of Phoenix? Electric motors get hot, even with the cool new semiconductors that have been developed improving efficiency. (BTW, I worked for one of the organizations that developed some of these devices).

Governments have been the impediment, at least as far as the development of motor controllers, and now they want to the solution by distorting the free market? The reason we still use gasoline is that it is the cheapest solution. Artificially increasing the coast of operating gasoline automobiles is economic lunacy. There is the potential for huge profits in solving the problems with developing electric cars. This has kept engineers engaged for 30 years or more. Throwing around government bribes will have the effect of causing developers to low ball their targets, producing half baked solutions. But this is what the greenies really want. They would like nothing better then to limit peoples ability to move about.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of electric cars. I just feel that only a free market is going to produce anything comparable to what we now have with gasoline, e.g. 300 miles per fill-up, capability of travelling at 100 MPH or more, the ability to drive from Santa Rosa, CA to Portland OR in 12 hours, and a price tag that does not look like cost of a house. I am confident that industry has the ability to meet these challenges on its own. The developments over the last 20 years or so ( without government involvement) indicate what can be achieved.

Charging time

That's because charging time is all over the map. It depends on the manufacturer and the voltage and amperage of the recharger. It can take 8 to 12 hours for a simple 120 volt household circuit. As 240 volt, 40 amp hookup can lower that to 2 to 4 hours. Some EV models offer a "quick charge" mode that will give a partial charge (80%) in less than 1/2 hour. There are also some experimental battery systems that can do a full recharge in around 10 minutes, but none of these are currently production ready. For more information see "Battle of the Batteries: Comparing Electric Car Range, Charge Times."

Admittedly, recharge time is a major inconvenience compared with filling a petrol tank. Swapping battery packs could be as fast as a fill-up, but that means enforced standardization which could stifle innovation in a still young market. Today, the best EV use is probably everyday commuting with overnight, off-peak recharging. Recharging will improve over time. Until it does, there are hybrids to fill the gap.

Not zero emmissions

I cannot let you get away with this

"Chevy Volt will use zero gasoline and produce zero emissions."

No - the emissions will be belching out of a power station chimney nearby instead.

Volt Emissions

For the record, while the Volt does not have an engine connected to the drive train, it does have a gas powered engine to charge the batteries. With a sorry 40 mile range, I still don’t understand why GM doesn’t just dig out the design specs of the EV-1 and launch a 70-80 mile range car that would quadruple their market.

Also sad, VW is holding off on the launch of the Golf TDI/Hybrid (60+ mpg) in US markets until they see how the 2011 Touareg Hybrid does at more than twice the cost of the Golf. Three guesses how that will turn out!

Not so much

I'm no greenie, but the efficiency at the power station comes from less energy consumption at the automobile. For highway driving it’s a wash maybe a loss, but for your average Joe, or Jane, most driving is stop and go. This is where the true electrics and hybrids shine. A gas/diesel sitting at a light or stuck in traffic burns fuel. The electric motor simply stops and energy consumption plummets. Add to that, less moving parts, lower friction, etc. and the net energy demand is far lower than a petroleum burning vehicle.

That is correct

The statement as written is absolutely true. The Volt would not produce any emissions under those circumstances. As you point out, the generation source for the electricity it is charged with may or may not be clean. If the electricity comes from wind, solar, hydro or nuclear then there are no emissions at all. But note, with a pure IC car there is no possibility that emissions are zero. And if you are going to eliminate all of a car's emissions from a city center by transferring a part of them to a central plant somewhere else, that is probably a good start. Why is it that greens have never meet a partial solution they like? You have to start somewhere and hybrids are a much more workable and reasonable first step than demoting the human race back to hunter-gatherer status.

Hydrogen Power

With governments around the world throwing vast amounts of our money at electric car development it is easy to overlook alternatives such as hydrogen. Honda have shown that these can be produced and apart from the hydrogen cell require few technical changes. The big issue here is not limited range but availability of the fuel.

Gwyneth Cravens in her Power to Save the World book puts forward the idea that rather than produce electricity, it could be cost effective for nuclear plants to directly generate hydrogen instead.

Imagine that, reducing pollution and dependence on those unpredictable arabs but at the same time maintaining car performance and convienience, even down to that 5 min refuel on demand requirement.

That is how technology should be used - to maintain or preferably increase the standard of living for the masses, government sponsored electric just does not do that.


Craven's book is not bad, a little light on technical details and about 50% too long, but not bad. She was describing thermal dissociation of water molecules, which only happens at very high temperatures (800°C or more). Such temperatures are only generated by some types of Generation IV fast neutron reactors, none of which are commercially available yet. So supply is a problem (electrolysis is horribly inefficient).

