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Bizzare WSJ Article Slams Hybrids
December 2, 2005 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Dear Valued Hybrid Customer... I can't tell if this is a joke or something. As rhetoric, it's well done. As a reasoned argument it falls apart if you actually know anything at all about hybrids.
posted by Ken McE (86 comments total)

 
Rush Limbaugh seems to like it:
http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/da...tute.guest.html

Original URL for this article:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113332075479109882.html

I linked to a copy of the article, the WSJ won't let you see it directly unless you give them a credit card number.
posted by Ken McE at 4:09 PM on December 2, 2005


The only error I saw was this: "... petroleum not consumed by Prius owners is not 'saved.' It does not remain in the ground. It is consumed by someone else." Obviously that's some specious reasoning.

I found it pretty entertaining.
posted by knave at 4:12 PM on December 2, 2005


I found it to have an awful lot of words.
posted by fenriq at 4:24 PM on December 2, 2005


Huh... the right wing coming out against an astronomically popular, near zero pollution car that gets two to four times the mileage of most SUVs? Hard to believe.
posted by jonson at 4:25 PM on December 2, 2005


The author of the article seemed to have some pretty odd ideas of why people have been buying the Prius. I'm pretty sure most of its buyers aren't cheap. I would guess most are people who care more about the environment, national and economic security than your typical WSJ editor.

I'd also like to point out that he either didn't do his homework, or set out to deliberately mislead readers. Yes, the Prius doesn't reach the sticker MPG in real tests. Guess what? The problem is with the tests, not the Prius.

p.s. This guy even looks like an a-hole.
posted by justkevin at 4:26 PM on December 2, 2005


Besides, even if the mileage is not as good as claimed, it's still just as higher as a percentage of an average vehicle, no?
posted by cell divide at 4:31 PM on December 2, 2005


I never understood the argument that if it doesn't save you enough money quickly enough, fuel efficiency isn't worth pursuing. Think of pretty much any technology that's been widely adopted, and then think about the people who bought them early on. The motorcar itself was a luxury item more than it was a vital commodity until the States started building highways everywhere and encouraging suburban development.

If owning a motorcar in the early days wasn't exactly economical, that's the price you pay for being an early adopter. You aren't any stupider for buying a Prius than the guy who bought a Commodore PET back in the 70s or the people who bought the first MP3 player. Most technology suceeds because someone finds a potential use for it, even if the technology isn't mature.

This doesn't mean you can't argue against hybrids; the diesel engine is one efficient alternative that has taken root in Europe but not here (mostly due to older engines falling afoul of air pollution regulations, as well as a long absence from the American market). But hybrids are here to stay, the technology will only improve (and be coupled with other technologies such as diesels), and I highly doubt people will look at Prius owners in a couple of years and think "sucker."

That is, unless they already think so now.
posted by chrominance at 4:33 PM on December 2, 2005


Yeah, but you could just go buy a Civic which gets almost 40mpg without a stack of lead-acid batteries in the trunk. Hybrids do pollute less, but they're just an incremental improvement over an area that really needs to be revolutionized.
posted by knave at 4:34 PM on December 2, 2005


I'll try again with that Rush link, it got cut off above:

http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_120105/content/institute.guest.html
posted by Ken McE at 4:37 PM on December 2, 2005


Something else of note: improving the fuel efficiency of SUVs will save more fuel than compact cars like the Prius because even a minimal impact makes a great difference in the massive amounts of fuel SUVs use. While the ideal situation is for everyone to simply stop driving SUVs, that's unlikely to ever happen, so it's actually a very good thing that we're seeing more hybrid engines in SUVs (though, as the author points out, only some of these engines actually improve fuel efficiency vs. providing more power).
posted by chrominance at 4:37 PM on December 2, 2005


I'm on my second Prius. I bought it for the cut in emissions. The improved mileage is a bonus, but the clean air aspects -- and the high-level geekinesss factor -- are what drew me.
posted by mmahaffie at 4:41 PM on December 2, 2005


so, KenMcE, you care to point out the all of the flaws in the reasoning?
posted by Kwantsar at 4:42 PM on December 2, 2005


so.... what happened fo the first one, mmahaffie?
posted by foozleface at 4:44 PM on December 2, 2005


Golf TDI. Decent price. Good mileage. Proven technology.
posted by tkchrist at 4:48 PM on December 2, 2005


I bought my first Prius back in 2001. I traded it in in 2004 (with about 99,000 miles on it) for the newer version. I loved it but love the new version even more.

I drive a lot. I love to drive. I'm comfortable physically as a driver and emotionally and as an environmentalist in my Prius.
posted by mmahaffie at 4:48 PM on December 2, 2005


Along with other members of the auto industry, we will be lobbying for tax breaks and HOV privileges for hybrid vehicles.

