I-5 Panel Replacement - Feb 14, 2009-2
I-5 in Seattle, Courtesy of WSDOT

According to the Times, Gov. Gregoire, along with Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, is considering a plan to make I-5 a “green freeway” with alternative fuel stations along the route. The article also mentions State Rep Deb Eddy’s (D-Kirkland) efforts to provide tax breaks for “establish battery charging and exchange stations” and infrastructure at rest stops for the same. Electric cars have come a long way, next year Mitsubishi is going to launch an electric car with a 90-mile-an-hour top speed and a 93 mile range on a single charge. However, it takes eight hours to charge the battery to 80%, and 14 hours to charge it fully, which means it can only work on a drive to Portland if there was a place every 75 miles or so to swap batteries. Good stuff.

84 Replies to “Electric Freeway?”

  1. I’m glad they’re thinking that way, if only symbolically so. But the second to last sentence says it all. I believe these politicians, try as they might, are pretty clueless. Did they think you could just pull in a charge one of these rigs is two minutes; about the time it takes to fill ‘er up? Don’t they charge their own cell phones? Whoops, I guess I answered my own questions here.

    I guess even the progressive amongst them have no idea of what the world might look like when “cars” remain to be driven by only the necessary (emergency services and first responders) and the exceptionally wealthy.

    1. An electric car can be charged much faster than they typically do from a standard residential outlet. Even with a battery pack not designed for fast charging the limiting factor is the amount of current you can draw from a residential outlet not how fast the batteries will accept a charge.

      If you do have a method of high-current charging then how fast the batteries can accept a charge becomes the limit. Super-capacitors can be charged nearly instantly, but the power density isn’t anywhere near what it is with batteries though it is approaching the lower end of battery technology.

    2. This recent discovery might actually make EVs more practical by quickening the charging process: Lithium breakthrough could charge batteries in 10 seconds

      The last paragraph does state one potential problem:

      “A battery that’s sufficient to run an electric vehicle could be fully charged in five minutes—which would make electric vehicles incredibly practical—but doing so would pull 180kW, which is most certainly not practical.”

      1. Well there are things that draw 180kW but those tend to be huge industrial applications like arc furnaces.

        One of those physics things again. Since batteries are energy storage the faster you try to fill them the larger the power draw.

        The practical limit is probably whatever size power feed is the maximum you want an untrained individual handling the connection.

  2. Indeed, the only way this would work is if there was a standard style of battery that *could* be swapped out every 70 miles. This is, we need enough batteries in enough places along the route to make that work, which is nigh unfeasible. If instead we had a slot-car like system, it would allow higher speeds because suddenly we have a means of autopilot, and we have no need of battery changes en route. I would not even worry about the third-rail electrocution issue, because unless there has been an accident nobody is going to be walking around on the freeway. And even then we could build the system to be electrically isolated into blocks, and when you really come down to it you only need the far right 2 lanes or so electrified.

    1. Shai Agassi has been working on the system to accomplish this for some time now. His first large scale demonstration project is Israel. It’s not going to be the solution for Montana but it could well work in Hawaii. Once there’s enough momentum expect to see it in metropolitan areas around the world.

      As much as this sounds green it should also be seen as confirmation that cars are going to be a major factor for a long long time.

      1. Electric cars are pretty green from a land-use perspective, too, since they have very short ranges. No Cle Elem – Bellevue commutes on a car with an 80 mile range.

      2. Generator trailers are just like making the thing into a hybrid. You spend a lot of energy dragging the trailer.

      3. The point is you have something that is useful for short-range commuting or running errands. But when you need to take a longer trip you don’t need a second vehicle you just hook up a generator trailer.

        Unlike a plug in hybrid you aren’t dragging around the weight of the generator when you don’t need it.

