Can hybrids make a difference in the near future?

I originally wrote this article for The Hybrid Debate.

The Hybrid Debate encourages people to consider how their choice of car affects the world we live in and imagine how mass acceptance of hybrid technology could influence other aspects of our lives.

The aim is to encourage informed analysis and public debate amongst advocates and sceptics of the new technology.

Writers and experts in areas ranging from urban planning to the economy have been asked to kick start the debate by imagining a hybrid future and the implications in their area of expertise.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The future may be bright for hybrids, but it would have to be a very distant future, judging by the evolution of the car to date, and by the deeply ingrained tendencies of British drivers.

Over the past decade there has been little improvement in the efficiency of the UK car fleet. In 1995, our average car could manage 32 miles per UK gallon (mpg) and by 2005 it could manage just 33mpg [1]. This tiny increase was due entirely to the increased proportion of diesel cars in the fleet. Meanwhile, the growth in size of the fleet (and the corresponding growth in total mileage) actually led to a slight increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over the same period.

There have, of course, been improvements in car technology. The engines themselves are more efficient, developing more power from less fuel, and the bodywork is more aerodynamic. However, these improvements have been largely compensated for – some might say squandered – by the increased weight of today’s cars.

So, can hybrid technology really deliver increased fleet efficiency where the natural evolution of traditional cars has failed to deliver?

First of all, it’s important to remember the hybrid is not a new species so much as an evolutionary step. It looks the same, drives the same and uses the same fuel as a traditional car. The addition of batteries and an electric motor simply allows the internal combustion engine to be a little smaller and to be used more efficiently.

As a rule of thumb, today’s hybrid technology can increase the efficiency of a petrol car by around 50%. Coincidentally, this is approximately the same as the difference in efficiency between equivalent petrol and diesel cars. So, whatever today’s petrol-hybrid technology could do for the UK fleet’s CO2 emissions, the same could be achieved by increasing the number of diesels on the road. Only the diesel-hybrid, which has yet to be released, looks likely to raise the bar significantly.

Let’s consider some numbers for a moment. According to the Department for Transport there are 27.8 million cars licensed on UK roads today with 2.2 million new cars licensed each year [2]. This means just under 8% of the fleet is replaced each year. Hybrid registrations, meanwhile, totalled just 9,000 in 2006 – just under half of one per cent of new registrations overall [2].

If hybrid technology (applicable to petrol and diesel) became dramatically more available and popular, would it really make much difference to the overall emissions of the fleet?

Let’s assume a quarter of the UK’s new cars were fitted with hybrid technology. This would be over half a million new hybrids per year, more than twice the current combined UK sales of Toyota and Honda (the only two car companies offering hybrids in the UK) [3]. Let’s further assume these hybrids were 50% more efficient than today’s fleet average. By multiplying the numbers together we only get a 0.7% fleet-wide improvement in efficiency.

Hybrids are a very long way from the 25% take-up assumed in this quick calculation but perhaps the most sobering statistic is that over the last fourteen years, traffic, as measured in vehicle-miles travelled, has been increasing at a rate of 1.2% [4]. Just as increasing car weight squandered the last decade’s engine efficiency improvements, increasing traffic is likely to squander any real efficiency improvements that hybrid technology can deliver.

While hybrids may be able to reduce the rate of increasing emissions, it seems the only way to achieve significant reductions is to drive less.


[1] Department for Transport, Energy and the Environment

[2] Department for Transport, Vehicle licensing statistics: 2006

[3] Total UK Car Sales 2003-2006

[4] Department for Transport, Traffic in Great Britain

I feel its a simplistic argument to assume that all will remain the same (renewal of the fleet and current driving behavior) and one will change (number of hybrids purchased). If hybrid growth accelerates then you will see other manufacturers offer hybrids obscenely quickly and as fuel price increases driving behavior will change, also consider the major hurdle for hybrids, cost, will quickly become irrelevant. So predictions based on simple models are fault prone.

Neven MacEwan B.E. E&E

Did you try to calculate the resulting savings with another set of assumptions? It would give your argument a little bit more credibility.

Even doubling the fleet replacement rate and doubling the share of hybrids does very little. Those figures are already quite optimistic.

After doubling, it is perhaps possible to negate all of the effects of normal traffic growth, so absolute car fleet fuel consumption would indeed decrease slightly per annum.

However, one must factor in various real life issue:

- lorries, trucks and other non-personnel fleet (availability of hybrids, annual replacement rate)
- availability of hybrid car capacity
- subsequent increase in electricity power generation (via coal probably) for PHEVs

As such - it is painfully obvious that significant annual motor fuel savings are probably not easy to implement through mere hybrid fleet replacement in a short period of time (<20 years)*.

Of course, this is not to say PHEV/Hybrids can't be part of the answer, but nobody should delude themselves into thinking that it is _the_ answer.

* doubling hybrid share and fleet replacement would still give a fuel consumption halving time of c. 44 years with current yearly vehicle mile growth.

For those not familiar with these funny local units, 32 miles per Imperial gallon is about 11.3km/L (8.8 L/100km); in US funny local units: 26.6 US liquid gallons/mile.

As fuel prices increase, I think hybrids will do OK in the US where diesel cars are largely off the radar screen. In Europe I think hybrids will continue to be largely ignored as Diesel appears to be a far more robust technology.

So, just by using imperial gallons, we in the USA could improve mileage figures by 20%. Couple that with a switch to celsius scale and we'll lick global warming too. :-)

I think the US will continue to lick the boot of the combined auto-oil monopoly as they continue to claim that "we are not ready for a small efficient diesel" while scores of empowered left wing do-good ignoramusses will continue to wring their hands in horror at the thought of all that black smoke, thus further sealing the doom of small diesel and diesel hybrid in America.

Accordingly, Americans...convinced that there is no other choices except gasoline and very large diesel trucks, will continue to toss chair after chair into the fireplace and party like it's 1999, while sniffing haughtily at "those cheese eating Euros and their funny, smelly cars".

Everything's going according to plan.
Now if the state and local governments would just get busy and round up all thos dirtbags who are building their own
small diesels and running them on homemade bio, and fine them into oblivion, we could easily envision a Pol Pot style future where ANY thought of leaving the gasoline gold standard whatsoever means a trip to the killing fields.

Yes. Whatever we do, save the automobile. No, no. You go on. I'll stay and save our beloved automobile to live on and pollute, to strangle the planet.

Our mission to cover the entire planet in concrete and macadam must not be stopped!!!

The last thing we need is to use our last remaining drops of cheap energy to help us get out of the technology dead-end. NO!! Those drops must go into the autos. God help us if we were to have to use our own paltry limbs to heave our fat asses around the block.

Yes, we can just keep making autos and that will save us. More autos = more saving.

Follow me carefully and check my logic: All we have to do is build more automobiles and we will cure pollution, we will cut population, we will beautify the planet. Hell, if we keep building automobiles, the truth is God will create more fossil fuel for us!!! God will create more land!!! The invisible sky-being of your choice will repopulate the oceans with large fish!!! He/She will drape His/Her hair between us and the sun and stop global warming!!!!!

We will be awash in fresh water!!! Hunger will disappear!!! Population growth will spontaneously slow, decrease and reach sustainable levels all without war, famine, or disease!!!!!

Yes!! We should start an immense "Manhattan" style project to make at least two cars per person on the planet. That is obviously the solution!!!!

Yes!!! Once we are all, each and every one of us, sitting in our vehicles waving sheepishly at each other, then we will have reached the pinnacle of our evolution.

All hail the human Dodo.

If you want to get someone's attention.. whisper.

You have some good points to share, but you render them inaudible with this mass of exclamation marks and repetition.



Clerk at Bloodbath and Beyond:
"I'm sorry Mr. Simpson, but there's a 3-day waiting period to purchase a handgun."

"But I'm angry NOW!.."

Perhaps a jug of locally produced sarconal would create a softer haze. It works for me. Gave up my brandy habit and now that's my substance of choice. :)

The mass market hybrids we have from Honda and Toyota are based on spark ignition engines, as the main market in the US has historically been hostile to diesels. Mating the hybrid technology to a small diesel would maximise the fuel saving, and Peugeot Citroen have shown prototypes.

I cannot see any of this making much of a difference - behavioural changes are the only thing which will radically cut fuel use, in my opinion.

One of the earliest posts I wrote on TOD U.S. some year and a half ago was called "confluence", and discussed the hybrid and the direction that hybrid technology was going. I have repeated it all or in part multiple times on U.S. TOD as the technology moved in exactly the direction I discussed, and at an every increasing rate of acceleration.

I will not waste my time repeating that post and once again casting pearls before swine, but simply outline the principle points that I made then:

-The "hybrid" as we see it being sold and put on the road today was NEVER seen as the final solution to the energy/carbon problem in transportation. It was an intermediate step, and the only way to get batteries, controllers, and electric motors into highway use to develop them for the step to come.

-Diesel automobiles are a good alternative (I own two of them myself) in creating higher efficiency, but it leads to nowhere as far as improved technology goes. It will always be a strictly fossil fuel option. Bio fuel is already being seen as a catastrophic dead end, in that we now have prime farmland being used to produce fuel, if not inhumane, at least very risky given the food needs of the world, and the risk of massive deforestation in attempt to grow fuel crops, creating irreversible damage to the world.

