See Tesla And The Future Of The Electric Car for the full story. Alternative Energy Stocks where this is posted, tracks green technology stocks for investors, and does not have a cheerleader attitude about green development. That doesn’t mean they have a superior understanding of the market or indeed economics of the transportation/energy problem, but then none of us do. The blog is at least open minded enough to publish this as a rebuttal to their call to abolish BEVs.
The substance of the blog’s critique of BEVs is accurate, but does not cover the problem of peak oil, climate change, or indeed possible global depression.
The Rebuttal, a sample:
A debate has once again been raised with regard to the future of clean technology and in particular the electric car. Whilst many of the issues on which this debate is based are genuine, they in fact fail to get to the heart of the matter. It therefore seems worthwhile to address some of central issues directly.
The Global Problem of Oil’s Monopoly in the Transport Sector
At the heart of the matter is the simple fact that a number of threatening global issues cannot be dealt with unless we end the effective monopoly of petroleum products in the transportation sector:
- Economic security – the monopoly position currently enjoyed by oil leaves the global economic cycle very exposed to the gyrations of both the oil price and political instability in the Arab world – an arena which continues to be very volatile. It is no co-incidence that the recession and financial calamity of 2008 was preceded by a sharp rise in the price of oil or that the same has been true of the softening of the recovery this year. Oil is the only strategic commodity capable of having such a disruptive impact on the economic cycle and frankly the world’s oil reserves are largely concentrated in hands which don’t necessarily appear to act in favor of stability.
- National Security – oil’s monopoly position ensures a continued flow of funds into the national economies of nations who are not particularly friendly to the interests of the US or western democracy as a whole.
- Global warming and associated abnormal weather patterns. I have no wish to get embroiled in the current debate over climate science. However, the risks are clearly there whether or not we fully understand the processes at work. Most importantly, climate science predicts not just a warming of the planet over time but more importantly a proliferation of abnormal weather patterns – more frequent occurrence of droughts and floods etc. That is exactly what we are seeing. If climate science is correct these disruptions will continue to get worse. I don’t believe that the precise interactions at work here can be definitively proven. Only time will tell. However, all the risk is that this is another factor likely to increasingly influence both policy-makers and consumers….
A Sample of the Critique:
In the most under-reported cleantech story of the year, researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have used an impressive array of computational and modeling tools to prove that the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility, which holds that the first unit of consumption of a good or service yields more utility than the second and subsequent units, doesn’t have a loophole for plug-in vehicles. The penultimate slide from an NREL presentation at Plug-in 2011 says it all – and proves beyond doubt that cars with plugs are less effective at saving fuel and reducing emissions than conventional hybrids and other simple fuel efficiency technologies….
For a really thorough discussion on Peak Oil see The Oil Drum. Let me offer a few points of comment about the critique:
- If worldwide demand stays flat or continues to expand ( 1 billion cars worldwide, 13 million cars a year built in China) then there will be a collision between rising oil prices plus diminishing availability, and transportation needs.
- The transport sector is roughly divided into military, commercial/public, and personal use. Clearly military and commercial uses will be favored over personal transportation, if fuel is more difficult to find.
- No fuel or energy storage system is as efficient as petroleum, that’s why the market chose petroleum in the first place. Arguments about the physics of oil-powered vs alternatives are moot.
- Personal transport is the least important and least efficient mode from the point of view of the economy. So in my view it will be sacrificed first if there is a crisis, just as it was during WWII.
- Personal vehicles are also more flexible and more adaptable than commercial ones, and the fleet turns 0ver more rapidly. The low hanging fruit of increasing transport efficiency comes with simple conservation, as you can see comparing a single driver in a 15 mpg SUV versus 4 people in a 50 mpg hybrid, and this is the essence of Alternative Energy Stocks’ critique. But once the easy conservation is done, what then? Will there be enough fuel for decades to come to fuel a billion 50 mpg cars?
- Alternative Energy Stocks also ignores the need for industrial-transport policy to develop nascent industries. There is an enormous emotional barrier to the idea of industrial policy among money people, but in fact all nations have one, where they retard some industries and encourage others. The maturity and size of the oil-based transport industry builds up so much policy/financial/mindshare/engineering inertia, that there is a great need for market incentives to nurture future technology.