Is this really the “future?”

(Chevy Volt – plug in electric car – soon to be on the market.)


This is not a “gearhead” column, (so you non-gearheads can continue reading) but rather a thread about oil dependency.

The thread photo is of the prototype Chevy Volt electric car. The version that will be available in November is a conventional four door sedan.

The Volt is not a true electric car, nor is it a hybrid in the normal sense. It is a “plug in” car that does not need a special charging station. It has a “battery only” range of forty miles, at which point a small, four cylinder gasoline engine will kick in, acting as a generator and providing electricity to the motors.

Tesla Motors, a So-Cal based company, produces an all electric model that has an effective range of over 200 miles, but does not have a secondary source for electricity. It can also be charged at home, although it does need a special docking station.

By the time you read this, BP may have capped the gushing well in the Gulf – then the clean up will be the greater issue as million of gallons of oil have fouled the waters and beaches.

True energy independence will take a collective effort by all Americans – an effort that seems unlikely given our divided society. While polls show that Americans greatly favor alternative energy sources, we don’t really want to pay for them.

Americans in are in love with gas-guzzling mega-cars, SUV’s and trucks. We could postpone the inevitable end of the gasoline fueled vehicle if we were to go to higher mileage cars, but most don’t want to give up the space and presumed (wrongly) safety of our large vehicles.

Are vehicles like the Volt and the two Tesla models the “future?” Definitely maybe.

If we were truly, honest-to-God serious, we would be immediately moving towards hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, while using Compressed Natural Gas powered cars as an interim solution.

But we’re not serious.

The oil spill will be cleaned up, gas will hover around $2.50 a gallon, the economy will improve and more folks will have cash to drop at the gas station.

And we will kick the can down the road, once again.

Until the next crisis.


William Stephenson Clark

30 Comments

Filed under The Environment

30 responses to “Is this really the “future?”

  1. Remember when prices went above $2 and everyone was screaming. Now we are happy not to pay $3

  2. Well, I guess all that info I posted yesterday about TheVeryLight car would have been better here.

    Did you see this ad that was put out by a veterans group about energy?

  3. I’ve thought for many years that that which made the U.S. an industrial wonderland would eventually be our Armageddon; the existence of seemingly plentiful oil reserves, which might be easily and economically developed. Yes, there was (and is) coal, but the availability of petroleum products relatively economically fueled much of the 20th Century.

    The availability of gasoline allowed for the automobile to become a “necessity”; the ubiquitous car contributed to urban sprawl, as more roads were built to accommodate the same, leading to the development of drive-ins; shopping malls; and other monuments to the natural outcome of easily accessible personal transportation.

    Agriculture, as practiced for the most part today, benefited as well. Not only fuel for the equipment, allowing for more efficient farming, but fertilizers which increased productivity of the ground, which permitted excess real estate holdings be sold for residential and commercial development.

    The “private” airplane doesn’t become a reality without affordable fuel; commercial airlines, the same to a lesser extent. There are multiple other examples that will occur to the reader, I’m sure.

    We now are realizing the other part of the equation. Importation of oil increases, as the “low hanging fruit” of easily exploitable domestic reserves shrink and eventually exhausted, creating risks, national security and economic (which may really be one big risk, broken into subcategories). Prices increase, people grumble, as the perceived “right” to jump into a powerful gasoline powered automobile at any convenient time to travel to any accessible location appears to be ever more restricted. Meanwhile, the efforts to do something about this are roundly ridiculed, those warning of more calamitous times and events labeled Cassandras. “The beat goes on”.

  4. What is the truth about the statements of all oil goes into a collective and is distributed from there? I’ve heard it said that drilling in America doesn’t keep the oil in America, but I don’t know the details or the truth.

    • Generally, oil is fungible. I don’t know the truth of the assertion, but if it is cheaper to ship oil produced in e.g. Alaska to e.g. Japan rather than to New York then, given the world price of oil being the same (more or less) due to a cartel controlling the bulk of the readily available supply, it is economically more rational to sell and ship it to Japan than to retain it domestically.

      • prairie pond

        Hi Y’all–I’m always late to the discussion these days. One of the foundations of economic development and industrial recruitment is how manufacturing or processing facilities determine where to locate as a business decision.

