Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Electric Cars - The Shocking Truth

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) have three major problems – range, re-charging and residual value.

First of all, you may need to drive more than 60 km in a day. Second, re-charging is a pain. You have to have access to a 15amp power outlet (most household outlets are only 10amp), so you have to pay to have an electrician wire one into your system. Re-charging also takes up to 10 hours, if you don’t have access to a ‘Fast Charging’ station (which might only take four hours). Third, BEVs are expensive to buy, and of course at this stage no-one knows what they’re going to be worth on the used car market.

However, in Australia there’s a bigger problem, and that is environmental damage. Australia’s power grid reserves are generated by coal-fired power stations, so re-charging your electric car from household supply, or a fast-charging station, simply swaps tailpipe emissions for power station pollution.

Australians generally drive longer distances on average than in many other developed nations, so range and re-charging is an issue. However, until Australians and their government begin to seriously embrace nuclear-powered generators, and a variety of renewables (wind, solar, water), then battery electric cars make no sense whatsoever.

I heard a member of the Greens blathering on recently about how battery electric cars were the ‘silver bullet’ answer to lowering emissions from motor vehicles. Clearly, this person doesn’t understand the technology, doesn’t want to drive far, has plenty of time on their hands for re-charging, and seems unconcerned about emissions from coal-fired power stations.

There’s one more issue of environmental damage, and that is the ‘mining’ or recovery of lithium-ion for batteries. There are only two big sources of this rare earth metal (in China and Bolivia), and the recovery of the metal leaves the landscape totally degraded. Also, there’s the issue of price control on Li-ion. As the reserves are concentrated in only two locations, it could be an OPEC situation all over again.
The Mitsubishi iMiev BEV. Outstanding technology, and within its limits, drives and performs well.
However, it is completely illogical in Australia, where all re-charging power comes from coal-fired power stations.

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