...as in the imperative (i.e. you, youth, progress). This blog is updated by politically active young people. Issues that will be discussed are those which concern young voters and are of concern to young voters.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Our Electric Future

If Tesla Motors, the new Silicon Valley-based electric car company, has its way, your future self speeds in an electric car. This aint your daddy's EV-1 either, the Tesla Motors Roadster hits 60 in 4.5 seconds, and can travel at speeds exceeding 130 mph. And, unlike the EV-1, with its 1600-lbs battery pack that took all night to charge and could only go 100 miles after you did, the Roadster can travel 200 miles on a single charge with its 1000-lbs battery pack which charges in about one hour.

The idea is so sexy, it could cause a revolution. Imagine if we woke up tommorow to find our fossil-fueled, earth destroying vehicles replaced by mean, green machines. But exactly how green, and how feasible, is the electric car?

The Problem with Going Electric:

The summer of 2006 has shown -beyond anything else - the frailty of our electric grids. Much of St. Louis and New York City was in the dark for several days this summer. California's electric system is the most prone to problems in the country, and is often plagued by rolling blackouts. Since the first investors in the new electric cars will likely be those from more eco-friendly states, and especially California, where Tesla Motors is based, a mass switch to electric cars can result in power outages unprecedented in size and duration. In urban areas, where electric cars will likely make their first appearances, additional tremendous additional power usage will already be occurring due to the Urban Heat Island Effect, a phenomenon which occurs because of the asphalt which traps heat and air conditioning which takes heat from our buildings and pumps it into the outside air. Keep in mind, that the energy usage per American will likely be increasing, and the population of the US will most certainly be increasing as well.

...And Solving Those Problems:

What is needed for the electric revolution is a massive source of electricity. One way to help solve our current electrical problems is to push for greater energy efficiency in America. This may work in California or New England, but good luck pushing a conservation of electricity movement in conservative states. There are only 3 feasible options at the moment: Photovoltaic Solar, Nuclear Fission, and Coal power...

1. Photovoltaic Solar: Photovoltaic solar is the collection of solar rays using a chemical process. (The other type of solar energy collection uses the heat from the sun to turn a conventional water turbine). The main component of photovoltaic panels is silicone, which is expensive to separate from other minerals. Thus, the cost of photovoltaic energy panels pushes kilowatt/hour prices to 15-20 cents per hour, much more than coal or nuclear fission, per se. But new research in optics has paved the way for equally as effective photovoltaic panels to be built with less silicone, significantly lowering the cost of producing panels. The rewards and limits of solar power remain largely untested. Can solar provide for all our energy needs?

2. Nuclear Fission: With Nuclear Fusion power, if even attainable, being far, far away, perhaps Nuclear Fission is our most feasible and eco-friendly option. Left-wing groups such as Public Citizen protest nuclear power because radioactive waste is just that, but do we have another choice? For this reason, I spent much of the last few years being pro-Nuclear power, but the recent advances in photovoltaics have muddied the waters. If the scientific community determines that solar power can meet our growing energy needs, than I am against Nuclear power. But if alternative energy cannot provide enough energy, than we have no other choice. I would rather switch to electric cars powered by nuclear power than keep using fossil-fueled cars.

3. Coal: Coal is a slim possibility. America has, by far, the world's largest supply of coal. To make coal eco-friendly, its emissions must be pumped underground. However, some have argued that this approach is not economically feasible (though there are privatized coal power plants that do this today), nor even that environmentally friendly. After all, coal is generally extracted these days through strip mining, which has a devastating effect on local environments. Coal can also be liquefied, but even liquid coal releases far more CO2 into the atmosphere than petroleum.

Other Green Machines?

The two currently existing green vehicle technologies are Ethanol and BioDiesel. Though Ethanol may be a solution to our foreign energy crisis, the environmental benefits of reduced CO2 in ethanol-car emissions are lost through the pollution of production. BioDiesel, though the ingredients can be food waste from fast-food friers, is not feasible because there's simply not enough material to convert into BioDiesel to make enough BioDiesel to power America's cars, and it would require a mass switch to diesel cars.