      4. Just a thought for making pure-electric vehicles somewhat more practical.

        Though it seems hybrids are what has mass market acceptance. The Toyota approach of adding a couple extra battery packs and an external charger likely will be what pans out for plug-in hybrids. The volt is likely to be like the EV1 and not terribly practical due to the high cost.

      5. It is one of two electric projects in Hawaii that is interesting. The other is an Electric Light Rail project in Honolulu that some legislators are trying to steal the money for(they’ll make it up by extending the tax that they are trying to steal for a few more years), to balance the state budget. Both Project Better Place, and Honolulu Light Rail make sense, as there are not too many oil reserves in the Hawaii area, surfers will fight off-shore drilling(if there is oil to drill for), but there is abundant sources of renewable energy in Hawaii, such as tidal, wave, Geothermal, wind, and solar.

  3. How about electric induction charging along certain sections of highway?
    Kinda like a big electric toothbrush on wheels!

    1. Yeah, because that’s not more expensive than building intercity rail. ;)

  4. For all her brusqueness on this blog, I really have a deep appreciation for Rep. Eddy (for this and her support of Domestic Partnerships).

    1. She cares enough about transportation to come to the blog and talk about it, which says a lot to me, even if we don’t agree on East Link alignment or whatever.

      1. The fact that she is willing to engage us is much more than I can say for many in the Legislature.

        I think people here could be a little more polite toward her. It is possible to disagree strongly with someone without being rude.

        Furthermore I think she’s a potential ally on a number of issues given her support for the TOD bill and for redevelopment of Bel-Red. A dialog will hopefully bring her closer to our on issues like the East Link alignment and ST governance reform.

        She does have a point that decisions impacting land use and transportation are scattered through a number of different agencies who all march to their own tune and don’t play well together. The main issue is she sees Sound Transit as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

      2. I wouldn’t say she’s engaging us. She’s already told us some things about I-90 HOV funding that have yet to pan out, and this Metro funding has yet to pan out as well. I have not seen a single thing she’s done for transit yet.

      3. She’s here responding to comments. If that’s not “engaging” what is engaging?

      4. Engaging is listening and responding with something other than unverifiable claims about the future.

      5. Baby steps. The fact she shows up at all is more than you can say for…any?…of her peers?

      6. I just wish Rep. Eddy would stop acting as a shill for her former employer, the Discovery Institute. They have been fighting light rail for years, and pumping up “the promise” of techie “solutions” like plug-in hybrids, which were supposed to achieve 100 mpg. Actual mileage: 51 mpg.

        Discovery’s opposition to rail tunnels – and support for outlandish freeway tunnels – kinda gives their stealth agenda away. That conference they sponsored two years ago, featuring MagLev and vaccum tube MagLev was truly ridiculous.

      7. Gary, I really don’t think it’s ever useful to argue about one’s motivations. There are always better arguments to be made.

      8. No. Absolutely not. Motivations inform future decisions. Understanding someone’s motivations – and this electric car thing is *right* out of the Discovery Institute playbook – is a good way of understanding what they’re going to do next.

        I know you want everyone to have good intentions, but they don’t. Electric cars are not realistic – their costs don’t come down with mass production, they go *up*, as a result of the scarce materials required for batteries. Battery technology hasn’t gotten significantly more efficient in a century – lithium ion was a weight reduction by moving to the lightest element we can. Things like fuel cells are less weight-dense than what we have.

      9. It’s not even close to being true that battery techonlogy hasn’t become more efficient. Lithium ion polymer batteries have a charge-discharge efficiency of 99.8%, compared to the 50% for the nickel-acid batteries of 100 years ago. 100% is substantial.

        Either way, this ignores the massive engine efficiency gains that have made over the past 20 years, and the ability to make cars smaller and lighter.

        Obviously lithium is a rare element, but there are other elements you can make rechargable batteries out of that are much more common.

      10. Understanding the motivations of someone else is one thing, though often not attainable without asking them. Attacking those motivations is something else entirely, and typically results in an ad hominem argument.

