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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 @01:56PM (#46048435)

    No.

    • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sneakyimp (1161443) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:00PM (#46048489)
      We should be able to moderate the original article as troll.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Stargoat (658863)

        Agreed.

      • There's another trend in modern life, toward zero land ownership.

        Put the most efficient solar panel possible covering 5000 square feet at the latitude of Washington D.C. - tell me how many miles a year you can drive after you have used that solar power to heat and cool your home?

        Some people need to get a grip - I mean, there are these multi-rotor hovercraft springing up all over the place, how long before we are all driving them to work on 7 layer freeways in the air?

        • 7 layer freeways

          OSI model Freeways? I would like to subscribe to your newsletter!

        • by hawguy (1600213)

          There's another trend in modern life, toward zero land ownership.

          Put the most efficient solar panel possible covering 5000 square feet at the latitude of Washington D.C. - tell me how many miles a year you can drive after you have used that solar power to heat and cool your home?

          Some people need to get a grip - I mean, there are these multi-rotor hovercraft springing up all over the place, how long before we are all driving them to work on 7 layer freeways in the air?

          There's another trend in modern life, toward zero land ownership.

          Put the most efficient solar panel possible covering 5000 square feet at the latitude of Washington D.C. - tell me how many miles a year you can drive after you have used that solar power to heat and cool your home?

          Some people need to get a grip - I mean, there are these multi-rotor hovercraft springing up all over the place, how long before we are all driving them to work on 7 layer freeways in the air?

          I don't know the average power usage of a home in Washington DC. But let's say that the home uses an average of 1000KWh/month, and that they want to charge their 24KWh car 3 times a week, for 12 charges/month, or around 300KWh, so that means they need to generate 1300KWh/month.

          According to this solar calculator [findsolar.com], such a system in Washington DC would require 1100 sq ft of roof space, and cost $68,000 before incentives, or $24,000 after incentives. It would save nearly $200/month in electric bills, and is esti

    • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lgw (121541) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:23PM (#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:4, Insightful)

        by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:01PM (#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.

        • Re:Uh? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by lgw (121541) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:17PM (#46049635) Journal

          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

          Energy-dense, safe, cheap: pick 2 (at most). If you imagine some conspiracy to undermine public perception (beyond the normal sensationalism of the media), you should go back on your meds. The big energy companies will make their profits either way.

          What I would be on the look out for is an industry trend away from fossil fuels and on to hydrogen.

          Hydrogen is only practical to store and transport as a palladium-family hydride. While that gives very dense and very safe power storage, those metals aren't cheap: like a catalytic converter, it would take $100-200 just for the metal. You can actually make this "pumpable" with small palladium spheres, allowing existing gas infrastructure to be used for transport (the DoE patented the details during the Bush years, effectively protecting it as public domain), but the used palladium will need to be returned (like a battery swap) and the prospect for fraud there likely dooms the whole system.

      • Yes, solar power will eventually obsolete all other forms for non-industrial use.

        Easily and demonstrably not true unless you invoke as-yet undeveloped technology of uncertain viability. I think solar is terrific and should be used much more but it's not a cure all solution for every energy problem.

        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.

        No we could not. Even if the technology were adequate (it isn't - we don't have adequate battery technology) the economics of it are prohibitive. When I say cost prohibitive I don't just mean that it is a little more expensive. I mean that given the current state of the technology the cost

    • Re:Uh? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TWiTfan (2887093) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:30PM (#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.

      • Not an alternate universe, but a planet closer to the sun. With current panels, you get around 100-200W per square metre of sunlight. The theoretical maximum efficiency for solar panels is somewhere around 40%, bringing it up to 400W. Over 8 hours a day of useable sunlight (that's the output with the sun directly overhead, it slowly drops off over the day, giving an average of around 8 hours, assuming good weather). So that gives a total of around 11.5MJ per day. One litre of petrol releases around 34M

    • There are two issues, with home solar.
      Issue 1. Upfront cost. Solar panels are getting cheaper, however labor rates to install them will only get higher. So it will be a fair investment to get them installed in your home.