Hydrogen, which is not that far away, presents its own difficulties. Hydrogen gas is more volatile (dangerous) than gasoline. In addition, as with all new fuel technologies (except electric), an entirely new infrastructure will have to be devised and constructed to distribute hydrogen gas to every gas station in the country. This means millions, if not billions of miles of pipes, millions of new pumps, etc. Though hydrogen may be a viable option, I don't see it being nearly as viable as electricity.

Priority #1:

It is through technology that our generation will solve the problems that previous generations have created for us with technology. We have no choice: even if a few of us are willing to go out of our ways for Mother Earth, mainstream society will continue its toxic ways, and will shun any environmental legislation that interferes with the niceties of American life.

Nonetheless, we must not forget that the greatest danger to the future of this planet is global, environmental change due to overpopulation and global warming. We must think of eco-friendly technologies that will not only sustain 300-million with relatively less environmental harm, but technologies that will sustain billions. I cannot say it enough, global warming is the most significant threat to America's long term interests.

More Information:

Nikola Tesla - University of Pittsburgh
Look Ma, No Gas - Dan Neil, Los Angeles Times

Update: This is now my second recommended diary on My Left Wing: http://www.myleftwing.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=10877


Blogger progressyouth said...

Correction: I had previously commented that battery disposal would be an issue with electric cars, and that it is a legimate issue with hybrid cars. None of that is true. The Tesla Roadster contains a Lithium-Ion battery that is classified as non-hazardous waste by the EPA. The hybrids contain Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries, which are also non-hazardous. Both of these types of batteries are recyclable, but my research seems to suggest that the hybrid batteries are more recyclable than the electric car batteries.

7:42 PM

Anonymous EO said...

We should not rely on nuclear fission to solve our energy problem, even though there are no emissions, simply because large amounts of radioactive waste are a very serious problem. Nuclear waste maintains its radioactivity for thousands of years. The creation of a geologic repository for radioactive waste is one of the most feasible options for the disposal of massive quantities of radioactive waste. I believe that the chance that a geologic repository like Yucca Mountain could be approved is next to nothing since the conditions for approval demand that the radioactive waste be locked away safely for, literally, a million years. Even if the repository were built with the most advanced technologies and the most durable materials, the threat of geologic events such as earthquakes, volacanos, or worse is far too great. Humans cannot predict the timing or the magnitude of such events, nor can they forsee the length of human existance or the length of the Earth's existance. As the most powerful and parasitic of Earth's inhabitants, we have a duty to preserve the Earth's natural state. Reliance on nuclear energy as it is today is not the way to achieve this. However, it is worthwhile to look into ways that nuclear energy may be modified so that the waste generated would not be as dangerous and so that there would be less radioactive waste.

2:02 AM

Blogger progressyouth said...

Don't get me wrong, Nuclear Fission aint pretty. On my diary post at My Left Wing, I refered to Nuclear Fission as "Environmental Duct Tape," a very temporary fix to our environmental problems. In truth, the only safe place for nuclear waste is outer space.

I know the dangers of Nuclear Power very well, and I know that it's waste is not radioactive for thousands of years, but billions. U-238's half-life is 4.5 billion years, U-235's is 4.47*109 years.

The trouble is, without technologies that emit less C02, we could reach the proposed environmental "tipping point" literally any day now.

We must move as quickly as possible towards less C02 emissions. We spiral headlong towards unprecedented global catastrophe. Some regional environments must be sacrificed if the environment of the entire planet is to survive.

P.S. One thing that I mentioned when I attacked Nuclear Power in the debate league was the potential to steal radioactive waste or even nuclear cores to create black market nuclear weapons and so-called "dirty bombs." In addition, terrorists can blow up nuclear power plants with planes and bombs. Like I said before, it aint pretty, but it may be our only option.

Keep your fingers crossed for photovoltaics!

12:28 AM

Anonymous English bloke said...

Yes - fission and electric cars - best chance we've got till fusion comes along.
Great expression " Environmental duct tape ".Must use in conversation.

6:36 AM


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