Much like "small business" tax breaks used to float the cost of an SUV, I suppose.

You may be aware that a survey by Consumer Reports found that our vehicles achieve considerably less mileage (some 26% less) than the sticker rating implies.

As do all tested vehicles, apparently.

Toyota applauds your willingness to spend $9,500 over the price of any comparable vehicle for the privilege of saving, at current gasoline prices, approximately $580 a year.

Would be interested to see where this figure comes from, given who is making it.

And should the price of gasoline rise to $5, after 10 years and/or 130,000 miles of driving, you might even come close to breaking even on your investment in hybrid technology.

Disingenuous: no one expects gas price savings to pay for any car in toto.

This transcends even the regrettable truth that driving a fuel-efficient car does not yield any substantial benefits for society if it doesn't save the owner money.

Only if incredibly low emissions of greenhouse gases and lower overall usage of gasoline do not provide substantial benefits for society.

Contrary to any loose statements made by our marketing partners in the environmental community and media, petroleum not consumed by Prius owners is not "saved." It does not remain in the ground. It is consumed by someone else.

I suppose if I don't drink the milk in my fridge, it will evaporate of its own accord. Sounds reasonable.

The Prius is an "oil-dependent" vehicle. It runs on gasoline, supplied by the same world market that fuels other vehicles.

Except that it runs on less gasoline. A minor logical oversight, I suppose.

Our 2006 Tundra pickup will be equipped with Toyota's new eight-cylinder engine, making it every bit as much of a gas guzzler as any American pickup.

Translation: Free-market capitalism is only okay if you agree with the Wall Street Journal's redefinition of it, and you're an American corporation.

We want you to know that Toyota remains committed to advancing hybrid technology just as long as our customers are willing to make it worth our while.

Ibid.

Another esteemed competitor, GM, has suggested that hybrid technology is best deployed in city buses, where large fuel consumption and stop-and-go driving might actually make it economically sensible.

And look where they are, while Toyota keeps making money. Surprise, surprise.
posted by Rothko at 4:54 PM on December 2, 2005


Sounds like it was written by Ford. Some people still don't get it. The message was 'keep driving SUV's and don't worry about alternative energy until we run out and gas gets so high that we have no choice'. That business plan hasn't worked very well for the Big Three.
posted by UseyurBrain at 4:55 PM on December 2, 2005


Daniel Gross, an author/journalist who oftern writes about topics in economics, posted a reaction on his blog. I think it qualifies as -- how the kids say -- "burn":
...it's not surprising that Jenkins has a tough time wrapping his mind about market success. ... In recent years, the WSJ editorial page has seen its programming fail to catch on ... The print version of the Wall Street Journal is failing to turn a profit consistently ... Finally, Dow Jones management ... has for years failed in the ultimate marketplace: the stock market.

posted by mhum at 4:56 PM on December 2, 2005


My main problem with this argument is that it doesn't recognize that hybrid technology is evolving. Mileage will continue to improve and prices will continue to drop until, some time soon, the overall fuel savings will easily outweigh any additional price.

At which point Toyota and Honda (and Ford, which has made some major investments in hybrid technology, and which has the first hybrid American SUV on the market right now) will reap the rewards. And this guy will look like a luddite.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:02 PM on December 2, 2005


We share your belief that the days of the internal combustion engine are numbered. Further research by our economists suggests this will happen when the price of gasoline rises high enough to make alternative technologies cheaper than gasoline-powered cars.

Are there still people on earth who think that price is the same as cost?
Don't mention the war.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:03 PM on December 2, 2005


I dig they hybrid idea and am even considering purchasing a Prius for my wife.

But I'm confused about something. This is an old argument, but perhaps you guys can set me straight.

Does it really make a difference in emissions when my local energy supplier is going to be burning fuel to charge my car? Is it really just displaced emission?
posted by snsranch at 5:07 PM on December 2, 2005


Disingenuous: no one expects gas price savings to pay for any car in toto.

No, they're expecting the difference in cost vs a non-hybrid vehicle to pay off in gas savings. Not the entire cost of the car. Anyone buying a hybrid better not be doing it to save money, that's the bottom line.
posted by knave at 5:07 PM on December 2, 2005


snsranch: You don't plug in hybrids! The gas engine charges the batteries with some of its waste energy.
posted by knave at 5:09 PM on December 2, 2005


Dear valued Hummer customer:

We're very sorry that your romantic conquests keep asking, "is it in yet?". Still, you can feel confident that when you're standing at the pump watching the numbers roll up seemingly endlessly, you clearly give the impression of a man who has money in excess, even though in reality you recently had to take out a second mortgage on your house just to keep the beast going.

