I really like electric cars. But we need to quit pretending they’re in any way sustainable or all that great for urban mobility.
If Larry Ellison gave me a huge bonus tomorrow, I’m not nearly so smug that I’d at least consider buying an all electric Tesla Roadster sports car. I bike past a dark blue Tesla parked in Palo Alto on many mornings, and even more occasionally a light blue Tesla pases me in Menlo Park. My train passes directly past the Tesla dealership in Menlo Park. They’re hot cars and I’m sure the Tesla roadster is a perfect way for me to get through a mid-life crisis. It looks like fun, and I believe in fun.
The guy pictured below is Ryan Popple. Until about a year ago, Ryan was finance director for Tesla Motors. Today, he’s a partner at venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byer, where he focuses on investments in green technology.
Last Saturday, Ryan talked about addressing the vulnerabilities in our oil-driven economy during lunch at Transportation Camp West in San Francisco. He started out with charts and illustrations that anyone familiar with Peak Oil concepts would recognize, pointing out the the basic economic fact that oil prices can go nowhere but up. Every time we drill will always be more expensive than what we previously drilled. If it was cheaper, we’d have already done it. We get the easy stuff first from artesian supplies near the surface in Pennsylvania. When that runs out, we move on deeper wells, then near the coast, and then to deep water and oil sands and shales. The fact that we must punch holes two miles deep on top of a mile of water and extract oil from extremely hostile environments north of the Arctic Circle is the definition of Peak Oil.
He then segued into the problems of internal combustion engines. They’re complex and inefficient. Heat become rotary mechanical energy through a chain of steps that might have inspired Rube Goldberg’s zany drawings.
So far so good. But then Popple asserted that we cannot realistically depend on our feet or public transportation for more than a small part of our personal mobility needs. We need a large scale deployment electric vehicles for personal mobility. One of the primary benefits of EVs over internal combustion — the motors are 90% efficient with almost zero waste heat, says Popple, because EVs run on fairy dust, with very little waste heat and emissions involved in their operation!
Apparently, the other problems with internal combusion vehicles go away if we electrify our fleet of personal cars. If all cars become electric, traffic congestion, parking shortages, land use problems, stormwater run off, traffic dangers and all the rest magically disappear!
Electric cars are fun and cool and sexy, I’m sure investors see a lot of money in their eyes, and they’re even a little more energy efficient than gasoline and diesel powered cars and truck. For those who drive an EV or a hybrid, I really appreciate what you do. But can we quit talking about how green, sustainable and urban friendly they are?
In an #evdebate Twitter discussion earlier today led by Guardian Environment, the question was asked: “Why is EV such a government priority over cycling?” My response: Because investors are putting a lot of money into EV research and development. Bicycles are small potatoes next to the billions poured into electric vehicle research and promotion these days.
What do you think about electric vehicles? Good, evil, neutral, or somewhere in between?