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Will Electric Cars and Solar Power Make Gasoline and Utilities Obsolete? 734

Posted by timothy
from the that-dog-won't-hunt dept.
cartechboy writes "Since the dawn of time (or modern civilization) two things have happened: utility companies have made money by selling us electricity, and oil companies make money by selling us gasoline. But is it possible we are on the verge of upsetting this status quo? Tony Seba, an entrepreneur and lecturer at Standford University, is writing a book in which he essentially predicts electric cars and solar power will make gasoline and utilities obsolete by 2030. How, you might ask? In his book, titled Disrupting Energy: How Silicon Valley Is Making Coal, Nuclear, Oil And Gas Obsolete, he predicts that as people buy electric cars the interest in clean energy will increase because who wouldn't want 'free travel'? Combining the use of solar panels and electric cars, consumers would be able to do just that. The miles electric cars travel on grid energy stored in their batteries eliminates the demand for gasoline, and it turns out many electric-car owners have solar panels on their homes while eliminates or dramatically reduces their dependence on utilities. So as the amount of electric cars on the road increases, the cost of both solar panels electric-car battery packs will decrease, right?"
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Will Electric Cars and Solar Power Make Gasoline and Utilities Obsolete?

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  • Uh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:56PM (#46048435)

    No.

  • Energy density. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:57PM (#46048445)

    Sure. Just show me the batteries that match gasoline in terms of energy per unit weight/volume, cycle life, and charge speed.

  • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sneakyimp (1161443) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:00PM (#46048489)
    We should be able to moderate the original article as troll.
  • Re:Energy density. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rahvin112 (446269) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:19PM (#46048777)

    You don't have to match gasoline.

    Gas cars are terribly efficient. Even with 100% efficiency the carnot cycle limits efficiency of an ICE to around 30%, tack in all the other inefficiencies in the system and you only need to store about 20% of the energy in a gallon of gas to equal the people and goods moving power of a gasoline powered car. The current round of L-Ion batteries are almost there and there are improvements on the horizon that will both improve energy density and lower cost. Frankly it's a matter of time at this point until electric cars begin to be both and the price and range of the vast majority of users.

    Personally I don't think the articles prediction of 2030 to reach that point is out of bounds of reality. Solar city is adding 15 employees a week to install solar panels. Most people don't realize what that means. Solar panel costs (total costs, including installation and maintenance) have hit price parity with utility grid power over an amortized 10 year lifetime. We are on the brink of a solar revolution.

  • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lgw (121541) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:23PM (#46048811) Journal

    For once, I disagree with Betteridge's law of headlines. Yes, solar power will eventually obsolete all other forms for non-industrial use. But don't hold your breath.

    For non-transport use, we could really switch to solar-thermal today (not photoelectric cells, but the less efficient black pipe, mirror, and turbine solution). It's simply more expensive than other power sources, and storing power for overnight use is still more expensive so we don't. It's pretty close though - I believe the cost of power would less than double that way, and while that would be a massive economic catastrophe (the cost of power matters a lot), it does set a long-term cap on power pricing.

    Transportation is different, however. We're a long way from having batteries that are safe and good enough, at any sort of reasonable price, and even if we had those it would be an infrastructure replacement to support the change, which is a multi-decade process (don't kid yourself, people would charge their cars during the day too). Since all that's required is ordinary technological process, the change to electric cars will inevitably happen, but over the course of several decades. Personally, I don't see a problem with that (peak oil nuts aside, at current prices the supply is much larger than we'll need).

    And if batteries get good enough and cheap enough, home solar thermal might start making a lot more sense. Even if it doesn't quite pay for itself, I'd pay a premium to be off the power grid.

    All that being said, industrial power is a different story, but it's not like we have supply problems with natural gas either, and surely fusion power will only be "20 years away" for another century or two, right?

  • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:27PM (#46048863) Homepage

    No kidding. They'll tax the hell out of electricity to make up for lost gasoline taxes...nothing is free...

    So, a little thought experiment, because this is about solar.

    I buy some solar panels, or they're built into my car. From there, I never use your electricity, I use my electricity. And, if I own the solar infrastructure, the energy is free, give or take my investment and maintenance costs.

    So either you're going to heavily tax the solar panels under the guise that it denies you the opportunity to tax me later. Or you're going to tax me on the basis that I have solar power, which denies you the opportunity to tax me.