-The hybrid car option leads directly to the "grid based" option. A hybrid car needs only better batteries and plug capability to become a grid based transportation device, thus bringing huge gains in efficiency, and bringing, for the first time, all the energy producing technologies into direct competition with oil. Thus, solar, wind, nuclear, natural gas, coal, propane even recaptured methane can be all be used in the transportation mix. This is a revolution that would have been completely impossible without the intermediate step of the current hybrid drive cars.

-The Japanese seem to have understood this revolution from a much earlier time than the U.S. or the Europeans, who still seem to be completely unable to grasp the nature of this revolution. The Japanese auto industry simply placed themselves in the lead, even though the hybrid in it's current generation was not a huge leap forward, but the only bridge to the real leap forward, and now time is on their side.

The one great American exception has ben Felix Kramer and the Calcars group , which will go into the history books as one of the great pioneers in transportation history.

-The coming grid based transportation system is a huge threat to the status quo. Thus, it has suffered under a level of slander and attack almost unheard of in modern industry. However, the attacks are losing their sting, as more and more people are beginning to grasp the real nature of the coming huge change in transportation energy use, and the great possibilities it brings.

-The one group that shows signs of grasping what is about to happen are the energy producers, both the national oil companies, such as Aramco, and the private ones, such as ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron among others. These companies are becoming more and more frightened of spending billions on oil exploration and production development, all to supply a massive increase in demand that may not be there in 5 to 10 years. The risk to the oil industry is great, and growing.

Lastly, again: It is astounding that intelligent people and organizations simply cannot grasp the possible magnitute of what is about to occur. There are hedge funds, mutual funds, companies and individual investors who are tying billions of dollars to the believe that oil demand will only grow, and oil prices will only rise. I beg them to use caution. The financial collapse if this does not occur could be massive.

In America, and I assume this is true in Europe, almost all oil consumed (with some small statistical exception) is used in transportation. A revolution in transport energy means a revolution in the energy industry, and in energy finance. It will change the whole economy to it's core.

Thank you, Roger Conner Jr.

Roger, I agree that today's hybrid isn't the final solution. I see it as the stepping stone, the R&D platform that is facilitating the development of the electric drive train. That has to be the final solution as it increases efficiency significantly and decouples the car from oil by enabling any primary energy source to be used via electricity.

Most electric power is generated from burning coal, natural gas, and oil. Their is gigantic inefficiency in converting these precious fossil fuels to electricity and then more energy lost in power transmission lines. Thus, electric cars are not efficient and 1/2 the energy comes from dirty coal burning -- CO2, mercury, sulfur, and carbon particulates.

Electric motors are so much more efficient than internal combustion engines that they are cleaner overall -- even when accounting for dirty coal plants and transmission losses. See the report Environmental Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Electric Power Research Institute.

From the ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT report (page 2): "The 'well-to-wheels' analysis accounted for emissions from the generation of electricity to charge PHEV batteries and from the production, distribution and consumption of gasoline and diesel motor fuels." This means that the greenhouse gas emissions from coal mining, processing, and transportation are not counted for EVs. The same is true for electric power generated from natural gas and oil (the emissions for drilling, production, and distribution are not counted). This compromises the study and the credibility of the NRDC. The EPRI is a biased source. This casts doubt on the entire study. More important than green house gases are sulfur dioxide (acid rain), mercury (ocean/fish contamiation), and particulate contaminants from coal burning (1/2 of electric power generation. And, this analysis excludes the ecological damage from coal mining (land, forests, habitats, rivers, farmlands).

Most electric power is generated from burning coal, natural gas, and oil. Their is gigantic inefficiency in converting these precious fossil fuels to electricity and then more energy lost in power transmission lines. Thus, electric cars are not efficient

You're simply wrong.

The key is that while generating electricity from fossil fuels is inefficient, running a car on fossil fuels is so much more inefficient that electric cars come out far ahead even under the worst of assumptions.

Comparing a 1999 Ford Ranger to an electric version, the latter is more energy efficient and less polluting by a factor of two, even assuming 100% of its electricity comes from coal. Take any electric vehicle and a similar regular vehicle, do the math, and you'll come to the same conclusion.

20% of electric power is lost in transmission and 25% is lost in the chemical reaction in the battery. In addition, coal (source for 1/2 of the electric power generation) consumes much diesel in mining, transportation, and processing. Because we are concerned about energy consumption, these must be considered when comparing efficiencies.


I remember that comment and agree on all counts except your belief that the multinational oil companies grasp whats happening and thats why they are not conducting the necessary exploration. I think that they cant access most promissing areas of the world because once a country gets oil production through them the country has its internal politics subject to being controlled by the US military. Look at all the assinations and coups conducted against nations who try to change out of that system. Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales are the two national leaders most at risk for trying to break away, and our feud with Iran is a relic of the troubles of the Iranians trying to break away, and also the war in Iraq. So, its much better for any less developed country to just not lease to the multinationals than risk that. Better poverty than slavery.

The multinationals can't make money on smaller fields because of their exhorbitant overhead. Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell et al have just about drilled up the shallow prospects in the 12% of the world where they can operate, so they are doing stock buy-backs rather than just accumulating cash.

I doubt the multinationals will be in E & P much longer except by participating in with smaller companies. If the smaller company finds a super giant they will then buy the company. So if you want to invest in that type of exploration buy stock in companies like Anadarko or Devon that are still exploring.

At any rate, it looks the same as if they were threatened by hybrids and the changeover to electric cars. I don't think its anything but coincidental timing. On stuff where the multinationals do feel threatened like global warming they are a lot more heavy handed Bob Ebersole

I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis. Take any fuel and it will turn the wheels of an auto or train with greater efficiency and less pollution when burned in a modern power plant to power an electric vehicle (EV). This is true for gasoline, diesel, switchgrass, etc.

The question is not, Will we move to the grid?, but how fast. Even if we were shipping only electric vehicles today, it would take 10-15 years to replace the existing fleet -- too little, too late. This does not mean that we should not proceed ahead with all haste too implement EV's and to move the power sources of the grid over to renewables. It does mean that we need a bridge source of power for our existing fleet.

Natural gas, which is predicted to peak about 15 years after oil (see is the ideal bridge fuel. It generates less than 2/3 the CO2 per BTU of gasoline or diesel and costs about 1/3. If we are to use natural gas as a bridge transportation fuel, then we should conserve it by discouraging its use for power generation. Interestingly, Cummins Diesel already offers an LNG conversion kit for diesel engines which includes a cryogenic tank. CNG conversion kits are also available. When the first oil shortages hit, this may be the first lever we pull to keep our fleet on the road.

Grid based hybrid cars? With the primary energy coming from where? Coal fired power plants? Nuclear?

Our first job is to REPLACE all existing coal fired power plants with renewable energies or to equip them with geo-sequestration of CO2. 1 GW coal plant will require the CONTINUOUS sequestration of 150 kb/d liquid CO2 into safe sediment rocks. The reader might want to calculate what liquid processing capacity would be needed in his/her State and compare that to the capacity of the existing oil industry.

By 2013, the Arctic sea ice will be gone in summer.

Causes of Changes in Arctic Sea Ice; by Wieslaw Maslowski (Naval Postgraduate School)

Then one of the world's airconditioners will be gone and the warming Arctic ocean will endanger the Greenland ice sheet with 5 m sea level rise in there. During meltwater pulse 1A sea levels rose 1 m every 20 years.

That event will smash all your grid connected hybrid and/or electric car dreams.

Yes, we have to electrify our land transport system but because of the coming clean energy crisis and the slow build up of renewable energy capacity there will only be enough power to run electric rail, not electric cars.

And those in the low density suburbs, they have to bike or walk to the nearest station.

With oil production 30% less by 2020 and 50% less by 2030 as predicted in this study:

EWG Outlook 2007

we'll be lucky if mass production of cars can survive the year 2020.

hanks for posting links to the blog Hybrid debate! Its very interesting.

The whole world has an energy security problem. A speedboat full of plasic explosive run in to a tanker in the Straight of Hormuz would possibly shut down 30%-40% of the oil available as imports to the world . All governments would be forced to ration and prices would be insane. In a rationing system any vehicle that gets 50% additional mileage for the same amount of fuel would be invaluable for anyone who has to have petrol for their work Bob Ebersole

Plugin hybrids and pure EVs will make much more of a difference than existing hybrids.

Very true.

