I Think, therefore I drive

Think City Car

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a bunch of venture capitalists are now backing Norway’s Think electric-car company. Their plan is to bring the company’s Think City car to the U.S. in 2009 and build it here as well.

I drive a 2002 Ford Think electric car, the open frame model. I’m pretty happy with it, at 3 cents a mile, and I’ve put about 300 miles on it around town since buying it 3 weeks ago. It has gotten a lot of attention in my hometown of Chico, and people are constantly asking me how much it cost and where could they get one? The town is blessed with many alternate back routes, so I don’t have to travel the main congested roads.

The U.S. version is expected to travel 110 miles on a single charge and kind of resembles Smart’s ForTwo. The company expects the car to be priced under $25,000. It’s looking for a site in the U.S. to build U.S.-spec models because it’s cheaper to build an entire line here than it is to ship from Europe, thanks to the weak dollar. Maybe Michigan politicians should be making some calls to Oslo.

The Think City is already in production in Europe, and the company is rushing to produce 10,000 units this year for sale there. One of the people behind the VC funding says they could sell 30,000 to 50,000 Think City cars in the U.S. See Norway’s Think to Produce, Sell Small Electric Cars in U.S. (from WSJ.com)

There is another car that Think has in the pipeline, and it is pretty cool looking, see it below:

Thinkox500

Its new concept, called “Ox”, looks to be a much more mainstream vehicle than any of the minicars the company sells overseas.

But the name needs to change, because I don’t want my friends teasing me that I’m driving an “Ox car”. I think they were shooting for some spin on “Oxygen” but missed the mark.

Roughly the size of a Scion xB, the front-wheel-drive Ox MPV will have a 60-kW electric motor and a range of 124 miles on a full charge. It can be charged via a normal household outlet. Charging the car to 80% will take just an hour using a special charger, while a full charge will take 12 hours. 

The company is planning to use either sodium or lithium-ion batteries, and there’s a strip of solar cells running down the center of the roof. The Ox is built on an interchangeable platform, so a coupe body style with a larger motor and batteries or a taxicab configuration could also be manufactured.

Unfortunately, the Ox looks to be a true concept, with no firm date on when we could expect to see it on the road. The other unfortunate part is that Think doesn’t have a presence in the U.S. General Electric recently invested $4 million into Think, though, so don’t give up hope of one day seeing the “Ox” on the street. More photos here.

Bring a production version of the Ox with a different name, though, and I’d expect people to line up.

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63 thoughts on “I Think, therefore I drive

  1. 110 miles on a single charge, times 30,000 to 50,000 vehicles. How much additional electricity needs to be produced by power plants to cover this extra usage? How much more coal will have to be burned to make this happen?
    What is the net energy cost? How much will your car insurance increase due to a much lower crash survivability?
    REPLY: Here’s the thing, we have SCADS of excess generation capacity at night, when most of these will be plugged in, parked in the homeowners garage.
    Power plants have to throttle back at night as it is. I don’t see this being a big imapct.

  2. I once calculated that it would take 43 San Onofre sized nuclear plants to generate the equivalent of gasoline consumed in California. This is the same problem as with biodiesel. As long as it is only a small fraction of demand is incorporated then the scaling impacts are not obvious.

  3. Power plants also benefit from economies of scale. You can make an ‘engine’ far more efficient in a stationary environment designed for a constant RPM – not to mention that you can pass from piston oriented designs to turbine oriented designs.
    From a sustainability standpoint, this leads to more nuclear power plants anyway when we actually start reaching electrical generation capacity.

  4. I’m hoping the Chevy Volt comes out in 2010 as currently planned by GM. 40-50 miles on a charge, plug-in at night, gasoline engine does not drive the wheels, it only comes on when the batteries need charging. I never drive more than 15-20 miles during the week (5 miles to the Metro lot and back with occasional side frays to the grocery or computer store, Aikido dojo is on the way home). It would be perfect for me.

  5. I’m looking forward to fuel cell powered electric cars with mind blowing torque.
    Not that I care, but they will produce only H2O as a waste product.
    Look for heat-pollution as the ultimate environmental scare or perhaps education pollution.

  6. Anthony, I’m not sure the vehicles would only be plugged in “at night” (what qualifies as “at night”?) If one gets home from work, lets say at 5pm, you’re going to plug it in right away, not wait till it gets dark.
    REPLY: Most utilites recognize peak load hours as noon to 6PM, so if it’s plugged in at work at 8AM, by noon it should be mostly charged, and after the drive home with stops for groceries or bank errands, it is about 6PM in many cases. That’s how it works out for me anyway in my electric car.

  7. REPLY: Here’s the thing, we have SCADS of excess generation capacity at night, when most of these will be plugged in, parked in the homeowners garage. Power plants have to throttle back at night as it is. I don’t see this being a big impact.
    Ok, so we have the capacity to do this, you still need to use that capacity by burning coal to produce the electrical energy to recharge. So again, what is the net energy cost? Is it a savings across the board or just to individual end users? BTW, I am all for going nuclear, we should have done it years ago.

  8. It’as good for city driving, to & fro work and grocery store.
    I wonder what the battery life time is?
    I was researching lithium as it might be good to invest in it but it’s not publicly traded, something to do with thermonuclear weapons, or some such. Most of the world’s lithium is produced in S. America, I believe.