        It isn’t about assuming good intentions. It just helps one become a much more convincing debater if they learn not to question the intentions, motivations, and sincerity of others. For a debate about batteries vs. fuel cells, there are facts to talk about and positions to be staked. For what goes through Eddy’s head: well, only one person knows that and it’s not you, Gary, or me.

      11. Andrew, we had lighter cars in 1900 than we do today, for cheaper. They had 100+ mile ranges and swappable batteries. We are doing nothing today that we weren’t doing a century ago.

        100 years ago we used lead-acid. Today most cars use lead-acid. If it were cost-effective to use lithium-ion stacks for car batteries (starter motors, etc), we’d already be doing it.

        Engine efficiency gains don’t have much to do with electric cars. :)

        John, you won’t convince anyone if you’re constantly looking at both sides of the issue, because you create uncertainty in your listener. For a debate about batteries vs. fuel cells, the only valid argument is that nobody’s managed to bring anything like a competitive day to day vehicle to market for less than $100,000, despite a decade of promises – and Tesla recently admitted it costs $140,000 to make one of their cars. That’s pretty close to the cost of the EV1 more than a decade ago.

        Deb Eddy’s motivations are pretty clear. Claiming that we have a blindfold on is completely pointless – she has a long history of speaking her mind, we don’t need to be in her brain when she’s been very forthright. All she’s done is neutralize you as a threat – you’re acting as if we haven’t seen plenty to know she’s not a friend of rail.

      12. I shouldn’t have said “engine”. Every part of a car has become more efficient over time.

        “100 years ago we used lead-acid. Today most cars use lead-acid. If it were cost-effective to use lithium-ion stacks for car batteries (starter motors, etc), we’d already be doing it.”

        Uh, the primary energy source in cars is the gas tank, remember? It’s not cost effective because it has little to do with the main cost. I’ve never charged a battery in my car, so I don’t need to buy an expensive battery: the car doesn’t run off the battery. If it did, people would move toward more efficient batteries, as Mitsubishi is doing.

        Anyway, I don’t see how you can on one hand say the materials are rare and on the other say it’s lead-acid. Pick one.

        I don’t know Deb Eddy’s motivations, and I won’t bother arguing about that. Why not ask her?

      13. You’re conflating two uses of the word “it”. The battery technology necessary to make a car run on a battery uses lithium. Nickel metal hydride is much heavier – cars based on that have more like 30 mile ranges, not 100 mile ranges. Those are the ‘neighborhood electric vehicles’ we have now. The cars that are supposedly coming to market soon are all li-ion, and lithium is getting more expensive the more of it we use. There’s been a fair amount of media on how touchy lithium is getting, because we’re using it for everything (and not designing our products to allow reclamation):

        I’m using lead-acid to point out that the most cost effective battery on the market for many uses remains exactly the same technology we had a hundred years ago.

      14. Why would we bother asking Eddy about her motivations? She’s provided them many times. Did you see all the quotes from her in the comments to my last post?

      15. Sure, that makes sense. But the “many uses” are ones other than the one we’ve been talking about.

        But nickel metal hydride isn’t just worse on weight, it has a worse charge-discharge ration (66% compared to nearly 100%).

      16. Still improved materials and manufacturing technology can make the overall vehicle lighter. Lead-acid or NiMH can benefit from better design and manufacturing as well as a better understanding of the physics and chemistry. Electric motors are much better than they used to be as well. Modern electronics on the vehicle helps a lot as well.

        Maybe you are right and mass production electric cars just aren’t practical. But I’m willing to wait and see. After all many thought the Prius was going to be an expensive flop for Toyota.

      17. There’s no maybe.

        This battery technology has undergone research and development for a hundred years, and we don’t have much better than we had to begin with. We have a great understanding of chemistry and physics, and physics says “pick the lightest element you can” – lithium. You can’t build a car that can go a hundred miles on a charge with anything else (unless it’s a little one-seater pod like the Sparrow, which is still a $25,000 vehicle).