If just 10% of U.S. drivers use hybrid plugins or EVs the power grid for North America will fail. I would guess the same applies to Europe. Phillip Schewe, author of “The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World,” writes that the nation’s power infrastructure is “the most complex machine ever made.” In “Lights Out: The Electricity Crisis, the Global Economy, and What It Means To You,” author Jason Makansi emphasizes that “very few people on this planet truly appreciate how difficult it is to control the flow of electricity.” A 2007 report of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) concluded that peak power demand in the U.S. would increase 18% over the next decade and that new power supply sources would not meet that demand. NERC also noted concerns with natural gas disruptions and supplies, insufficient capacity for peak power demand during hot summers (due to air conditioning), incapacity in the transmission infrastructure, and a 40% loss of engineers and supervisors in 2009 due to retirements. According to Railton Frith and Paul H. Gilbert, power failures have the potential of paralyzing the nation for weeks or months. If power failures occur in winter, millions of people in the U.S. and Canada could die of exposure. When the grid fails, virtually everything fails: heating systems, transportation of food (electricity pumps gasoline and diesel), communications, and hospitals (after emergency diesel runs out), etc. Sources:

There is no question that a lot needs to be done to ensure the long term reliability of the electric grid. But where's the evidence that "If just 10% of U.S. drivers use hybrid plugins or EVs the power grid for North America will fail"?

As NERC pointed out in their latest Winter Reliability Assessment, most of North America is summer peaking. In other words, the system is scaled to power AC and refrigeration during the hottest days of summer. That leaves a lot of idle capacity the rest of the time -- enough to power 84 percent of U.S. vehicles. Smart meters can dynamically adjust cost signals so that recharging is shifted to off-peak periods.

It would not be a sudden failure. Load from plug-ins would increase gradually, allowing infrastructure to adapt, load-shedding to be scheduled, pricing plans to encourage people to charge at appropriate times, etc. Undoubtedly adaptation will be difficult, but plug-ins alone are not going to cause grid failure.

Plug in hybrids charge primarily at night, during off-peak hours. The grid has quite a bit of spare capacity at night and it will only get to be more as more wind generators are added.

The liquid fuel option keeps us from putting all eggs in one basket. On the other hand, it seems like the "grid" could be more effectively used for transportation energy. Various strategies could be employed to keep people from charging their batteries at peak hours, thus evening out load on the grid.

"If just 10% of U.S. drivers use hybrid plugins or EVs the power grid for North America will fail."

That's false, and when charged overnight, plug-in hybrids replacing 75% of the current light-vehicle fleet could be charged without adding any new power plants.
M. Kinter-Meyer,, Impact Assessment of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles on Electric Utiliies and US Regional Power Grids,

At peak times, the shaky grid is on the brink of failure; there are no improvements in sight; and the future for the grid looks worse, as indicated by NERC (see my post above). EVs and plug-in hybrids have short ranges and they will be charging at all times of the day. There is no way to control this. Charging more per KWH for daytime charging won't work either, it's hard to control the behavior of individuals. Because the grid is now at the brink of failure, and getting worse everyday, it won't take much to make it fail. I'll stick with my 10% estimate. Before you get those EVs and plugins on the road, you might get the grid fixed. The consequences of not doing so could mean the deaths of millions of people (see my discussion of grid failure consequences above). You can't rely on the government to fix the grid, that is left to the marketplace. The testimony of Paul Gilbert (at the website below) is compelling, especially when one thinks about winter in the U.S. and Canada.

I agree with you, with one exception. A PHEV in the hands of the average commuter will be discharged most of the time, and running on engine as an HEV.

Most people have no idea of the condition of the US electric grid. Other areas have different issues, but I do not see too many places that can stand the addition of that much load. Especially if the loads are not in fixed locations.

"Charging more per KWH for daytime charging won't work either, it's hard to control the behavior of individuals."

No true. Illinois now has real-time pricing and customers are responding. If you had to pay 30 cents per kWh at peak versus 3 cents overnight, you'd think twice about when you charged your car.

Where is real-time pricing on the web? Start with

I'm not arguing that the grid isn't in trouble. My key point, let me say again, my key point, is that electicity is a fundamental carrier of energy. And when oil, gas, and coal disappear, we will still need to get energy (from wind and solar and other) from one point to another, and put it to work for the things we do now with FFs.

There will never be enough biofuel even for 10% of the vehicles without large effects on the food supply. Electricity from renewables is, is, the long-term solution. Getting there from here will be painful, we'll squander lives along the way, but that's where we're going.

Hi John, when oil disappears the other energies will also disappear. See pages 30 to 40 of:

Hi Cliff - As much has been written about what the post-peak oil future will look like, I'll pass on your rather broad statement.

I did look through your paper. Its a nice summary but should be put through some self critique process, I suggest. Is there new insight, data, or conclusion you find that is not contained in the many articles, posts, and books now available on PO? Or is this a summary of the status of current thinking on PO and it's implications?

One bone to pick: You cite on pg 16 (Word format) an UCS report from 2003 that you claim

The Union of Concerned Scientists (an organization of scientists and citizens who promote renewable energy sources and conservation) concluded in “Renewing Where We Live” (2003) that with a maximum effort, the U.S. could “achieve 20% of electric supply from renewables” (including hydroelectric power).

First, the 2003 report is no longer available so one must look to later reports by UCS. Second, USC was refering to achieving 20% by 2020, not saying that more renewables can not be utilized. This is a key source to start your section on why alternatives will not be found or suffice.

OTOH, A 2007 report by ACORE (American Council On Renewable Energy), concludes 50% of current US electricity can be obtained from renewables by 2025 if the right policies can be put in place. Again that's not a limit but a scenaro.

Acore also suggests 40% of tranportation fuel can be replaced with renewable fuels by 2025. Here is where I argue we should not do that but rather electrify transportation.

From a CNN article when the report was published:

"We still have elected officials who believe renewable energy cannot power this country, and I think that is incorrect," ACORE president Michael Eckhart said on a conference call. "We can deliver huge amounts of energy in an environmentally sustainable way."

ACORE's projections differ sharply with those of the U.S. government and most major oil companies, who say renewables will continue to account for between 5 to 10 percent of the country's energy use by 2030.

Now why would the oil companies say renewables could only be 5-10%? So right at this moment in the US the most productive thing one could do is focus on the current energy bill that the Congress wants to pass this year.

ACORE is a biased source and CNN is a news organization. The Union of Concerned Scientists is an MIT group of scientists who favor solar energy development, but deal with the realities of siting and funding the enormous infrastructure and capital costs for solar energy development. Read their report
and you will see the challenges solar energy faces.

The development of solar energy faces insurmountable obstacles: Oil, natural gas, and coal are used for mining bauxite (for aluminum), iron ore, and silicon, and for rail transport, 18 wheelers, gigantic mining/earth movers, transportation of everything, including for workers for the 1000 steps that go into the design, manufacture, distribution, installation of solar panels, and maintenance for panels and power lines...and for manufacturing and transporting all of the above. The EIOR for solar must include all of this. Chris Shaw
is right, oil gives solar the illusion of providing much energy. According to reliable studies, wind, solar, ocean, geothermal, hydro, nuclear, shale oil, oil sands, and coal GTL are limited/peaked, see pages 16 to 40
where these studies are reviewed. In The Wall Street Journal 5 November 2007: "The cost of solar-powered cells has been pushed up in the past few years by a tight supply of silicon, the main raw material in such cells." Why? The price of oil: from $25 in2003 to $100 in 2007; coal: 2X in 4 years; uranium: 7X in 4 years. These increases are minuscule compared to the years ahead. The solar energy economy would take many trillions of Euros and decades to construct and require an enormous expenditure of oil, natural gas, and coal. Do we want to do that now?. As we all know, Peak Oil is here, so too are Peak Natural Gas and Peak Coal. We are out of time.

My report is up-to-date and has been read carefully by some 20 peak oilers. Some readers are concerned with UCS's assessment of solar energy development. There is a big difference between what is technically feasible and what is possible in reality.

"Union of Concerned Scientists is an MIT group of scientists"

I'm a member, cj.

Since an EV is so much cheaper to run (at today's electricity prices) than an ICEV, even 30 cents per KWH would be no deterrent to the soccer mom who "needs" to recharge the thing since Johnny "needs" to be saved from the unthinkable (riding the school bus).

There'll be a special place in Hell for those moms who make that "trip" in a SUV, let alone a car when it can be walked. ;-)

"even 30 cents per KWH would be no deterrent"

Well on the one hand, that's not true - people do respond. But, OTOH, if they don't, just make the price 1/kwh. Pretty easy.

First, 10% would be a HUGE percentage of PUHEVs, and the loading factors of adding all these EV's would be getting addressed before we got to even 2%, since as you state, there are parts of the grid that are already right on the verge of collapse, just with the growing annual demand for AC and Heating power, and so the security of the grid is already on many peoples' minds.

There are any number of straws that are daring to break the camel's back, and a great many of them represent redundant uses of electricity that we can be economizing on.. think of the Millions of domestic refrigerators in the northern 2/3 of the US that should barely be sipping off the grid for a third of the year as one example (and that same fridge is throwing HEAT into our home in the summer, which we use an AC to cool. So making the potential of Plugins and pure EV's sound like THE threat that would kill the grid is at best a very incomplete argument.

Finally, the grid is, as you also say, a very complex collection of several regional systems.. the vulnerability is real, but the odds that the whole thing would crash all at once is pretty unlikely. It's easy to think of it all as one big entity, but clearly that doesn't describe the reality of it.

The load factors are not being addressed, as the NERC has indicated, nor is there any indication that they will be addressed.

If just 10% of U.S. drivers use hybrid plugins or EVs the power grid for North America will fail.

You're simply wrong.

An electric car would require 3,000kWh/yr (200Wh/mile x 15,000mi/yr), so replacing 10% of cars with (20 million) EVs would require 60TWh, or just 1.5% of the 4,000TWh generated annually in the US.

Do some math before you make claims; it'll save you from being so wrong.

1.5% would overload the grid at peak. Because 20% of electric power is lost in transmission, the figure would be above 1.5%. And this is just for 10% of the vehicles.

The 200Wh/mile figure is a low. Production compact EVs will be at 220Wh/mile. Medium and large size EVs go up from there, and so too will the load on the grid.

This discussion reveals the limits of the power grid and EVs too until the grid is fixed.

This contention that the grid will fail is inaccurate. This is because the EV will be charged from and discharged into the grid under control of a computer which communicates with the power company (see In fact these systems will serve to refuce power overload failures by providing power to the grid during peak emergencies.

From the website: "Beginning in the fourth quarter of 2007, V2Green's solutions will be deployed in field trials with leading U.S. energy companies." At this point there is suppose to be one trial in the offing. This start-up company hopes to develop software to assist specific utilities in monitoring home energy use and help utilities to manage their power supply. But this does not deal with the North American grid problems. When the demand for power exceeds the ability to supply, the grid will fail. Software can't fix this.

It seems that we will not reach understanding on this issue unless we talk about specifics. First, it is mandatory that the first EV's delivered in volume contain as a minimum a timer mechanism which delays recharge until the peak power usage period has passed. It is well understood that in the middle of the night there is enough excess capacity to charge more EV's than will exist for at least ten years.

There also needs to be restrictions on plugging in EV's at work. Only those with a control connection to the utility should be allowed. If not, then everything you have warned about will come to pass within 5 to 10 years as the fleet of EV's grows.

On the other hand, allowing EV's to supply power to the grid under utility control will alleviate peak power problems. In this context, owners of EV's would be able to purchase power at the lowest night time rates and sell it back at peak rates. This would help to defray their battery costs.

Also, unless we move to EV's, we cannot break our dependence on oil for transportation and move to renewables. Failing to do so will result in a collapse of our economy and/or a world war. At that point the durability of our grid will be the last thing on our minds.

Clearly the electric grid needs to be upgraded. One suggestion that I have is to redesign the major rail routes for high speed and electrification. At the same time, drop in a bundle of superconducting power cables under the right of way. This will not only beef up the electric grid but reduce transmission losses and allow renewable power such as solar to be shared over continental distances.

If EVs and plugin hybrids can only be charged at night, they won't sell. Who would buy a car that you can't "gas up" when you need to go? With the short range of EVs, they will need to charge up at work. The grid needs investments that become more costly everyday as Peak Oil, Peak Natural Gas, and Peak Coal generate escalating infrastructure costs, and such improvements diminished short term utility company profits. Do you think the utilities will make these costly improvements? And will Congress, which is lobbied by the utilities, require such improvements.

The GM Volt (see uses batteries for the first 40 miles. After that, an on-board generator running on gasoline or diesel is used to charge the batteries rapidly enough to operate the car normally. In that mode it gets over 50 mpg and has a range of 600 miles.

The 70% of people who live less than 20 miles from work will not use any gasoline. The 20% who live more than 20 miles away but less than 40 miles from work will get at least 100 mpg. This is all without charging up at work. I don't see the problem in charging EV's like the Volt at night.

I know that many might consider this a serial hybrid, but GM insists on calling it an EV with a range extender and will advertise it as such.

My Chevy Metro 1 liter 3 cylinder engine, 5 speed manual gets 50 MPG highway, not bad on crash tests, top speed 87 MPH and uses a whole lot less energy to manufacture than hybrids. With some body modifications (lowered roof) it would get 60 MPG, and if it were diesel it would get 70 MPG. It looks like expensive and energy consuming (in manufacture) hybrids are being developed so that people can have a little more acceleration. With a low price tag, the new Metro would sell well, especially when gas hits $5.00 a gallon, which is just around the corner.

We could made a start in the UK by removing the tax anomaly that makes diesel more expensive than petrol. We are about the only country to do so.

The diesel two seat Smart Car achieves 84 miles per Imperial gallon, has zero road tax and emits 88g/km CO2. Sales of Smart Cars in the UK have nearly doubled in the last year. It is proposed to make them exempt from the London congestion charge as hybrids are now. There is a hybrid Smart car but it is a petrol hybrid and emits more CO2 than the diesel. There is also a pure battery Smart Car

If we increased the spread on road tax according to fuel efficiency and introduced more congestion charges scaled according to fuel efficiency and perhaps introduced fuel efficiency scaled parking charges we might swing the sales of new cars to more efficient cars and persuade people to scrap inefficient cars earlier.

Having said all that, I agree with you Chris that we will have to drastically reduce car travel. We can only look on in shame as France introduces metro systems to all cities over 100,000 population, all electrical and that electricity over 90% generated by nuclear or hydro power.

In the U.S., at least in the Southeastern states, Diesel is about 30 cents higher per gallon than gasoline at most places. This is caused by the demand for heating oil, which is a direct competitor, and the expense of clean "low sulphur" Diesel.

Driving a Diesel in the United States does not save you money. As I said, I drive one, I know. It is a labor of love. Fewer and fewer people are seeing Diesel as having any future growth potential in the U.S., and very, very few ever thought it would to begin with.


All good points.
I have one further point to add.

While it is true that the efficiency gain between a gasoline car and a diesel one is around 50% or approximately the same as a hybrid, the hybrid (if pluggable) has a much greater advantage:
It doesn't RELY on petroleum fuels at all.

Europeans have become smug with their dinky little diesels with great fuel efficiency and due to their exorbitant gasoline taxes have not yet felt the full brunt of rising prices at the pump.

Perhaps for this reason, Europeans are almost completely ignorant of Peak Oil while they choose to focus on the "environment".

My prediction is that once prices at the pump start to jump like in North America they will sit up and take notice.

On the other hand, Europeans can be smug in that they pretty much have a huge head start on North America as far as mass transit goes.

I've been driving a Toyota Prius for the past two years and I won't drive anything else. The Prius has taught me how to drive more efficiently and more importantly I have lost any sense of "road rage" I may have had pre-Prius.

I've been driving a Toyota Prius for the past two years and I won't drive anything else. The Prius has taught me how to drive more efficiently and more importantly I have lost any sense of "road rage" I may have had pre-Prius.

Absolutely true! I own a Prius as well, and it has completely changed my driving habits. I don't speed anymore, and I also drive less aggressively than I used to. There's nothing like having a real-time fuel consumption readout to send that point home. Instead of my wife being white knuckled on the armrest, she now accuses me of 'driving like an old man'. She turns the display off on the Prius when she's the passenger. "I don't like that. It's too distracting." I'm thinking that knowing the truth hurts, so let's ignore it.

Getting back to the main point, there are a few reasons that diesels are more popular in Europe than they are in the US.
1. The tax structure. Europe taxes gasoline at a much higher rate than they do gasoline. Diesel is more efficient and has a higher energy content than gasoline, gallon to gallon. Naturally, people will gravitate toward it.

2. Fuel. Only recently was low sulfur/Ultra-low sulfur diesel mandated in the US. The companies that build the really good diesel cars build them only for LSD/ULSD, so they couldn't be sold in the US. Now that the fuel is here, the vehicles are trickling in. Also, since there aren't many diesel cars, there aren't many diesel stations. Sometimes, you have to hunt to find the stuff. That doesn't fit in with US standards of ultra convenience. (aka laziness)

3. The cars.
We also have a bad experience with diesels. A vast majority of the diesels we have are European models from the '70s and '80s. They're sooty, smelly, loud, and slow. They get good mileage, but that doesn't make up for the shortcomings. ( I also have a pristine '83 M-B 300D) One horrible example of a US diesel was a gas V-8 that GM 'converted' for diesel use. Some changes to the fuel system and some new cylinder heads and there you go! Well, no, not quite. A good diesel engine needs to be specifically engineered from the ground up. The GM engine had lots of problems with durability and build quality. What seemed like a good idea, was just putting lipstick on a pig. These experiences leave a lasting impression. That's being overcome, but it's taking a while. I've driven some of the modern diesels that are available, and they are nothing short of fantastic. The word is getting out, albeit slowly.

The reason there aren't diesel hybrids is that the diesel engine isn't very well suited to many on-off cycles. My Prius will shut itself off at stop lights and while gliding. Diesels like to run, and are happiest operating in a specific temperature range. A Prius type approach won't work well for a diesel. The diesel is a special animal, and will need some work to make it function well. Any car company knows that the quickest way to bad times is to release an awful car. It's better to go slow and get it absolutely right. Personally, I'd think a diesel would work well in an electric drive vehicle. Don't tie the engine directly to the drive train at all. The diesel engine is there to charge the battery and that's it. On-off cycles can be better predicted, and made more gradual.
But, if an electric drive is the way it's going to be, they might as well use a small turbine to run the generator. Higher efficiency, smaller size, less weight, less moving parts.

Wikipedia has a good page on GM's EV-1 experiment which included - among other things - a gas turbine and diesel hybrid electric design that delivered 80 mpg:

But, if an electric drive is the way it's going to be, they might as well use a small turbine to run the generator. Higher efficiency, smaller size, less weight, less moving parts.