      Issue 2. Trees. I live in Upstate NY, we have these 30-100 foot tall trees that blocks a lot of the sunlight. We could cut them down... however is it worth it cutting down our best method to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, in order to use less carbon?

    • Re:cartechboy (Score:5, Informative)

      by WRSaunders (910173) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:31PM (#46049803)
      I have an electric car, and solar panels. The answer is still no. My electric car is so efficient that it's not the largest component of my electric bill. I have gas cooking, heating, and hot water; and the electric bill is three times the car bill, in December. In the hot summers, the AC can kick the daylights out of the Tesla in terms of power consumption. By the way, electric car travel is NOT FREE. There is significant capital expense, just another way of financing energy usage. My solar panels spread this capital cost over their usage period (I pay an "electric bill" for the solar power I use). It's all just a financing shell game. You can make one number $0, but you can't make them all $0. As folks have said, they want to charge my electric car a "gas tax" to pay for the roads. They even want it to make noise, so kids and folks don't walk in front of it. None of this transportation power shuffling does anything about industrial power consumption. You're not going to like the price of aluminum foil made with solar electricity. High power industries need the high power density low cost power that renewables can't provide.
  • Energy density. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @01:57PM (#46048445)

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

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

      by alexander_686 (957440) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:03PM (#46048535)

      Here's one. Well, it is more of a super capacitor then a battery, but still

      http://www.extremetech.com/ext... [extremetech.com]

      Not ready for prime time – and maybe it never will – but it is a viable avenue to pursue.

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

      by Mike_EE_U_of_I (1493783) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:13PM (#46048695)

      Tesla's model S can already go around 270 miles on a charge. The next generation of batteries (in test cars right now) just about doubles that. How much range do you need?

    • The battery tech is coming ...
      energy density / recharge cycles - http://www.greencarreports.com... [greencarreports.com]
      fast charging - http://www.extremetech.com/ext... [extremetech.com]
      not here yet ... but definitely on the way and not far off.
    • Re:Energy density. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rahvin112 (446269) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:19PM (#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.

    • His prediction is that battery cost and solar panel cost will drop so much that by 2030, it will be worth it.

      He mainly seems interested in cost per kWh. He says, "Once it gets to $US100/kWh [in batteries], it is all over." He is predicting that will happen by 2030. Obviously there are other factors that matter beyond cost, but it makes sense that once batteries are cheaper than gasoline, a lot of people will buy them. Toyota Corollas are popular, and not because of their acceleration.

      Solar panels are a
    • Re:Energy density. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dmatos (232892) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:35PM (#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.

  • Better bring that Coleman stove. Oh wait...

  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:03PM (#46048525)
    Who lumped nuclear in there? As long as a nuclear plant has US standards for quality and testing instead of Japanese standards, we're all set. I do still prefer solar and wind but I wouldn't lump nuclear in with oil and gas since it doesn't produce CO2.
    • by Animats (122034)

      As long as a nuclear plant has US standards for quality and testing instead of Japanese standards, we're all set.

      Fukushima Daiichi had four General Electric reactors. The same reactor design is used in several US plants. Peach Bottom [wikipedia.org] in Pennsylvania is one. All operating plants of that design will melt down if they lose cooling water flow for more than about 18 hours.

  • Contrary to the write-up, civilization has not been using oil (nor gas) very much for centuries. Man has sailed with, well, sails for thousands of years.

    However, when the opportunity arose, using Sun's concentrated energy proved rather attractive to all. And so it will remain until we find a way to stuff the comparable amounts of energy per unit of volume as the "fossil fuels" contain.

    Imagine a solar-powered aircraft carrier [thepeoplescube.com]... Yes, you can!

    • Sails got us from Europe to the New World, but they weren't much good from New York to California. Though we didn't use fossil fuels for that either then.