Still, you excel at giving the image of someone who masters the road -- just as long as you keep in mind that it's just an image. And forget about taking the beast off-road in any sort of serious way. You're just too good for that. Honestly. That's the only reason we mention it.
posted by clevershark at 5:12 PM on December 2, 2005


Limbaugh is just pissed because early adopters get all the chicks. Funny thing is, its less of a joke than it sounds like. :)

A priori, I favor taxing any establish industry to fund less established younger competitors. I also know that any such law would eventually be turnned around to tax the younger buisnesses & reward the established buisnesses. All taxes should be progressive corporate taxes, i.e. a sales or income tax where bigger companies paied a higher percentage.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:14 PM on December 2, 2005


"Another esteemed competitor, GM, has suggested that hybrid technology is best deployed in city buses"

Yeah, and GM is the corporation that bought up entire electric trolley systems, dismantled them, and installed noisy, stinky diesel buses instead, so they're definitely the ones to look to for leadership.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:14 PM on December 2, 2005


knave, thank you. For not calling me an idiot!
posted by snsranch at 5:16 PM on December 2, 2005


Clearly the management at GM are geniuses. That's why the company's doing so well these days!
posted by clevershark at 5:17 PM on December 2, 2005


So, wait.

Let me get this straight.

Free-market wankers who always claim that "people would pay a premium for environmentally friendly products if they were really worth it" are not mocking the fact that people are willing to pay a (potential) premium for those products.

The hypocrisy of it all veers into the comical.

Remember when Rush coined the term 'Feminazi' and claimed that it applied only to the straw-man people who wanted to see the number of abortions in the country increase? He's becoming that parody: someone who literally rejoices and gloats when natural resources are destroyed because it irritates liberals.
posted by verb at 5:20 PM on December 2, 2005


>Kwantsar - so, KenMcE, you care to point out
>the all of the flaws in the reasoning?

No problem, let's take an easy one:

>>Toyota applauds your willingness to spend
>>$9,500 over the price of any comparable vehicle

OK, a new Prius starts at around $ 22,000 - reference:

http://www.tmsbuyatoyota.com/configurator/ you can design one oneline, (just give it a zip code.) I went with the base model. 22K minus 9.5K equals $ 12,500

For twelve and a half thou. I'd like a new four door car that seats four comfortably, is reliable, has AC/PB/PS/automatic/ a couple of airbags, power this and that, and a ten year warranty. Maybe throw in a fancy anti theft system too. Which car meets these specs??
posted by Ken McE at 5:20 PM on December 2, 2005


People who don't understand why hybrids sell when the fuel savings don't make up for the price differential are getting stuck at a very basic level of economic reasoning.

It's easily demonstrable that absolute cost isn't the only factor people consider when choosing Product A over Product B. Many people will pay more for specific brands of clothing for reasons of status or identification. Similarly, some will pay more for more environmentally friendly products (or at least products that seem more environmentally friendly.) These factors enter into the hybrid purchase decision in addition to the more utilitarian factor of cost. And since these other factors are subjective, it's easy for two people to have very different opinions on whether a hybrid is worth the premium.
posted by Opposite George at 5:24 PM on December 2, 2005


The guy writes for the Editorial Board of the Journal. This is basically the right wing propaganda engine of the Paper. It's like putting a Mercedes emblem on a Yugo (do they still make those?). They make FOX look like...(trying to think of and unbiased newspaper - probably why I get all my news from the web) The Wall Street Editorial board is well known to suspend journalistic integrity and reality whenever there's an urgent need to push forward the rightwing/corporate/republican/neocon/fundamentalist agenda. Anyone who associates themselves with those clowns doesn't deserve to be taken seriously. If you don't believe me watch their show tonight at 9pm on PBS and you'll see what kind of narrowminded ignorant propagandists make up this "board".
posted by any major dude at 5:25 PM on December 2, 2005


>snsranch - Does it really make a difference in emissions
>when my local energy supplier is going to be burning
>fuel to charge my car?

Your local energy supplier isn't burning anything for you. The Prius doesn't plug in. It makes its own electricity. It doesn't do this by black magic, it uses a battery and generator and some sophisticated engineering to collect energy that a conventional car would just throw away.

>Is it really just displaced emission?

No, it is not. You are creating less pollution per passenger mile than almost anything else on the road.
posted by Ken McE at 5:29 PM on December 2, 2005


No problem, let's take an easy one:

>>Toyota applauds your willingness to spend
>>$9,500 over the price of any comparable vehicle
...
OK, a new Prius starts at around $ 22,000... 22K minus 9.5K equals $ 12,500..


Shit; that's just awful. I was actually trusting his numbers, but it looks like he's just faking the whole thing.