        What are you waiting for? Next year’s promises? This stuff was supposed to happen in the mid-nineties. The EV1 came out in 1996 – it doesn’t take 13 years to put that car back on the market. It would cost six figures – just like the Tesla. There’s no market to compete for at those prices.

        In a physics class in college, I remember doing something like this. We’d lower the range of the vehicle as we increased battery weight, and increase the range of the vehicle as we increased capacity – you can make the rest of the thing fifty pounds (which you can’t anyway), and you still get something like a 200 mile range – and then you have to swap out a 2000 pound battery at your filling station. It’s not practical, which is why the industry has been stringing you along every year with ‘just give it a while’.

        If these guys thought for a minute they could make money on an electric car, it would be on the market. An electric car is *far* simpler to design than an internal combustion engine car. But if they let us know that they already know they can’t – we’d start building rails and redesigning our communities. And that would put them out of business, so it’s the only choice they can make.

  5. Thank you! I will try very hard to be less brusque. This schedule down here is killer, and I’ll admit to getting a little testy, when I’m banging away on my keyboard. MY APOLOGIES!

    FYI – I am also working hard to get some new revenue for Metro service. Great meeting yesterday w/Rep Hunter and others. We can’t completely solve the revenue shortfall (too big), but we can loosen up some money and make it available to Metro quickly. And NO, it’s not revenue constrained by state law, like so much of what we talk about here; it’s revenue authority that’s totally suitable for transit. /d

    1. Thanks Rep. Eddy! And thank you for working hard to help Metro. Every little bit helps given the hole in their budget.

  6. Electric vehicles are unfortunately not currently suited to long trips. They work well for errands and for commuting where the round trip is less than the range on a single charge.

    Some level of standardization is needed in order to make battery swapping or fast charging stations possible. While not strictly necessary some form of standardization also makes options like range extension trailers more attractive.

    Imagine if most electric vehicles had a standard range extension trailer interface. These could simply be extra batteries or a generator set depending on need. If you are taking a long trip you could rent a trailer. If you are using one with batteries you could just swap it for another one when the juice gets low. It would also provide a way to get home if you find yourself on the road and low on juice.

  7. Does anyone else find it strange that once we’re low on oil we’re still going to spend massive amounts of money on oil-soaked pavement (or worse, coal-produced concrete) to get individual vehicles to move back and forth across two states? It sure seems to me that rail + Zipcar (or even better – streetcars) would be a far more elegant, less costly solution.

    1. I suspect oil is going to have to get a lot more expensive before long distance road travel becomes something only government and the wealthy can afford.

      Even then there will still be people going long distances in electric vehicles, or on bikes. Animal power will probably make a bit of a comeback at that point as well.

      We have a long way to go down the oil shock curve before people realize that dumping massive amounts of resources into road building might not be such a bright idea.

      1. Right, a lot more expensive. Despite the banter about peak oil and the dire warnings (they’ve been going on since the early ’70s) the world is no where close to running out of oil an reserves of coal and natural gas are enormous. I’m more worried about running out of oxygen than fossil fuels.

        Because oil is cheap it’s still a major source of electrical power generation in this country and around the world. Coal, which even with environmental regulations in this country is even more polluting. China relies extensively on coal and their plants don’t have the environmental constraints we do.

        So, while electric cars virtually eliminate point source pollution they do nothing to offset global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact they enable it. The only way electric cars (or trains) can help is if we shift energy production to something like nuclear. Other “renewable” sources can help as can conservation/efficiency but the very success of electric cars is dependent on them being cheap and convenient which means more cars on the road. Building “electric highways” would be an enabler on par with the Eisenhower freeway building binge; which by the way was originally undertaken for military preparedness.