  • Will we some day go all electric? Probably.
    Is it going to happen any time soon?
    Fuck no!
    Petroleum is still too (relatively) cheap and still far better in the energy density department.
    Additionally, the infrastructure just isn't there to make electric viable enough yet.
    MAYBE 50-100 years from now.
    But right now we're comparing Orville and Wilbur Wright against an F-35 Lightning II.
    Of COURSE it's going to be found wanting...

  • by King_TJ (85913) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:11PM (#46048649) Journal

    The key here is the question specifically about *solar* power. When you look at the sum total amount of energy we consume, I think you'll find that you'd have to blanket a pretty significant portion of the usable surface of the earth with panels to provide all of it, if you went strictly solar.

    (From a solar energy FAQ):
    Q: How much roof space is needed?
    A: A rule of thumb is 100 sq. ft. per every kilowatt (kW) of electricity the PV system produces. Module efficiency correlates with the power that is generated in a given amount of roof space. For basic planning purposes, a good rule of thumb is 10-12 watts per square foot.

    10-12 watts of power generated per square foot just isn't a heck of a lot, in the grand scheme of things.

    You have to couple that with the fact that battery storage isn't anywhere near 100% efficient. (Batteries "leak" power even when they sit idle for a while.)

    I think electric cars will have growing usefulness, but not everyplace gets a lot of sunshine during the average day. So even companies setting up solar charging stations in parking spaces for people to plug in vehicles during the work day won't be an adequate solution everywhere.

    Ultimately, I see a situation where we substitute some fossil fuel use for increased nuclear power (for the big energy generation happening at large power plants), some hydrogen fuel cell tech gaining acceptance, solar and batteries as supplemental power where applicable, a little wind energy (again where applicable), and in the shorter-term at least, more use of natural gas vs. oil or coal.

    • The key here is the question specifically about *solar* power. When you look at the sum total amount of energy we consume, I think you'll find that you'd have to blanket a pretty significant portion of the usable surface of the earth with panels to provide all of it, if you went strictly solar.

      Yes you would.

      Fortunately, we already blanket a pretty significant portion of the earth with buildings, roads and parking lots. Put solar on all the buildings and cover the parking lots and you are well over half of the way there.

      Here is the NREL report on this subject.

      http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04o... [nrel.gov]

      NREL states we would need 00.4% of all the land in the USA to go 100% solar electric. The report uses existing PV efficiencies. By the time we could possibly be near something like 100%, efficiencies will b

  • by Mike Van Pelt (32582) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:11PM (#46048653)
    There is certainly a place for solar. But at 1 kw/m^2 at noon on a cloudless day, times whatever percentage efficiency of the cells... it isn't going to be the whole solution. Not even in California.
  • Solar and wind energy are not producing energy all the time. When there is no wind, wind turbine will not produce energy. When it is night, solar will not produce energy.
    Storing energy is quite difficult and ineeficient. So it is not realistic to stay we will store solar energy for when it is night.
    The energy consumption is not constant over time, you need to be able to deliver the proper amount of energy at any time. This is why nuclear power plant did not make coal power plant obsolete. Because starting a

  • Just at the point that becomes true, flying cars* will change everything and we'll be fuel-hungry again for every last source.

    Maybe the oil industry will finally do the R&D needed to get flying cars* up if they see their revenue drying up. They have the deep pockets for R&D, unlike Joe Garage Tinkerer. Gaining future markets is a mild motivator for R&D, but rescuing a dying cash cow is a huge motivator.

    * Or personal vertical-take-off plane/copter hybrids like Puffin project. Probably computer-co

  • I've always seen our relationship with fossil fuels as a duel edged sword. First edge, they are the only reason we live in the advanced world we currently do. No oil or coal, no modern living as we now know.

    But, they are a finite resource. Oil is what I worry about the most (if you buy into abiotic oil I've got quite a few bridges you may be interested in, on sale this week).

    The other edge of the sword is the fact that we are fully dependent on fossil fuels. If alternative energy resources are not devel

  • It seems the vast majority of professional chefs and most home cooks prefer to cook with gas. Electric ranges aren't as quick to turn on and off, and stay hot longer, so they're slightly more dangerous.