With errors that bad, I think the entire thing can be dismissed as either dishonest or misinformed. I'm not going to be bothered to pick out truth from fiction.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:33 PM on December 2, 2005


Ken McE, yea, knave solved that for me. I TOTALLY get it now! And actually I used to be a mechanic and I understand the mechanisms at work. Great stuff. thanks.
posted by snsranch at 5:43 PM on December 2, 2005


And should the price of gasoline rise to $5, after 10 years and/or 130,000 miles of driving, you might even come close to breaking even on your investment in hybrid technology.

This is true:

The prius is sold for $24,805 in my zip according to carsdirect.com (2k over MSRP, cause the don't make enough of 'em). It get's 48.3 MPG. In 130k miles it would use 2692 gallons. At $5 a gallon that is $13,457. The cost of the gas and the car = $38,262.

The civic (non-hybrid) is sold for $15,066, gets 29.5 MPG. In 130k miles it would use 4406 gallons. At $5 a gallon that is $22,033. The cost of the gas and the car = $37,099

So yes, you will really spend more on a prius. However, you will have the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you are helping to save the world, and how much is that worth?

If you really want to save money and the world, get a Honda Insight which is reported to get 77.5 or 83.9 MPG. Since the insight costs $22,080, you would end up spending $29,864 to $30,4067 over 130k miles. (still assuming $5 gas)
posted by darkness at 5:45 PM on December 2, 2005


"For twelve and a half thou. I'd like a new four door car that seats four comfortably, is reliable, has AC/PB/PS/automatic/ a couple of airbags, power this and that, and a ten year warranty. Maybe throw in a fancy anti theft system too. Which car meets these specs??"

The ten-year warranty pretty much leaves only Kia, Mitsubishi and Suzuki in the running. Only Kia and Suzuki have a four-door in your price range. Kia Rio LX invoices at about $12600, the Suzuki Forenza at about $14K even. The Kia warranty is 10 years/100K miles, the Suzuki is 7/100K. Kia mileage is 38hwy/29 city (1.6 liter 4-cylinder), Suzuki is 31/22 (2.0 liter 4-cyl.)

$14,700 would get you a Mitsubishi Lancer with a 10/100 warranty, 2 liter engine and 31/25 mpg.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:47 PM on December 2, 2005


Yeah, but you could just go buy a Civic which gets almost 40mpg without a stack of lead-acid batteries in the trunk.

First off, the Civic is a compact. The Prius is a midsize hatchback. Comparing apples to apples, the base model Prius is cheaper and gets way better gas mileage than any other base model midsize car.

Secondly, the Prius uses nickel-metal hydride batteries, which are both safer and more profitably recycled than lead-acid. I believe Toyota currently offers $200 to take them off your hands when they finally die.

Another esteemed competitor, GM, has suggested that hybrid technology is best deployed in city buses

GM is not esteemed. GM is on the verge of bankruptcy because no one wants to buy their crappy cars.
posted by dirigibleman at 5:48 PM on December 2, 2005


"You don't plug in hybrids!"

I think it's worth waiting for a hybrid that you do plug in. I'm looking to buy one sometime after the next generation of li-ion batteries hits the road. But I absolutely refuse to even think about spending that kind of money on a fancy car with batteries unless I can charge them up with juice from the hydro-electric power plant just down the road.
posted by sfenders at 5:49 PM on December 2, 2005


$ 22,000

You SURE about that? Maybe on the Toyota website but at the dealership those things go for like $26,000? The Honda hybrid is real pricey - starts at like 30K.

We have been pricing cars for a company car and were sincerely interested in the hybrid. But dealers out here (in Seattle) know how popular the things are and the "base" models are never available. We settled on a VW Turbo diesel and are going with a contract for local biodiesel.
posted by tkchrist at 5:49 PM on December 2, 2005


And as for hybrid economics, remember that you get tax breaks for buying one. (In the case of our '04 Prius, a $2000 federal deduction the first year, plus $1500 tax credit each year we live in Oregon; the federal deduction will drop to $500 in 2006, sadly.) Economics weren't the main reason we bought it -- we wanted to be a tiny tiny part of the movement to make the technology more viable -- and we've been happy with the fact that we use less gas and spew fewer emissions, averaging about 45mpg. (My husband & I share it, and fill up about every three weeks, though we don't drive every day and can also walk to a lot of stores in our neighborhood.) Plus it handles really well, I think.

(on preview: tkchrist, ours was the basic model and cost less than $21K in 2004, with no Oregon tax; dealers will vary.)
posted by lisa g at 5:58 PM on December 2, 2005


sfenders: I think it's worth waiting for a hybrid that you do plug in.

