Monday, May 17, 2010


Hawaii’s obsession with electric cars and the color “green”

by Larry Geller

Hawaii is seemingly about to go electric-car crazy, at least if Governor Lingle and her administration have their way. There are supposed to be 10,000 CT&T cars built here annually, 100,000 charging stations for an Israeli project, and even hydrogen-powered vehicles competing with all the above. The Nissan Leaf is expected to arrive here in 2011.

And all these are supposed to be “green” and wean us from imported fossil fuels.

Here’s some interesting reading, though.


The status quo of electric cars: better batteries, same range reviews the history of electric cars and notes that:

Electric motors and batteries have improved substantially over the past one hundred years, but today's much hyped electric cars have a range that is - at best - comparable to that of their predecessors at the beginning of the 20th century.

The article also claims:

The 2010 Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV have exactly the same range as the 1908 Fritchle Model A Victoria: 100 miles (160 kilometres) on a single charge

If you’re curious about early electric cars, check out the above article, or the same website’s Overview of early electric cars (1895-1925). Both have lots of cool pictures for car buffs.

Of course, modern cars are more comfortable and usually faster and safer.

As to “green”, this article points out that no one has investigated how much energy it takes to manufacture an electric vehicle battery. I don’t know about that, but it is certainly a good question.

The article points to another website discussing lifecycle assessment. It takes energy to manufacture these expensive batteries, petroleum to ship them to Hawaii, and they have to be replaced every few years, which means shipping the old ones out-of-state. If you’re interested in playing with this, there is a Life Cycle Assessment Tool here.

Potential EV owners might at least want to investigate battery replacement cost before springing for their car. That is, how much it might cost them down the road when their battery gives up the ghost. And it will.

The final blow to “green” is of course a comparison of the energy efficiency of electric cars vs. gasoline or diesel cars. For that, a Wikipedia entry supplements this article. Will Hawaii burn less oil and coal if we shift to electric cars? Perhaps not much.

When comparing the efficiencies of an electric vehicle to a gasoline vehicle, the efficiency of the source of generating the electric energy must be included in the comparison. For example, it is incorrect to say that an electric vehicle charged each night from a gasoline powered generator is more efficient than a gasoline powered vehicle.

An electric car's efficiency is affected by its battery charging and discharging efficiencies, which ranges from 70% to 85%, and its engine and braking system. The electricity generating system in the US loses 9.5% of the power transmitted between the power station and the socket, and the power stations are 33% efficient in turning the calorific value of fuel at the power station to electrical power.[40] Overall this results in an efficiency of 20% to 25% from fuel into the power station, to power into the motor of the grid-charged EV, comparable or slightly better than the average 20% efficiency of gasoline-powered vehicles in urban driving, though worse than the about 45 % of modern Diesel engines running under optimal conditions (e.g. on motorways).

The equation would also seem to depend, for example, on the weight of the car. A small, light car could do more with that energy. A large, battery-heavy car might not.

Someone other than our state administration should look into this issue and at least cut through the hype. Until we generate a significant portion of electricity from sources other than oil and coal, and until the gasoline car is largely replaced with electrics by individual car owners, it doesn’t appear that any of the over-hyped electric car initiatives are going to make very much difference.


Thanks Larry & Henry for suggesting we look at bit more critically at recent official efforts to "go green." SO many of these projects seem to repeat a familiar pattern. Large companies cozy up to government officials to win subsidies, tax breaks, waivers from regulations, in order to launch a profitable business. Development of the COnvention Center, the SuperFerry, proposals for off-shore fish farming, etc, etc. Our poor legislators (of both parties) fall over themselves to support these projects and demonstrate they are "pro-business." Most of these folks have little ofr no business experience (or judgment) and should not be in charge of deciding which businesses are viable or worthy of taxpayer support.

Most of the alternative energy projects are for overly centralized, corporate controlled efforts. The Lanai and Molokai wind farms, with the undersea cable are of this sort. The Better World Electric car proposal, too. (Congrats to Henry and you for calling this an Israeli company. The commercial press always insists on calling it a California company, though its principals are all Israelis. The link to Henry's story on this is good).

Let's focus on projects which weaken existing monopolies without creating new ones. Let's help people escape from the clutches of HECO and the oil companies. Dispersed energy generation, for homeowners and small businesses are now economically viable and need help in removing artificial HECO obstructions to their rapid expansion.

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