  • Thinking seriously about adding a solar panel + inverter + storage option for electric car charging and air conditioning, my biggest electricity usage needs. Each of these could be interrupted briefly for switchover to power company feeds without degradation in service, unlike using the solar electricity for normal household power. Since we live in an area that has abundant sunshine and high electric costs, this would seem to me to be the low-hanging fruit for solar electricity and would avoid policy and
  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:16PM (#46048727) Homepage Journal

    Did the mass adoption of electric heaters make wood-burning fireplaces obsolete?

    There's your answer.

  • Would digital media make real media obsolete? No, it is still charged as real media. Laws accomodate to make sure that the ones that really makes the law keeps their profit, no matter what happens. If they feel threatened there are other ways to action [wikipedia.org]
  • We are currently at today's forcasted high temp of 5 deg. F (-21 deg. C) here in the middle of the US, not even taking into effect the 20+ mph wind. I feel sorry for the people trying to use electric heat for homes or businesses on days like today. I wonder how many solar panels I would need at my house today to still have any juice left over to turn on the lights, TV, or a computer.
  • Make that massively deployed. We need to start thinking about renewable energy sources that will deliver not only just enough energy but fucktons of it (it's a technical term.) Energy to desalinate water for cities, drill tunnels to link the continents with supersonic rail, launch vehicles into space using maglev, scrub the atmosphere, plasma-burn our poisonous waste, air-condition our domed cities, and all those other "big science" ideas that we'd be doing if we weren't waiting for fusion energy to finally
  • Ice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sootman (158191) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:24PM (#46048827) Homepage Journal

    Many years ago, ice was very expensive and rare. It was cut from frozen lakes in the north and was shipped all over. [wikipedia.org] Unimaginable now, and not everyone could have ice. Then, refrigeration came along and anyone, anywhere could have virtually unlimited ice for just the price of a machine, the cost of its maintenance, and electricity and water. Being able to preserve food (and medicine) is one of the single biggest contributors to lifespan and overall quantity of life the planet has ever seen. Being able to keep things arbitrarily and efficiently cool is also a key component of many manufacturing processes. Or anything else we currently take for granted -- imagine Google trying to keep their servers cool with harvested ice!

    But what if the ice companies of the past were as powerful as the energy companies of today? What if they got laws passed that made creating your own ice just as expensive as the older, horribly inefficient methods, for no reason other than "we're rich and we want to stay that way, but we don't want to have to compete with progress"? Imagine if it was prohibitively expensive to buy a refrigerator, and illegal or expensive to make your own. Where would we, as a society and a planet, be?

    (The same argument can be applied to stifling IP laws as well.)

    • Are you implying its the oil and electric industry that's manipulating the price of silicon wafers? Solar panels cost lots because they're full of silicon.

      • by JustNiz (692889)

        You know silicon is one of the most common elements in the world right? It makes up the majority of the Earth's crust.

      • Re:Ice (Score:4, Interesting)

        by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:45PM (#46050015) Journal

        I'm implying that solar panels are hilariously stupid and the worst solution to a problem.

        In major installations, they're inefficient as living fuck. you can do much better with parabolic concentrators, solar towers, the like. Shiny flat glass is not only inefficient, but fragile.

        In minor installations, they're expensive as living fuck, inconvenient (eventually you'll need to repair that roof...), and have dodgy ROI. Oh and better add on insurance--a 15 panel installation here has no less than 5 damaged panels, 3 of which are completely destroyed. Nobody else has solar. With long ROI, the risk of just coming out negative is so high.

        Solar water heat: evacuated tube collectors into a tank. Hell, in general, a solar collector--a trombe wall on the roof, evacuated tubes, whatnot--with an insulated pipeline circulating to a solar mass (a concrete, water-filled, or beeswax box packed inside massive insulation, about the size of a chest freezer if you use beeswax but that shit is expensive as silver!) is a lot more effective. You can pipe the collected energy to water heating, space heating, space cooling, and even to electricity generation using a sterling engine (potentially you could use a high-temperature heat pump to achieve cooking and high temperatures for more efficient heat-engine power generation, same concept as a solar tower).

