Why electric cars for interstate travel cannot work


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Link here. He does the math, and finds the infrastructure for providing the charging stations necessary to make electric interstate travel possible to be prohibitive.

The bottom line really has more to do with the stupidity of governments banning the use of gasoline cars and dictating the use of electric cars, regardless of what the engineering can do and the economical factors involved. It is much better to leave these decisions up to the free market, with emphasis on the word free. If electric cars are economical, they will eventually replace gasoline. If not, they won’t, and if governments mandate their use all that will happen is that everyone will be poorer, and the environment will likely be worse off.

Share

26 comments

  • LocalFluff

    The problems with batteries and charging are simply eliminated by using an electric bus system, well established already in the year 1900.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_bus

    Vehicles that are continuously fed by an electric wire in the air or in the road. Like trains are, which can be as powerful as anyone would need them to be. The cars would still have rubber wheels and asphalt roads, so they can go off line to visit addresses outside of the electrified main roads. Lessening the dependence on congested central stations (from where you have to take a taxi anyway).

    If nuclear power is cheaper than petrol, then that will be the future. Beginning with heavy vehicles like trucks and buses and on main interstate highways, but growing organically. Large vehicles can to begin with even be hybrids with an Otto engine along with its electric engine to eliminate the batteries.

    I love combustion engines and they will be around forever. But electric roads could take over the brunt of land vehicle transportation. It already did over 100 years ago. Not that much has happened fundamentally in the competition between electric and petrol since then. The improvement in batteries is not very important for that battle. And electric roads needs huge investments before it achieves an economic scale. Battery cars might be step towards that. Electric buses are used today in some cities. But I’m sure for environmental reasons at an extra cost. But I think it is just a matter of achieving large enough scale economics to make it break through in general.

  • Chris

    So the thing I think is overlooked here is IF the new Electirc Only government mandate will allow the longer travel. The entire set of changes that I see coming in transportation, all-electric and self driving seem to have a decidedly dark side.
    On the all-electric side it seems that the dictate does not have the infrastructure to support it. Inner city (listed as 90% of the traffic in the article) is covered but the long commuter (me) or the people who want to drive to the country, or another state are not covered – inherently by the infrastructure. So they are limited but 90% are served (and the environment is saved by the electric cars! – we didn’t talk about the environmental impact of the battery production but “ignore the man behind the curtain”) Those “other people can take public transportation (new high speed rails or other) to get to the areas they can – but they can’t get their through individual choice of jumping in the car and driving.
    On the self driving side, the trends I here of are “networked vehicle controls” and a future prediction that the average commuter will not “own” a vehicle outright but will own “use” of a vehicle.
    The autonomous vehicle age will know how much you travel, where you travel and possible – or ultimately limit your travel.
    So here I see an attack on free travel, the beginning of the end of free movement.
    After the initial kinks are worked out of the autonomous vehicle systems the insurance companies will initially drive the end of the personal car. Government dictates of “all-electric” and “autonomous only” will end our privilege of free movement.

    Thoughts?

  • wayne

    Chris-
    It’s all an attack on freedom of movement!

    Tesla doesn’t actually make a whole lot of cars, what they sell, are carbon-credits, to companies that make regular cars.

    A repeat from me, but a decidedly bizzaro future fascistic vision of transport:
    “Key to the Future”
    GM Motorama 1956
    https://youtu.be/Rx6keHpeYak
    8:44

  • Cotour

    The gasoline engine is not going anywhere anytime soon.

    The pure electric auto has too many operational and infrastructure limitations as is described in the article. I like the idea of an electric auto but in a hybrid configuration where a generator can provide a dual mode of operation.

    I like my electric weed wacker, but I found a Ryobi that can either be operated on batteries alone or I can switch it to 110 volts, works great in both modes. I use it in battery mode for the most part but I like having the back up because I have been through three other battery only weed wacker’s and have trashed them all primarily because their batteries ultimately fail and other mechanical issues develop.

    I thought it would be a good idea to buy a series of batteries to have charged and on hand, but they all fail in time. A gas engine just goes when you want and the level of technology and precision has been nailed down and is well proven.