        To what 617 said, a lot depends on the cost of transportation. It’s cheaper to ship lumber than big raw trees, so lumbermills are located near the source of supply, not the end market. It’s cheaper to turn trees into lumber near the forest than it is to ship the trees to the city and then turn them into lumber.

        On the other hand… it’s cheaper to ship raw wheat than it is to ship flour. So, the flour mills are generally located near the source of consumption, not the source of supply. For years, the only flour mills in Kansas were near Kansas City, and all the wheat from western kansas was shipped there for processing and a short ship to consumers, the millers and bakers. NO flour mills, other than maybe some small time, boutique or antique ones, were located out here in western Kansas. Not enough consumers, and it is cheap to ship wheat by rail.

        The same goes with steel and the auto industries. The steel mills are located near the source of supply, in Pennsylvania, etc. Not near the consumer, Detroit and Ohio. I guess they prefer to ship steel, not ore.

        I wonder how it is with oil and petroleum products. Most of the big oil refineries, both gas and chemical, are located along the Gulf Coast, which says it’s cheaper to ship oil by ocean to them, but cheaper to truck and pipeline refined products on land. But then, the crude gets shipped on land from oil producing states like Kansas and Wyoming, by pipeline to the Gulf. Maybe the economies of scale regarding refining are the deciding factor there? Interesting…

        So I think 617’s point is true. It depends on where the end consumer is located, where the source of supply of raw materials is located, and what the cost is of shipping raw vs. refined. And you can add the evaluation of economies of scale at the processing point to the decision mix.

        Have I thoroughly confused the issue with my economics lecture? Heheheh. These points are taught in “basic” ED courses. It helps local developers determine what industries are a good fit for their communities.

  5. tosmarttobegop

    We will have several stumbles and falls before getting it right.
    Not to mention the natural battle with the same forces that were favoring horses over the gas powered cars.

    A little fact, one day every car in Kansas city collided. Yeah there were two of them and they met at a corner and could not stop in time… I think something like 1890 something or maybe early 1900?

    I would have to look it up to get the month/date/ and year.

  6. WSClark

    For those that are not familiar with them, a hydrogen fuel cell auto is unique.

    To make a technical post brief. Hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, is stored in a cell and used to generate electricity to drive an electric motor that drives the vehicle.

    The Honda FCX Clarity, now being consumer tested in So-Cal gets an equivalent of nearly 70 mpg.

    That is only part of the story. An HFC car is pollution free* – zip – the only emission is water.

    (* Provided that the source for the hydrogen is not fossil fuel based technology like natural gas.)

    • WSClark

      Currently, HFC vehicles are god-awful expensive to produce, due to the high cost of producing the cell it’s self. Also, currently, the hydrogen is extracted from natural gas, minimizing the emissions benefits and reducing the “no drilling” aspect.

      These issues will be resolved only when HFC vehicles are mass produced.

  7. itolduso

    WSClark-

    I see the cost benefit of mass production on the cells themselves, but I don’t see how you overcome the hydrogen production problems with mass production

    • WSClark

      There are plans/experiments to produce hydrogen from non-drilling sources, but they may be ten years away.

      Compressed natural gas is available now, and any gasoline powered vehicle can be converted. Natural gas is readily abundant in North America. Converting to CNG would help us get off the foreign oil addiction faster than virtually anything else.

      And it’s cleaner than gasoline.

      • itolduso

        I have no problem with that, except one. Having driven a cng pickup before, I had a hard time getting past the thought of that big old bomb (BLEVE—Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion ) in fire science lingo, sitting right behind me.

  8. Freebird1971

    Where is my jet pack I was told we would all have when I was in grade school?

  9. indypendent

    I saw the veterans’ ad fnord referred to upthread for the first time this morning.

    Everything stated is true but how many people actually will understand what was being said?

    At the end of the day – when Palin and Palinettes all line up and chant drill-baby-drill – that will win out in the battle of the 30-second soundbites.

    Even when we are in the 97th (?) day of the BP oil spill – we still have one major political party that actually defends BP and even apologizes to them for making them fund at least $20 billion for clean up.

    Oil is politics and until we get that factor out of the equation – nothing will change all that much – at least in my lifetime.

    I think that stinks!

    • indypendent

      I am thinking of my grandkids – what will their lives be like if we do not get off the oil NOW?

      At least we should try. But I see many politicians and lock-stepping minions following the same old line of we need oil, that foreign country has oil, we’ll just go take that oil.

