Electric Cars

English: Three converted Prius Plug-In Hybrids...

English: Three converted Prius Plug-In Hybrids Charging at San Francisco City Hall public recharging station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a perception that electric cars are greener than petrol-driven cars. While I would not like to give the impression that I am against electric cars, as I am actually in favour of them, long term, in the short term I see some issues with them.

Firstly, consider the auto mobile. There are 250 million of them in the United States alone. That require a huge infrastructure which we don’t often consider. Firstly the crude oil is extracted from the ground using huge drills. While the technology is fairly basic, a lot of planning goes into a well before the hole is drilled, and then the drilling rig, and the workers are brought in and eventually crude oil flows.

Detroit Electric car charging

Detroit Electric car charging (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It flows, ultimately to refineries where, apart from fuel oil, many other oil based products are extracted. The fuel is then trucked around the country or to other countries and ultimately to petrol supply stations (or gas stations as they are referred to in North America). Special equipment, the bowsers, are used to load the fuel into the cars.

The cars also require lubricating oil, which can be purchased in the petrol supply stations. More often the lubrication oil is supplied at special workshops set up to cater for the auto mobile users. These have special equipment to attend to and repair internal combustion engine. Replacement parts are manufactured and distributed to these workshops.

English: Inspector on offshore oil drilling rig

English: Inspector on offshore oil drilling rig (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In contrast the fledgling electric car industry is small. There are few recharging stations, and the repair stations for electric cars are currently few and far between. Technicians who can work safely on electric cars are rare.

For electric cars to compete directly with petrol engined cars the infrastructure for electrical cars needs to match the current infrastructure for the petrol cars and that will require significant investments from someone. New electrical charging stations will need to be created or petrol supply stations will have to give up some space to electrical charging stations.

Shell gas station Uddevalla

Shell gas station Uddevalla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While charging stations are being created, there are less than 10,000 world-wide and a few thousand in the US. In the US there are approximately 3 charging points per station, so there are relatively few places to charge electric cars.

Charging an electric car at an outlet takes a minimum of 10 minutes and to do it this fast requires special equipment, for which special expertise is required. To provide this expertise requires special training, comparable to the expertise required to deal with petrol bowsers. Cross-training of petrol bowser experts in electrical outlets is of course possible, but the expertise is sufficiently different that a whole new pool of experts will need to be built up.

Bowser at Ariah Park, New South Wales, Australia.

Bowser at Ariah Park, New South Wales, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When an electrical car requires repair for any reason, it will need to be taken to a mechanic who knows how to deal with one. It’s likely that some repair locations will switch to electric rather than petrol, since the equipment is so different, though these days the petrol repair locations already use sophistic electronics in the diagnosis and repair of petrol engined cars.

So, in summary, electric car facilities will have to replace petrol car facilities as electrical cars become more common. This will not happen quickly and easily as the industry supporting petrol cars will no doubt resist. The electric car industry will have an expensive fight on its hands as all new equipment will have to be provided and a fledgling industry wont have a lot of financial backing.

English: Road sign indicating a power station ...

English: Road sign indicating a power station for electric cars Deutsch: Verkehrsschild: Hinweis auf Elektrotankstelle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is needed is for the costs of the petrol car industry to climb significantly, and that will cause other significant societal problems. Then it will make sense to invest in the electrical car industry.

Another issue as regards electric cars is related to the charging of them. It takes significantly longer to charge an electric car as opposed to filling up a car’s tank with petrol. In a fast charging station, with special equipment in the charging “bowser” and special connections in the car, it could take anything from 10 minutes upwards.

English: GM EV1 home charging station

English: GM EV1 home charging station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cars can be charged at home, and from standard electrical connections, but this would normally have to happen overnight when there is less other usage of electricity in the home. However, if you charge a car from a standard electrical connection, it will take a long time, up to eight hours or more. So those who charge their cars at home can expect not to use the car in the evening, and a flat battery is more of an issue than a flat battery in a petrol car.

The cables both in the house and in the supply connections needs to be robust because of the inevitable heating from the continual high current, and if you be chance draw too much current, either the car charging or the house will be temporarily cut off. If you were to have medical equipment in the house then this could be life threatening.

A CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter's downwash kick...

A CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter’s downwash kicks up a dust cloud resulting in brownout (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course there are mechanisms that can be ensured to reduce the impact of these problems, but that means that the wiring infrastructure in the house needs to be upgraded. It’s not a big problem until you multiply it by the number of houses that would need to be upgraded.

A bigger issue is that the electricity infrastructure is built for, really, quite light usage. If everyone in the street were to get an electric car, then the local infrastructure would come under stress. There are already “brown-outs” and “black-outs” of the infrastructure in the US at times of heavy demand. Add onto that the charging of numerous electric cars and one wonders if the infrastructure could be upgraded in a reasonable time or whether blackouts and flat batteries would become common.

The Blackout! The Blackout! The Blackout!

The Blackout! The Blackout! The Blackout! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This problem goes all the way back to generation, which currently depends mostly on fossil fuels in many parts of the world. It’s not much good if reducing fossil fuel usage at the consumer end results in increased fossil fuel usage at the generation end.

So while electric cars and fossil free generation should eventuate, at the moment there are high barriers to widespread adoption of electric cars and reduction of dependence on fossil fuels.

 

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One Response to Electric Cars

  1. I like it. I also get the impression that most enthusiasts think that “electricity” is by definition, green. It never seems to occur to them that every marginal kilowatt is generated by fossil fuels.

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