    In the end work must be done, whether its done in the engine of the auto or its done at a remote power plant. The only real valid electric system seems to be one where the power is collected from the sun, but all of that collecting system / technology must be manufactured, but at what energy and carbon cost ?

    I have posted information about the Ecat here quite a while ago and am still watching it, something like this would be a real game changer : https://youtu.be/3mrGT_fOd1o

    Something else to be embarrassed about? One wonders.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff,
    The limits of overhead wires has been studied for about as long as they have been used. There are reasons that they are not in greater use.

    In-road power has its problems, too, which is why overhead wiring is preferred where Non-autonomous buses are used.

    Chris,
    My thoughts are that you are correct about the attack on free travel. This has always been a problem for governments that like to control their populations. A population that is free to travel is also free to leave the jurisdiction of the tyrannical government. An infamous wall was built and then torn down in order to contain the East German population and then in order to allow freedom of travel, again.

    A free population tends to get what it wants, not what its government wants it to have. “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need,” is an interesting motto, but it requires a governing body to determine both ability and need.

    In the case of the US, we are able to receive what we earn; if we want more, we have to produce more. For me, I produced enough in the past to have more free time now, including time to travel. I would appreciate retaining the freedom to continue to travel.

    wayne,
    Those carbon credits are intended to limit our freedoms, too.

    General comments:
    The all-electric kitchen is now expanding to the all-electric roadway.

    I hope California learned its lesson the last time it tried to regulate the electric car into existence, they forgot that there would be a need for additional electricity and failed to make sure that additional power plants were built. The carbon is still generated, it is merely generated somewhere far from the car.

    I appreciate the math that the author, David Booth, performed. A few years ago, my brother converted an old car into an electric one. He will soon have to replace the batteries (yes, there is an unacknowledged environmental downside to the electric car). He and I did the math for the power equivalence of a gasoline pump, and ten gallons pumped in one minute came out to the equivalent of around 30 megawatts.

    Using Booth’s assumption that a recharging station only operates half the time for each car that pulls up, that means that for every 65-ish recharging stations a gigawatt power plant will have to be built.

    Yeah. I don’t think California’s government learned its lesson, either, and in 2040 Californians will discover that not only can they not travel between cities, trapping the population within the state (no walls necessary), they will have a hard time getting around town, too.

    But maybe that is the tyrannical state government’s intention.

  • Cotour

    Chris, your concern for freedom of movement might be better applied to the issue of autonomous auto’s instead of mandated electric auto’s. (Or maybe any mandate would be one and the same? They must all be electric and also be autonomous.)

    Why?

    Because for autonomous autos to be realized I think that it will have to be one way or the other to actually work, either people are allowed to drive or all autos have to be autonomous. IMO when you mix human drivers and autonomous autos the potential is very high for chaos.

    Either they all speak the same language of control or they are all controlled by a human hand, or at least until the technology is at such a level that it does not matter and they are both seamless as they related to each other.

  • Chris

    Hi Cotour,

    Part of my point here is the subtlety of the change from free and open movement of individuals to restricted and directed movement. Initially I see the insurance companies driving us to autonomous vehicles through the cost of insurance. Once the kinks are worked out of the autonomous vehicle, the insurance for a “risky” human driver who may not pay attention or speed beyond his capabilities …etc will be too high for him to pay. I see the necessary transition of mixing of drivers and automous vehicles – a hard switch will not be accepted and will help to perfect the software and overall autonomous system.
    The change will be seen are necessary and required for safety.
    One in place, then your freedom of movement will be limited or lost.

    On the electric side, I just see that as a parallel method to limit our choices. It is government stepping in and taking our freedom in the name of the environment (as it will for safety above).

    I live in Pennsylvania which I have always seen as a “problem” for the government. Aside from the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie and somewhat Allentown/Reading areas, the population is spread out – distributed. We would be a real pain to “round up”. But if you take away the gasoline infrastructure and make it electric and/or you make the mandated auto insurance too expensive for a middle income In your not autonomous, then the move to the urban area is clear. With that move comes control.