      2. I agree the reserves of coal are enormous (I’m not even sure that is the right word, the US has enough coal at this moment to last current energy production for two millenia), but natural gas tends to be found in much the same places as oil and thus is fairly scarce as far as abundant fossil fuels are concerned.

        The problem with your assumption is that we can use alternative energy for electricity. People planning on electric car use are hopeful this is possible.

        Trust me, if we don’t find an alternative source of electrical energy aside from fossil fuels, electric car emissions are going to be the very least of our concerns: we’ll be entirely doomed.

      3. The US has vast reserves of natural gas in Louisiana. Natural gas is virtually assured where there is current oil production but large amounts of gas have been left in areas where drilling for oil was no longer profitable (e.g. Texas and Oklahoma). Offshore along the Gulf Coast is another plentiful source. Canada too has vast quantities of natural gas and extraction is much less devastating to the environment than processing oil shale.

        The reason all the natural gas has been burned off at the oil rigs is because the oil is so cheap and plentiful that building the CNG processing plants, pipelines and storage facilities hasn’t been economical. While burning off the gas is “better” for the environment than simply releasing it it’s still a huge waste of resources. Since it’s currently being burned off you could almost consider gas diverted to electrical production, home heating, fleet transportation, etc. as “carbon neutral”.

      4. Even worse it is likely as natural gas and crude oil get expensive that coal will replace those sources as well. Coal can be made into coal-gas (ala Gasworks park) to replace natural gas. Coal can also be made into synthetic gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

        Unfortunately synthetic gas and oil from coal are far worse carbon wise
        than traditional sources of natural gas and crude oil.

        Massive building of nuclear and wind plants can help some on the electric production side with reducing CO2. However the pressure to turn coal into transportation fuel will be massive.

      5. “the world is no where close to running out of oil”

        I suppose you know more about this than petroleum geologists, 61% of whom predict peak oil within the next decade.

        Although it’s possible that you just miss the argument of peak oil, that prices skyrocket far before we actually run out of the stuff. Peak oil is the point at which annual supply stops increasing and begins to decrease. Since demand continues to increase, prices skyrocket at that point and never drop.

      6. Matt,
        I’ve been hearing the same thing since the 70’s. New oil continues to be discovered and new techniques developed to unlock oil previously thought unattainable. In this country we’re using the same amount of gasoline that we were back in the 70’s.

        Every time the price spikes there is a large drop in demand. When the price comes back down the demand doesn’t rebound nearly as quick. People learn that combining trips to the store not only saves them gas but time. People that bought smaller more efficient cars don’t trade them in on SUVs. There are alternatives to crude oil and the economy will adapt just like it did after we finished killing off the whales.

      7. The guy who predicted US Domestic production will peak around 1971 turned out to be right, but when he made the prediction, he was laughed at. One government organization that was taking Peak Oil seriously in recent years, was the US DoD, as they were considering going back to Nuclear Power for surface combatants.(Does not make sense for a ship that needs no refueling(except for it’s aircraft) to be escorted by ships that need to refuel every few days). Peak Oil does not mean that we will run out the day after we hit it, it just means that the amount of consumption has outpaced the amount of recoverable oil reserves being discovered. We already seeing alternative oil being tried, although it is the dirty stuff such as oil sands and oil shale.

      8. Oil is being discovered at a rate of one barrel to every three barrels being used DAILY. The oil that is also being discovered is of a heaver, more “sour” kind, and is difficult to extract. For instance, we have alot of “oil” in shale in the Rockies Front Range, but it is not very economical to heat the ground to 500 degrees centrigrade in situ to extract it unless you use energy to extract it…

      9. At some price it’s economical to extract. If oil was $1000 a barrel it probably would be.

      10. Yes, we’re driving much more but not so many ’72 Impalas on the road. We haven’t built any new refineries in decades (and you can be darn thankful to the NIMBYs for that one). Gasoline consumption is going down. That’s why the state is experiencing revenue shortfalls from the gas tax; it’s taxed per gallon.

