Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Electrifying transportation

Permit my presumptuousness as I suggest one addition and one change to billionaire oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens' bold and visionary energy plan for America that he recently announced. His plan would break our dependence on foreign oil by tapping the enormous wind energy resource that flows along the corridor between Texas and the Dakotas and by encouraging the development of automobiles that run on natural gas.

First my addition: Offshore wind. The Texas-Dakota corridor is the Saudi Arabia of (onshore) wind in the U.S. However there are other vast and accessible wind resources and they are flowing over the waters of the nation's outer continental shelf and its Great Lakes. That's almost equal to the country's total installed capacityThe U.S. Department of Energy conservatively estimates these to be more than 900,000 megawatts.. What's more it's very close to major urban load centers. The development of these wind resources could address major sources of electricity demand without exorbitant investments in transmission lines.

Now for my recommended change: Develop cars that run on electricity not natural gas. Natural gas emits carbon dioxide. Electric vechicles (running on electricity generated from wind turbines) do not.

Curious minds reading the following piece on General Motors' latest interest in electric cars will undoubtedly want to know what's changed since the halcyon days of EV1?(GW)

GM Teams With Dozens of Utilities on Plug-In Cars

By Rebecca Smith and John Stoll

Wall Street Journal

July 22, 2008

Three dozen electric utilities and General Motors Corp. agreed to collaborate on smoothing a path for a plug-in electric vehicle that is slated to roll out in about two years.

The collaboration is the first major effort by the two industries on an electric vehicle and includes some of the biggest names in the power sector, so far spanning utilities that operate in nearly 40 states: American Electric Power Co., Austin Energy, Consolidated Edison Inc., Dominion Resources Inc., Duke Energy Corp., DTE Energy Co., Edison International, New York Power Authority, PG&E Corp., Progress Energy Inc. and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., to name a few.

Both industries have a lot riding on the success of plug-in cars that will run largely on electricity, with gasoline or other fuels filling a supplementary role. Auto makers need a hot-selling product to revive sales and hope the technology will slash gasoline consumption and reduce reliance on imported oil. GM plans to introduce the Chevrolet Volt and Saturn Vue as its first models. Other auto makers, including Toyota Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co., are working on versions of plug-in cars.

After more than a century of relying on gasoline as the main fuel for automobiles, GM and its rivals are scrambling to diversify energy sources. The Chevy Volt, due in late 2010, is intended to be the boldest effort yet, designed to run at full speed for at least 40 miles solely on lithium-ion batteries. Unless plugged in for a recharge, the gasoline engine kicks in at that point.

Auto makers need the cooperation of utilities since they control the new technology's primary fuel -- electricity -- and must make sure that the vehicles' recharging processes mesh with the electricity grid and don't inadvertently undermine grid reliability. GM first started courting utilities and other energy-related companies last year, knowing it needs the cooperation of several players, including battery makers, to produce plug-in vehicles that function as well as conventional cars and trucks.

"GM is introducing production cars that have to work in all 50 states and Canada," said Mark Duvall, program manager for electric transportation at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., an industry research group that is participating in the collaboration. "But every electric system is a little bit different, so there are a lot of little issues to work out."

At the most basic level, intelligence that will be embedded in the cars in the form of computer chips and software needs to be met with equal intelligence on the utility side. That way, a car that plugs into a garage electric outlet will be recognized as a car by the utility and recharged when it is best for the electric system and, perhaps, at a price that will be lower for cars than other appliances.

What utilities don't want is for cars to recharge during hot summer afternoons, when they could push wholesale electricity prices into a more expensive tier. Off-peak recharging actually could make the electric system more efficient by slightly increasing production at power plants with capacity to spare. Research shows there is enough excess electrical capacity at night to recharge tens of millions of vehicles.

Intelligence in the systems is important for another reason. Congress is considering climate-change legislation that would set a price on carbon-dioxide emissions. Utilities might get special consideration if they can prove their electricity is replacing gasoline and cutting overall emissions.

GM would like to take special rates and incentives and use them to build sales. According to current projections, it should be much cheaper to recharge a car overnight than to buy the equivalent amount of gasoline. Cars recharged daily could go 600 miles or more between fill-ups.

As utilities begin to confront the integration issues, they also are considering how much they want to encourage deployment . Austin Energy, a city-owned utility that serves the Texas capital, has decided to offer a $1,000 incentive to people who buy plug-in cars.

Electric-industry research shows electrifying transportation cuts emissions even if electricity is made by burning coal. That is because power plants burn coal more efficiently than the internal-combustion engine consumes gasoline.


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