  • Cotour

    Interesting points, I find this one the most compelling:

    “The change will be seen are necessary and required for safety.”

    Now they just have to work the terms “for the women and children” into the formula and its a lock. Surrender anything and everything for safety.

  • Judy

    One of the touted advantages for autonomous vehicles is that they communicate with each other and share information about the road. Of course this means that “they” know where each one is at any moment.

  • Joe

    I like the science and technology of electric cars, what I don’t like are all of the drawbacks which include somewhat limited range, government has to subsidize them to get people to buy them, they don’t work well in temperature extremes as quite a bit of their energy needs to be used for keeping the windshield clear and the car comfortable, and the real inability to drive coast to coast, which we sometimes like to do.
    The government will need to figure out new modalities for recovering lost tax dollars at the fuel pump for road use etc etc, also the states are talking about having the cars report to the government where the car has been for the purpose of putting a tax on annual mileage, but they would never let mission creep allow the government to use that information against you for any other purpose than to levy a tax, right? So many drawbacks to electric over gas!

  • ken anthony

    Freedom of movement is anarchy! What do these terrorists have to hide? /sarc

    The only thing protecting us from this fate are programmers. All wearing different colored hats.

    We that live long enough will not recognize the future which has been in one direction for longer than any of us has been alive. We lost ownership so long ago that we think it still exists.

  • LocalFluff

    @Edward
    “The limits of overhead wires has been studied for about as long as they have been used. There are reasons that they are not in greater use.”

    I haven’t heard any of those reasons.

    Air wires are massively used by trains since a century. What kind of problem has there ever been with it? Electric buses have been a mature service for over a 100 years now (originally practically without any batteries). They have both the advantages of not having to carry any fuel or stand still to recharge, nor follow any tracks. It could quickly maneuver to take a turn that avoids an accident, and it can pick an unscheduled detour around the block when the traffic situation so requires. Most of the time buses and trucks (and commuters in their own cars) drive on the same roads and streets. It’s like aerial refueling, but very much cheaper. Wired vehicles are both as flexible as petrol cars and use as cheap fuel as the wall socket.

    Since it doesn’t seem practical to beam high power supplies on Earth, wire is the thing. Biology loves wires. Evolution is so fond of wired communication that it has even put nonfunctional wires on top the encapsulation Cranium of its invention The Brain(C). Simply as a decorative celebration of it excessive wiredness.

  • Cotour

    Local:

    Just think of the mechanical complexity and the numbers involved in what you propose. NG.

    I think a more workable high tech / modern solution would be some kind of inductive charging system buried in certain sections of the road or on the edges of the road so as to provide charging when needed would be a more seamless and non mechanical solution.

    This solution would have its own issues related to supply and maintenance but would be much more functional and more importantly invisible. Or a highway charging service turn off where you could sit and absorb the needed charge from infrastructure / solar panels. I am not certain about the technology that would allow say a mile long in ever say 10 or 20 (?) miles of an imbedded high speed inductive charging system might be, I am certain that there are engineers here that will comment on the thought.

    This technology is probably still to young to work so rapidly but your overhead proposal has been done, 100 years ago. An imbedded system much like how you charge your phone seems a better choice, it just has to be done while moving. I suppose that the real key is rapid charging high capacity battery technology.

    Or a system based on something like the Ecat (If proven viable) where each auto would have a closed circuit heat / steam electrical turbine generation system that would be serviced / fueled every 6 months or so. This would give all autos massive range and this entire discussion about over head wires can be put to bed or in a hole where it belongs.

  • LocalFluff

    @Cotour
    “Just think of the mechanical complexity and the numbers involved in what you propose. NG.”

    Someone did implement it privately and profitably, over 100 years ago. And it was all go! Total success to begin with.

    Obviously cheaper and much more workable than creating some kind of prescient omnipresence with infrastructure and refueling stations filled up with some imported oil-goo from Norway and Venezuela and other such socialist tyranny states. And like the Deep Space Wasteaway before anyone is allowed to instead simply go back to the Moon instead. Centrally produced electricity for electric trains/buses is so dirt cheap that it will once again not cost more than a shoe string to take a walk sitting down aboard of one of those fire horse driven wagons.

