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Thinking about electric cars

Not long ago I was having a group discussion with my family about electric cars. Cheryl and I had just seen the movie, “Who Killed the Electric Car,” which prompted the long follow-up discussion.

We were all over the place… taking about the differences between emissions from autos versus power-plants (one of the nearby power-plants in Tampa has long been considered one of the worst polluting plants in the nation), to the trade offs associated with electric cars. Chief among the tradeoffs we discussed was range, and the time it takes to recharge batteries. One of us brought up the possibility of replacing (or augmenting) gas stations with battery-swap stations. Granted, the batteries would be heavy (and there’d probably be a number of them), but if they were accessible and standardized you could probably work out some mechanism for swapping them out. Then driving an electric car would be virtually indistinguishable from driving gasoline fueled cars. Well, besides the fact that electric motors tend to be more reliable than internal combustion engines, so they wouldn’t need service nearly as much.

There’d be another advantage to battery swapping. One of the concerns about electric cars is the cost of replacing the battery, when it eventually reaches it’s discharge/recharge cycle limit. (It may take a long time, and you may be saving a lot of money on gas in the mean time, but it’s still a valid concern – well sort of.) If you were swapping batteries when they’re close to fully discharged, like you put gas in your car, you wouldn’t need to worry about the up-front cost of buying batteries. Instead, the price would be spread out – factored into the cost of swapping.

Well, imagine my surprise when I saw this article on Treehugger this morning…

George Monbiot: “We Need 100% Cut in Carbon Emissions” (TreeHugger):

Monbiot also tackled the challenge of making our vehicle fleet entirely electric. Suggesting that instead of owning our own chargeable batteries a product service system could be set in place where we could lease batteries. Instead of stopping to fill up with petrol we would stop to pick up a newly charged battery and continue happily on our way, allowing us to travel great distances by electric car.

I think that’s a pretty nifty idea. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t rely on technological advances that may or may not happen soon, like perfecting fuel-cells. (Well, maybe it’s not that far off after all.) This seems possible right now. If we could then just clean up our electricity production we’d be in like Flynn.

I’ll admit that I’m no expert. I haven’t done a lot of research on the subject. There may well be a problem disposing of all those batteries when they’re no longer usable (if they don’t lend themselves to recycling). I wonder if anyone has looked into it closely (besides, perhaps, Mr. Monbiot). If we’ve thought about it, surely someone else has.

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  1. Hey JK:

    Monbiot talks a fair bit about reducing our reliance on the car in Heat, which I think you’d enjoy; I found him a relaxed, entertaining writer, and he’s so friggin’ smart. The electric car idea, with the battery exchange systems, is brilliant. And it makes sense, because it is technologically easier to clean up our electrical plants than it is to clean up other ways of generating energy.

    Of course, he also recommends improving public transport, by building city trains and efficient buses, and eliminating some streets, all to make public transport far more attractive than it is now, so we don’t mind leaving our cars home.

    I’m going to head on over to Treehugger to read the article. Mostly, Monbiot inspires. But in his book on climate change, he doesn’t see a way to salvage plane travel, because it can’t become efficient enough in our life time, although he mentions that fleets of luxury dirigibles might be a way for airlines to get us across the ocean or continent in a day or two. After reading Airborne (a teen book), I’m all for it!

    Thanks for the post!

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