10 December 2018

The Socialism of Power

Sunday '60 Minutes' ran a segment about Musk/Tesla.

During the piece, Musk says that it would be OK with him if others used the Tesla patents (which are open source) to make an even better electrical vehicle. His reason: electric vehicles are better for the planet. Now, that's a testable assertion, and it ain't necessarily so. Here's a table of CO2 by type of power generation. Of most note is the difference between coal with and without scrubber. Compare to:
Every gallon of gasoline burned creates about 8,887 grams of CO2.

So, when electricity comes from wind, hydro, nucular, solar, and my fave, tidal (but, of course, being a New Englander within spitting distance of the Bay of Fundy, one might expect that), then electric transport is better for the planet. Otherwise, may be not so much.

In sum, whether electric vehicles are cleaner, in a birth to grave sense, isn't a slam dunk question. Back before there was an EPA, I was in a class where the notion of air pollution vis-a-vis how to power cars came up. The instructor asks, "what matters?". Your humble servant offered that electric vehicles may be cleaner in use, but the total emissions attributed to such vehicles must include emissions from power plants that provide the leetle electrons to charge the batteries. I got an "atta boy" from the instructor. I always have taken a macro-view of most questions, since winners shouldn't be allowed to foist costs on losers. How often do you hear Musk, et al, delve into that question? It's not in his interest. If you look up the Great Smog of London, you'll see that clean air is mostly a local problem. California did much the same for much the same reason. The Manchurian President braying that China and Russia won't do anything doesn't matter so much.

From the macro-view, electric cars have been around since the late 19th century. Also, about the time that gasoline cars began to push the electric ones aside, electric intra- and inter-city transport on rails grew. Some systems were governmental, most private (at least at the beginning). By the 1950s most had disappeared. Did GM do it? I buy it, but not all do. The fact remains that the energy density of gasoline is far beyond what the best batteries can manage.
gasoline 34.2
Lithium 4.32

Beyond just density is the 'refill' problem. One can drive up to a gas station and fill the tank in a few minutes. Recharging a Tesla:
Five hours is good for overnight charging, but for rapid boosts, it's not that great. Tesla offers a global network of supercharging stations specially designed to provide up to 120 kilowatts of power to its vehicles. The 90kWh Model S can charge from zero to 100 percent in just 75 minutes, or from zero to 80 percent in 40 minutes.

So, in sum: if we, as a country or planet, want to switch to 'clean' electric transport, we're locked into mass transport vehicles connected to dedicated non-coal fired power plants. Electric mass transport equals socialism. Not what the Right Wingnuts want to talk about.

There are a couple of ways to simulate the main advantage of gasoline with electric cars: its portability and ease of fueling. One is build Teslas with exchangeable battery packs, which they sorta, kinda tried but abandoned some years ago. The other is build proximity charging into urban streets, which turns each automobile into a mini-tram, an approach already under study.
But the ultimate solution could involve none of that at all. Wireless charging—the long-simmering solution for charging electronic devices without having to remember to actually plug it in—could solve a variety of problems relating to the complexity and ease of charging networks....while bringing a few benefits of its own, as well.

Not every street in every city need by powered, of course. The point of the network would be to provide enough power to run the "average" car while it is drawing power from the street. The main thoroughfares, but not the many side streets. After all, cars would be recharged when at the house.

Well, I'll be. Not my idea, after all. Those damn Socialist Europeans!! Note, however, that this is age-old contact charging; the street cars in DC decades ago also got their power from conduit in the street rather than the usual overhead wire. Didn't want to spoil the view. Really.
Most streetcar systems use overhead catenary wires for power. However, a very old law prohibits wires of any kind in the L'Enfant City, generally bounded by the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, Rock Creek, and Florida Avenue. The pre-1962 system had a network of vaults under the road. Wires ran in the road, and a device called a "plow" connected to the streetcar reached under the roadbed and contacted the wires.

You know what's amusing about all of this? One of Tesla's (the man) inventions, we think, was a method of radiated power distribution. Some services, like clean water and dirty sewer, really are social goods.

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