      It didn’t work in Iraq – and it won’t work anywhere else.

    • I thought the ad by the veterans would speak to Republicans. They seem to hold disdain for the people of that part of our world.

      • indypendent

        Except for when that part of the world has money and oil. I still remember George W. Bush kissing and holding hands with the Saudi King even though all but one of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.

        And then when GWB stated he did not even think about Bin Laden anymore – that really did it for me.

        What a slap in the face of the 9/11 victims, their families and every American.

        I realize that the king cannot be held responsible for something a person from his country does – but I did not see one bit of pressure put on the Saudi King for any type of investigation or anything.

        Something does not smell right in that whole mess.

        And then when it comes to Fox News’ owner Rupert Murdock being business partners with that Muslim Prince. It obviously does not bother those Republicans too much about ‘certain’ Muslims – those with money and power.

      • wicked

        Not just the hijackers, but the Saudis who were quietly flown out of the U.S.. People tend to forget these things, which is what too many hope is happening.

  10. “I’ve thought for many years that that which made the U.S. an industrial wonderland would eventually be our Armageddon…”

    I’ve been thinking about this ever since you posted it. It goes much deeper than just our reliance on fossil fuels, doesn’t it? It goes to our need of excess. Our big homes, more than we require for good health in our diets, vacations… What would be excess to one isn’t necessarily to another, but we don’t live as simple a life as we did not long ago. We aren’t as good at entertaining ourselves, finding joy or peace individually. We seem to be a nation always wanting more.

    • indypendent

      In my opinion – we’ve been ‘corporatized’ into consumer spending.

      I remember in my childhood we did not go out and buy something new when it broke down – we fixed what we had. And if we needed to replace it because it could not be fixed, we saved our money until we could afford to replace it.

      In today’s society – what has been built to last?

      I remember when my clothes washer broke down about 15 years ago. It was a major brand. Imagine my surprise (and disgust) when the repairman told me there was no way to fix the washer because they were designed to only last for so long. I could order the entire motor for the washer but I would have to wait for a special order and then it would cost me more than a new washer.

      And this is progress?

      Take my experience and multiply it by millions across the country – not just washers but other appliances – and then our landfills get full of trash.

      Our country is very wasteful and we have no idea what it is like to conserve or do without something.

      Then we have the current attitude of arrogance to actually believe that we deserve all this.

      There is a prevailing attitude of greed and arrogance which leads to ignorance.

      And that is what will bring down our country faster than any foreign enemy.

      And that is what I’m afraid of for my grandkids lifetime.

      • itolduso

        Manufacturing goods, particularly items like washing machines and etc, that can be fixed reasonably cost money. The consumer today wants cheap….So they can have more…

        Over 20 years ago, I bought an American Made Microwave. It cost me $400 in 1989 dollars. Others bought cheaper. They bought many more.

        But, because I bought an expensive Microwave, I couldn’t afford an expensive television.

        Cheap let’s consumer’s by both. Most simply don;t care about quality, they care about quantity

      • indypendent

        Itolduso: I think you’ve hit on a very good point.

        People do want cheap and they really don’t care about quality.

        We see it everyday – don’t we?

        And then throw in the fact that no one wants to pay taxes but yet they want all the services they are used to getting – something has to give somewhere.

      • I know that microwave, itolduso! I was so tickled when my youngest son was setting up his household and I could send it off with him (where it still is working perfectly). It is BIG! It did all the microwaving in my household from the early 80s which included a lot of warming up for the teens. I now have the standard ‘cheap’ one you talked about and it takes up a tiny portion of the space.

      • prairie pond

        Indy, one of the things that has always stuck in my mind is the idea of the “benevolent telephone man”. That’s how I remember the local telephone men, and when I worked for AT&T and CWA, the people we served said one of the worst things about the breakup of Ma Bell in the eighties was that they could no longer be the “benevolent telephone man”. They used to give away cords, parts, etc. out of the back of their trucks, because they were a regulated utility, not a profit driven business. They could focus on serving their customers, not accounting for every last bean.