        Advantage? In the case of evacuated tubes, extreme simplicity, low cost, ease of management, lower hazards, fast ROI (less than a year). A trombe wall on the roof has the disadvantage of being fixed, but the advantage of being fixed as well: the roof builds up over top of that part, containing insulation (You don't want your heat to radiate back out) and all the elements of a roof. It can be used for just space heating, or used as an isolated minor thermal mass and collector for a basement-stored thermal mass used to drive thermal equipment (water heater, space heating, sterling generator, thermal cooling, etc.). The disadvantage is weight--it's going to be a big piece of 2 inch thick concrete on your roof--and the complexity of insulated plumbing.

        Direct heating and thermal cooling reduce the number of transformations and increase efficiency of utilizing collected solar power. Solar energy used for space heating comes in as thermal energy (light) and is moved as thermal energy to space heat at near 100% efficiency. Solar energy used for cooling comes as thermal energy and is used to drive a thermal air conditioner (like those natural gas ACs that are all the rage now). Solar energy used to generate electricity is piped through a sterling engine to achieve 38% energy extraction as electricity instead of 19% or less.

        And then you need to consider mass core geothermal plants, non-disruptive hydroelectric (as opposed to disruptive), wind, quantum-newtonian-oscillation generators, and of course the storage mechanisms like FTL gasodiesel manufactured from atmosphere using excess electricity.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:44PM (#46049119) Homepage

    1. One reason oil and coal appear to be cheaper is that the costs of CO2 emissions are completely externalized. Introduce a cap-and-trade system or a CO2 tax and suddenly those won't look quite as economically attractive. (Obviously, you'll have to ignore this point if you think that there are no costs of CO2 emissions, as some do.)
    2. Another cost of oil that is mostly externalized and doesn't apply to solar are the military efforts to secure access to oil drilling locations. Again, less oil, less need for military ventures overseas that cost ridiculously large amounts of taxpayer money.
    3. The cost per KwH for solar installations has been dropping steadily. That means that the capital investment that oil and gas are competing is going down, the time needed to pay back the investment in electric bill savings is dropping, which means more people will opt for solar panels, regardless of what happens to other markets.
    4. There's a libertarian argument to be made here: If you have your own solar power plant that can power your house, then you don't need the heavily regulated utility companies. A power plant that doesn't exist has no government regulatory agency and the staff of bureaucrats that go with it. So by extension, you're reducing your own reliance on the government.
    5. Even without addressing points 1 and 2, the cost of accessing oil has been going up over the long-term. That's going to affect demand sooner-or-later and push people towards alternatives.

    It's sane, but I don't think it will happen by 2030. There's just too much money to be made in not having widespread solar power that I doubt we'll see a changeover anytime soon. And I'd expect homes to be converted before cars, since we know how to get a solar-powered home that works well, but electric cars have limits that are currently not as easy to adjust to.

  • by skidisk (994551) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:57PM (#46049347)

    Two quick problems:

    1. My solar panels on my roof give power to the utility company, not to charge my car. I then suck power from the grid at night from excess capacity of the power grid, who generates this power using -- yes, you know the answer -- oil, gas and coal, along with some hydro. Now it's not all bad -- the power I supply via solar panels reduces the need to build new power plants to support peak needs, but still, they are using oil, gas, coal and hydro to produce my electricity for my car (and house).

