The Electric Car
There is a new documentary movie this summer titled Who Killed the Electric Car? Although I have not seen it, I did see the trailer for it, and I have been reading about it in the news media (e.g., at CNN). It's a big conspiracy theory movie, and I'm not sure I'm sold on their claims. Of course, I should reserve full judgment until after seeing the actual film, but here are some of my preliminary concerns:
1) As we have witnessed in recent weeks, our power infrastructure is severely strained. In California, the problem is generation capacity. And throughout the country, but especially in the east, the problem is transmission capacity. Forget about the hassles and logistics of adding new power plants; just upgrading the existing $1-trillion electrical transmission infrastructure with millions of miles of wiring to handle the enormous extra load that electrical cars would generate would not be trivial in either time or money.
2) Batteries are imperfect devices. How efficient are these batteries that are used, and how long will they last?
3) While Americans have not exactly been the greenest people on this planet, there are other wealthy industrialized nations that are much more environmentally conscious. Why hasn't there much in the way of electrical car development in Europe or Japan?
4) While electrical cars may be more efficient and environment-friendly (yes, there is pollution associated with electrical generation, but it will be concentrated and easier to deal with) than gasoline cars, the real standard that should be used is whether or not they are that much better in terms of efficiency and practicality than the other green alternatives, like hybrids or hydrogen fuel cells. Hybrids are nice in that they achieve a large efficiency gain without any infrastructure requirements.
5) Did they really kill the EV1 because of some evil conspiracy, or was it killed out of purely economic concerns, such as the worry that not enough people would buy it to justify manufacturing and support costs?
In the end, I still think that the best solution is massive gasoline taxes to address the issue of the unpriced petrol externality. I think we may finally be getting to the point where Americans are finally starting to let go of the absurd notion that cheap gasoline is some sort of basic human right, which would make European-style gas taxes possible. And once that's in place, the market will take care of the rest. In the meantime, this is an interesting--albeit a bit off-topic--article from the July issue of the Scientific American.