        But I digress…:)

        The idea of the benevolent telephone man always makes me think of Ernie K, the local guy here. If your phone stopped working, you could call Ernie to fix it. Not just the line into your house, or the wires in your house, but the actual TELEPHONE! He’d replace the speaker, the cord, the whatever, and you’d go on. Because, of course no one in their right mind would throw away a perfectly good telephone if it could be fixed.. right?

        hehehehh

        I remember Ernie telling my Dad, in the mid eighties, that someday, people would just throw their phones away and not bother to repair them. It would be cheaper just to buy a new one than to repair a perfectly good old one.

        Now, Dad and I liked Ernie, but after he left, we both agreed, he was batshit crazy, and that day of throwing away phones instead of repairing them would NEVER come.

        I guess ol’ Ernie knew what he was talking about, and Dad and I were the crazy ones.

        One of my Dad’s cousins had a TV repair biz. It’s what he did for a living. He didnt sell TV’s, he just repaired them. And radios too.He’d come to your house and fix your TV if it didnt work.
        He had these magic cases, like suitcases, filled with tube testers, and volt meters and all manner of exotic tools and thingybobs. He’d set up a mirror so he could see the screen from behind the TV, then pull it from the wall, because they were big and heavy, bigger than today’s small apt. size fridges, ya know. He’d get back there and fiddle and fix and test and replace and voila, the thing would work again and we could get BOTH channels!!!!

        It was a very big deal when Emanuel came to your house to fix your TV. Now days? We throw away TV’S fer christ sake. We dont even bother to repair them. And most of us dont even own just a plain radio anymore, much less have one repaired. Emanuel must be rolling in his grave…

        hee hee hee. I’m older than dirt, no?

        We’re just a damn wasteful society. Instead of
        wear it out and use it up”, we do the GE thing. We “plug ’em in, burn ’em out, and replace ’em.”

        And the saddest part of all, we do it to people too, not just “things”. We just “burn ’em out and replace ’em.”

        As my pharmacist friend says, “I think I’ve just lived too long…”

      • WSClark

        So true, Pondie.

        (Good to have you back by the way – you have been missed.)

        It’s a bit like today’s automobiles. It used to be that a mechanic or a shade-tree mechanic would FIX stuff.

        These days, they REPLACE stuff.

        Now, I am old-school (and old) and I still FIX stuff, but it get’s harder all the time.

        My old project truck, a ’69 Ford F100, is a prime example – you can’t get the pieces parts to fix a bunch of things. You can only buy the “assemblies” and just replace the whole damned thing.

        Ah, at least I still remember how to set points.

      • wicked

        itoldyouso, our first microwave cost over $600 in 1975. It’s the only microwave we used for 25 years, and believe me, we used the heck out of it. We had it in for repair once to have the door tightened.

        Then there was our first VCR that cost $800 in the early 80’s. We took it in about once a year to have it cleaned and the belts replaced. We were told by the repair shop that it was one of the best built VCRs and would last for years if we did our yearly fixup. After several years, we decided to opt for a new one that cost us not that much more than the cleaning and belt replacing for one year.

  11. indypendent

    Speaking of Republicans and their disdain for that part of our world.

    Did you hear about Glenn Beck’s latest rant?

    It seems Six Flags theme parks have scheduled a Muslim Family Day on September 12th.

    Of course, Beck must think he owns the rights to September 12th because of his highly-charged march on Washington to show how Americans hate the government. But I digress.

    Anyway – Beck is having a tirade about how dare Six Flags give Muslims a special day and on Sept. 12th!

    As was pointed out in the article we were blogging about, Ramadan ends on September 12th this year and that is probably the reason for the Six Flags special day.

    But let’s not let actual facts get in the way of a good ranting Beck tirade – shall we?

    • indypendent

      Oh, and there was no mention of whether these Muslim families were American citizens which would have every right to attend a Six Flags theme park.

      And there was no mention that Six Flags is a business that has every right to make business decisions as they see fit.

      But – like I said – let’s not let facts get in the way of a good ranting Beck tirade.

  12. indypendent

    In the discussion about future cars and transportation needs – here in Kansas, we are not set up for much of any mass transit system.

    We are so spread out that it takes having a car to get around to simply live our daily lives.

    Whenever I see these Smart Cars around town, I wonder to myself – where would I put two grandkids’ car seats?

    • WSClark

      Smart ForTwo cars are a good idea, but bad execution.

      Actually, terrible execution.

      The SFT has only room for two, little to no luggage space and gets 36 mpg.

      The 2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid gets 50 mpg and comes with room for four adults or two adults and three children and has amble luggage space.