But not when it rains

The current solar powered cars chasing from Austin up to Calgary cannot realistically be expected to become household vehicles anytime soon – given the relative proportions of usable space to the overall size of the vehicles among other reasons. Those reasons include a sensitivity to clouds since at least one of the solar powered cars in the lead ran out of power today due to storms on the race path, and was, in consequence, passed by four others (MIT may now be in the lead, being apparently the first car into Topeka).

Electric cars will certainly, however, play some greater part in our collective future. The Advocate reports that after a month he is getting about 50 mph on average with his hybrid and is very pleased with it. And (courtesy of Peak Oil) there is an interview in Resource Investor with Dr Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. There were also comments from the Institute in the LA Times earlier this week. In that story, which discusses the growing activity of the Chinese in assuring their future oil supply, there are these comments and a Chinese response.

China's aggressive search is putting it in growing competition with the United States, the world's largest oil consumer. Some observers even warn of a possible showdown between the two economic giants.

"The Bush administration's attitude toward China at the moment is to look for ways to work with them, but I don't know how sustainable this policy is going to be," said Gal Luft, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a conservative think tank. "At the end of the day, you've got two very large consumers competing over the same sandbox. Sooner or later the Chinese are going to run out of places they can look for oil."

China says wealthy countries need to adapt. It notes that those countries have been the largest energy users for a century despite accounting for just 15% of world population. It also insists that its appetite for foreign oil does not challenge U.S. interests or global stability.
I was attracted to the Resource Investor article by the title "How Existing Energy Technologies Can Offset Peak Oil" and thus was curious to see what they proposed. The Institute has formed the Set America Free Coalition to cut dependence on foreign oil. This is a reputable objective and it is instructive to have a quick look at how they plan to get there. The steps include:
Fuel diversification which should utilize additional fuels that are "domestically produced, where possible from waste products, and that are clean and affordable."

The range of these is, however, restricted to :
Real world solutions that shoul implement technologies that exist today and are ready for widespread use." (This as opposed to expending resources on immature technologies and research).

And that means
Using existing infrastructure which requires technologies that do not require prohibitive or, if possible, even significant investment in changing our transportation sector's infrastructure. Instead, "fuel choice" should permit the maximum possible use of the existing refuelling and automotive infrastructure."

When this is put together it means that we must focus on
Domestic resource utilization (which) means tapping "energy sources from which transportation fuel can be safely, affordably and cleanly generated. Among them (in the U.S.): hundreds of years worth of coal reserves, 25% of the world's total (especially promising with Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle technologies); billions of tons a year of biomass, and further billions of tons of agricultural and municipal waste. Vehicles that meet consumer needs (e.g., "plug-in" hybrids), can also tap America's electrical grid to supply energy for transportation."
In other words (and this comes out in the interview) the solution proposed is quite heavily focused towards electric cars of different varieties. This will potentially require a significant growth in our ability to generate electricity, and is a more indirect method for producing transportation fuel than the suggestions of the experts from 30 years ago, to whom I referred yesterday and who anticipated that, by this time, we would be getting significant quantities of synthetic oil and gas from coal.

There have been a number of suggestions as to how we can extract fuel from current waste, including bio-waste, but one would wonder as to how these fit in with their desire to use existing technologies and infrastructure. Somehow I get the feeling that they have particular processes and ideas to push, but that they have set too many bounds to the answer. And I begin to doubt that their solutions will have much impact in the near term (say this decade) when we are going to be in need of that immediate answer.

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When it comes to electric transport, size of batteries is an issue. Small commuter cars can easily devote a small percentage of their weight to batteries, but commercial trucks and longer range cars become inefficient. In addition, the electric grid is in no condition to deal with the increased volume. The Center for Energy, Environment and Transportation Innovation at Texas A&M is doing research into combining the grid with the highway system so vehicles could get their juice from main roads and rely on batteries or hybrid engines to travel on surface streets. I did a writeup for the Oilpatch Democrats here: http://oilpatchdemocrats.blogspot.com/2005/07/electric-avenue.html or click the homepage link.

You really can change your life style and get by. Right now, in areas of high insolation here is something you can do. You can put enough solar panels on your garage to charge an electric vehicle. It requires a battery bank that stores the power over the course of the day and transfers it to the vehicle overnight. If you live close enough to work and your shopping that would be sufficient for 90% of your transportation needs. You could have a second internal combustion car for the occasional long trip. As battery technology, solar cell efficiency and electric vehicles improve this will become very practical where the resource exists. It is possible today. You can do it on a smaller scale with an electric scooter. Electric transportation is where it is at. Couple it with distributed power generation.

The rap against, electric vehicles is usually limited range. But if you examine that, the real underlying problem is in how we have developed our communities. Sprawl. And even with that problem, I believe that studies show that most driving is composed of daily trips that are well under the current range of electric vehicles.

Electric will be the last cheap power source, but even before the oil peak, we continuously hit new highs for electric usage.

We hit an all-time record for electric usage in NYC yesterday: http://peakoilnyc.blogspot.com/2005/07/record-electric-usage-for-con-edi...

I haven't done a side-by-side comparison, but if you take away the coal recommendations this doesn't appear very different from what Lovins et al recommend in Winning the Oil Endgame.

The use of coal, foreign policy, transportation policy, and land use controls may turn out to be among the major left-right fault lines on energy policy in a post-peak world.

I own an electric - DC power, 125 mile range, uses 20 12V batteries. It isn't a Dodge Viper, but it burns no gas at all, takes 12 hours to charge from zero, and nothing fancier than your typical big 12V commercial battery charger to run it.

This is enough for most commutes, provided you get to charge at work. My parking garage owner hits me with $25/month charging fee in the garage. It (100% electric) will not work for salesmen, delivery guys, etc. They will have to go with hybrids, which just aren't ready for anything but commuters right now.

Chevron makes NimH batteries, but they only sell to commercial operations, and their batteries are in really wierd shapes and require special charger and controllers. This has prevented me from switching to these more efficient batteries, and they will not even return my email inquiries anyway.

But my personal experience is that the technology is already here to let us change, although it will require you to change driving habits. Local runs to nearby shops should be done with golf-cart type vehicles, but most cities will not allow them on the road or even the shoulder. Bicycles have more road freedom than golf-carts.

I don't think anything will be done until gas hits a pain barrier, like around $3.5/$4 a galloon. Then people will start making changes in earnest, as gas eats into their food money, since the rest is pissed away on debt service in most homes. Republicans will not do anything at the national level, Democrats might. It depends on how the dem constituency drives them. If corporate lobbyists drive the Dem agenda, then expect only token movement in the green direction.

People will sort this out if the economy continues to contract, because it will give them the time to do so. If there is another engineered investment bubble to suck their money away, they may not be able to do anything except hunker down and try to eat and pay bills. The sooner the economy is allowed to begin the massive correction that everybody knows is long overue, the better for everyone.

Once this "recession" becomes accepted, and people begin to value thrift again, then the atmosphere will be ripe for changes.

Good points Spooky and SW. We are going to have to rebuild our cities and restructure our economy, but cars will not go away.