      11. The Oil COmpany MegaMergers also closed some refineries, especially when Oil was at $10 per barrel.

        Now as for the energy needed to extract oil shale, or the oil sands up in Alberta, there has been talk of using CANDU Reactors for that, but Alberta seems to be opposed to Nuclear Power. The growing Light Rail system in Calgary uses wind power for electricity.

      12. Bernie, the state is experiencing revenue shortfalls of a couple of percent – the reason we’ve got big problems with the gas tax revenue is mostly because we didn’t increase it with inflation.

      13. You’re right that the big shortfall in revenue is that the tax doesn’t keep pace with inflation. I guess they thought we’d keep burning more of the stuff or the price would never go up. A sales or VAT tax would be much better. If they moved quick and did it during a downswing in the price of crude politicians could look like heroes by declaring a temporary nickel a gallon “tax holiday” during spikes while still taking in greater total revenue.

  8. Reread the article about the Mitsubishi Colt EV. It will debut in Japan in 2010. Which, based on the experience with the SMART car, means it’ll get to the US market in 2019.

    1. If at all. The SMART hasn’t gotten here yet, it’s still just a promise, just like every other electric car.

      1. I think he was refering to the gas powered SMART FourTwo which took 10 years to be officially imported to the US by Damlier-Benz.

      2. Sure, but the electric SMART isn’t here. I don’t really care about gas vehicles.

  9. I think the big misunderstanding a lot of environmentalists have comes from thinking electricity is a source of energy. It’s not, it has to be produced. The PNW has a large amount of hydro-power but that’s not without environmental consequences as well. Wind power is not going to be a major contributor because it’s not “on demand” and let’s face it, wind farms are ugly. Solar has much the same problem. It’s best suited to point of use generation rather than a distribution grid. As for biofuels there are some places where it’s viable, like Brazil but I sure hope nobody is still drinking the AGM “Korn Kool-aid”.

    Electrifying train lines is expensive but it has a number of advantages. One, virtually all trains are already electric so you eliminate carrying around the diesel engine and fuel. Besides the weight saving and the fact central generation of electricity tends to be more efficient the maintenance costs are reduced. Overall the operation tends to be quieter and the point polution is eliminated (especially important in urban areas). Oh, and you can dump power back into the grid rather than into heating resistors on the roof for braking.

    1. Awesome comment.

      I think you don’t give wind enough credit, though. It doesn’t have to be on demand. When there’s wind, we can spin our hydros a little less and build up more reservoir capacity for when there isn’t wind. Even that is an oversimplification – a big wind farm will always be producing power, there’s just a statistical curve of how much power it will output when. It never ‘stops’.

      1. European experience has shown wind can be a significant portion of the electric production on the grid with no real problems.

        There are some technical issues when you go past 20% wind but in the US we are a long way from that.

      2. I don’t disregard wind power. I don’t know that we’ll get to 20% in this country but it’s a good point that by helping with peak demand (during the day when it’s hot) we have in effect banked the generation from other sources (oil, gas, hydro) and evening out the peaks is analogous to solving congestion on the highways. Electric cars can also help in smoothing out peak demand assuming people will recharge at night when demand is lowest. Time of day metering of electricity isn’t that hard to implement. Most meters now days already have a “computer” so that they can be read via radio frequency. It’s amazing how much people will conserve even when they think they’re only saving a few pennies.

    2. Bernie,
      Wind is a significant contributor to the overall grid in many parts of the world. I believe Denmark is somewhere around 20%.

      Solar-thermal powerplants can work depending on location. For example to do afternoon peaking in the southwest.

      Biofuels can work in places other than Brazil, it’s just that ADM has given everyone corn on the brain in the US. The evil of ADM goes deeper as they are responsible for the high tariffs on imported sugar and ethanol.