The other problem is distribution. H2 is a sneaky little molecule that leaks out of damn near anything you put it in. It will even pass through solid steel, turning the metal brittle as an extra sign of its annoyance (yes, I know that is anthropomorphizing a simple molecule, but its late and I'm taking some poetic license). You can not ship the stuff through gas pipelines, and tanker trucks are not very efficient (good energy content, very low density, even when compressed). Liquification puts a big dent in end-to-end energy efficiency and introduces a whole bunch of other complications. There simply isn't a viable hydrogen distribution network today and building one will be quite expensive and take considerable time.

On the other hand, we already have a very efficient distribution network for electricity. The stuff is literally delivered to your house. For now the most cost effective alternative to petroleum products is going electric. Maybe some day we will have the appropriate reactors, which can be kept busy making H2 when power demand is low. As we said in The Energy Gap, we aren't against hydrogen, but now is not the time.

Wishful thinking

Wishful thinking here, I believe Henry Ford promised such a vehicle with a 100 mile range in the 20's and there have been attempts to produce viable electric cars since then, none have caught the popular imagination. Even hybrids like the Toyata Prius do not provide as much economy as a similar sized normal diesel car when driven in the manner that the Prius requires.

Electric car development will never be like the rattlling miniturasiation of the phone in 25 years which was due mainly to reduced power requirements - and sheer bottom up public demand. Unlike a phone you cannot drastically reduce the power required to physically propel a 1 ton brick at 50mph so the solution must be in better batteries which just has not happened to any great extent. Oh and the fact that governments have to swamp the industry with grants and top down regulation to keep things moving is another sure sign that the public will not be flocking to this technology anytime soon.

So for a long time to come electric will just be a crippled with low range niche vehicle that will be a greenies and government show toy.

For the rest of us any gas guzzling car, old or new, low or high spec will take the whole family and dogs on a 300 mile trek across country at a moments notice with no refueling, even then to refuel would add 5 mins to a journey.

As for this mythical 100 mile range even Nissan engineers have admitted that in winter this would fall to around 60 miles. And most of us who use leisure batteries are very aware that performance falls off over time so in 2 - 3 years our 60 mile limit is now just 30 miles, not really reliable for that 15 mile commute to work and back.

There you go with the negative waves

First off, the development of electric powertrains, and particularly energy storage, is precisely like the problems that faced early cell phones. With the advent of lithium-ion batteries, super-capacitors and solid-state energy management and motor controls, development of better electric/hybrid vehicles is poised to explode, just like other modern electronic gadgets. You are way behind the times. The real problem is getting production up and costs down.

Second, a hybrid can do all the things an IC only car can do, just do them better. They are only an interim step, until either charging times can be greatly reduced or battery-swap networks become widespread. For now, hybrids mean you can go electric part time, and not sacrifice long range. Go ahead, hang on to your crappy old IC car as long as you can. The future will still arrive without your participation or approval.

It always amazes me, having worked with people who are enthusiastic about the future and who actually work to make it happen, that there are so many who have nothing useful to contribute but still feel obligated to tell the rest of us that things will never work out. I have faith in humanity--we are an endlessly inventive species. You should get on the progress train or get out of the way.

Paris are installing recharging stations


I am from Paris, France, and I have not seen any operational recharging stations yet as today.
Maybe it was announced in the medias.. but as we say in France "il y a loin de la coupe aux lèvres" [it is a long way from glass to mouth, my personal translation].

Best regards.

Skepticism is always healthy

Your point is well taken, believe it when you see it. Not living in Paris myself, I can only report what is in press releases and the media. A good friend of mine used to say, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Perhaps not as poetic as French, but true as well. Stay skeptical, always.

Bonne chance, mon ami

I want to believe... but

Lest we forget the political Donnybrook of the EV-1, a car that had a range of 70+ miles on mere lead-acid batteries that was systematically undermined by the manufacturer, the oil companies, and of course our government. Then it was taken off the market, retrieved from leasers, and shredded like a condemning Enron memo.

Here we are fourteen years later with no electrics from any major manufacturer and smaller uglier hybrids using newer lithium-ion battery technology with ranges of only 40 miles before the smog generator kicks in. Similarly, many of the hybrids use gas engines to give them “reasonable” acceleration (“reasonable” defined as not getting rear-ended). Ever see the EV-1 time trials? Zero to sixty in about 8 seconds. The Prius with its 1.8L engine screaming full tilt does 9.8.

The question remains, how do we circumvent the very well funded special interests that undermine our interests?

Did you miss the 918?

Did you not read the article? Did you miss the Porsche? Performance is not going to be a problem. Your mistrust of "special interests" will probably persist, however.

That was then

This is now. I wouldn't call Toyota a minor manufacturer and all three US based manufacturers either have released or will release hybrid models. Models from Ford, Honda and even Toyota outperform the Prius these days.


My comment was on pure electrics like the EV-7. The electrics on the road today are all hybrids. Yes, it looks hopeful, but let’s see what happens.

We as a nation have torpedoed everything that posed a threat to big oil from electrics to efficient diesels, while Europe and Asia have walked away with the technology, which for the most part they don't even bother offering in the US.