[PLUG-TALK] Electric cars and Wall Street

John Jason Jordan johnxj at comcast.net
Tue Sep 27 20:25:04 PDT 2011

On Tue, 27 Sep 2011 08:06:58 -0700
Keith Lofstrom <keithl at kl-ic.com> dijo:

>A car gas tank refills at speeds on the order of 20 gallons per
>minute.  A gallon of gasoline has the energy equivalent of 38.3
>kilowatt hours, so you "charge" your gasoline car at a rate of
>767 kilowatt hours per minute - or 46 megawatts .  Of course,
>only a fraction of that becomes mechanical energy.

No argument with the basic premise. But bear in mind that the Leaf can
be recharged from flat to full capacity in about 30 minutes at a 480
volt quick charge station. The Tesla can handle 550 volt charging,
although it takes longer because its battery pack holds about 2.5 times
the charge that the Leaf can take. Yes, it is less convenient to charge
an electric. But it doesn't have to be as dire as you predict.

>Meanwhile, the average American consumes 10 kilowatts.  A similar
>fraction of that power is delivered as electricity to your home,
>and your residential neighborhood of homes.  Yes, your house may
>have 200 amp 2 phase (50 kW) service, but your neighborhood of
>1000 homes does not have 50 MW service, they are counting on 
>averaging.  So, unless the residential electric grid is expanded
>by about 4000x (a huge investment in aluminum wire), electric cars
>will always charge much more slowly than a stop at the gas station. 
>As is, charging every car every night, for 4 hours each, will
>require  a huge expansion of the power grid, and more
>generation, and ... 

This is a very valid point. But again you overstate the problem by a
very large factor. Bear in mind that we have millions of petroleum
burning vehicles in the U.S. fleet, and they are not going to be
discarded. Plug-in electrics may never account for more than a quarter
of the fleet, and it will be decades before it gets to even that point. 

However, I understand that several large utility companies (e.g., PG&E
in California) are taking a very close look at this issue. And if I
recall correctly, PG&E has started a pilot project in a few
neighborhoods to see what they might need going forward. 

>And don't ever ever forget to charge your car at night, or you
>will be walking the next day.   And don't run out of "gas"
>while travelling; hauling a two inch extension cord from the
>nearest charging station will be somewhat more difficult than
>a two gallon gas can. (*)
>If you are on a longer-than-average trip (say driving out to the
>woods to shoot animals) you can plan on a four hour stop every
>hundred miles or so, in order to recharge.  Unless there are 
>huge power lines along those forest roads.  

Again, you forget that all-electric vehicles will not likely ever
account for the majority of the vehicles on the road, unless there is
some incredible breakthrough in battery technology. The vast majority
of Americans live with someone else - who knows, perhaps even in a
"family" - and the living unit has more than one vehicle. One could be
an electric and the other(s) petroleum. 

>To use those huge power lines, you will need fast charge batteries. 
>Which, as a rule of thumb, will not survive as many recharge cycles
>as normal, slower charge batteries.  Fast discharge also wears out
>batteries sooner, so although I can easily build an electric 
>quarter-mile dragster, I won't get many races out of it.

You bring up another good point, but again miss part of the equation.
It is true that the best batteries today are expensive. And it is also
true that they don't hold up forever. However, Chevy, Ford and Nissan
all give a 100,000 mile warranty on the battery in their electric cars.
And according to their literature, the batteries are 90% recyclable.
The lithium doesn't get "used up."

As for the cost, that is more a political problem than anything else.
The largest known lithium deposits are in Chile, but Chilean law
requires that they be developed only with Chilean capital. And they are
short on capital, so little lithium is actually produced there. There
are also known large deposits in China, Siberia and Nevada. Most of the
production at this time is in China due to low cost of labor. There may
also be additional deposits that haven't been discovered yet, but I
haven't researched that possibility. However, I wouldn't take a bet on
whether the price will go up, stay the same, or go down. There are too
many political and economic variables. 

>That is why I proposed a way to deliver the energy in a separate,
>autonomous unit, available everywhere, automatically, based on
>network awareness.  What actually happens will be better than
>that, but it will have those characteristics.

Yes, I read your concept, but discarded it as unmarketable. Remember
that marketing beats technology. 

>Because of the extra weight, an electric car has longer stopping
>distances.  When there are a lot of electric cars (right now,
>there are hardly any), the collision rate becomes noticable.
>Expect battery cookoffs and immolated passengers, as well as
>asphyxiations.  Many new and legally fraught incentives to sue
>manufacturers.  Which any smart manufacturer is going to factor
>into the sales price.