    2. I can generate a lot more solar power than people farther north and those who live with crappy weather. But I still can't generate it at night when I need it. Almost no one is deploying solar panels and storing the energy locally, so this feature article is a bunch of hooey, as much as I wish it not to be.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:06PM (#46049495) Homepage

    The problem with electric cars is the battery: high weight, limited capacity and thus range, hazardous materials which make replacement and disposal a headache. But, electric cars don't really need a battery, they need a source of electric power. Turbine engines run a lot cleaner than piston engines, have better fuel efficiency and run on a much wider variety of fuels, the problem was always stepping down the shaft speed to something a physical driveline could use. It's a lot easier, though, to run a generator at the high RPMs a turbine shaft naturally runs at, and a generator supplies electric power. I get the feeling the next step won't be pure-electric cars, but a hybrid with the conventional piston engine replaced by a small turbine and generator. That would reduce the demand for high-priced fuels, and also reduce the size of battery packs since you'd only need one with a ~20 mile range to cover short hops where it wouldn't be efficient to spin up the turbine.

    Turbine start would be easy: any generator is in principle also a motor, and since with no fuel being burned the turbine shaft isn't under load it shouldn't take too much power to spin it up enough to start. I'd imagine this'd make them really popular in northern latitudes where getting cars started in the winter is a bear. A turbine would be easier to start, plus would immediately start providing heat for the interior and defrosting.

    • You definitely need a decent battery acting as a capacitor in the loop. Have you heard of turbo lag? Cars with turbo supercharging act with a lag when you press the pedal. And you will get the lag in both directions, i.e. you let off the gas, and the turbine will take considerable time to realize the fact and spin down!

      But small portable gas turbines are not likely to be more efficient than diesels. Case in point, small boats and ships still use diesels, not gas turbines. If gas turbines were efficient th

    • by TFoo (678732) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:08PM (#46050353)

      Turbines really don't do well with stops and starts, particularly when hot. If you could setup a system where the turbine ran continuously for a longish period and then shut down for a full cool down cycle: then yes, I think it might be a good match...but in general that load pattern doesn't match very well with automobile transportation. Perhaps batteries really are large enough now to make that work.

      My experience with turbines has been that startup is always a risky operation and that every start has a small but real chance of causing catastrophic failure. Its hard for me to imagine they'll ever be robust enough for mass market use in something like an automobile....but who knows, technology is always getting better.

  • by swb (14022) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:14PM (#46049569)

    From what I've seen, the Tesla uses a LOT of electric power to charge. If you drive it during the day you won't be charging it at your home solar installation.

    If I need to recoup 60 miles of range per night, I need 20kWh of power at night. Assuming perfect storage efficiency, I need something like 135 square meters of solar just to keep a minimal driving distance on my car. None of this says anything about my actual power consumption in my home, which might double my total solar area or larger once you factor in inefficiencies. At this point, I've already tripled the square footage of my actual roof space and am starting to approach something like half of my entire lot size.

    I also live in Minnesota, so I could probably increase all this by a third to account for the lack of sunlight in the winter.

    I think it will take a factor of 10 improvement in batteries and solar panel efficiencies to make any of this possible.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:02PM (#46050251) Journal
    Flywheels suspended in magnetic bearings spinning in vacuum have great duty cycle, fast charge/discharge times and very good efficiency. They interface beautifully with a motor/generator for charging and discharging. No chemicals or strange materials. Their main disadvantage is the angular momentum makes putting it in a car a little difficult. They can pack batteries in twin-packs with opposite spin to cancel the angular momentum. But greater danger is accidents. The containment is very poor. The heavy flywheel spinning at some 400,000 rpm delicately balanced in magnetic bearings would literally, yes literally not figuratively, explode in an accident. But for home use, you can bury it underground below some six inches of concrete. This can act as a super large capacitor to store the solar energy of night use and for cloudy days. UT Austin demonstrated a 50 Kwh storage unit.
  • by confused one (671304) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @06:35PM (#46051941)
    Industry uses enormous amounts of electricity. You're not going to have your fancy electric cars and solar panels without the factories to process the ore, manufacture the chemicals, fabricate the raw component parts and assemble the product. United States electrical energy usage for aluminum production alone is 45,700 GWh per annum (U.S. Energy Requirements for Aluminum Production, U.S. DOE, 2007). There will continue to be demand for an electric utility.

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