Johnson’s column lacks understanding of America’s transportation system
To the Editor:
Unfortunately, Morgan Country Citizen columnist Fred Johnson appears to be under the delusion that we can continue to power America's transportation system (cars, trucks, planes, trains and boats) on petroleum or its synthetic equivalent.
In a column entitled "The Electric Car Folly," he contends that all those electric cars Congress is encouraging will require many new nuclear power plants. He concludes...
Sadly, our Congress is showing that they not only don’t know how to run a car company; they don’t know how to solve our energy problem. We can eliminate our dependence on foreign oil by simply drilling for the oil that we have offshore and within our borders at no cost to taxpayers or consumers.
I won't get into the silliness of the Congress running a car company polemic and as for drilling offshore and elsewhere in America, that's another argument for another day.
For both geological and geopolitical/economic reasons our current paradigm isn't sustainable. We have to find alternatives and do so very, very quickly. At the current rate of oil consumption, America's oil import credit card bill will total $500 billion this year and once we begin to see a sustained economic recovery, this will soar to $700 billion annually. At that rate, within five years, the major oil producing nations of the world (largely OPEC and Russia) will have amassed the capital equivalent of all the companies currently listed the New York Stock Exchange.
What are our alternatives? Biofuel from cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel from algae show promise, but only to a limited extent and technological hurdles remain. Electric-drive technology, which is where the auto industry was headed long before Congress and the previous Bush Administration decided to intervene, offers the most promising road forward in terms of reducing oil dependency.
Now there are a wide spectrum of electric drive systems from mild hybrids like my Honda Insight Hybrid to GM's battery-dominate Volt extended-range electric vehicle. Of that spectrum, plug-in hybrids and electric cars like the Telsa Model S can virtually eliminate -- for many if not most drivers -- the need to use any petroleum, whatsoever. Recently, I had the opportunity to ride in the first converted Toyota Prius to drive at more than 65 mph in electric-only mode on Interstate 80. The car has an estimated range of 25 miles on its battery only, effectively making it an electric car. The owner of that car then recharged it at my home for 35¢ worth of electricity. How much does Mr. Johnson pay for the imported gasoline in his car, assuming he drives one?
Now he is correct in suggesting that millions of cars like a plug-in Prius or Tesla Model S will require electric power, but a 2007 study by Pacific Northwest Laboratory, a government research facility, concluded there is enough unused overnight power generation capacity to recharge tens of millions of plug-in vehicles; up to 74 percent of the current U.S. light vehicle fleet. Even if all that base load power comes from coal, the net effect on carbon dioxide emissions would be less than that produced by our petroleum-powered fleet.
Additionally, in many parts of the country, wind power blows strongest at night, as it does in places like west Texas. Power companies there plan to use the electric power from thousands of wind turbines to recharge their customers electric cars at night making them totally carbon free.
Additionally, efforts are underway to smart manage the electric power grid and to provide incentives for plug-in hybrid and electric car owners to recharge their cars at night, rather than during peak loads. As for the need for a charging infrastructure, that largely already exists, Mr. Johnson. I'll bet you have one where you live and work; it's called a electrical outlet. You know, that thing into which you plug your computer and refrigerator. Yes, firms like Coulomb and Nissan-Renault and Better Place are looking to establish charging stations around the country, but those will not be just dumb plugs, but grid-saavy, charging only when and where it impacts local power the least.
Bottom line... There is no need to build another nuclear power plant, as Mr. Johnson suggests. We can use wind power (which is now as cheap as coal) at night and solar (now competitive with nuclear without the hazards) during the day to manage the number of electric vehicles that gradually will be coming online.