Consider the curb weights of the following vehicles:

	Chevy Volt		3781 lbs.
	Nissan Leaf		3354 lbs.
	Toyota Prius		3042 lbs.
	Ford Ranger		3360 lbs. (like mine)
	Ford Transit Connect	3960 lbs.

I can't buy your "longer stopping distances" argument. First, the
weight differences are not huge, and second, so put bigger brakes in
them. If weight translated to stopping distances there wouldn't be long
haul trucks on the road.

>KL> >Companies that try to sell ultra-expensive, low performance
>KL> >electric vehicle using batteries will have very limited sales,
>KL> >unless customers are forced to buy at gunpoint. 
>JJ> It will be very interesting to see sales reports on the Volt and
>JJ> the Leaf a few months from now. The Transit Connect doesn't count,
>JJ> however, as the fools in Ford's marketing department decided to
>JJ> put a $60,000 price tag on it. The gas version of the Transit
>JJ> Connect sells for $24,000, so it doesn't take a genius to
>JJ> calculate that the added value from gas savings won't come close
>JJ> to bridging the price difference.
>So some companies are subsidizing their electrics more than others,
>or are not including the legal risks.  My friends are similarly
>foolish to Ford, because they don't rent houses for $5/month,
>even though they would attract a lot more renters that way.  Still,
>there are probably more houses renting for $5/month than there are
>plug electric vehicles.
>                    Write this in big letters!
>***  Electric cars, intended as functional equivalents of    ***
>***  gasoline cars, do not make economic or practical sense! ***

I agree as to the economic sense, but only at the present time. Let's
revisit this question in a couple of years after companies have
recovered their research and development costs. As to the practicality,
I disagree completely. They have a practical niche right now. 

		        	Write this in big letters!
	*** John doesn't think all-electric cars will amount to more	***
	*** than a third of the fleet or so, and it will take at least	***
	*** a couple of decades at that.

>Major improvements will NOT occur in things like batteries.
>5X per century in the past, with very little future improvement
>probable.  Chemistry is chemistry, and they won't invent a new
>kind of atom or a higher energy atomic bond.  They might invent
>new ways to make others pay for it, but that doesn't scale -
>you end up with Solyndra, and you end up sharing a jail cell
>with an Enron executive.

What are the energy density differences among lead-acid, Ni-Cad, NiMHd,
and Li-ion batteries? How do you account for those differences? Of
course chemistry is chemistry, but we keep discovering new ways to use
substances. I wouldn't bet that we're at the end of the road in battery

Of course, if someone would make a car that would run on a cold
fusion plant the size of a breadbox, this entire discussion is dead.

>(*) PS: To make a long posting even longer, there WILL be many
>fools who forget to charge their batteries in their Chevy Volts,
>and run out of juice in inconvenient places.  Those heavy cars
>will be difficult to tow.  So imagine building a small truck
>(Smart phone dispatched) with a small crane and a few 300 pound
>jump charger battery boxes in back.
>The charger-truck driver goes to the stalled EV car and driver,
>collects $200 (remember, the folks that buy these have lots of
>money), lowers a charger unit and connects it to the EV
>charging plug.  Come back a few hours later, retrieve the unit,
>and take it back to the central charging station.  GPS and
>cameras and lojack on the deployable charger units, of course,
>so you can track down and jail thieves and vandals. 
>Service 15 cars a day, and gross $1M/year.  A lot easier than
>operating a tow truck.  That is an example of a business which
>can scale from tiny to large as quickly (or slowly) as the plug
>electric car business does, with far fewer risks.   Few gold
>miners got rich, but the fellow who sold them denim pants did.

This is ridiculous. All the electric cars that I have sat in and/or
driven have a continuous display of remaining driving distance sitting
right in front of the driver's face. And warning bells go off long
before the driver gets stranded. And they don't weigh appreciably more
than other cars of similar dimensions (see above). When electric cars
constitute a significant percentage of the U.S. auto fleet tow trucks
will start carrying quick charge equipment. Remember, with fast charge
equipment the Leaf can go from flat to full in 30 minutes. Even a
Transit Connect can get enough charge in 15 minutes to get off the
freeway to a charging station. 

As for forgetting to plug in their electric car when they get home from
work, a very simple solution is to make the car howl a few minutes
after being parked in its home garage if it is not plugged in. They all
have GPS units, so implementing this should be pretty simple.
Admittedly, I don't think any of the current plug-ins have such a
feature, but I can imagine a third party company marketing an add-on
device, even if the manufacturers don't build it in. 

We are just beginning a new way of creating motive power. There are
kinks, but I have faith that they will be worked out. 

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