  9. 60KW works out to about 80 HP. That should give reasonable performance. Charging it to 80% in an hour seems optimistic. It has to have about 15 KWh of cabacity, 80% is 12 Kwh. You need at least 12Kw. 120V at 100 amps isn’t quite a ‘normal’ outlet. A 240 v outlet could supply 50 amps, that assumes 100% conversion (input to output), so still stretching things a bit. Many utilities offer lower rates at night, would help operating costs. Assuming 15Kwh in and 100 miles out, at $0.10 per KWh, 1.5 cents per mile.
    Batteries are still the problem. Tesla puts over 6,800 (!) Li-Ion C-cells in their roadster. Hard to get all of them to play well together. Passing U.S. safety standards could be another problem. If they can sell the ‘Ox’ for $25k, that’s a lot better than Tesla’s $100k. Sign me up.

  10. It’s good to be shilling for what is obviously a death trap on wheels.
    Too bad this car can’t meet anyone’s transportation needs, but why would that stop you from conning the public. Your denial of this car’s obvious flaws would make a used car salesman look like Mother Theresa. Notice that those 120 miles are when no AC/heat or hills are encountered and with new batteries (which will cost you $15,000 in five years when replacement is due). After 4 years, expect 85% capacity, or a realistic driving radius (rather than advertised)
    of less than 50 miles. Gee, I hope you never plan on getting 50 miles from home
    in this can’t-do vehicle. Nice of you to spread the lies found in this rosy scenario press release. You also forgot that a fast charge of 80% reduces the lifespan of the battery pack enormously. Figure a 12 hour recharge if you want these batteries to last 5 years. And cross your fingers.

  11. I saw a Smart Car in town yesterday. Interesting that it was parked perpendicular to the curb in a parallel parking area and was not poking out into the road. haha
    Not familiar with them, I came home, Googled around and found some stuff. There’s a few road tests at Youtube. But, here’s the spec page…
    http://www.smartusa.com/smart-car-technical-specifications.aspx
    And, here’s a picture of one hiding behing a girl…
    http://jschumacher.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/judy_smart_car.jpg
    Gasoline powered but gets good great mileage. It has Interstate hwy speed and power. But, it’s so small I’d feel vulnerable out there with the big boys. Backroad travel is more fun and scenic anyway…and that’s where the cheap Mom-n-Pop motels are.

  12. Another problem with the electric vehicle is the disposal of the vehicle battery at the end of its useful life though there will be recyclers. Does one pay a deposit on purchase for battery disposal?
    The crompressed air engine offers a better choice. Say 180 km on a tank of air, it is old technology, is recharged at night and the fuel at full compression weights way less than the battery in the electric car. I am unclear as to how overall vehicle weight compares to the Think or the Ox but I will look for the data.
    REPLY: I have lead Gel-Cels, and they already recyle such batteries all over the world. Lead is very highly recycled. No worries.

  13. First post for me – this blog is great btw!
    Anyway, with the progress on renewables, particularly PV solar, it would seem a good idea to start moving to electric cars. Sticking with petrol/diesel cars, we’re never going to be able to shake off our oil thirst.

  14. More questions: Forget about the air on hot days, what about some creature comfort like HEAT on those windy, cloudy, -5F days….where will it come from? How’s its snow performance?
    JOE S, the combined mpg for the Smartfortwo is a mere 40 for a two passenger vehicle weighing in at 1600 lbs. A four cylinder Camry carrying five and weighing in at 3200 lbs gets better than 30. I say that makes the Smart mediocre at best, hardly “great.”
    Just about all lead is recycled. I don’t think there’s enough lead left to be mined to supply a new generation of electric cars.

  15. The states may have to make electric car owners pay a much higher yearly licensing fee so as to make up the difference normally paid out in fuel taxes.

  16. Ever forgot to charge your mobile phone, got a heart attack, Dam forgot to charge the car.

  17. A couple of weeks ago a friend and I did a rough calculation on compressed air energy storage. We got around 4 Kw-hours on a reasonable size tank at 3000psi.
    How efficient is compressing gas? Figure how much heat you need to get rid of.
    I suspect this is terrible.

  18. I suspect the only reason Anthony’s vehicle appears cheap (even in the ball park) of a gasoline powered vehicle is that he’s comparing apples and oranges.
    Basic thermodynamics tells you that you can only extract on the order of 30% of the energy from oil by burning it, regardless of whether this is at oil fired power plant or in your car’s gasoline powered engine. (There are a few ways to increase this, but not by a whole lot.) Then, you have significant power transmission and distribution losses before the electricity gets to you and then losses in the batteries.
    Your comparing a very stripped down car against an average small car. The taxes on the fuel/power are probably very different and the initial costs, maintenance costs (replacement batteries) and then disposal costs aren’t considered.
    A good rule or thumb is if it really were that much cheaper, we’d all be doing it now.
    On another note, there is no feasible heating or A/C for an electric car right now, which rules the car out for about 98% of drivers.
    MikeEE

  19. What a great post! I’m beginning to think I actually have a home here.
    It’s hard to be pithy and complete at the same time. And I doubt I will achieve either objective. But I think there are a few fundamental concepts worth keeping in mind…
    1) At present, on-board transportation energy (e.g., gasoline, diesel, ethanol, or whatever) is much more expensive than grid (electric) energy.
    2) At present, cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuels for grid energy are much closer to realization than they are in the transportation sector.
    3) Any transfer from on-board transportation energy to grid energy has to take account of the loss in efficiency the transfer represents.
    4) Any substitution of one on-board transportation energy to another likewise has to take account of the loss in efficiency the transfer represents.
    5) Both 3) and 4) require careful and complete cycle analyses, including external impacts that are close to home (e.g., pipelines, transmission lines, and other infrastructure elements) and others further away (e.g. fishing industry, tourist industry, water quality and availability, and health effects of various sorts).
    Those are (some of) the fundamentals. But there are also secondary considerations that are also relevant. Most obviously, without a significant change in our (here in the US, that is) grid network, optimizing alternative sources is pretty close to hopeless. For reasons of brevity I hesitate to get into details (though I’d like to discuss them if pressed), but I don’t see the issue as a partisan red/blue one. I see it as more dependent on the relative success (or failure) of power, priviledge, and big buck promoters. The only defense we have against all that is strong populism. And in that regard I find it both indicative and reassuring that the states, both individually and collectively, are leading the charge. The US is a big country, both geographically and economically. And thus, just like the EU, it is inadvisable if not downright unrealistic to try to impose a “one size fits all” solution. Still, it seems to me, that their efforts will require a strong national umbrella under which more limited, regional initiatives can best thrive. What the nature of that umbrella will be is open to question. But the first question is… is the notion of a national umbrella completely out of the question? If so, you might want to start trying to eliminate the various national umbrellas that already exist — and come to grips with the consequences. If not, then what are the restrictions that you would find acceptable? The confluence of those last questions always seem to trip up all but purest of ideological thinkers. Then again, the purists don’t tend to rely on logic.