Coming soon, plug-in conversion kits for the prius.
posted by darkness at 6:01 PM on December 2, 2005


The ten-year warranty pretty much leaves only Kia, Mitsubishi and Suzuki in the running.

Didn't Hyundai pretty much invent the 10yr warranty?
posted by washburn at 6:30 PM on December 2, 2005


Golf TDI. Decent price. Good mileage. Proven technology.
All true, but until Volkswagen starts shipping them with an exaust gas particulate filter, and the sulphur levels of diesel in the US come way down, or you burn biodiesel, a Golf will pollute WAY more than a Prius. More than most gasoline powered cars in fact.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:34 PM on December 2, 2005


trying to think of and [sic] unbiased newspaper
Christian Science Monitor?
posted by abcde at 7:18 PM on December 2, 2005


"Didn't Hyundai pretty much invent the 10yr warranty?"

Yeah, I forgot about Hyundai, although Hyundai and Kia are owned by the same company AFAIK.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:23 PM on December 2, 2005


Thanks for the link, darkness. It looks more likely all the time that something like this will be affordable by the time I need to buy a new car. I'm a little discouraged that they won't be selling them as a kit, but I suppose we're not yet at the point where that would make sense. Plug-in hybrids are such an obviously good idea that we should get there pretty quickly once things get rolling.
posted by sfenders at 7:25 PM on December 2, 2005


Golf TDI. Decent price. Good mileage. Proven technology.

Except for the fact that it polutes like a motherfucker, that is. Diesel = Dirty. Oddly enough, in europe automobiles are primaraly designed to safe fuel, in the US, it's all about air quality.

If you really want to save money and the world, get a Honda Insight which is reported to get 77.5 or 83.9 MPG. Since the insight costs $22,080, you would end up spending $29,864 to $30,4067 over 130k miles. (still assuming $5 gas)

Despite this, the Prius actual produces less pollution then even the Insight, I think. It's definitely better then any Honda or Ford in terms of emissions.

I also liked how he called GM "esteemed". If by "esteemed" he meant "practically bankrupt".

He's also entirely wrong about the oil that you don't use in your Prius going somewhere else. That's just silly. It absolutely does "stay in the ground".
posted by delmoi at 8:17 PM on December 2, 2005


Except for the fact that it pollutes like a motherfucker, that is. Diesel = Dirty. Oddly enough, in europe automobiles are primarily designed to safe fuel, in the US, it's all about air quality.

Er, I mean save fuel, of course
posted by delmoi at 8:20 PM on December 2, 2005


There has been some mention of displaced pollution. Just so everybody is clear, the fact that (most) hybrids don't plug-in isn't the only reason they pollute less. Even a car powered entirely by plug-in electricity would create less pollution. That pollution would indeed be displaced from the road to the power plant, but there would still be less. Internal combustion engines are about 35% energy efficient, electric motors are about 55% efficient. So a power plant needs to burn less fossil fuel to power your electric car than your car does to power itself. If you happen to live someplace that gets solar or hydro-electric power then you are even cleaner.
posted by Farengast at 8:56 PM on December 2, 2005


My Civic hybrid was cheaper than a Prius ($20,500), I bought it off the lot (versus waiting ~ 8 months for a Prius), it gets 45 mpg regularly, and it has just as low emissions as a Prius. And the Wall Street Journal editorial page is very silly.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:02 PM on December 2, 2005


Farengast, the 35% vs 55% doesn't factor in the efficiency of the power plant itself, or transmission losses. I honestly don't know what those are. It would be interesting to find out. And yes, if your energy supplier is using clean sources, then you're golden.
posted by knave at 9:08 PM on December 2, 2005


My next car will be a diesel, purely to run biodiesel. Screw low carbon emissions, we're talking zero net carbon emissions. (Though it's likely that some net nonrenewable energy is burned in the process of getting it to you, at least for now.)

Hopefully someone will eventually come out with a diesel hybrid, so you can get all that and use half as much biodiesel besides.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:22 PM on December 2, 2005