I think this is what Chevy Volt will be using. Personally I think this is the future. ICE will largely be abandoned in a decade or two.

Become a cyclist or pedestrian and it'll change your driving habits even more.

The Prius has taught me how to drive more efficiently and more importantly I have lost any sense of "road rage" I may have had pre-Prius.

None of which has anything to do with the technology. You clearly could have learned to drive a small diesel in the same way.

I remain unconvinced that a hybrid vehicle is greener than a small diesel or an efficient gasoline powered car like a Corolla or Saturn. If you look at the total lifetime cost of ownership, a Toyota Corolla is currently much cheaper than a Prius. Also, if you look at the total energy cost and environmental impact of the large batteries used in the Prius, it is very unclear that a Prius is greener than a Corolla.

Mind you, all bets are off if gasoline goes significantly over $5/gal in the US and photovoltaics get significantly cheaper. Assuming gasoline is super expensive *and* a person is getting inexpensive electrical power from photovoltaics on the roof of his house to recharge a plug-in hybrid *then* the hybrid becomes an interesting alternative. We are not there yet and maybe never will get there (probably end up riding bicycles before we get there).

The operative word being 'could'.

With the Prius and other Hybrids, it turns out that they DO. I drove one once this summer, a 4 hour trip, and it was like a fun game to keep my MPG average as high as I could.

Of course, that is the presence of the Meter on the dash, including the average fuel efficiency over the trip and the last X-miles, etc, which some other cars have had as well.

Someone here linked me to the Scan-gauge, which you can retrofit into a car for some of this feature.

It is clear, though, that the Prius, while not the MOST efficient car in the world, at least is all about being as efficient as it can be..

'The Medium IS the message.' Marshall MacLuhan


Plug-in biodiesel hybrid. No silver bullet, use silver BBs.

Does anybody have an idea how much electricity it takes to fully charge a plug in hybrid?
i ask because i think electric motors are really inefficent compared to the energy output of gasoline. An electric golf cart uses six huge car batteries to drive one hour. the same hour in a gas cart uses a couple of handfulls of gas.

if everyone had a plug in, seems that natrual gas usage would see a huge increase due to a higher load at the power plant.
I don't know anything about plug in hybrids, and so i'm trying to learn about them now.

Phillip in Austin

Why Forrest Gump's electric car really is better for the environment
Business Week Green Biz
October 29, 2007

Battery-powered vehicles charged up from today’s grid are sooooo much more efficient that, even when charged up from a coal plant, they emit less total green house gases (GHGs) than a similar vehicle burning gasoline. This is for one key reason: electric systems are dramatically more energy efficient than combustion engines, so much so that even accounting for the GHGs emitted from the the nation’s dirtiest power sources (such as pulverized coal) fewer tones of CO2 are lofted into the atmosphere to move a car electrically than to burn gasoline in an engine.

More detailed analysis in the report Environmental Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Electric Power Research Institute.

Does anybody have an idea how much electricity it takes to fully charge a plug in hybrid?
i ask because i think electric motors are really inefficent compared to the energy output of gasoline. An electric golf cart uses six huge car batteries to drive one hour. the same hour in a gas cart uses a couple of handfulls of gas.

Unfortuantely, it's a bit like comparing apples and oranges. The battery isn't being 'used up' as gasoline is, but what's being used is the energy stored inside the battery. Unfortunately, that's not very much. Battery technology has a LONG way to go. As far as converting stored energy into actual motion, electricity is MUCH more efficient. An electric motor has very few moving parts, doesn't need a transmission, and a large majority of the energy isn't wasted. With gasoline, only about 30% of the potential energy is actually used to make motion. The rest is used up in frictional losses and is given off as heat.

It depends on the battery size of the plug-in hybrid and the weight of the car, but 0.200 - 0.250 kWh per mile is typical. I drive a plug in hybrid with a 16 mile all electric range (32 mile range at 100mpg) and a full recharge is about 4.5kWh. That amount of power is the equivalent of having 2 100 watt light bulbs on all day - change 3 constantly used 100 watt bulbs to 23 watt CFLs, plug in your car and you come out using less electricity overall.

Plug in hybrids have an incentive to charge at night, when the power grid has plenty of extra capacity. Many utilities offer much lower night time rates (for example here in Chicago, the hourly rates can be as low as 3c/kWh at night.) Theres no reason that plug-in hybrids need to add to the peak electrical demand.

Additionally, almost everyone who owns a plug-in hybrid at present buys their power from wind or solar installations. Plug-in hybrids work well with wind power, since a bulk of wind is generated at night, and much of that energy is otherwise lost since power companies cannot easily switch off power plants at night and night demand is very low.


Hybrids are indeed not the answer (though we have two). Where people live in relation to work, school, and other activities is.

While I'm an American, I can appreciate the European carfree district, oftentimes a hold over from earlier, pre-car days. Shops on the first level, residences on the levels above, sensibly sized walking/biking areas between buildings, carsharing parking garages on the periphery, all centered around a subway/tram stop. One can buy their groceries right in the district and shop for most items. Need something the local shops can't provide? Jump on a tram and pick it up two short stops away.

The following is from, the work of J.H. Crawford, showing a carfree district with a tram line through the middle;

Plan of a typical district showing pedestrian streets, tram line, squares, buildings, and interior courtyards

  Customary Units Metric
Population 12,000
Diameter 2500 ft. 760 m
Area 112 acres 45 hectares
Building Footprint 40%
Number of Stories 4 (US measure) 3 (European measure)
F.A.R. 1.5
Average Street Width 25 ft. 7.5 m
Building Depth 30 ft. 9 m
Courtyard Width 130 ft. 40 m
Walking Time to Halt 5 min.

Interior Courtyard

A stroll through a Salzburg street

Note that existing cities could be converted through a step wise planned process to become predominantly carfree;

How Lyons, France could transition into a carfree city.
View more detailed image

This is near to what I was going to write. Smaller, more efficient cars is one part of the equation, but rezoning for mixed use (re)development around transit is much more long term solution.

Electric powered vehicles fits nicely into this equation because:
1. They are limited in distance by their batteries
2. They are much quieter and much less emission than ICEs and would be more appropriate for dense populated areas
3. The batteries can be recharged at pretty much any time of day.
4. While electricity does have primary fuel sources that are non-renewable, in theory it could be mostly renewable power sources.
5. All sorts of little vehicles from bikes to scooters to small golf cart-like could use electricity
6. Having some urban recharging stations at offices, supermarkets, train stations, parks, etc could be easily put up without taking up lots of space

In most U.S. cities, building a beautiful neighborhood like the ones in those pictures is illegal. We have a lot of regulations and standards that keep the status quo in place, to our great detriment in terms of economics, environment and simple delight in pleasant surroundings.

Do we want to remain immobilized by bureaucracy? The U.S. is the nation that brought forth thousands of experiments and innovations in urban form and living arrangements, from Shakers to skyscrapers. Experimentation is a good thing, there should be a lot more experiments, and the U.S. ought to be the most hospitable country for such experiments. Will the first 21st century carfree city be in the U.S., or are other parts of the world now more amenable to innovation?

hah, the USA, the country where you could live in a neighbourhood where it's legal to carry a firearm, but against the law to hang out your washing. :D

Those housing regulations are crazy.

I've lived in a rural area of northern California for a long time so my views may be biased. I have 57 acres/23 hectares and based upon your scenario there would be 6,000 people living on my land. I can't honestly think of anything more horrid then that. Living like that would drive me insane.

But, further, so far as the US goes, I think the opposite will be the case in the long term, i.e., extended families/groups with shared interests will live on large parcels of land that will give them the ability to provide for most of their needs. I outlined this in this post



No one thinks that there will be 1000s off people wanting to move in on your land. However, the best (and most efficient) land use approaches will group people in clusters along mass transit lines. While some people are used to wide open farmland, we can't all try to do this without expending huge amounts of energy that results in our being "addicted to oil". There will be a growing need for small, energy efficient farms, so those who want wide open spaces will certainly have the opportunity.

It is funny - in the past few days I have become rather pessimistic about the future of mankind. I see stories elsewhere about how GM, Ford, Toyota and others are making giant trucks with hybrid technology - fuel economy goes from 13mpg to 18mpg, and people practically wet themselves in excitement over these things.

The second point is that the vast majority of hybrids on the U.S. market are essentially mis-using the technology. They use it to increase power and performance and not to reduce fuel economy. It isn't the fault of the technology - it is the way in which it is used.

The major point about hybrids that I see is that they are an evolutionary step on the way towards electrified transport. The next step would be plug-in hybrids, which would allow people to do their daily tasks without consuming any fuel at all. But people are going to have to get over this obsession with power and speed before any of this makes a lot of sense.

It is funny - in the past few days I have become rather pessimistic about the future of mankind. I see stories elsewhere about how GM, Ford, Toyota and others are making giant trucks with hybrid technology - fuel economy goes from 13mpg to 18mpg, and people practically wet themselves in excitement over these things.

There will always be a market for people who need large vehicles. Granted, there are many people who feel they need a large vehicle and would be perfectly suited to a minivan.
But, when you have 4 or more kids, and all the stuff that goes along with them, a large SUV looks rather attractive. People that go hunting, and have to get to remote areas and carry things, can justify an SUV. People that tow things, be they boats, horses, or farm equipment, need a vehicle that can haul that stuff. I'm not talking about the suburban soccer mom, but there is a core group that will always demand a big vehicle. Granted, their costs will go up. Hybrid technology looks promising, and will be a good stepping stone until batteries start to become very good.

Going from 13 to 18 mpg may not seem very good to us, but that's almost a 40% improvement. If you're spending over $4,500 per year on fuel, an $1800 savings is looking quite good. I know, it's a tunnel vision view that doesn't look at the big picture.
Hybrid technology is still a very immature thing. Successive generations of the technology get better, and so do batteries. Breakthroughs will occur. We can't afford any less. Unfortunately, technology MUST save us. If not, then all we're doing is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Yes, there always will be those who need these types of vehicles. But in my area SUVs and big trucks are just status symbols. The joke is that the only time these things go off-road is on Saturday night when they end up parked in the front yard (because the driver is too inebriated to properly park in the driveway).

I guess the reason that plug-ins sound good to me is that we can have vehicles with an all-electric range of 40km or so. The batteries that we have today are probably adequate for the job. If fuel costs are low enough, people won't bother to plug in, but as fuel costs go higher and higher, people will tend to plug in, and people will be able to get around to some degree without using any fuel at all.

My thinking is that people's expectations of what a vehicle should be capable of were formed in the days of cheap fuel. When fuel gets to be so expensive that the old vehicles are no longer practical, then people would be willing to consider more radical designs. There have been prototypes of vehicles that get in excess of 100mpg (even up to the VW 1-liter/100km car). Even from the standpoint of electric vehicles such prototypes have value in that the aerodynamics and lightweight materials would also reduce electricity consumption. Today people would complain that these things wouldn't be practical, but if the only other practical alternative is walking or riding a bicycle, people would learn to accept the new limitations fairly quickly.

There will always be a market for people who need large vehicles.

There are very few people who need large vehicles. Most of the time, this is based on whim, image, or lifestyle choices.

Granted, there are many people who feel they need a large vehicle and would be perfectly suited to a minivan.

There are families with 1, 2, or 3 children who automatically think they need a minivan, but would be much better off fuel-wise with a 5-passenger Prius, Civic, or other fuel efficient vehicle. The assumption of needing an oversized family vehicle has resulted in America being addicted to oil.

But, when you have 4 or more kids, and all the stuff that goes along with them, a large SUV looks rather attractive.

What percentage of families have 4 or more kids?

People that go hunting, and have to get to remote areas and carry things, can justify an SUV.

These are lifestyle choices; I know someone who goes hunting once a year, and believes that justifies his use of an SUV the other 360 days of the year. I, of course, don't agree.

People that tow things, be they boats, horses, or farm equipment, need a vehicle that can haul that stuff.

Except for true farmers, the others you mention have lifestyle choices, not needs.

I'm not talking about the suburban soccer mom, but there is a core group that will always demand a big vehicle.

And they are frequently the ones who are complaining about gas prices, "why won't the government do something about these insane prices???" And normally, they don't so much demand these vehicles so much as automaker advertising draws them in. This is how America remains "Addicted to oil".

There will always be a market for people who need large vehicles.

No there won't, unless you include Clydesdale powered wagons. THE OIL WILL RUN OUT!!!

The land will run out. Metals will run out. Fish will run out. Fresh water will run out.

The last thing that people will "always" need are large vehicles.

What people need are critical thinking skills. Something that is apparently absent on this site.

My sympathy Cherenkov!

Pearls before swine.

The land will run out.

Land gets re-used. There are known agricultural techniques which increase land fertility over time while maintaining modern levels of crop yields. See, for example, some of the work at Cornell.

Metals will run out.

Metals are in no danger of running out soon, thanks in large part to recycling - for example, half of lead production is simply the recycling of old lead.

Fish will run out.

Fish reproduce.

Fresh water will run out.

Yes, in four billion years when the sun dies. That's not a very pressing concern, though.

You touch on several valid points, but your all-or-nothing straw men are not at all a productive way of examining them. If you'd brought up the rate at which many of these resources replenish themselves - such as fresh water and tasty fish - that would have been much more useful.

You can't argue with Richard...he's more concerned with the birth of stars and the nuances of the English language than a fair debate based on fact.

No, one can argue with him, you just won't be able to use language to convince him to change. Uneducatable is the term I believe.

Fish will run out.
Fish reproduce.

And so do other things like Jellyfish. Unless because you see the fish in Jellyfish you think they are one in the same.

Hybrids are very expensive and use much energy to manufacture, due to their large number parts (parts are manufactured all over the world in many energy using factories and many people using gasoline to get to work, and buying more products with their pay). My 1 liter 5 speed manual Chevy Metro gets 50 MPG highway and 35 city, and it's good on crash tests. Many cars sold in Europe have 0.8 liter engines and do better. And all cars would do better if the roof was dropped 2-3 inches. With some minor body alterations, my Metro could get 60 MPG highway. Not bad for a car that seats 5. Diesel is more efficient and so with diesel my Metro could be cranked up to 70 MPG. This is good mileage and a lot cheaper than hybrids, more affordable, and therefore more realistic in terms of sales. The Metro was discontinued in 2000 due to poor sales. Americans want POWER. When gasoline hits $5.00 a gallon, the public will be ready for such cars. Let's hope the captains of industry learn about Peak Oil and anticipate the changes ahead.

Two greasy thumbs up. You could also mention that the whole powerplant on your metro weighs maybe 150 lbs. It's simple to repair or replace and familiar lawnmowerlike technology. Personally, despite being a Suzuki fan, I find the engine somewhat crude and cheap and it could have been even better if they'd spent another few hundred making it. Suzuki has better engines in Japan but GM wanted cheap. I'd surmise that you could make about three Metros for the cost of one Prius in both time and money. Besides which, you could make them in Peru [I think they do!] or Egypt with existing plant.

The salient point not being made is that the high highway numbers for the Prius and the Insight have more to do with aerodynamics than hybrid technology. Please will anyone tell me what benefits are being derived from the electric drive at a steady highway speed? Other than having a smaller motor, nada. If you left out all the hybrid stuff and just used the aero shell it might do even better. And if you drive like a senior citizen in town, well, as you point out...who needs more than a liter and a half in town? 800ccs?

Honda dropped its hybrid Accord because it was irrelevant. As the motor size wasn't reduced, it was no more economical than its conventional 4 cylinder model. I think the hybrid Chevy Malibu? uses the same drivetrain and guess what?

Maybe we need a new acronym, CES - culturally entrenched stupidity - to describe the current stalemate in which democracy is expected to have people voting against their baser desires. And 5 buck gas won't stop the monster trucks; make it at least ten.

First things first; stop making non passive solar houses and stupid cars and trucks. Fix the existing rail system. Stop shipping stuff all over just to make a buck on labor arbitrage. Tax hell out of fossil fuels- sliding scale with a floor price - and use the proceeds for solar.

I'm sure Hillary would be onside with this.

Please will anyone tell me what benefits are being derived from the electric drive at a steady highway speed? Other than having a smaller motor, nada.

But having a smaller, much more efficient gasoline engine is a big benefit for highway driving mileage, you can't just dismiss that! On the Prius they replaced the standard Otto cycle engine with an Atkinson cycle engine which is more efficient, but can't provide the power that an Otto cycle engine can. Having the electric system allows for the power that most Americans expect, with a more efficient engine that otherwise couldn't be used by itself. Thats primarily the benefit for highway driving, but every time you slow down or accelerate such as hitting traffic, or going up/down a hill or going through a toll, the electric system is used there to recapture energy that would otherwise be burned by the brake pads.

But the big benefit to a hybrid like the Prius is in city driving - which is where the car spends the bulk of its time.

That's great.

We can't have petroleum derived cars because the amount of available oil is declining due to drops in production and the argument goes "we can keep our cars if we use something other than oil, like a pluggable hybrid..."

and your response is
"hybrids are too expensive, better off using a diesel".

Need I fill in the blank.



You've failed to consider another concept - that life without dependence on cars (whatever their fuel) is possible.

In the sphere of things trying to get to the point where a world without autos (as personal transport anyway) would exist seems to me something that would make it better for all concerned and for our future.

Maybe the standard screech, "think of the children" would work. Nah.

It is fascinating for me to see how automobile dependency is so ingrained, even if I think it's part of a delusion that we'd ought to lose. And quickly. But how, other than out of "unfortunate necessity" of circumstance?

I don't know how to get there either - but it seems to me that creating an alternative, and not putting all our effort into continuing the car culture, are two first steps.

Fairly easy for some individuals to do. It's when you look at it larger scale it is particularly daunting.

As I write this some friggin' Dodge truck Flash commercial is flowing across the left side of my TOD:Europe screen. "The New Commercial Standard" it says. "Check it out."

The experience of many cities is that when a good public transport system is created, people do use it. And the better it is, the more they use it.

Let's contrast two bus services (buses being the least energy-efficient and least profitable of all mass transit options), one in Melbourne and one in Toronto, two cities of similar size and population density.

Melbourne: runs every 60 minutes at peak times, not at all outside those, has 350 passengers a day, fare $9.20, fare recovers 25% cost of operation.
Toronto: runs every 2.5 minutes at peak times, every 6-10 minutes outside those, has 20,000 passengers a day, fare $3, fare recovers 75% cost of operation.

Public transport is like any other service, just like in business: if you provide a good, reliable, quick and cheap service, people will use it. If it's poor, unreliable, slow and expensive, people won't use it. There's no great mystery behind it.

On average cars have 1.1 people in them. So every 11 people on a bus, train or tram is 10 less cars on the road. Buses, trams and trains use fossil fuels more efficienctly than do cars (ie in fuel burned per passenger per kilometre of travel), and can be electrified, getting their energy from renewable sources.

Many cities in the world are doing this. It's really not that complicated. It's just cultural. Like the NSW planning minister saying that if you put tram lines down the street, there'd be congestion of the cars - obviously forgetting that 11 people in a tram take up less space than do 10 cars. He must have been assuming no-one would travel in the tram, or only unworthy scum without a car.

Which is of course wrong. Provide a good, reliable, quick and cheap service, and the customers will come.

The Prius ICE doesn't only shut down at stoplights.

There are many times (and at any speed) when you can "glide" with the engine off. With a little practice, it becomes second nature to back off on the accelerator and get the car into that sweet-spot to glide.

CSS - 53mpg Prius

First things first; stop making non passive solar houses and stupid cars and trucks. Fix the existing rail system. Stop shipping stuff all over just to make a buck on labor arbitrage. Tax hell out of fossil fuels- sliding scale with a floor price - and use the proceeds for solar.

I'm sure Hillary would be onside with this.

Among the Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary is the most corporate-owned and least likely to challenge the status quo. True, she'd probably do more good than most of the Republican lineup, but then again my old dog could do a better job of running the country than them. I know we could debate endlessly who among the current crop of candidates would be best (and I don't want to trigger that debate - not really appropriate for TOD). But as far as making big changes in our oil-consuming non-negotiable lifestyle, I wouldn't expect too much from Hillary. She might support raising CAFE to 35 mpg by 2020, but that's about it.

My sarcasm led you to say what I was implying - none of the real stuff is on the table politically.

While I'm here, let me add that I'm quite aware of how, and how well, a Prius works. When I see tham being serviced at Antonio's grease pit in Baja I'll consider them a global answer [partial] and temporary mitigation. As yet they fail the simplicity test. In many parts of the world, pavement is a luxury and the vehicle of choice is a Toyota Hilux diesel pickup because it actually hauls stuff and actually gets there. A Prius wouldn't even get to these places. Besides which, grinding up a mountain goat track with a load of green coffee isn't really hybrid territory; it's for the other end of the business - going to Starbuck's. When the diesel runs out they'll just go back to a fleet of donkeys.

American obsession with power may end in a few years with the collapse of the economy and the failure of the military option. We may all be peasants again. Rich if you own two oxen.

How about some actual figures about how much extra energy or materials hybrids use to manufacture? Other energy efficient technologies like triple glazing use far more materials compared to a hybrid vs standard car. No one stops to think whether their windows contain three times as much glass or far more complex frames.

For the Prius at least, I heard it takes 40,000km of fuel savings to wipe out the extra cost of manufacture. After that, the car is an energy saver. Since Toyota's hybrids save gasoline mainly by stopping the engine and freewheeling a lot of the time, wouldn't this also lead to less wear and tear and a longer working life?

As a general point, there are both hybrids designed for fuel efficiency and hybrids designed for better performance. Lumping them altogether really doesn't give us a meaningful group or add to the debate. I would imagine that many fuel-efficient hybrid owners would sooner buy a standard compact car or a diesel than a performance hybrid.

I think low adoption of diesels in the USA is also related to the general low quality of diesel fuel available and the framing of vehicle pollution issue around NOx and PM.

Why hybrids won't save the planet
The link below has an excellent study by ULI that concludes that "energy-efficient cars and low-carbon fuel technologies alone are not enough to reverse the deleterious effects of climate change. Instead, the oft-overlooked but critical third component — uncoordinated growth — is the missing link in public discourse to permanently reduce carbon emission levels. In other words: we need to confront the land-use patterns that create fossil fuel dependency."

I have not, by a long shot, read all of the studied comparing HEVs, PHEVs and EVs to conventional autos in terms of fuel use or GHG emissions. However, the ones I have seen all appear to be rigged, in that they compare vehicles that do not exist, or exist in only small numbers, to some conventional vehicle of today. Some things to consider:

1. People do not go shopping for a car of a given weight. They usually buy a car of a given size (passenger or cargo capacity) or configuration.

2. For a given size car, an HEV or PHEV will always be heavier, and will always give up some interior volume to the extra motors, batteries, and controller, compared to what you could make with only an ICE. And it must, by definition, cost more to make because it has multiple drivetrains.

3. There is no real improvement in steady state performance over a conventional vehicle, especially in this era of variable valve timing multi-speed gearboxes.

It's not that I don't think these are interesting technologies, and they will have their place, but we need to take a longer view. We have squandered the vast amjority of our fossil fuel riches, and put most of the carbon in the air doing what? Driving cars - moving ourselves and and ton of metal, glass, and plastic around.

I believe electric rail - based transport is the only thing that has the potential to reduce the size of the slice of pie dedicated to transportation. Just continuing the personal automobile with different fuels is not going to solve the problem, even if EVs are that much of an improvement in efficiency or GHG emissions.

So sure, an PHEV or EV is going to be able use whatever energy source was used to power the grid. The grid becomes a common energy interface, which is great if your goal is to make sure we have the best chance of continuing to drive cars. But what is being fed into that grid will still be supply constrained, and is going to consist largely of fossil fuel sources. And we still be squandering it on personal transportation.

Hello TODers,

I think the adoption rate will be dependent upon how fast fuel prices rise and people's willingness to carpool versus the other alternatives.

In my Asphalt Wonderland, there is actually very little carpooling as a percentage of the total miles driven. Although this carpool rate is increasing, most people love the freedom of setting their own mobil schedule to complete the various errands of typical life.

If fuel prices rise more quickly than the expansion of buses and urban transit: I would expect a rainbow of transport options to be market-offered. Short trips by bicycle or walking, cheap, small gas & electric scooters for longer neighborhood mobility, and cheap & under 35mph battery golf carts for parents with toddlers/elderly, local worker-commuting, and moving the handicapped.

The longer commuting, larger carpooling, larger item load or family transport-need, will still be accomplished by a family retaining one conventional ICE vehicle for a long time, even if the fuel price goes very high,very fast. But I would expect the 'second family car' for most will be a very cheap variety of 2, 3, or 4 wheel-options, and a person will choose the ride that best fits their movement need, speed, distance, and weather concern with consideration of what other family members vehicle choice is for that day.

Using myself as an example: I have a bicycle, an ICE scooter, and a v6 shortbed, standard cab pickup as my transportation rainbow. I believe this mixture gives me the best choice of total lowest capital cost, yet allows me the maximum flexibility to use the best vehicle for my immediate transport need in my sprawling metropolis.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

totoneila wrote

"Using myself as an example: I have a bicycle, an ICE scooter, and a v6 shortbed, standard cab pickup as my transportation rainbow. I believe this mixture gives me the best choice of total lowest capital cost, yet allows me the maximum flexibility to use the best vehicle for my immediate transport need in my sprawling metropolis."

That's a great setup Bob. It makes good sense to have a number of options. The problem is that in many countries, there is a high fixed cost to owing each (motor) vehicle. In this case, everyone will simply buy one vehicle, i.e., the biggest thing they think they will need. You end up with people driving vehicles that are oversized for many of the journeys they're used for. It is fuel use (i.e., pollution) that should be taxed, not car ownership.

Yes! A multiple set of transport vehicles works great. I have: electric bike - 15mph top speed, ego electric scooter - 25mph top speed, Honda metropolitan gas scooter - 40mph top speed, 4 cylinder Mazda 626 - any legal speed. The Mazda has a hitch that allows me to rent trailers to move most anything around town. Anything bigger that I need is rented. The vehicle that I choose to use depends on the distance I will be going, and the errand I need to run. In Florida I only need insurance on the Mazda. Tags only on the Mazda and scooter. Everything else has no attached costs except minor maintenance. Bring on $5 a gallon! I am ready.
Well to Wheel report 2007, table 8.4.1
Hybrid:cost of CO2 avoided Euro 1062 per ton (at Dollar 50/bl)

Excellent discussion. Yes, hybrids are a transition technology. Yes, the hybrid-driven demand for better battery research and technology is an important motivator. Yes, plug-ins will place greater demand on the grid.

But, plug-in hybrids will also open the door for two other important transitions:

1) Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technology where the battery pack can either draw from the grid or feed to it, thus diminishing the impact of demand variability and thus leveling demand. See,,
In a sense, your car becomes a big back-up battery for your house and for the grid as a whole.

2) Decentralization of power generation. At some point, the economics of generating power locally (solar roofs, for example) becomes attractive to individual consumers. (I'm not claiming to know when that is . . . . ).

Any way you look at it, hybrid vehicles are a technology and research driver for batteries, alternative electricity generation, decentralization of power generation, etc. This is good.

And, no, I don't drive either a hybrid or a diesel--I'm going to use up the service life of our current household fleet first.

That's right. If plug-ins drive battery development and that lowers the cost of energy storage, utilities will adopt these batteries for their own distributed stationary storage, and that will buffer intermittent renewable sources of energy, help stabilize the grid, and lower the need for peaking or backup FF power plants.

I doubt it. The design constraints for a battery for a mobile device like a car are much different than for a stationary power system. In the stationary application, size and weight are much less important, and other types of storage are also viable.

Twilight - I was thinking more of battery chemistry than the actual packaging. But you're right, stationary batteries will have different requirements.

BTW, I have heard PG&E in California (this is TOD:Europe) has signed contracts or at least expressed interest to buy batteries out of plug-ins they are working with on their V2G project.

I think it is erroneous to conclude that in steady-state driving hybrids cannot help. I drive a Prius, if the electric part was a little bit more robust the following constant speed technique would be usable: go for some distance in gas mode, with some power being diverted to charging the battery, (2) trun off the gas motor and run on electrical power until the battery charge is down, repeat. This actually saves considerable fuel, although it is counterintuitive, the lack of dissipation that we think of as engine-breaking more than makes up for the inefficiency of running the engine at higher power part time, and electrical loses. Existing Prius can do this at a moderate speed of say 30mph. For highway speed you either have to accept
changing speed, or exploit terrain (gas uphill, electric downhill), which is unacceptable to most drivers. With a larger battery, the speed at which this is applicable goes up. The process could be automated by computer control. A hybrid in this mode resembles driving an ordinary car by the following technique: (1) accellerate to full speed, (2) shift to neutral and turn off the engine to coast. An ICE vehicle operated in this (illegal) manner would probably get similar milage to a hybrid. The hybrid allows the coast phase to be greatly extended, as well as making it safe to turn off the ICE while driving.

A hybrid clearly will be more expensive to manufacture. Operating expenses, in fuel, and wear and tear on ICE & transmission & brake components are going to be less. Expected lifecycle costs are comparable to or less than pure ICE.

As many have stated regarding plug-ins, utility scale power generation is so much more efficient than small scale ICE, that it more than makes up for transmission & battery loses, as well as allowing a variety of energy sources to be harnesed.

Any ICE has a particular rpm for which it has maximum efficiency (maximum power output for fuel used). Variable valve trains help extend this range, but there is still a peak. The maximum economy in steady state driving would be run the engine at that speed (wide open throttle) while charging, or have it off. The ICE would of course need to produce more power than needed to propel the car, as it must charge the battery to compensate for the off periods. A parallel hybrid cannot do this anyway.

For steady state driving you could always beat this by eliminating the battery pack and electric motor and running an ICE that produces just enough power at just one optimized speed, using a CVT perhaps. The problem is that it may produce more power than you need at a given time, so then you get into means of reducing the power, which usually reduce efficiency too. I believe that an optimally sized small engine directly connected to the wheels will beat a larger sized engine which is being switched on and off and running generators and batteries and electric motors for steady state cruising.

Or you could eliminate the batteries, and the ICE and run it with a long extension cord. Then you could further optimize it by reducing the rolling resistance with steel wheels that run on steel rails. Additional gains might come from connecting many cars together (we could call these "trains"). You get the picture.

"Just as increasing car weight squandered the last decade’s engine efficiency improvements, increasing traffic is likely to squander any real efficiency improvements that hybrid technology can deliver."

"While hybrids may be able to reduce the rate of increasing emissions, it seems the only way to achieve significant reductions is to drive less."

This is the fundamental problem of a growth driven economy. Until grim necessity prevents it efficiency improvments will be eaten up in improved performance, luxury, etc. If we did not use our efficiency improvments in this way the economy would become “unhealthy”. Any hope of decreased rates of resource consumption and environmental degradation lies in changing the equation:

Selling More Stuff = Economic Health


Selling Sufficient Stuff = Economic Health

I do recall awhile back that somebody on TOD mentioned an add-on device that you could buy and attach to a standard automobile that would give your vehicle the gas mileage reporting capabilities that the Prius now boasts as a standard feature. Does anybody remember the name of that device, or have a link as to where one could purchase it?


I'm sorry to say that you missed the sarcasm tag appended to that post.

These scams are so shallow and transparent, yet apparently so successful, that some of us shake our heads in resignation and consider whether the collapse of the current system might be the best outcome after all.

Erh, that's not actually the post I had in mind. There was a post quite some time ago - not about another "miracle gas saver" scam, but rather simply an add-on gas mileage reporting device similar to a standard feature on the Prius. It simply lets you know your real-time current mileage based on your driving habits. Basically, it's just a "smart" fuel gauge. By itself, it doesn't actually increase your mileage, though it can if you change your driving habits according to the feedback it gives you. I think it works by measuring flow from your fuel injection system, so it wouldn't work with a carburetor.

I've often said that a fuel economy gauge is the single most effective way to get people to drive for economy. After all, after you've done it a few hundred times, the commute is pretty boring - who can resist trying for high score?

To calculate mpg is pretty easy. You need know road speed and flow rate. Most modern fuel injection systems run at a constant pressure, and modulate the on time for the injectors - so all you need is the duty cycle of the injectors.

I looked into this at one time, and I THINK some of the information is available from some OBDII systems (OBDII is far from a "standard" in any useful sense).

For those in the US in the midatlantic region, you should know there is an effort underway for fully electric vehicles and V2G.

*full disclosure: I work with this group, but have no financial stake or future options. I do it because it's local and it is the best path to a post-peak world with the fewest unintended consequences. Anyone interested should use the contact info at the bottom of the article.

I can't agree that fuel economy has not increased. I now have a 1.8litre 100hp car that does over 30mpg in town driving. Not long ago you would have been getting 20mpg for a less powerful car.
For urban driving full electric cars will be an increasingly attractivre option, as recent advances in battery technology improve range and performance. In the UK they are exempt from road tax and the London conjestion charge. Sales in the UK are still only a few hundred but growing fast.

It's my understanding that average fuel economy in the USA has declined over the past two decades, ever since the SUV revolution took place.

But that's not to say that you can't buy a fuel-efficient car. I have a Toyota Yaris which gets 45 mpg, the best mileage I've gotten from any car I've ever owned.

Unfortunately, most of my neighbors seem to be driving 4-ton military assault vehicles.

I disagree about the fuel economy gauges. Unless a driver has a strong desire to improve his economy, and some grasp of math&physics he is not likely to developw correct habits. Instantaneous (or average last 2 seconds) don't help much, we all must speedup/slowdown. The main thing is to plan ahead to minimize the need for braking. With most drivers controlled by an emotional need to get there fast, they won't do this, even in situations, such as a long cycle traffic light turning red where no time is lost by efficient technique.

On the Prius, the two useful bits of information are (is the ICE motor on/off), and total trip milage. Perhaps if someone learns the cost of say 70mph versus 60mph, that might change their behavior as well.

"it seems the only way to achieve significant reductions is to drive less."

Damn right. And really, for most of the population of the Western world it's not that hard.

No doubt some American will pop up to say, "I couldn't possibly, it's too hard", etc. But the fact remains that for most of the population of the Western world, they can get by entirely without their private cars.

Certainly most journeys could be avoided; 40% of journeys are under 2km. If you're not geriatric and arthritic you should be able to walk that.

Consider: 92% of the world's population have no cars at all.

Consider: one of the world's most beautiful cities is Venice - almost no cars at all. But then, you wouldn't want your city to be known as one of the world's most beautiful and bring in millions of dollars of tourism, would you? Bah.

A couple of key advantages of hybrids over diesels:
(1) Hybrids prevent drivers from idling their engines.
(2) Hybrids have much cleaner emissions than diesels. The new "clean" diesel engines coming onto the market have lower milage than equivalently powered old "dirty" diesel engines.

it seems the only way to achieve significant reductions is to drive less.

Do the arithmetic. By careful driving technique I'm getting 55-60mpg from my Prius. Thats nearly a factor of three less consumption of resources as the typical cehicle on our roads. Of course we also need to get people to be smarter about how often, and for what reasons they drive. But getting people to voluntarily change their behavior is hard, and the pushback will often make such attempts counterproductive. We need to pay atention to the saying The perfect is the enemy of the good. Far better to convert masses of people to make good, if not overwhelming changes, than to set a standard that only a few percent can meet.

A Prius (or other similar high milage hybrid) is well matched to the oil-production-plataeu era, that we have just entered. Hopefully the plateau phase will last several years. The post-peak decline phase will require Plug in hybrids, eventually supplemented with on vehicle PV. It is only a step in the right direction. But it is the only solution available today in sufficient numbers to make a near term difference.

A couple of years ago I read an article on hybrids. It said that European car makers wern't interested in hybrids and prefered to concentrate on diesels. They thought hybrid technology was a dead end, and only persued it for PR reasons.