      Still I think we’re going to need to build new nuclear plants, lots of them. Sadly there is currently a huge production backlog at the one place in the world capable of forging large pressure vessels. Not to mention the worldwide shortage in people with the skills to design, build, and operate nuclear plants.

      1. I’m not a big believer in electricity from solar. The energy density just isn’t there for large scale production and for point of use it’s more efficient to use it for things like heating water. Geothermal is fairly isolated. Works great in Iceland and while there are places it can be part of the answer again it’s more point of use than large scale contribution to the grid.

        I put in a heat pump last year and even though we had an old shallow well on the property and there are federal tax breaks for geothermal heat pumps [but not air to air anymore :-( ] there is no way I could make it pay. Maybe in 10-12 years when it’s time to replace mine that will have changed. Once they’re install geothermal heat pumps are almost like free money ;-)

        France has had great success with they’re nuclear program. Of course it’s not without risk but I believe we should be at least looking a how to make nuclear power a safe alternative. It seems to be “the third rail” of US energy policy :=

      2. Nuclear has limited fuel: there’s only so much uranium you can smash apart. I’ve heard it there was approx. 100 years worth of current energy consumption.

        In physics class we learned that 10,000 times as much energy from the sun lands each day on a nuclear power plant than the plan produces. There must be a similar number for oil and coal. The energy from the sun is there, it’s just expensive to build the harnessing equipment. But if you could get it, boyo, you’d have unlimited clean energy for as long as the planet’s here.

      3. Let’s see. The solar constant is ~1400 watts/square meter? A typical US nuclear plant has a generating capacity of about 1000 megawatts. So, if you’re solar collector has an area of 175 acres and it’s located at the equator on a tower that puts it up at the edge of the earths atmosphere, yeah at high noon assuming 100% efficiency you could generate the same electricity as the nuclear plant.

      4. 1) it’s not even close to constant, you get 800 watts/sq m in Norway in the winter and 3000 watts/sq m in Australia in the summer.

        2) And that’s on the surface, not on a tower on the equator.

        3) Do you have any idea how big a nuclear facility is? Have you even been to Hanford? 175 acres is WAY WAY WAY smaller than that place is, it’s several square MILES, thousands of acres.

      5. The solar constant is the amount of energy that reaches the earth at the edge of our atmosphere. It’s close partner (probably a better measure) is solar irradiance which is slightly less. You can get these numbers from NOAA. The suns output varies over time and the exact altitude it’s measured at isn’t standardized but 1400 watts per square meter is at the high end of the range. What actually makes it to the surface is about 40% of that.


        Even at 100% efficiency if you covered the entire area of the Hanford reservation (mostly empty space and not on the equator where these maximums come from) you’d get enough power to equal about four nuclear reactors (assuming full output 12 hours a day, it’s actually much less). There’s about a 1/2 dozen reactors at Hanford which is a weapons facility not a power plant. Take your physics teachers claim of 10,000 times the power and your covering an area almost the size of Australia to match a single 1000 megawatt nuclear power plant.

      6. Well Hanford is a bit of an extreme case as is Oak Ridge and Savannah River.

        Still good point that a 1000 Mw nuclear reactor complex isn’t exactly small though.

      7. Three Mile island, was, well, three miles for example. At 40% of 1400 W, that’s 1,450 MW. Even if you only get 12 hours a day on average (which you do), that still beats the 680MW the facility averages.

      8. Bernie, you did the math wrong. First, each reactor doesn’t get 1000 MW. Three mile island has two reactors that get 400 MW each for example. And those are huge ones, most get 200 per reactor.

        Second, australia is 3 million square miles.

