What will power your next car? Will it be gasoline, diesel, perhaps mixed with biofuel? Or will it be electricity? In case electricity will power your next car, how will it be produced? From coal, natural gas, nuclear or renewable energy?
If you ask me, there’s a good chance that your next car will be powered by electricity generated from solar panels on top of the buildings where it will be parked. In case you doubt this, you’re not alone…Â The Energy Information Administration, at least, does not appear to share my view. Last month, it released the 2007 figures on US energy consumption and supply.
Of the energy consumed in 2007, 85% was produced from fossil fuel and 8.3% from nuclear power, while a mere 6.7% came from renewable sources. The tiny orange sliver on the bottom left is solar energy. Solar/PV energy represented a meager 0.081% of the energy produced in 2007, barely more than the 0.066% back in 2000.
The figures show that, while total energy consumption increased, the amount of energy produced from renewable sources actually fell compared to 2006, mainly due to drought causing a decrease in hydroelectric power generation.
Renewables would have fallen even further, had there not been a 26% increase in ethanol, which has received steady subsidies under the Bush administration.
EIA does not appear to see this picture change much, at least that seems to be the view presented in its projections to 2030, released March 2009 and shown on the image on the left.
As I’ve been saying for years, this picture should change dramatically! There should be a massive shift to renewables. Furthermore, ethanol is not the best way to power cars. Growing corn to produce ethanol requires large amounts of land, fertilizer, water and energy, while competing with food production and placing extra burdens on the environment.
As a recent study points out, it would make more sense to convert biomass to electricity, rather than to ethanol. But as said, there are better ways to produce electricity, such as with solar or wind power, rather than by burning biomass. The Bush administration’s subsidies for ethanol have produced little or no benefits and have only held back the car industry from making the necessary switch to electric cars. Where we do need oil, e.g. to power airplanes, this could be better produced in algae bags.
The best way to facilitate the necessary shifts is by implementing a framework of feebates. Fees on sales and registration of gasoline cars could fund local rebates on new electric cars and on conversions of existing cars to electric. Furthermore, fees on fossil fuel could fund rebates on local purchase and installation of facilities that produce electricity in clean and safe ways. Such fees could be accompanied by import tariffs and export credits to avoid domestic industries becoming disadvantaged. Details should be worked out in an agreement later this year in Copenhagen to affirm the global commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.
When looked at in isolation, the technologies associated with electric cars, solar energy, wind turbines and wave power may each not seem commercially attractive at the moment. Combined, however, they can be more viable, e.g. surplus power from wind turbines can recharge the batteries of electric cars at night.
Moreover, clean technologies have in many respects already been price-competitive for quite some time. For years, CETO has claimed that its wave power facilities can generate zero-emission base-load electricity at a cost comparable to existing wind power. GE has also claimed for years that, with a cost of approximately 3.5 to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour and declining, wind is a low-cost renewable energy source that is less expensive than coal, oil, nuclear and most natural gas-fired generation.
Solar concentrators on 1% of the world’s deserts could generate more electricity than the world uses, without competing for land with food or urban use. PV-panels can now be made for under $1/watt. Solar, wind, geothermal and wave energy are clean, they don’t compete for agricultural or urban land, and they are already price-competitive, while costs will come down further with innovation and economies of scale, as I discussed in numerous articles, such as Reinventing the Wheel, and in the comments underneath.
By contrast, the cost of non-renewable fuel will only rise, when taking into account the harm to the environment and to our health. Furthermore, it requires extensive mining, transport and waste disposal provisions, in addition to government supervision to ensure safety and security. The cost of all that is huge and can only be expected to rise in future – we just cannot keep borrowing and keep sending further money and jobs abroad.
In conclusion, we should change all this, if not for the sake of the environment or our health, then simply for economic reasons and to become less dependent on imports, or for the sake of creating more domestic job and investment opportunities. We can change all this and the sooner we do so, the better.
So, as said, there’s a good chance that your next car will be an electric car powered by solar panels on the rooftops of the buildings where it will be parked. Why solar panels? Well, utilities may purchase electricity at a few cents per kWh, but currently peak rates for the end-user with, say, Pacific Gas and Electric Company can be as high as $0.35/kwh. At such rates, it becomes a lot more attractive to use rooftop solar panels to power your car.
The average age of cars and trucks is under 10 years, and so is the median age. Typically, it takes less than a decade for a vehicle to be replaced, so the switch to electric vehicles could be completed in less than a decade, when taking into account that existing vehicles can also be converted to electric.
Well over 80% of US emissions are caused by fossil fuel, i.e. the mining of fossil fuel and burning it in power plants and in transportation. So, by entirely switching to electric vehicles over the next decade or so, and to electricity produced from renewable sources, the U.S. could achieve an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.