Knave, (feels funny calling someone I don't know Knave...) I also don't know the numbers. But I do know that power plants are FAR more efficient at getting energy out of fuel than a car engine. Even if I didn't know it already, it's not hard to figure out that it would be the case. Think of all the mechanical restrictions a car engine must endure upon its design. Power plants however, are totally free to make a machine ideal for getting energy out of fuel without regards to space, noise, responce time. Cars need to combust fuel quickly to shoot pistons back and forth, much of what is ejected is still combustible (we call it pollution). Power plants just need to make heat, this is MUCH easier. The fuel is allowed to burn much hotter, thus much cleaner and combusted entirely. The other matter is how much easier it is to "clean" the exhaust when it is all generated at the power plant rather than in each person's own car. I also don't know numbers for this, but I would imagine that stack scrubbers probably pull more pollution out of the exhaust than catalytic converters do, and if they don't they probably could be made to. There are of course other issues, like coal burning plants. Coal is a much dirtier fuel than gasoline, but I'm fairly certain that the soot produced from burning dirty fuel is even easier to scrub out of the exhaust than the usual suspects you get from any fossil fuel, like carbon mono- and dioxide.
Pardon my over long post, but this may interest those on this thread as well: An up and coming way to reduce emissions in vehicles is actually pretty counter intuitive... Some of the engine power is used to create electricity (cars obviously do this part already) and used to electrolyse water stored in the car. The hydrogen from the electrolysis is added to the fuel combustion, allowing it to burn hotter and quicker, and thus combust more completely. Despite the fact that you are adding an extra drain on the engine power, you gain more power back, getting a slight boost in performance, fuel efficency and a near 99% reduction in emissions. This technology is already on the road in trailer trucks and could be in cars and SUV's as soon as 6 months from now. Cheers.
posted by Farengast at 9:25 PM on December 2, 2005


prius ... In 130k miles it would use 2692 gallons

civic (non-hybrid) ... In 130k miles it would use 4406 gallons


This is the part that "conservative" (read "selfish, in-it-for-myself, myopically-bottom-line-focused") people don't get.... or pretend not to get, or get but don't care.

Some of us people don't want the resources that the entire world shares (you know: "air," "water," etc.) to be ruined or used up any sooner than they have to be. These forward-looking people are willing to pay more up front in order to use less fuel individually and therefore emit less pollution. They posit that if one person uses less fuel, and pollutes less, then if many people do, overall pollution will be significantly abated. They see an added value in that proposition. We can even measure that added value, even if approximately: someone has to pay to clean up the air and the water and to treat all the pollution-related illnesses.

You'd think conservatives would just shut up and pocket the money. Why do they insist on making themselves look stupid and/or selfish by trying to discredit the sound long-term economic approach? (The terms "have" and "have-not" aside.)

Anyway, I don't drive much. I sold my car 2 1/2 years ago and haven't looked back. Okay, so I joined CityCarShare, but I've used it twice in 4 months.

Before you a hybrid, buy Divorce Your Car! Not everyone can go without a car, of course, but if you're in the right situation, you might just save yourself $22,000.

on preview: zero net carbon emissions

I'm pretty sure that describes my main mode of transportation as well.
posted by gohlkus at 9:35 PM on December 2, 2005


P.S. Take note of where you get your biodiesel. The only biodiesel that is actually low emission is made from something that's alreadying being refined for other reasons. i.e. waste cooking oil from McDonalds or something. Because the damage is already done for other reasons and you use the oil instead of throwing it away. But if you are talking about making biodiesel just for burning in cars you are making MORE pollution, unfortunately. Counting all the resources it takes to grow the corn or soy or whatever and refine it, process it etc. These biodiesels actually produce 25-50% MORE pollution than gasoline does. So biodiesel itself burns clean, but it's not a good solution in general because there isn't enough "waste" oil produced in this country to meet even a tiny fraction of the demand. But as long as you few pioneers get your biodiesel from a "waste" source, you are still helping. Just know that it's not a solution sustainable for more than just the few. Ethanol suffers from the same problems, and isn't produced as waste like biodiesel is, this is the reason why ethanol never took off as an alternative fuel even though it's been workable for cars for 20 or 30 years. Cheers again (whatever... you people are probably sick of me by now.)
posted by Farengast at 9:41 PM on December 2, 2005


He's also entirely wrong about the oil that you don't use in your Prius going somewhere else. That's just silly. It absolutely does "stay in the ground".

Well, not entirely. By burning less fuel, you're shifting the demand curve down a little. Actually, just slowing down its increase. Since the rate of supply is already very close to its maximum, and it's likely to get closer, the price moves a lot more easily than the quantity. So mostly you'd be reducing the price of oil by some fraction, and thus letting other people burn it. At least some portion of it would stay in the ground a bit longer, but never all of it, and in the current situation I guess very little of it. Still, it's good to get as much use as possible out of the stuff. Many of the other uses that oil would go to would be more efficient and useful. Also, by keeping the price of oil a bit lower, you'd be slightly postponing the day when we're finally forced to switch to whatever substitute is widely available, which right now would be war and famine.

Now, if *everyone* switched to the most fuel-efficient car they can find, that would be another matter. It might theoretically be possible to actually reduce the global or even just national demand for oil, instead of just slowing its growth slightly. That would be nice.
posted by sfenders at 9:58 PM on December 2, 2005


All true, but until Volkswagen starts shipping them with an exaust gas particulate filter, and the sulphur levels of diesel in the US come way down, or you burn biodiesel, a Golf will pollute WAY more than a Prius. More than most gasoline powered cars in fact.