    If you start taxing people on the basis of things they're not doing, or for failure to consume those things from a company which charges you ... then the MPAA is going to insist on taxing me based on the movies I don't see, because after all, I'm clearly the reason your movie didn't make any money, because I didn't pay to see it. And McDonald's will want to tax me for all their crappy food I don't eat. The Saudi's will insist I be taxed because I'm not using oil, so I'm depriving them of revenue.

    I just don't see your system working. If I have a stand-alone solar array, and I charge my car with it using none of your resources -- on what basis do you think you can tax me? Because you feel entitled to it?

    If we reach a point where people can charge their own cars with their own solar panels, suddenly there is free energy, and nothing on which to tax people, and no revenue for companies.

    Which is why many people believe the energy companies will actively prevent this from happening.

  • Re:ignores reality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crow (16139) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:29PM (#46048899) Homepage Journal

    That's ridiculous. I live in Massachusetts, and we have a solar array that generates roughly half our annual electricity needs. If our house were oriented with solar in mind when it was constructed, we could easily generate enough for all our needs and our driving needs.

    Granted, that doesn't take into account our use of natural gas for heating, but if we had a geothermal system, it would.

    The problem is that solar power is not a factor when houses are designed.

  • Re:Uh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TWiTfan (2887093) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:30PM (#46048917)

    This whole topic sounds like some sort of acid-induced hippie fantasy, taking place in some alternate universe where solar power has become several orders of magnitude more widespread and efficient than in our world, producing enough electricity to not only power our homes, but also our factories, infrastructure, cars, etc.--and all with super-efficient storage to get us all that through nights and cloudy days too.

    It sounds like a wonderful world, but it's not ours. And for MANY, MANY reasons, it never could be.

  • Re:Energy density. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dmatos (232892) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:35PM (#46048995)

    I don't understand this kind of argument. What would have happened when automobiles were first invented if someone said:

    Show me a car that can reproduce by itself, and only needs to be fuelled with grass that I grow on my own fields for free, and then maybe we'll talk.

    An electric car does not need to match all of the performance specifications of a gasoline-powered car. All it has to do is meet the needs of the consumers. And if you sat down and thought about it, you probably don't _need_ the things you listed. Those are specifications derived from your actual requirements, under the assumption that a car is gasoline-powered.

  • Re:Energy density. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by beelsebob (529313) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:36PM (#46049007)

    You never sleep? Surely if the car can charge within 4 hours, then being able to drive it continuously for 20 means that you would exceed even the most ridiculous requirements for a car?

  • Re:Uh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gewalker (57809) <.moc.latigiDartsA. .ta. .reklaW.yraG.> on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:37PM (#46049015)

    I thought Obamacare is the examplar of taxing people for things that they are not doing. This was made entirely clear by chief justice Roberts. Taxing your for something you don't do has already started.

  • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy (595695) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:38PM (#46049035) Homepage
    They can still tax you on miles driven, for using the roads. You could fill out an online form every month and pay the necessary taxes. Where I live, your license plate has a sticker on it you have to renew every year. They could check your odometer against your monthly self reporting numbers to ensure you aren't lying. pretty simple really. They could also build it into the car. Have the car self report it's mileage over the cellular networks (or your home wifi network) every so often whenever it can find a signal. Then they can just send you a bill every month.
  • Re:Energy density. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeff Flanagan (2981883) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:51PM (#46049247)
    >Lets say i relocate cross country.
    >I can fill up at any gasoline station.
    >I am completely shit out of luck with a Tesla.

    You can still fill the moving truck. Your Tesla will be being towed behind the truck, same as we tow our cars when moving cross-country now.
  • Re: Uh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:54PM (#46049291)
    For certain. TFA is...idiotic at best. Renewables alone simply will not cut it.
  • Re:Energy density. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by csnydermvpsoft (596111) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:55PM (#46049311) Homepage

    How often do you take cross-country trips? For me, it's at most once or twice per year - renting a vehicle for those times is no problem, especially if my daily driver is cheaper to operate. If you do take such trips frequently, then present EVs are not for you. However, you're among a small minority of the driving population.

    By requiring your daily driver to be capable of any situation you can imagine - even if it occurs very infrequently - you're wasting a lot of resources, including your own money.

