Readers will recall that I was always a big fan of hybrid and electric cars and motorcycles. Well they are finally coming into their own.
It's not just the Tesla roadster and competitors that are paving the way for electric vehicles. At the Detroit Auto Show this week the basement is set up as a test track for electric cars and almost every company has an electric vehicle on the display. Chevy has the Volt. Chrysler seems to be staking its whole future on EV dreams. Ford has plans to have battery electric and plug in hybrid electric cars in every category in a few years and is pushing for government policy changes to help make that happen. (check out Autobloggreen for the best coverage)
A few years ago, battery folks were stone-agers while everyone touted the hydrogen economy. However, hydrogen fuel cells are just a fancy -- and expensive battery. Once that was revealed, the infrastructure costs of hydrogen distribution seemed daunting. Things moved slow.
Meanwhile, batteries kept getting better.
I argued that hybrids were the way to go in the interim because no matter what the power source, the electric drive train was going to be what moved wheels on the road. With electric motors at or in the wheels -- anything could provide the electricity -- hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen ICE, batteries of any kind. Electric motors are flexible in a way that other drive trains are not. They don't care where the electrons come from -- so any source -- even multiple sources can be used.
For example: say I build a electric car with batteries. If I use Lithium batteries it will be expensive, but get good range per charge. For my commuting needs I can just plug it in. If I need more flexibility on range, I can have a range-extending generator on board. This generator could run on hydrogen, gasoline, diesel, biodiesel, natural gas, ethanol, methanol, coal fired steam, kerosene. Heck if it is a sterling engine -- you can run it on multiple fuels. So long as something charges the batteries, the batteries and the motors don't care -- the driving experience stays the same.
Let's say I add a small gas generator to my electric car to extend the range -- but gas suddenly goes up to $10 a gallon. I can pull out that generator and put in a natural gas generator and bypass the gas stations. The batteries and the electric motors don't care.
Moreover, let's say I build my car with lead acid batteries because they are cheap.
However a year later, NiCad or Lithium polymer batteries come on the market much cheaper. I can switch out batteries and leave the drive train unchanged.
Today when I plug in my car I charge it up with hydropower and wind power. If I lived on the East Coast it would be coal and nukes.
It's not just cars. The future is electric in the home as well. A few years ago I wanted to supplement my wood fired heading in my home (stove and pellet). I looked into oil and natural gas and decided on a solid ceramic electric heater instead. These Econo-Heat heaters draw about the same power as a light bulb use convection to heat a room. They work great, have no moving parts and are easy to install. Best of all, however, is their flexibility. If electricity gets more expensive in the Northwest, I can supplement by adding wind and solar here at the house. The heating system -- the drive train -- doesn't need to change.
In short, the future is electric because electric devices, drive trains and heating systems aren't picky about where they get their juice. That allows flexibility as we make advances in how we power our world in the year to come. There likely won't be one magic bullet to replace the carbon monster. Electric power allows all options and a mix of options to keep the lights on, the home warm and the wheels on the pavement.