We ARE going biodiesel.

I think hybrids are great. But we're (my business) not going early adoption just to feel good. It's business. With a conscience. But still business.
posted by tkchrist at 10:19 PM on December 2, 2005


If you want to save a ton of cash (and not hate yourself (too much) for destroying the planet), buy a used Honda or Toyota. I just bought a '91 Honda Civic DX hatchback for under $3,000. It costs less than $20 to fill the tank and that baby still gets about 30miles/gal in the city. It still passes PA emissions tests which are relatively strict by most standards.
Buy used. Save a perfectly good vehicle from the scrap heap.

But that's just some common sense that you're all sick of hearing, I'm sure.

posted by Jon-o at 10:26 PM on December 2, 2005


You are, of course, still driving a car.

I guess buying a Prius is a little like playing the lottery; hope in a better future.
posted by graventy at 10:32 PM on December 2, 2005


Jon-o, don't forget about motorcycles. My Ninja 500R gets about 70 mpg (better than most hybrids on their best day) and retails for just 5 grand. Obviously motorcycles aren't for everyone, or every place. Good thing roads in Florida never ice over....
posted by Farengast at 10:36 PM on December 2, 2005


Farengast, not neccesarily so, this is a matter of some controversy. From Wikipedia:

Additional factors must be taken into account, such as: the fuel equivalent of the energy required for processing, the yield of fuel from raw oil, the return on cultivating food, and the relative cost of biodiesel versus petrodiesel. A 1998 joint study by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) traced many of the various costs involved in the production of biodiesel and found that overall, it yields 3.2 units of fuel product energy for every unit of fossil fuel energy consumed. [3] That measure is referred to as the energy yield.

Except in very cold areas, biodiesel is actually a technically superior fuel due to greater lubrication and lower (zero) sulphur.
posted by atrazine at 10:40 PM on December 2, 2005


atrazine is correct about the dispute, but a couple of things to consider. First, you can't trust Wikipedia. Some of their content is great, some is garbage, it all looks the same on the user end. This one's accurate, I'm just saying... (preaching? whatever) I can personally vouche for their physics content, but that's another digression. Here is a link to an article about ethanol and biodiesel. I tend to agree with the Cornell-Berkeley study because it makes sense. Making fuel out of soy has a LOT more energy overhead than simplying sucking it out of the ground. Certainly makes more sense than trusting the Dept. of Agriculture about something that would greatly enhance money (taxable money) going into agriculture and US exports of soy and corn etc. etc. University studies are almost always more accurate than government studies. The article of course sites opposing university studies as well so very little is actually decided. But it is totally accurate to say that biodiesel is not met with nearly as much skepticism as it ought to be. And also to lament the possibility of such a large variance in the "cleaness" of the fuel. Who knows weather you get that 60% better "good stuff" or that 35% worse stuff that I've mentioned. As far as I'm concerned even the possibility of cleaner biodiesel doesn't appeal to me because it becomes very easy for producers to cut costs later by making the dirtier stuff, and parading it as the same, and the product would be the same. Who's going to track all these companies to make sure consumers are getting more energy out of the product than the producers put in? And is it worth all this effort in the long run for something that may or may not actually help, but definitely not solve, the problem? Hybrids and hydrogen injection units (here) need no extra infrastructure. Nor would purely electric cars. Point/counterpoint aside, I don't think biodiesel is worth the trouble as a mainstream fuel. It is great for the few, but it doesn't do enough to function as a practical alternative to hyrids on a grand scale.
posted by Farengast at 11:12 PM on December 2, 2005


I just read my post and it sounds confusing. To clarify, when I talk about "clean" or "dirty" biodiesel, I'm talking about the exact same product, just differing in how much energy is consumed to produce it. It's not like some people's biodiesel cars will make more emissions than other based on the fuel. I mean some biodiesels will make more emissons in TOTAL than others. The fuel itself is the same.
posted by Farengast at 11:15 PM on December 2, 2005


Yep to the above. I picked up a 1994 Golf for $1400 that gets me 32mpg, and uses 87 octane (vs my MR2's 93). And my Honda 919 gets 47mpg, which I ride whenever weather permits. Though I think the emissions on a bike aren't too good, outside of California.
posted by knave at 11:32 PM on December 2, 2005


knave,
the 35% vs 55% doesn't factor in the efficiency of the power plant itself, or transmission losses.

