All-Electric Cars and Other Technologies Bear Fruit

It’s back. The electric car which was a competitive technology in the early days of the automobile is back. It took a century of noise, pollution, death and destruction and lock-in to wasteful life-styles to bring it back but it is here now (soon in Canada).

Even with severe limitations of range and a stiff price-tag the Nissan Leaf is going to be a winner. For the majority of us who live in or near a city and for whom driving is not part of work, the 160 km range is likely not a problem. Overnight charging from the mains (or 30 minutes with 40 A @ 220V) is a big deal. The announced price is a bit of a problem but that’s what one expects from 24 kw-H of Lithium cells. Fortunately they have an 8 year warranty so they are a good investment. The lower maintenance and energy costs of an electric car will really pay for itself over 8 years. My family would likely save half the price of the automobile in that period of time. Of course we could save even more if we lived in the bush and went to town once a year we could save even more but my wife has informed me that will not happen. After 28 years of marriage, I am convinced she might be right. 😉

The reason gasoline powered cars took the market? They made more money for oil companies, and manufacturers loved their high-maintenance characteristics. Lots of moving parts does that for an industry. Consumers loved their power and range. Competition did keep prices in check for a long time and at first energy in fossil fuels was dirt-cheap. Now things are changing. Renewable energy provides competitive energy prices for electric power and oil prices have risen 100-fold in my lifetime. You can buy photovoltaic panels for around $1/watt and wind-turbines for around $2/watt, so the cost of energy has come down a lot. In my region, hydroelectric power costs about 7 cents/kw-H, so recharging a Nissan Leaf costs less than $2, a fraction of what our current vehicle costs to drive.

Some of the first personal computers were quite small and cheap but industry drove the price, size, complexity and weight of PCs up to optimize profits not performance/price. That, too, is changing. We see ARM moving from the embedded controller environment to mainstream computing on clients and servers. With ARM has come Android/Linux permitting lower costs combined with brilliant performance. The monopolists had their way for too long in IT, dictating that PCs must be large, heavy, noisey, hot and unreliable for decades in order to maximize profits for Wintel and “partners”. That is ending. Now, anyone in IT will have to supply and support ARM and Linux or be laughed out of town for running obsolete technology. x86/amd64 may still have some niches where it can survive. M$ may still have some niches where it can survive. Neither belongs in peoples’ pockets or desks. People have better use for the money and space and have better things to do than schedule appointments with the fix-it shops.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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13 Responses to All-Electric Cars and Other Technologies Bear Fruit

  1. I am a Canadian. I can walk to work at -45C in a 60km/h wind. My wife likes heated car seats. I turn them off.

  2. Yonah says:

    The temperature of the batteries isn’t a problem. It’s the amount of much energy needed to heat the inside of the car via the electric-coil heater. Can you imagine being stuck in a snow storm and having the batteries keel out?

  3. You can do the maths. The open circuit voltage drops due to thermodynamics/chemistry. The batteries produce some heat in use, so it’s a temporary problem. It’s not like those starter batteries that are relatively tiny. Batteries for electric cars actually have cooling issues. It would not be hard to design in a heating function as well as a charging function so that batteries would be warm when someone went to use the car. Even in cold weather it takes some hours for a car to cool off so as long as stops weren’t too long there should not be a problem. I have lived in Canada most of my life and am well aware of such issues for starting batteries. After I switched to synthetic oil I rarely had any problem with failure to start even at -40C. Batteries like NiCd work pretty well even in the cold. I used to walk a mile to work using a flashlight and had few problems even at -40C except holding the thing. A loop on my parka fixed that.

  4. Yonah says:

    Gets cold up there in Canada. How long you reckon that car will go when it’s 10 below and sloshing through heavy snow?

  5. I have seen that one. Between the oil companies having a lock on NimH cells and auto makers wanting to sell parts and maintenance…

  6. oe says:

    Mr. Pogson, check out the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” about the GM Impact/EV1…seems a similar story of a breakthrough the threatened the status-quo perhaps too much much like the Other OS and Wintel…?

    Mind you this was back in the 90’s, sure seemed the EV-1 was well regarded by a lot of the pilot program’s users in the film….

    Good overview video –
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgwrHXp73u4&feature=related

  7. I have one. It’s still a gas-guzzler on the highway but quite useful in the city with all those red lights.

    When we were shopping for the hybrid I looked for diesel hybrids and there were none available in Canada. That would be a superior product in term of energy consumption.

  8. Ray says:

    Best solution: Get a hybrid 😀
    Getting the best of both worlds, saving gas while still having long range 😀

  9. Yonah wrote, “Great for short trips to the market.”

    Electrics were and are still very competitive in cities for short trips. They are also extremely competitive for maintenance. Busy people appreciate not having to take their vehicles in for service so often.

    Further, petroleum is a limited resource. It is foolish to use it widely as a source of energy. It should be restricted to a few special cases and manufacturing. Electricity is a renewable resource as long as the sun shines (billions of years yet). In the information age, we need fewer trips for any purpose. I give as evidence the fact that I have lived in the North for more than a decade with only occasional trips and freight. We should all work at home or at least closer to work. Then electric vehicles are quite feasible. Some people with small yards use electric whipper-snippers and lawn mowers. Electric drives have their place. I use a hybrid which uses an electric drive but charges the battery from a gasoline engine. We could live quite nicely with a larger battery and no engine. We travel on long trips only a few times a year and could use public transport.

  10. Yonah says:

    “The electric car which was a competitive technology in the early days of the automobile is back.”

    It was never competitive. Show me one car that was. I looked at a Detroit Electric car on display at the Henry Ford Museum. Built in 1914 for almost 4 grand, it was so heavy and required so much recharging that it declared only suitable for women living in the city. Great for short trips to the market. In rural areas or in the cold of winter? Forget about it.

    “Even with severe limitations of range and a stiff price-tag the Nissan Leaf is going to be a winner.”

    So, this car will defy the most basic principles of economics? People will pay more money for something that provides less mobility? Amazing!

    “The reason gasoline powered cars took the market?”

    Petroleum based fuels are the cheapest most portable energy source we have. End of story. Though I guess while you are recharging your electric car for the 3rd time that day you pat yourself on the back for sticking it to those evil petroleum companies.

  11. Dann says:

    Let us not forget that electric cars have much more torque than any gasoline-powered car.

    For instance, a Tesla electric car could out-accelerate any Ferrari.

    Why? Because gasoline produce byproducts as well as force, such as heat.
    Eletric cars do not produce nearly as much heat. They don’t produce H20 either from the burning of fumes.
    It’s direct energy right where it counts. Once batteries go down in price, I look forward to modding my car with an electric motor.

  12. I look forward to the day that young people studying the history will be amazed at what was done to the world to enrich a few. Numerically, it is akin to Hitler’s forces conquering Europe, but larger. Then a few million people controlled a few hundred million, or nearly so. Now we have a few thousand controlling hundreds of millions and, worst of all, enlisting M$’s victims to carry out the crime.

  13. Richard Chapman says:

    “x86/amd64 may still have some niches where it can survive. M$ may still have some niches where it can survive.”

    Yes, the hair salon where that excess heat can be put to good use.

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