    (I don’t understand why Americans hate buses and trains. As a passenger there you have no obligations, only “rights”. And that seems to be the thingy that all Americans agree upon the most. To argue about who interprets what law right in case this and that. Sitting in a train car as a passenger your liabilities are quite limited. Sitting behind the steering wheel of your own car, you are a legal problem in so many ways!

  • Cotour

    I again will point out that all though overhead wires have been done and are effective in certain circumstances the masses of them that you propose is a non starter.

    “I don’t understand why Americans hate buses and trains.”

    Its an American thing, being a European you may not fully appreciate the concept of that level of personal freedom essential to American thinking. In many ways what we discuss here on BTB is the Europeanization / Socialization / Globalization of America. America is fundamentally different, we want individual personal freedom both to move as we please and to protect ourselves as needed.

    When America is like everywhere else there will be no need to discuss such things, it will all be decided for us all and everyone will be equal. God forbid.

  • LocalFluff

    @Cotour
    Actually, are you trying to play a troll here deliberately? Are the high speed trains of the world today tractored by diesel engines, or by electric engines? Why, do you think?

    Because they go back and forth between the same points. They are real estate installations rather than vehicles. And most of road vehicle transports behaves the same daily. And the technology is overly mature for most heavy road transport.

  • Cotour

    I am not trolling you at all, to propose that the autos of the future be dependent on an overhead wire system for their power is not a realistic proposal.

    Its fine for trains, but not for cars.

  • LocalFluff

    Seriously, Cotour, think about it before you just go wrong on auto pilot.

    No infrastructure for refueling. No need for any stand still for recharging. Total flexibility to wherever you wanna go, exactly like with a petrol car. Simply because you are constantly charged, like many millions of cars have been since over 100 years. From the wires that go along with all the other wires that provide all the power between exactly the destinations where people drive between. I.e. near zero infrastructure extra investment needed.

    Small towns do this and finance it themselves. They hire huge foreign companies that obviously do this at a large scale every day globally. This isn’t science fiction, it is the most practical way to combine mobile flexibility with free energy. Have a look at it. I think you don’t quite understand what it is that I am referring to. Almost all traffic follows daily regular patterns along a few streets and roads. And all of that is already electrified by street lighting. The infrastructure is already there, that doesn’t cost anything. Especially not compared to the costs of operating the infrastructure of all the gas stations (or the envisioned battery recharge stations, the places where all cars stand still).

    Why charge (or fill up the tank) at one time, then recharge at another time, when a simple wire makes you skip all of those interruptions? Simultaneous consumption and production, optimal logistics. And as a bonus you skip the need for those expensive and explosive and heavy batteries too!

  • Cotour: This is very interesting, but I wonder at the cost, not only for the fast chargers but for the batteries in the buses. Also, the model might work for buses, which stop regularly, but this doesn’t work for interstate travel, where people want to go as far as possible between stops to reduce the overall travel time.

    Once again, this article suggests that while electric vehicles might work in a variety of ways in cities, there are problems applying the technology to long range travel. And unlike Europe (Hi LocalFluff!), the U.S. has a lot of long range travel. In fact, Americans living in the eastern U.S. usually don’t realize how spread out and large the western half of the country is. For example, when I lived in the DC area a drive to Chicago would take about 13 hours. From my eastern perspective I thought that was crossing half the U.S. Now that I live in Arizona I realize that isn’t even close to being right. Crossing Arizona alone from south to north can take 10 hours, and that’s only one state. Crossing Texas alone can take 15 to 20 hours.

    The technology to make electric cars work for these distances does not yet exist. And as Cotour notes, Americans want the flexibility that owning their own cars brings them. Trains and buses won’t do.

  • Cotour

    I recognize the technical restrictions of the electric auto, I was more addressing the thinking that building a massive interstate over head power infrastructure to power autos and trucks was the way to go.

    This is not progress: http://royal.pingdom.com/2009/04/03/a-gallery-of-electrical-cabling-gone-wild/

    The instant charging buses are interesting, I did not think the technology existed.