  20. Novoburgo, the Camry is an efficient auto. The bottom line is, though, a gallon of gas would get me ~10 miles further down the road vs. the Camry. You can say “mediocre at best”. Eye will continue to say great.

  21. To follow on from MikEE’s comment, I posted the basic calculation a couple of weeks back and a mains charged electric car uses about 3 times as much energy as a comparable (same weight) modern petrol car. It’s more like 4 times for a diesel car.
    Thermodynamics means that ratio will never be significantly improved.
    The Think car is being peddled as being energy efficient, which is grossly deceptive, but unfortunately par for the course for Green/Eco-friendly products.
    On a related point, I live in what seems to be the electric buggy capital of the world (inner suburb of Perth, Australia). I see them everywhere. Older and invalid people use them to get around.
    I realize the combination of factors that makes my suburb suitable (no ice or snow, wide sidewalks on every street separated from the roadway by a grass verge and few pedestrians) won’t occur in many places, but these vehicles can be a cheap and energy efficient alternative to cars for those who mainly drive short distances to the grocery store etc.
    BTW, I assume people who need these buggies move here precisely because it is suitable for them. What is needed is planners deliberately designing suburbs to be buggy friendly. Unfortunately, most newer suburbs here are built without sidewalks and you rarely see these buggies.

  22. Remember fuel cell power cars will require a large investment in Hydrogen infastructure fill stations and more safety designed into cars $$.
    Natural gas would be a much easier conversion but then there is those nasty hydrocarbon exhausts and still safety concerns.

  23. Unless electric cars can be recharged from solar cells, the supposed efficiency of them is not ameloriated, just removed well away from the driver.

  24. The world in which this car makes sense is not today’s world of driving and suburbs. It is not one in which we carry on as now, but the cars have become electric. Its one in which we cycle, walk, shop close by, have stopped using trucks as warehouses, just-in-time has vanished, suburbs have either closed down totally or been rebuilt with town centers. Stip shopping centers and malls have vanished. Passenger air travel has stopped, trains are back and are the primary means of long distance transport for both goods and people. Most people live in high density housing. Chemical agriculture has vanished, and farmers hoe and weed and rotate crops. There is widespread hunger globally.
    One of the worst intellectual sins of the environmental movement is to pretend that we can just make a few substitutions and carry on as now with alternative energy. We cannot. If oil is running out enough to make these cars attractive, it will be a very different place indeed that we live in.

  25. JOE S you missed my point. The Camry can move 5 passengers 30+ miles on one gallon of gas (150 passenger miles). The smart moves two passengers 40 miles on one gallon (80 passenger miles). Which is more efficient? Additionally, the Camry has a real trunk capable of holding the groceries necessary to feed those five passengers. The Smart can hold your lunch pail. The Smart will become a better alternative when its MPG reaches 75 or more.
    FRED, the truth can be scary.

  26. “Remember fuel cell power cars will require a large investment in Hydrogen infastructure fill stations and more safety designed into cars” $$.econn
    Great news! There is an aluminum-gallium alloy that disassociates water into hydrogen and oxygen. Actually, the oxygen corrodes the alloy which can later be reduced to close the cycle. The hydrogen can thus be produced on demand in the car.
    Here is a link: http://www.physorg.com/news98556080.html

  27. I am beginning to look at mules for farm power. We used to run the ranch using big work horses. You can tell because the bits, horseshoes and stable stuff I find all over the ranch are all HUGE. Mules are less fussy about feed and if bred to coldblooded workhorses, their cold blood makes them a bit more gentle (as in don’t EVER pasture regular horse/ass mules with sheep, cows, or other kinds of farm animals). As for the cold issue, where I live, you almost have to heat gasoline engines, let alone diesel engines. I can’t imagine driving two minutes in a cold metal car that took an hour to start. At least a horse gives off heat.

  28. When you calculate the cost of a ‘petrol’ fueled car, be sure to include the impact of extraction, transport, refinement, and delivery to the customer. Forget ‘global warming’, that creates a fair amount of air and sea pollution.
    Generating electricity isn’t great, from coal or gas, hydro and nucs are much cleaner. We do not depend a whole lot on unstable foreign governments for our electricity. That’s a big plus.
    I assume most things cost about what they should, based on supply and demand. My 30 mpg little car costs 13 cents per mile in gas. An electric might cost 4 cents for the same performance. Battery replacement is an issue. You get 400-500 charge cycles per pack. At 100 miles per charge, about 45,000 miles. If the replacement battery costs more than $4000, not so good.
    The Volt, if it ever happens, is a good compromise, although I wish they had pursued a turbine instead of a piston engine. Or a fuel cell. Hydrogen is a disaster, ethanol does work, gasoline and diesel are possible, so that infrastructure could already be in place.
    I don’t think there is any one solution for everyone, different options for different lifestyles. At least some folks are thinking about it.

