Already the US gets about 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and with President Obama’s new commitment for more uranium-fired power plants, that percentage could rise a few points. So, depending on what grid your electric car is recharging from, or for that matter what time of day it is, your car could very well be storing electricity generated at a nuclear plant. If so you’ll have a nuclear-powered car.
All this assumes that someday you’ll be driving an electrically-driven car, which is a likelihood that’s increasing almost daily.
Certainly, financial help from Washington, using money on loan from the nation’s taxpayers, is helping to push along the drift toward electric driving. The requirement for automakers to meet new fuel economy standards is also helping the electric drive effort.
But government is not the only force behind this electric drive effort: Small companies and startups are getting into the electric car business because they want to. Ditto for big companies. Many of the majors are making sure electric cars and trucks are in their model portfolios of the future because they want them there.
The reasons for the interest in electric cars are varied and numerous:
— Zero or dramatically reduced carbon emissions removes the cars as contributors to climate change;
— Zero or dramatically reduced noxious emissions removes the cars as contributors to unhealthy air pollution;
— Then there’s the the issue of oil supply. Manufacturers have seen the results – the failure of their businesses – due in part to a spike in oil prices;
— Leaps in technology, particularly in batteries, have taken place. Lithium-based batteries with less weight and more stored power have improved range. Charging times have dropped as well. High voltage charging (440/480 volt for example) charging times could near that needed to fill up a tank with gas. High voltage charging could also eliminate the need for battery swap-on-the fly schemes now being promoted. (High voltage charging is an electric vehicle breakthrough, by the way);
— There’s also battery life and afterlife. The lithium batteries are expected to last roughly the life of the vehicle. Further, when batteries can no longer hold enough charge to propel a car they can work in semiretirement storing electricity from renewable energy from the grid, such as solar power;
— Finally, there appears to be enough demand in the marketplace for electric cars. There are people who want to charge from home, possibly with home-generated electricity. There are people who want the relative simplicity of electric drive. And then there are the early-adopters who just want electric drive because it is new and different.
If there’s anything that’s holding back the full commercialization of electric cars it’s the cost of batteries that drive up the cost of the whole vehicle. Further, pure battery electric drive shouldn’t be expected to completely dominate the vehicle market for decades, if at all. The mix of vehicles on the road will range from conventional vehicles, any combination of hybrids, plug-in hybrids as well as variations of biofuel-powered vehicles for many years.
Even so, vehicle manufacturers continue to push forward with electrically-driven vehicle plans:
— In the US and Canada the Renault-Nissan Alliance has formed partnerships to develop electric-vehicle infrastructure in the State of Massachusetts; the State of Tennessee; Orlando, Florida; the State of Oregon; Sonoma County and San Diego, California; Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona; Washington D.C.; Seattle; Raleigh, North Carolina; Houston, Texas and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Now Renault-Nissan is almost ready to take orders for its Leaf battery-electric car. Soon after announcing the price of the vehicle in April, those who have registered for information about the sedan will be given first priority to reserve a Leaf with a refundable $100 reservation fee. Firm orders will begin in August and the first deliveries to select markets will be by December;
— Ford is offering new information about its Transit Connect Electric, the first product in the company’s accelerated electrified vehicle plan.
The Transit Connect Electric has targeted range of up to 80 miles per full charge, and will be rechargeable using either 240-volt or standard 120-volt outlets.
Ford also says generally “the number of components typical in an internal combustion engine and transmission are dramatically reduced in an electric vehicle to just a few moving parts in the electric motor and transaxle, which results in much fewer parts to wear out or maintain. Electric powertrains operate with solid state electronics, which have demonstrated low or no maintenance over the life of the product . Electric vehicles have completely sealed cooling systems that do not require refilling, replacement or flushing. There are no belts to wear out or break and no spark plugs or injectors to clean or adjust.
There is no exhaust system to replace and no liquid fuel system to freeze or clog. The use of regenerative braking reduces wear and tear on brake pads.
It seems as though Ford likes its upcoming electric vehicles.
Transit Connect Electric will be followed by the Focus Electric in 2011, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in 2012 and next-generation hybrid technology in 2012;
— More than a decade ago the US Postal Service had plans to electrify its delivery fleet Now the agency may be trying again.
Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide is building a concept advanced electric postal delivery vehicle. The vehicle, which will be based on the widely-used Grumman Long Life Vehicle (LLV), is being developed under a one-year demonstration and validation program to be conducted by the USPS in Washington, DC. If all goes well the USPS could begin to electrify its entire fleet – 178,000 vehicles, the largest civilian fleet in the land. The emission-free vehicles will help support the continued development of the US electric vehicle industry.
President Obama’s yet-to-be-passed budget has $54 billion in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors. True, the reactors will provide emission-free power, but nuclear power to charge electric cars isn’t the “green” way to go.