  • wodun

    It looks like there is something similar to the rocket equation at play. Longer range means more batteries are required, which increases the size/weight of the vehicle and also charge times.

    Maybe a pickup truck sized vehicle but with seating for two or four with people squished in the back would work.

  • wayne

    Cotour & LocalFluff;
    Interesting back-n-forth.

    The history of mass-transit & individual transport in the US is very interesting, and as Mr Z touches upon, geographically constrained & dictated. There’s not a one-size-fits-everyone, solution.

    Tangentially– highly recommend the Chicago to Minneapolis run, on I-94/I-90, across Wisconsin. It’s about 450 miles, with endlessly rolling land, corn fields, dairy cows, and barns.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff,
    You wrote: “Air wires are massively used by trains since a century.

    But the power return (neutral) for trains are easily directed through the tracks and into the ground. Buses and cars are not so easily grounded and need a second overhead wire. Trains use a pantograph pickup, which is easy for a single wire, but buses need a power and a return, both of which disengage all too easily. Bus drivers end up in traffic trying to reengage their trolley poles. This is why your wikipedia page references almost exclusively the autonomous bus — no overhead wires to cause problems.

    Also, thank you for the lesson on battery powered buses, but my comment did not disparage that kind of power storage, just the recharging.

    The problems that we currently have with battery powered automobiles (buses, cars, trucks) is range, but recharge times will become important when long range travel becomes more popular with battery powered automobiles.

    If we can solve the problems with overhead wires, then we may choose to go that route with our cars, buses, and trucks. They have the convenience of zero recharge wait times on those long cross country trips.

    You wrote: “I don’t understand why Americans hate buses and trains.

    It is the freedom to go anywhere right now. For buses and trains, we can only go where the bus route or tracks go, and that very rarely is where we are now or where we want to be.

    We don’t hate trains. I volunteer at a railroad museum that is right next to a train station platform. One of the benefits is popping out to look at the freight trains as they pass by; the passenger trains are a bit too common to be fascinating, but we wave to their engineers when we are on break.

    However, the other end of the rail line is miles from where I start. When I go to the museum, I can either drive to the local train station, wait for the train, then arrive at the museum, or I can drive directly to the museum in half the time — at any time of my own choosing. There are bus stops at the museum, too, but if I chose to travel by bus, I would have to make transfers and the whole trip would be even longer than the train, and again I would be stuck to the bus schedule.

    It isn’t that we Americans hate trains, it is that they are not convenient. They stifle our freedoms in the same way that Chris and I were moaning about. Those supposed legal problems are nothing compared to the freedom we get from the personal automobile. Taxis, Uber, and other services offer similar freedom for a different price.

    Robert makes a good comparison between high population density and low density areas. New York City has a nice subway system that has stations only a few blocks from where someone is now and from where he wants to go and runs frequently. Parking in NYC is such a nightmare that many people travel by taxi rather than car — and expensive as the taxi is, it is cheaper than the personal car just in parking costs alone.

    Where I live, everything is spread out, unlike NYC. We have a trolley — yes, overhead wires — that goes south to north, but like the train it is only convenient for those few who live and work near the line. Many who use it may only work near the line and drive from home to a local station. It reduces the freedom and convenience, but it may be less expensive than parking downtown.

    The local governments are funny. They have built all the housing in the south, all the jobs in the north, and not enough roads to handle rush hour, but they blame us for going to work. Every time they complain about the rush hour traffic, I laugh. If only they would build some jobs in the south and some housing in the north then their traffic problems would go away, but the southern towns claim they only want to be bedroom communities, not job centers. No wonder we civilians don’t give much credit for brains to those in government.

    Intra-county travel seems to be more messed up than interstate travel.

  • wayne

    Edward–
    Good stuff!
    (Very cool about the train Museum.)

    “Freedom Highway” 1956
    Greyhound Bus corporate film
    https://youtu.be/yhbJSGD6CuM
    34:35
    “A Greyhound bus transports us from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. through the landscape of American mythology.” (keep an eye on the mysterious stranger!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *