In every era we are driven by curiosity, spending enormous time on apparently trivial questions that wonīt let us sleep, toying repeatedly with established ideas. Reflection is followed by correction. Change gets implemented. New practice replaces the old. Civilization is based on knowledge and sometimes painful experience. That restless order of the human mind is the workshop of Science.
Frequently on the radio and Internet there are articles and debates on the Electric Car as a concept and a thing of the future. It's great to see the level of interest rising but in all the discourse the most important thing rarely gets mentioned let alone grasped.
Let us set the record straight here and now.
First, take your conventional gasoline car, petrol or diesel, new or old, maybe your efficient little one-liter that you just drove out of the showroom, or that SUV guzzler, the high powered sports car, the beaten-up truck or even Granddad's wonderful Studebaker all of these will serve the same for our purpose. We are going to show just how inappropriate they all are. No exceptions.
So start the engine and go for a drive down the highway to get to normal operational temperature.Now pull over to the side of the road and turn it off. Open the hood over the engine. What is the first thing you notice? The answer as everybody knows is a big blast of heat into your face. That is because typically, 80% of all the fuel you paid for at the filling station gets wasted completely in the form of heat. And not just the recent fill of gas you got ALL the fuel you ever put in you car , consistently 80 to 90 percent of it gone (theoretically this figure is a little over 70% but in practice over 80% is what is actually wasted). That is how grossly inefficient the Internal Combustion Engine is. And what's more, we have been doing this now for a century.
The Internal Combustion Engine (or ICE) is a heat machine! A glorified water boiler that is also harnessed to do other work, mainly that of transport. We all engage in this situation of mass ridicule at the behest of the Oil Industry. Driving everywhere our cars are still a tool of liberation. But never has there been a device like the ICE - so widely used for so long and so unsuitable for the task.
Now let's consider an Electric Car and we mean an all-electric car. For Example the Nissan Leaf or maybe you know someone who converted their car recently. But we do not mean Hybrids like the Toyota Prius. This has an engine which charges the batteries. If you have to go to a gas station it's not an electric car.
When we give the EV the same test we find hardly any heat generated because electric motors are the complete opposite to ICEs in this regard. They are 85-90% efficient meaning most off the charge you put into your batteries actually gets used to drive the wheels. In fact most of the time you can probably put your hand on the motor in an EV without burning yourself. Try that with a gasoline car...
In an electric car, when you turn on the air conditioning or the lights the exact amount of energy required is released from the battery pack with great efficiency. With gasoline, even energy for the lights comes indirectly from the fuel tank. Traditionally lights use from 11 to 20 Amps. As part of our energy-wasting culture we never count such a cost. Only now with the EV being developed are we finally making LED-type bulbs. In the world of electrons we are looking to save power wherever we can. In part because the current state-of-the-art batteries only allow a range of about 100 miles per charge, the exception being a Tesla model. You remember your first mobile phones and how cellphones so quickly evolved after their introduction. As with any new technology early adopters must harbor a compromise. But I think the day of the 300-mile EV is not very far away.
Occasionally in these debates you will hear skeptics trying to ridicule EVs but there are actually no intellectual arguments in favor of the Internal Combustion Engine. And there never were except to say that they have served as a temporary stepping stone that has being employed for far too long. You will hear the critics say that charging an Electric car at home simply means delegating the fossil burning to a power plant elsewhere. But even that is a misrepresentation as these plants are nowhere near as inefficient as the explosive cylinders in an ICE. And of course with charging at home you have the very real prospect that someday soon you will install solar panels, wind generators and a charging station, thereby truly eliminating fossil fuel and the oil companies. Not just clean transport but ultimately free transport!
Perhaps unconsciously, the end-game for oil has already begun. Itīs easy to find the masses scoffing at such a notion but we have already seen this happen in other fields and one of them added a very recent chapter to the industrial revolution.
Remember having film in your camera? If you are very young or very new to photography you wonīt. Yet only 10 years ago amidst promising new digital camera technology there were film industry giants who were talking down the Digital Camera and saying how it was a long way off matching film for resolution. Indeed in 1999 it was something of an amusement to play around with the first digital cameras 1.3Mpixel they were clearly limited and no replacement for the professional with his SLR 35mm. The feeling was that it would take 20Mpixel resolution to equal the mighty film a tall order at the time, indeed impossible.
Technically that was true but in practice bringing less than half that sophistication to market would be all that was needed to drive a nail in the coffin of film. But soon after, Canon came out with the amazing 10D Digital SLR at just 6.4Mpixel resolution, the floodgates opened and everybody on the planet wanted a digital camera.
Yet the people who were famously in denial were those in the Kodak Corporation. It seems they were ignorant of Mooreīs Law surely the stamp and seal of our time. Issued in 1962 it states that the density of electronic components in a device will double every 18 months. This evolution has been visible everywhere to everyone in the modern world but not apparently to Eastman Kodak. With their salaries and benefits and specialized careers they did not see it coming. Denial ainīt just a river in Egypt.....
But the public knew what they wanted. And they made the decision once the scene was set and the possibility had been rolled out. By early 2009, I was able to buy a 12Mpixel camera which can slip inside a cigarette box. Itīs performance is so staggering and yet it is nowhere near the professional end today. Oh and you can still buy film if you wish but wait till you see how hard it is to find!
Yet the driving forces behind that development were bubbling away since the 1970s when NASA developed digital cameras for their spacecraft. The voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 were an astonishing success and it was easy to see that humanity might be inspired to have some of this marvelous technology in every hip pocket. But it did take time and the progress had to grind on. By the early nineties the Charged Couple Device(CCD) was being used by amateur astro-photographers. This field served as a kind of a testbed, an area where passionate people would spend money on expensive devices to get their image from the night sky. It was actually through this interest that I gradually came into photography. That was in 1998 and even then I remember seeing a news item on the TV about some university that had developed a huge CCD which they claimed, could in theory be used in commercial cameras one day and end the need for film. That day came very soon after and the rest is history. Film is dead. Just like old Marley in Dickens. Dead as a doornail!
For the brand new game-changing Green Energy industry these are early days deliciously early!
There is a realization setting in that the oil companies are bad or at least, less than good. Into the public mind comes the notion that it could be perhaps amusing to have an alternative type of car for some of our transport or even all. The existence of Hybrid cars for 10 years now are helping this awakening. According to the Techcast technology forecast website, Electric Cars will properly arrive in 2022. Given the history of things there is every reason to think it will happen sooner.
But there is still much development underway like Photovoltaic solar panels which the public could frankly have done with yesterday. Here in Spain with all the heat and sunshine I am ever mindful of the immense power of the sun, wasted every day while we pay for power. We are just 250 miles from the edge of the Sahara desert, 5% of which could, through solar power, provide all the energy needs of the world. Not even all the oil wells on Earth can come anywhere near what the sun can do. We should not be surprised - it is almost one million miles in diameter (the Earth and the other planets being the leftover crumbs in itīs making) and consequently itīs surface simmers at about 7000· C. Without itīs presence we would quickly freeze over in the cosmic darkness. Tapping only a tiny fraction of what the sun has to offer would change our world forever..
Perhaps the workhorse of this new revolution will be, not the Photovoltaic panel but the Solar Concentrator. This is a mirror arrangement which redirects the sunīs rays to a central focal point. They are commonly made in the form of dishes(resembling the satellite dish) or troughs which are elongated versions and donīt have the added need to track the sun in the sky. These are already being installed by power companies. There is one large project near Seville which provides electricity for 12,000 homes. At the focal point is installed a tower which holds liquid or oil. With the rise in temperature this boils and drives turbines which in turn are attached to electric generators producing power for the grid.
A simple experiment demonstrates the power of these devices. Take a satellite dish and remove the LNB from itīs focal point. Now apply a mirror coating to the inside of the dish curvature. Tin foil will do for this but there are other methods as well. Position the dish to directly face the sun. Get a metal thongs that you use with an open heart fire. Using the tongs, hold a black plastic bottle filled with water at the focal point where the LNB used to reside. How long does it take the water to boil? Depending on the diameter of the dish 3 to 4 minutes.
Here in Spain, there have been various companies supplying solar panels that failed due to apparent lack of interest. This interest needs to be rekindled. The public needs these kinds of devices and enthusiasm for this rises along with that for Electric cars. They go hand in hand. One square meter area captures in theory, about 1Kwatt worth of sunshine. A typical electric kettle uses about 2Kwatts of power. So a kilowatt is heavy power. Even if all your home installations produce one quarter of that it will reduce your electricity bill considerably. I use approximately 4Kwatt hours of electricity in a 24 hour period in my home that is like my kettle plugged in for 2 hours every day. One or two Solar Concentrator devices would eliminate my monthly bill. A few more would look after the needs of an electric vehicle.
This all takes some investment of time and money but with all that energy potential it is a shame not to do so. And eventually all the world enthusiasm adds up to put pressure on the oil companies. Just as all that end-user gas filling put those same companies in the position they hold today.