  • Re:Uh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:59PM (#46049393)

    Indeed. The whole premise is flawed from the get-go.

    Until you get energy densities similar to Gasoline, you're NOT going to obsolete it. Moreover, trying to "obsolete" it is also based on a flawed premise- that it's a "fossil" fuel (Coal's the only "fossil" fuel right at the moment in that meaning.)- and evidence is piling up that AGW is not a valid theory, so "carbon emissions" aren't as big a problem as they were made to be (Made so, mainly by people that stood to gain in the farce that followed...) Fail.

    And...until you get some of the photosynthesis derived photovoltaic prospects out of the labs and as products, Solar's a joke in the normal sense of power. It isn't really green (Making the cell makes more pollution than it "removes" from the environment producing power). It's more expensive than anything else. The only reason you do Solar is for relatively reliable power under adverse conditions, especially totally off-grid. Only the eco-nuts (Who're clueless) and the ones that have to and know what they're doing and getting into use Solar. Again, Fail.

    Combine the two notions...EPIC Fail.

    As for the original article author...sadly, you'd bend the f*ck out of a 6' rock bar trying to pry his head out of his *ss.

  • Re:Uh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:01PM (#46049413)

    Batteries are already safer than fuel tanks. The only problem here is the manipulation of public perception regarding battery safety. Already we have efforts underway to undermine that perception.

    What I would be on the look out for is an industry trend away from fossil fuels and on to hydrogen. It allows the present players to maintain their roles as suppliers of energy while looking like the good guys. After all hydrogen is "green, its byproduct is just water" and "renewables--while important an important part of our energy strategy--can never possibly supply our need for reliable energy." Of course we consumers certainly can't produce our own energy because that's just dangerous. Leave that to the professionals.

  • by JustNiz (692889) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:01PM (#46049415)

    It seems you are yet another person who thinks the primary purpose of "green" cars is to save their owners money. I don't know why that myth won't die. Their actual purpose is to reduce impact on the environment, at basically any cost to the owner. They're actually intended to address a whole different issue than you and many Americans apparently think they do.

    >> Adapt. Because we're no longer going to subsidize your roads and your parking.

    Oh yes you are. Several states are already looking at implementing an extra tax specifically only on electric & hybrid vehicles because those people aren't paying "their fair share" of the gas tax (even though in nearly all states, collected gas tax doesn't actually get spent on roads, which was the justification used for its introduction).

    The IRS already knows that the vast majority of motorists are already used to and semi-OK with paying at least $n per mile. If enough people find a way to pay less than n (say because they aren't buying gas any more), the government finds ways to get its greedy hands on your cost savings instead of you. They just introduce a new tax on the cost-saving method itself to bring its net cost up to n again. (the level most people have already shown they will put up with). Consequently they eliminate any financial benefit to making changes in the status quo. Thats why many people will still be driving gas cars decades from now.

    The fact that the government aren't providing any new or improved service to the people they collect the new tax from is not exactly going to keep them awake at night either.

  • Re:Energy density. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:10PM (#46049535)
    What's the difference between spending 5 minutes at a gas station and 5 minutes at a super-charger every 300-400 miles? Realistically though, unless you're a truck or taxi driver you should rarely have to ever care about the range remaining even with the present generation. Plug it in where/whenever you park it.
  • Re: Uh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ravaldy (2621787) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @05:12PM (#46050397)

    Are you telling me that you don't see the technology improving? There is still lots of room for solar cells to improve. In addition batteries are also getting better by the minute. Combine better solar efficiency for less money with better storage capacity and you have yourself a neat power plant on the roof of your house. Add to this more efficient electronics and it's whole order ball game.

    For residential use, solar energy is very plausible. My neighbour had a portion of his roof covered and it cost him less than $30 000. He generated 720 KW in the month of November which was mostly cloudy. At 15 cents per KW that's a $108 saving. Not bad for a cloudy month.

    Although I think that 2030 is far too optimistic to see large power plants replaced with clean self generated energy, I believe it's going to happen sooner than you think.

  • by Twinbee (767046) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @08:27PM (#46052357) Homepage
    Have you ever driven a Tesla Model S? I reckon you'd be surprised at the instant torque, acceleration, safety, and silentness. Even if you have infinite money and don't care about the environment much, maintenance and noise is still a pain, along with the general poor air quality in busy cities, and those are factors which are drastically improved with an EV.

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