      9. Hanford is a weapons facility and contains several nuclear reactors and a whole lot of empty space. A Nimtz class aircraft carrier has two 94MW reactors and it’s flight deck is 333×77 meters. That makes the energy density a little more that 7,000 watts per square meter for something that wasn’t even designed as a power plant. The solar constant is the energy reaching the outer edges of the earths atmosphere. In other words it’s the maximum you start with. Most of that energy is absorbed or reflected so only about 40% reaches the surface. Being generous lets say that the average over a 24 hour period is half that amount. You’re left with an average energy density of 280 watts per square meter. Claims like 10,000 times as much energy from the sun lands each day on a nuclear power plant than the plant produces are the type of bad science that gets well meaning people to line up at the pump for biodiesel.


      10. Andrew, most newer nuclear plants are pretty large. Some of the older plants were around 200Mw but that isn’t the majority.

        True actual power production depends on the uptime of the plant and some do much better than others.

        Three Mile Island unit 1 has a capacity of 802 MW. Trojan had a capacity of 1130 MW. Columbia (WNP-2) has a capacity of 1131 MW. Diablo Canyon 1 is 1122 MW, unit 2 is 1118 MW.

      11. Three Mile Island has 802MW for both units. Capacity is not the same as the amount of power they get out of these things. Anyway, we’ll still run out of fuel on these

      12. No, unit 1 has a generating capacity of 786 MWe according to the US DOE. (that is what I get for citing Wikipedia rather than a direct source)

        I know the thermal capacity is larger, but most US nuclear plants still have a large electrical generation capacity. In the same range as large coal plants. 1000 MWe plus plants aren’t uncommon.

        While we will eventually run out of uranium for nuclear plants that day is still a ways off (the 100 year figure is extremely conservative).

        In any case I’d much rather see new nuclear plants built than new fossil fuel plants. This doesn’t mean wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass shouldn’t be built as well. It isn’t an either/or it is about getting rid of the coal plants and eventually the natural gas plants.

      13. I’m really not advocating nuclear power. I think it should be looked at but right now the most expensive electrical generation in this country is from nukes (figuring in the cost of building the plant). There are huge safety concerns with nuclear as well as the cost issues.

        My whole point is that electricity has to come from somewhere and for the foreseeable future increased demand is going to be largely dependent on fossil fuels. That means that electric cars don’t get the free pass some people want to believe. Yes they have some advantages but on whole I think the concept is over hyped as far as being a solution to pollution. If the government is going to subsidize electricity for transportation money on overhead wires for transit is a much better investment. I’d even go so far as to say government incentives for the railroads to (re)electrify some routes would make more sense than giving out tax breaks to Prius owners.

  10. LOL! Maybe SDOT should put trolley bus overhead on the interstate while they’re at it!

    *is shot*

  11. I want to correct some erroneous comments on here about the classic “extending the tailpipe” argument against electric cars. Most total-energy well-to-wheel studies show us that even with the current mix of U.S. electricity generation, electric cars are significantly cleaner than gas cars. There are quite a few reasons:

    1. Power plants generally have much higher efficiency than internal combustion engines of vehicles, even taking into account transmission losses. Petroleum extraction, refining, delivery, and finally combustion is a very energy-intensive and inefficient process of its own.

    2. There’s a good deal of surplus supply of electricity during off-peak hours which could charge a fairly significant number of plug-in vehicles. A study from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimated that “off-peak electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel 70% percent of the U.S. light-duty vehicle (LDV) fleet, if they were plug-in hybrid electrics.”

    3. Improvements in emissions can come about much more quickly with electric vehicles. It takes a long time for MPG regulations to have any appreciable impact on the U.S. vehicle fleet. On the other hand, improvements to the electric grid would have an immediate impact. As we move toward renewable energy the entire vehicle fleet effectively becomes cleaner without individual users having to change anything.

    4. Here in Washington we’re blessed with a mostly renewable energy portfolio already (if you count hydro as a renewable).

    5. Even if all of that was not true, a point source of pollution outside of a population center might still be preferable to all the emissions from vehicles right within our cities.

    That said, people need to get out of their cars and on public transit. That’s not practical for everyone though, so electric cars are a nice complement.

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