  29. In the UK we are experiencing blackouts. We are being warned that we are not building enough power stations and that within 10 years we’ll have half the generation capacity we have now. We will have to close half of our coal-powered stations as they will be too costly to convert to meet stricter EU ‘green’ directives. We are late building the 10 new Nuclear power stations we’ll need (how are the nuclear fuel reserves looking?). We haven’t even started the planning for these and we’ve sold off our own Nuclear power building company to the Japanese. Supposedly 38% of our electricity has to come from ‘sustainable’ energy such as wind farms by 2020, again EU directives. We’ll also need to import more gas from Russia as our own gas fields produce less. We are in a right mess.
    Moving to electric cars is the last thing we need.
    REPLY: I guess you won’t be chanting “God Save the Greens” over there. Time to cast off the shackles.

  30. Antony, if only we could chuck those shackles. All three major UK political parties are almost indistinguishable on green issues and are completely bought into AGW. Not that they matter anyway. All the laws that count come from the unelected, undemocratic EUSSR.
    The UK ceases to exist 1 Jan 2009. Democracy is dead in Europe. Workers of the world untie. Indeed (irony).

  31. Does 110 miles between charges? (charges that cost how much, btw, given the price of electricity now?) Costs “only” $25,000??
    Well that’s an attractive prospect. Not.
    REPLY: I understand where you are coming from, I thought the same things at first. But in-town it works great. I’ve never far away from a power outlet and I’ve been able to do all my errands and work trips with it.
    For a commuter, it would also work if the car has the range and speed. For example, the $12 a day in parking I get charged at Sacramento International Airport is waived for electric vehicles, and they offer free charging stands. For as much as I travel, that is indeed an incentive.

  32. JOE S you missed my point.
    No, I didn’t miss your point. I never said anything about seat (passenger) miles. You did. It was your hook for taking issue with my post. If we’re going to use seat miles, then a school bus that gets 5 miles per gallon and will haul 60 passengers and likely some luggage should be the REAL ticket for us all, huh?
    I haven’t had anyone other than myself in my automobile since last October. More passengers than that? Years! Couldn’t it be that not all folks have need for what a Camry (or a school bus) offers?
    No matter how you slice it, at around 40 mpg, I’ll be way farther down the road on a gallon of gas than your 30+ mpg illustration.

  33. I understand the concerns and problems expressed here are valid and the current and near future crop of electric powered vehicles will not replace the Suburbans of the world tomorrow.
    But think about the 25 year transition from the first Apple Mac to the Mac of today. The Atari Pong to Halo 3 on the Xbox 360. The Civic of the mid 70s to the Civic of today.
    If inventors and investors of today see that money is to be made in solar cells, battery development, and charging technology, the improvements will come rapidly and you will see that the needed infrastucturer will fall behind until the market adjusts to take advantage of the opportunity.
    What we have to avoid and must fight against is trying to bring this about via laws and regulation. The market will decide the proper distribution of capital, not a legislative body.

  34. “REPLY: Here’s the thing, we have SCADS of excess generation capacity at night, when most of these will be plugged in, parked in the homeowners garage.
    Power plants have to throttle back at night as it is. I don’t see this being a big impact.”
    The electric car is a great idea, but like all the rest of government inspired programs, will be poorly executed. Retire Engineer pointed out a vehicle getting 30 mpg costs 13 cents/mile, whereas the electric car as you calculated currently costs 3 cents. As has been pointed out any significant shift of vehicles from gasoline to electric is going to have reprecussions. I have written about this consequence, the short story is electric rates will go up 5 fold if things unfold as you hope. So that 3 cents goes to 15 cents per mile. http://conservablogs.com/publiusforum/2008/04/26/agw-insanity-has-reached-new-heights-of-absurdity-2/#more-2068 The reason is natural gas is used to generate electricity for the peak with coal as the backstop. Natural gas sets the electric rates. Nightly power consumption is normally supplied by nuclear power and coal, any significant increase during the night means natural gas will be required to make up the difference, and therefore electric rates will go up to the current daytime rate, what’s worse the current daytime rate will go up because of the competition for natural gas from night time use. How many of you are prepared to see a 5 fold increase in your electric bills? Imagine your summer electric bill jump from $200/month to $1000/month! Yes we have excess generating capacity, but at what cost?
    You can’t have the electric car without a five fold increase in coal and nuclear power output. If you use coal to generate electricity all you do is relocate the tail pipe emission. Current government policy is completely the reverse of what is needed to support the electric car.

  35. “If you use coal to generate electricity all you do is relocate the tail pipe emission. ” dscott
    This reminds me of why men prefer sons to daughters. But to your point:
    It is far more efficient to treat the emissions from a few smokestacks than from millions.

  36. JOE S, please don’t hyperventilate on me. You’re right, if you use one passenger per vehicle, 40 is greater than 30. However, look at your example of a school bus – a much more efficient way of transporting those those kids than having a fleet of Smart taxis. BTW there are other small cars in production that match or exceed the Smart. All I was trying to point out is that the Smart doesn’t represent a breakthrough in gas mileage.

  37. Kerry Bradshaw, electric cars can and are being made right now by garage mechanics that use standard lead-acid batteries (like 20 batteries in series to produce 20x12V or 240V — a standard 240V DC motor can then be used).
    No $15K replacement batteries needed.

  38. “It is far more efficient to treat the emissions from a few smokestacks than from millions.”
    Hmmm, not so sure about that assertion. But as far as I am concerned, vehicle tailpipe emissions are of little concern given how clean the current tailpipe emissons are, I tossed that in for those who are concerned about CO2. As someone else here pointed out, whatever you gained in efficiency at a central plant is lost in transportation and conversion. Don’t get me wrong, I like the electric car and believe it is long overdue, however, unless the environmental wackos are willing to stop the no nukes opposition, the electric car will only shift combustion to another place and not reduce tailpipe emissions. Once they drop their opposition, then the US can vastly reduce its dependence of oil and gas as a matter of national security and trade balance. This also means bringing back the breeder reactor as the French have used for years to reprocess the spent fuel rods thus vastly reducing toxic nuclear waste. Idiot Carter and the environmental wackos created the nuclear waste storage problem and Yucca Mountain because their blanket ban on anything nuclear.

  39. nice wheels.
    As a city dweller with no garage or guarentee of on-street parking I’d have to wonder where I’d charge mine, however it’d be perfect for my needs since I don’t venture far from home, and when I do I take the train/bus/fly.

  40. In Europe this makes a lot of sense. Over 50% of thier fuel costs are tied to taxes. In the US this makes sense as long as long term fuel costs hover at $4 per gallon or above, and the use doesn’t have far to commute. But what will happen if the Dollar actually recovers some or most of its 2007 value? The $4-5/gallon prices we see now will plunge to $3 or less.

  41. Hyperventilate? You flatter yourself.
    if you use one passenger per vehicle, 40 is greater than 30.
    Using your passenger mile efficiency standard, even two per vehicle (the Smart’s capacity) works over the Camry passenger miles per gallon example you hold out.
    However, look at your example of a school bus – a much more efficient way of transporting those those kids than having a fleet of Smart taxis.
    Those kids? Where’d you get all “those kids”? I used the silly school bus example of passenger mile efficiency because you used passenger miles per gallon as the standard by which to measure, whether capacity was being utilized or not.
    BTW there are other small cars in production that match or exceed the Smart.
    So what?! Forty miles per gallon for an automobile is great, I’ll still contend. Much more than “mediocre at best”.
    All I was trying to point out is that the Smart doesn’t represent a breakthrough in gas mileage.
    You’ll never convince me that’s the case. Looking back at you first post in this thread (Do I need to quote it?), I suggest all you were trying to do is look for an argument from anyone that would jump in the ring with you. In particular, though, you tapped me on the shoulder, got what you wanted and now there’s this embarrassing exchange at Anthony’s blog…a place where I like to come have a little fun.
    Novoburgo, leave me alone.

  42. dscott,
    We agree except for my quibble. It is one of the great ironies that the greenies should be dragged kicking and screaming to nuclear power. Yes, the French get ~ 80% of their electric power from nukes.
    Perhaps, if we just bend over and go socialist all the way then the wackos would spend less of their time and energy destroying the economy to bring about socialism. Hopefully, this will backfire and people will decide liberty should be given a chance instead

  43. 40 miles per gallon for a car is not even especially good. Why are we arguing about it? You can buy small cars that can do it. A Prius will do considerably better will it not? The range and power limit on this one leaves me unimpressed.
    I think a lot of electric ideas will work fine if we can get photovoltaic efficiency up a bit. Does anyone out there know who is a good source for high efficiency PV materials?

  44. The Smart cars in Canada are mainly diesels, and seem to get about 60mpg, dunno why the ones being marketed in the US are only 40. They’re way too small for any practical use, and a death trap at that. And for only a minor increase in mileage over my Toyota Matrix, guess which one I’d pick.

  45. dscott, I am nothing more than an interested amateur, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I do read a lot on the subject of energy alternatives, and it seems to me that, with all due respect, you are painting the worst-case scenario. Your analysis appears to be based on the fundamental assumption that the current state of any technology involved will remain static over time. For example, your analysis fails to account for the possibility that oil, gas, and/or coal prices may rise. If that happens, then basing your comparison on current prices is a false one. After all, one of the advantages of wind, solar, nuclear, hydroelectric, or geothermal is that the O&M costs are low. Thus, once such a plant is built you basically lock in your price for the lifetime of the plant. O&M costs of coal and gas plants, on the other hand, are very dependent upon the costs of coal and gas. Thus, a comparison based on projected levelized costs seems like a better way to compare the various alternatives than current prices. Second, your analysis assumes that any shift to other forms of power will not be accompanied by technology improvements (e.g., an increase in the efficiency and durability of PV cells or any other new technology), cost decreases associated with economy of scale of any new technology, or accompanying adjustments in the transmission network. None of those things seem like reasonable assumptions to me.
    To be sure, sources such as wind, solar PV, and solar thermal all have their limitations. One of the major limitations at present is that their capabilities for suppying power are very different than more traditional sources, and thus require a change in the traditional mind-set in order to be optimized. For example, as you pointed out, wind is unreliable. However, as the recently released study by the DOE points out, if wind farms in widely distributed geographic areas all feed into a widely distributed network, then their intermittencies average out and they resemble a base load source in the traditional sense. Solar PV and solar thermal are unique in the sense that they are essentially “load following” sources: i.e., they produce the most power in the middle of the day, which is when demand is usually highest as well. No other supply source does that. But because they do they necessarily change one’s thinking about the concepts of “base load” and “peak load” away from their traditional meaning. It is also the case that if solar PV and solar thermal sources in widely distributed geographic areas are connected by a widely distributed network (it’s not noon everywhere at the same time), their load following capabilities are broadened even without any storage capabilities. And the fact that storage capabilities in the case of solar thermal plants is a near-term probability broadens their load following capabilities even more. Under those conditions, the need for gas fired “peaker plants” would be greatly reduced. That was one of the take-home messages of this paper. Although that one too presupposes the development of a widely distributed network.
    A grid can be “distributed” on a small scale as well, but in a completely different way. We are beginning to hear a lot about “smart grid” technology. A “smart grid” is one that allows sophisticated, flexible interaction between the supplier and individual consumers. When fully realized, if you’re on a smart grid you can sell back to the grid the excess energy you produce via solar panels on your roof, your backyard wind turbine, the run-of-river turbine you have in your stream, or even your plug-in hybrid. You can have the grid interact with your appliances (not now, of course, but soon), allowing the grid to decide when it’s cheapest to defrost your refrigerator, run your washer and/or dryer, or charge your electric car. I see smart grids as a particularly key technology, and apparently I’m not alone. Boulder CO is in the process of converting to smart grid technology. Austin, TX appears to be next. Most recently, Duke Energy announced plans to convert all of Indiana to the technology. Other states are seriously considering it.
    One more thing before this post gets too long… one thing that has been given little thought (at least in the USA, Europe and Japan are different) is energy productivity. In the US anyway, some consideration has been given to demand side productivity (energy-saving appliances, better weather-proofing, and the like), but until recently essentially nothing has been done about supply side efficiency — or the interplay between them. That’s finally beginning to change (smart grids are an example). And that’s a very good thing, because there is a lot of low hanging fruit there.
    One more one more thing… especially when it comes to altering the infrastructure, the government is going to have to get involved. They already are, and there is no way they can’t be. If you accept the need for a widely distributed grid a significant amount of central planning and regulation is necessary (kinda like what happened with the interstate highway network, or the construction of large hydroelectric plants, or nuclear plants — all of those things required a significant amount of government financing and involvement). Likewise, if you want smart grids you have to allow the utility companies to decouple profits from sales.

  46. JEFF, thats supposed to be the combined city/highway figure. I’ve heard 45-50 highway for the U.S. gas version. As far as safety goes it gets reasonable ratings, it is a Mercedes after all.

  47. Steve Stip, have you priced nuclear plants lately? I’m just asking, because someone has to. I have nothing against nuclear power. In fact, I think it has to be part of the solution. But I also think it’s unrealistic to assume it can be the entire solution. Apart from safety and waste issues, the fact is the current generation of nuclear plants are very capital intensive to build (even without construction delays, which are more the rule than the exception), and require a very long time to build. Future generation nuclear plants may be different, but the operative word there is “future”. That has to be recognized. Also, if you’re a nuclear advocate you have to come to terms with the fact that no nuclear plant, either here in the US or anywhere else in the world, has ever been built without substantial government investment in the form of tax breaks, loan guarantees, insurance caps, and usually outright subsidies for both the plant and the transmission lines required to connect it with its service area. And that’s unlikely to change anytime in the foreseeable future. So it seems to me you can’t be both a nuclear advocate and a free market advocate at the same time. I’m afraid it’s an inescapable contradiction in terms.
    Certainly government screws up. But to be perfectly fair, they aren’t the only ones. Over and over again we’ve seen examples where, left to its own devices, the market does a pretty good (bad) job of screwing up all by itself. The housing/credit crisis, the airline troubles following 9/11, the dot com bubble, the Enron incident, the S&L debacle… keep going back and you can come up with many other examples where government had to step in to clean up the mess that one or another market created for themselves. Those are examples when government had to act reactively. Free market advocates seem to ignore those incidents, even though a strong case could be made that if the government acted more proactively — which is tantamount to saying if they interfered with the market before they failed rather than after — the costs wouldn’t have been nearly as severe. I could provide what I consider several examples of the proactive situation, too. But when government acts proactively, and things work out, people tend to take them for granted. It’s only when attempts to act proactively fail that they become the subject of ridicule. Unfortunately hindsight, though usually much more costly, is always 20-20. Foresight, though usually much cheaper, is never 20-20. Therein lies the dilemma. That might be worth considering. It might also be worth considering that there are several convergent lines of evidence suggesting that our reliance on fossil fuels in general, and foreign sources of fossil fuels in particular, are going to get very problematic. IMO, we are witnessing only the opening salvos of that right now. I might be wrong, but it seems to me we really need to think about becoming proactive rather than relying on being exclusively reactive.

  48. “Free market advocates seem to ignore those incidents, even though a strong case could be made that if the government acted more proactively — which is tantamount to saying if they interfered with the market before they failed rather than after — the costs wouldn’t have been nearly as severe.” Rico
    You are not far from the kingdom of heaven. Here is the missing part of the puzzle of why free markets seem to screw up: the government backed banking cartel. This enables banks to indulge in fractional reserve banking which allows them to create money from thin-air and loan it out.
    Besides the obvious theft from inflation, this is the root cause of the business cycle with booms and busts. For more info I highly recommend The Mystery of Banking by Murray N. Rothbard. It can be downloaded for free at:
    http://www.mises.org/Books/mysteryofbanking.pdf

  49. Here in this country nuclear has price problems because of every plant being a one of a kind, very inefficient, and bigger problems because of a legal system that allows meritlesss lawsuits to tie up the plant for years or decades forcing up costs to an incredible extent. This is the cause of the “construction delays” you are talking about. Some dishonest “special interest” gets an injunction and building stops, sometimes for years, while it meanders through the courts.
    I assume France recycles waste, you’d have to be absolute idiots not to; which explains our decision not to reprocess and instead to call it waste.

  50. Here is an interesting bit of information from a company in the business of selling gasoline to electric conversion kits for cars. It deals with some of the issues regarding power plant emissions and efficiency: http://www.electroauto.com/info/pollmyth.shtml
    Not an independent source, of course, but they make some good points.

