Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Plug-In Electric Hybrid Cars & Exploding Batteries

Hmm. I've seen a lot of blog posts that claim that plug-in hybrids are a bad idea because they will charge off the grid, which has a lot of nuclear reactors, coal, oil and natural gas power plants connected to it -- all things that are, generally speaking, environmentally bad.

However, the one thing that I see little mention of -- and this is a very, very critical point -- is that most people will likely charge their plug-in hybrids at home.

At night.

When demand for electricity is at its lowest.

When most power plant operators would kill to have just enough more demand so that they could keep the plants running all night long, rather than scaling them back or shutting them off at night.

That's the reason PG&E (that's Pacific Gas & Electric, not Portland General) claims for having signed on as a supporter of plug-in hybrids, and why I expect to see other power companies sign up as well.

Tesla Motors is set to introduce a new all-electric sportscar, which will be chargeable from a wall socket (110v). They will also be selling solar kits for their cars.... not, that is, cars with solar panels mounted on them (personally, this is actually the direction I would like to see hybrids go, solar panels on the roof/hood/trunk of the car to help put some additional juice in the battery), but solar panels for the roof of your house. They'll come and install a solar system at your house if you select it as an option when you buy the car, that way you can generate your own electricity to help offset that used to charge the car.

Finally, as others have pointed out, the issue of exploding batteries is a non-starter, for three reasons:

1) Only a handful of laptops actually exploded, out of all the laptops produced with that technology. That's a pretty low failure rate for any technology, especially when compared with automobiles.

2) Cars tend to explode at a much higher rate. I know of two friends who have had exploding cars in the past -- one a Subaru, the other (two consecutive) Mercedes. Fords are also known to explode (Pintos, trucks, etc.). To my knowledge, none of my friends, or any of their friends, have ever had a laptop come close to exploding (though, I have observed the recognized issue of poorly-ventilated laptops that overheat, but this is related more to the high clock speed of the CPU and a lack of ventilation fans than anything else). While my friends represent a pretty small sample of the global populatio, I think it is still statistically significant.

3) The technology used to produce batteries for hybrid cars is improving by the minute. Given that cars have built in air/liquid cooling systems, their ability to keep their batteries cool (along with their engines) seems to be one of those things that is, well, just engineered in.

See my blog post here for more info on what I think an ideal, all-purpose plug-in hybrid vehicle would look like... and when I say all-purpose, I mean rural, urban, off-road, everything:

Let me know what you think.



Tony said...

In addition to Tesla, there's another company called Phoenix Motorcars that's developing electric vehicles.

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