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Power Transportation

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

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

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

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

    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 @03:13PM (#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?

  • Re:Uh? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Stargoat ( 658863 ) <> on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:21PM (#46048791) Journal


  • Re:Uh? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:47PM (#46049185)

    They are leaning towards taxing mileage driven.

    Because the tax is used to repair the road system in the U.S.

    Seems reasonable to me.

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

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:52PM (#46049253) Journal

    Have you done any calculations on this? It seems wrong. Especially since my boss gets 90% of the energy his house needs with present-day solar panels on just a fraction of the roof.

    Wikipedia says solar energy at the earth's surface is 3.5~7KWh/m^2 per day. An average American house uses just over 30KWh per day. Average house roof is 160m^2

    Energy needed to drive 40 miles (average American daily driving) = 8kwh (using Chevy Volt)

    So let's say your sci-fi roof has 90% efficient solar panels and you live in an area with low sunlight. (3.5*160)*0.9=622.22KWh per day. So unless your house is also an aluminum smelting plant you're very, very wrong.

  • Re:cartechboy (Score:5, Informative)

    by WRSaunders ( 910173 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:31PM (#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.
  • Re: Uh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:52PM (#46050127)

    The Tesla model S has a base battery capacity of 60kWh for a 208 mile range, or 3.46 miles/kWh Each square yard of well positioned budget solar panel generates around 200 Wh/day, weather permitting. A 1000 square foot flat-roof house could support up to 111 solar panels for 22kWh per day - enough to travel about 77 miles. That looks entirely workable for a lot of situations to me, I know a lot of people that don't drive even a quarter of of that on a daily basis.

    In less optimal situations where your panels can't keep up with your driving and home habits, you could still be reducing your power bill. In fact that might be an even better situation - Solar in the US will typically pay for itself in 5 years regardless of system size, unless you have really cheap electricity or a poor climate for it. Excess power generation though typically goes to waste - your batteries can't store it and you usually don't get a rebate on grid tied systems, and that means the system takes longer to pay for itself.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @05:02PM (#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 TFoo ( 678732 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @05:08PM (#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.

  • Meta-evidence (Score:5, Informative)

    by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @05:46PM (#46050817)

    "In 2012, National Science Board member James Lawrence Powell investigated peer-reviewed literature published about climate change and found that out of 13,950 articles, 13,926 supported the reality of global warming. Despite a lot of sound and fury from the denial machine, deniers have not really been able to come up with a coherent argument against a consensus." []

  • Re: Uh? (Score:4, Informative)

    by tokiko ( 560961 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @07:05PM (#46051671)

    In my 1000 square foot house I spend $1000 a year on electricity. How exactly would I pay for $15K - $20K worth of solar cells in 5 years?

    At that price, you would be looking at a 15-20 kW system. You would also have a hard time fitting that many solar panels on a 1000 square foot house, unless you redesigned the roof specifically for solar. A more realistic estimate for your house would be $5-6k for a 5 kW system.

    I guess I could go all electric, which would cost me another $5 in appliances.

    A new 40 gallon electric water heater goes for $240 and a new freestanding electric range goes for $350 at Lowes. A new electric heat pump (Air Conditioner/Heater) would be a bit more, but still well under $5k (I'm assuming you meant five thousand with your $5 number)

    I might break even in 15 years, about the time I would need to replace the solar cells.

    Modern panels decrease their output by less than one half of one percent per year, often with a warranty backing up their claims. For example, the SunPower X-Series solar panel warranty guaranties a less than 0.4% decline per year for 25 years. So at 15 years, you are looking at panels that are still producing at least 94% of their original capacity - hardly needing replacement.

    By then they should be cheeper and more efficient. So yea by about 2030 solar would probably take care of my needs.

    Solar panels will continue to get cheaper (a few cents per watt) as production scales up. They will also get a bit more efficient (a few percent) as manufacturing processes improve. However, don't plan on any disruptive technology advancements to occur in the next 15 years that fundamentally change how home solar installations work.

Recent investments will yield a slight profit.