  51. We haven’t had really ‘free markets’ in a long time. Government always has it’s finger on some part of it. Banking is only one ‘finger’. There are always rules and restrictions. Nuclear power takes a long time to build because of regulation, environmental impact, and endless lawsuits to delay it. Recall the demonstrations and outright sabotage in the late 70’s? No business in their right mind would venture into that realm without government support.
    As for recycling spent fuel, Jimmy Carter decided that we wouldn’t do it. Too much chance of bad guys swiping nuclear material. France hasn’t had that problem, they’ve recycled for many years. We have a huge stockpile of spend fuel rods and stuff leftover from the weapons program sitting in cooling tanks. We could reduce the volume of bad stuff by 90% and recover a huge amount of useable fuel by reprocessing, if we had the will to do it.
    Pure electrics may never take a big share of the car market, but for some folks, like our mentor, they are a viable option. Hybrids make a lot of sense, just from an efficiency standard. That’s the real key to our energy needs, to become more efficient. The Prius is the model “T” of hybrids. It works, but in ten years, I think we’ll have far better.
    As for ‘death traps’, I rented a Kia Spectra in the Windy last year. Got 40+ mpg. After driving it for a couple of days, I was convinced if I hit a kid on a tricycle, the kid would win. Had to close the trunk carefully to keep from denting it. I doubt the ‘Ox’ is worse than that.

  52. “Anthony, I’m not sure the vehicles would only be plugged in “at night” (what qualifies as “at night”?) If one gets home from work, lets say at 5pm, you’re going to plug it in right away, not wait till it gets dark.”
    Simple: use a timer.
    ===========================
    “Unless electric cars can be recharged from solar cells, the supposed efficiency of them is not ameloriated, just removed well away from the driver.”
    This doesn’t appear to be the case: it appears to be more efficient to generate the electricity than it is to generate the power in an internal combustion engine.
    ===========================
    “To follow on from MikEE’s comment, I posted the basic calculation a couple of weeks back and a mains charged electric car uses about 3 times as much energy as a comparable (same weight) modern petrol car. It’s more like 4 times for a diesel car.”
    Hmm, I’d like to see that.
    ===========================
    “Another problem with the electric vehicle is the disposal of the vehicle battery at the end of its useful life though there will be recyclers. Does one pay a deposit on purchase for battery disposal?”
    Even these batteries are much larger, there are recycling systems in place for the lead-acid batteries that all IC cars use now. The fact that the electric car batteries are so large might mean that recycling them is easier (and cheaper) than throwing them away.
    ===========================
    “Kerry Bradshaw, electric cars can and are being made right now by garage mechanics that use standard lead-acid batteries”
    I suspect there are large disadvantages to using lead-acid batteries, such as, size, weight, energy densities. If there were no significant disadvantages, there would already be lots of electric cars.
    ===========================
    “I’m looking forward to fuel cell powered electric cars with mind blowing torque.”
    Keep in mind that hydrogen is produced using electricity. That is, H2 is just a battery. Also note that the infrastructure for the distribution of electricty is already in place.
    ===========================
    “Great news! There is an aluminum-gallium alloy that disassociates water into hydrogen and oxygen. Actually, the oxygen corrodes the alloy which can later be reduced to close the cycle. The hydrogen can thus be produced on demand in the car.
    Here is a link: http://www.physorg.com/news98556080.html
    Maybe, not so great news:
    “Hydrogen produced in such a system could be fed directly to an engine, such as those on lawn mowers.”
    It’s hard to say whether it could produce H2 at a rate fast enough to move a car.
    ===========================
    “The Smart cars in Canada are mainly diesels, and seem to get about 60mpg, dunno why the ones being marketed in the US are only 40. ”
    The Smart cars in the US are the gasolene models. Diesel engines are more efficient than gasolene (plus there is more energy in a gallon of diesel). The performance characteristics of the diesel engine might be also be better suited for the Smart. There is really not much to recommend the gasolene Smart car. The Yaris gives similar fuel efficiency for about the same price and are much more useful. It doesn’t appear that the Smart sells well in Europe.
    ===========================
    “JEFF, thats supposed to be the combined city/highway figure. I’ve heard 45-50 highway for the U.S. gas version. As far as safety goes it gets reasonable ratings, it is a Mercedes after all.”
    It looks line the “45-50” refers to the old EPA numbers. The new EPA numbers for all cars are less. Note that the EPA highway test is not what most people thing of as highway driving. This means that for true highway driving, it should be fairly easy to do better than the EPA highway mpg.
    Smart: EPA numbers are 33 mpg / 41 mpg.
    http://www.edmunds.com/new/2008/smart/fortwo/100888152/specs.html
    Yarus: EPA numbers are 29 mpg / 36 mpg.
    http://www.edmunds.com/new/2008/toyota/yaris/100919847/specs.html
    ===========================
    “Novoburgo, the Camry is an efficient auto. The bottom line is, though, a gallon of gas would get me ~10 miles further down the road vs. the Camry. You can say “mediocre at best”. Eye will continue to say great.”
    Don’t compare the Smart to a Camry. Compare it to a Yaris which gets the same highway mpg and costs the same but can also carry 4 people. The Smart can only carry 2 people and barely has a trunk.
    ===========================
    “The Camry can move 5 passengers 30+ miles on one gallon of gas (150 passenger miles). The smart moves two passengers 40 miles on one gallon (80 passenger miles).”
    Except that calculation is too optimistic. Many cars are driven with only one passenger. With your example, everybody should drive busses. Compare the Smart to the Yaris.
    ===========================
    “For example, the $12 a day in parking I get charged at Sacramento International Airport is waived for electric vehicles, and they offer free charging stands. For as much as I travel, that is indeed an incentive.”
    If electric cars become mainstream, say good-by to special treatment!

  53. “Certainly government screws up. But to be perfectly fair, they aren’t the only ones. Over and over again we’ve seen examples where, left to its own devices, the market does a pretty good (bad) job of screwing up all by itself. The housing/credit crisis, the airline troubles following 9/11, the dot com bubble, the Enron incident, the S&L debacle… keep going back and you can come up with many other examples where government had to step in to clean up the mess that one or another market created for themselves. Those are examples when government had to act reactively. Free market advocates seem to ignore those incidents, even though a strong case could be made that if the government acted more proactively — which is tantamount to saying if they interfered with the market before they failed rather than after — the costs wouldn’t have been nearly as severe.”
    Rico, the truth is almost perfectly 180 deg. different from everything you said. You promised to give us example where the market screwed up all by itself, but then you proceeded to give us examples of markets being screwed up by the government. Housing/credit crisis? One of the most heavily regulated industries around. Try getting a house loan that is not VA/FHA/ or Fannie Mae. Fair lending practices, so called, practically required lenders to loan money to unqualified borrowers. There is no free market in home loans in the US. I remember the last home loan/S&L crisis when federal regulators ordered S&Ls to divest from “junk” bonds at a multi-year bottom, thus putting many weak S&Ls into insolvency just at the time junk bonds enjoyed the beginning of a multi-year bull market. And don’t get me talking about the FDIC/FSLIC/RTC fiasco. I was involved professionally in that mess. The gubbermint wasted hundreds of billions of dollars “fixing” a mess they created in the first place.
    Airlines? Heavily subsidies industries tend to over invest. In any event, 9-11 was more a failure of government to perform the one function they allegedly do best.
    Enron? Simple criminality, which occurs inside government as much or more than outside, where it is easier to detect and prosecute.
    The dot com bubble? That might be the closest you come to an example of markets “screwing up” by themselves. Note however, that the bubble corrected itself without much cost to the taxpayer.
    The S&L debacle? 100% made in Washington D.C.
    Now, I am not saying that markets left to themselves never make mistakes. To the contrary, individuals constantly make mistake. Whenever A sells 100 shares to B, one of them will make money and one will lose. The loser bears the cost by himself. But when governments make mistakes, we all pay the price.
    Governments should act “proactively”????? Are you drinking heavily? We are talking about bureaucrats here. That is, people making decisions with other people’s money when the risk of being wrong is nothing compared to the risk of not pleasing one’s superior, in an environment where economic considerations weigh very little compared to political considerations. You actually think government can predict the future?
    We tried that. They called them Five Year Plans. How did that work out?
    Should we trust individuals to take risks and make profits and mistakes with their own money, or trust bureaucrats, driven purely by political considerations, to plan the economy for us?
    How well did the bureaucrats act pro-actively for 9-11, since you brought it up?

  54. “Housing/credit crisis? One of the most heavily regulated industries around. Try getting a house loan that is not VA/FHA/ or Fannie Mae. Fair lending practices, so called, practically required lenders to loan money to unqualified borrowers.”
    The housing loan crisis has nothing to do with regulation. The problem was that the people selling the loans did not end up with the risk because they hid the risky loans in CMOs. The investment banks bought and sold these without looking too closely at them because they were making a lot of money doing so.
    There was no regulation that forced these parties to sell all these bad loans.
    While I agree that the idea of a “free market” is a myth (there never was such a thing), it’s not clear that regulation makes things worse. Capitalism has no problem taking advantage of people when they are able to.
    “Note however, that the bubble corrected itself without much cost to the taxpayer”
    People may not have had much “tax cost” but the brokers (eg, Grubman)encouraged many people to buy stock (typically through mutual funds) that lost a lot of value by blatant lying. That is, people paid for the “dot com” bust one way or another.

  55. The housing loan crisis has nothing to do with regulation. The problem was that the people selling the loans did not end up with the risk because they hid the risky loans in CMOs. The investment banks bought and sold these without looking too closely at them because they were making a lot of money doing so.
    That was the final straw that broke the camel’s back, but to blame the banks solely is incorrect, the debacle started when government regulators told the banks they couldn’t redline communties where property values didn’t warrant loans at 90% LTVs and the regulators via Sallae Mae and Freddie Mac set the loan requirements so low as to draw in people who normally wouldn’t be in the housing market in the whimsical thinking that everyone should be a homeowner. They set the standards to buy those loans and the banks just followed suit. Pretty stupid if you ask me.
    Everyone is not capable of being a home owner, that’s why we have landlords providing apartments for rent. Those people who traditionally would have just moved out of their apartments to double up with someone else when they have a cash flow issue were basically attempting to do the same thing with home ownership. This is what happens when you misinterpret what equality means by claiming equality of outcome instead of personal responsibility. Also you oversimplify the situation since builders using cheap illegal labor were cranking out too many houses. And since the regulators were allowing loans to be bought with 90% LTVs that also encouraged people to buy up using their first home as collateral for the down payment and when they couldn’t afford the 2nd mortgage payment, they simply walked away from their first house and let the banks choke on it. Ordinarily, such home owners would have sold their first house, but because of the overbuilding, they choose the second best option for them, walk away and let the bank deal with it since the first house became 100% LTV in becoming the collateral for the new house.

  56. “regulators told the banks they couldn’t redline communties where property values didn’t warrant loans at 90% LTVs and the regulators via Sallae Mae and Freddie Mac”
    The red-lining rules allowed the loan originators to scam the system. That is, they were able to issue “liar’s loans” and hide risk when the passed the mortgage. The regulations did not require people to lie about their incomes!
    “And since the regulators were allowing loans to be bought with 90% LTVs that also encouraged people to buy up using their first home as collateral for the down payment and when they couldn’t afford the 2nd mortgage payment, they simply walked away from their first house and let the banks choke on it. ”
    This is an example of the -lack- of regulation.
    “Also you oversimplify the situation since builders using cheap illegal labor were cranking out too many houses.”
    This is another example of the -lack- of regulation. You can’t sell mortgages (risky or not) without housing stock.

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