I'm glad you brought this up because I read one post that said that plug-ins were "obviously a good idea" and it wasn't obvious to me. I went ahead and did some really spotty research. IANAEE, just some bored guy on the Internet, so these numbers are going to be rough (and maybe wrong):

Wikipedia (yeah, I know) says that fossil fuel plant efficiency runs from 36-48%, and I'm guessing the average is somewhere around 40%. In 2004 the U.S. consumed about 100 Quadrillion BTUs. Assuming the 34 Quadrillion BTUs we imported were all from Canadian hydropower or nuclear plants, netting out another 10 percent for domestic hydropower and 20 QBTUs for nuclear leaves about 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption attributable to fossil fuels. One more factor is transmission losses. Going back to Wikipedia it looks like that number is about 7%. If I'm doing the math right, the numbers lead to the conclusion that the U.S. burns about 108J of fossil fuel for every 100J consumed (regardless of source.) This is surprising -- I'd expected it to be more.

Anyway, this means that, very roughly, a mains-powered rechargeable car has what I'll call a 50% Fossil Fuel Efficiency (FFE), that is it requires about 2J worth of FF for every 1J output. If the previous poster's numbers were right, IC cars have a 35% FFE (3J input/1J output).

There are several major caveats, which for the sake of brevity (well, less length anyway) I'll omit but if anybody wants to see them email me. The biggest one I think is if the imported power includes fossil-generated power the balance levels a bit; if 40% of imported power comes from fossil sources then the electric car's FFE drops to 40% (or 2 1/2 J input / J output). Also worth considering is whether an e-car is lighter than an IC car with comparable capacity; if so, its advantage increases.

At the end of the day, I can't say for certain which has the edge but it looks like electric cars. Still, the difference is much smaller than many advocates of electric cars suggest. The only thing obvious to me is that the answer isn't simple.

People who know about this stuff: please correct me if I flubbed anything here. Again, I'm just a bored guy on the internet with no engineering backround.
posted by Opposite George at 11:35 PM on December 2, 2005


(or spelling "backround," for that matter.)
posted by Opposite George at 11:46 PM on December 2, 2005


Someone tell me why it's okay to say something this dumb in the WSJ: "petroleum not consumed by Prius owners is not "saved." It does not remain in the ground. It is consumed by someone else."

For extra credit, tell me why this guy is getting paid to write while I am not, as it's clear my grasp of reality is far greater.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:06 AM on December 3, 2005


Did you forget to factor in the 40% efficiency of fossil fuel power plants? If 40% of our energy is fossil fuel, and it's 40% efficient, than on average, (assuming the rest is free), our power supply is 76% efficient. Then you factor in the 7% transmission loss, and get 71% efficiency. Then you factor in the 55% efficient electric motor, and get 39% overall efficiency of an electric car, powered by plugging in. And that's with some really friendly assumptions about where our power comes from. Basically, it's right there next to a standard internal combustion engine.

This interesting article talks about how the US DOE is trying to push us to more efficient engine designs. Cool stuff.
posted by knave at 12:07 AM on December 3, 2005


Did the WSJ forget to credit the blogger that came up with all this a couple weeks ago?

http://www.omninerd.com/2005/11/11/articles/41
posted by mathowie at 12:11 AM on December 3, 2005


Good gravy. If every blog post were that well researched and sourced I do believe I'd never leave the house.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:20 AM on December 3, 2005


knave,
Did you forget to factor in the 40% efficiency of fossil fuel power plants?

I assumed that all of the imported power was from non-FF* sources (because I know they have a buttload of hydro projects up there in the Great White North as well as nukes.) If you assume that 40% of imported power comes from FF, then you're right (and your number is the one I get to in the caveat section.)

If I was a betting man I'd wager the real number's somewhere between yours and mine.

Here's what I did:

100QBTU - 34QBTU Canadian Hydro & Nuke (assumed) = 66QBTU consumed from all U.S. sources including FF
66QBTU * 0.9 (b/c 10% of U.S. Power is Hydro) = 59QBTU U.S. consumed less Hydro
59QBTU - 20QBTU U.S. Nuclear = 39 QBTU (I called it 40.) U.S. consumed less Hydro and Nuke.
Other sources (solar, wind, geothermal, etc.) are insignificant (see pge.com reference above,) so
40QBTU / (1 - 7% Transmission losses) = 43QBTU generated at power stations by FF.

So, if all the power we import is non-FF, then 40% of U.S. power consumption comes from FF and we have to generate 43QBTU in FF plants to get that 40% out at the plug.

If FF plants are 40% efficient then we burned 43/.4 ~ 108QBTU of FF and consumed 100QBTU of electricity total. That gets me 100/108 FFE at the plug, and 100/108*55% ecar motor efficiency = 51% FFE at the driveshaft or 2BTU FF burned / 1 BTU delivered to gearbox.

In the caveat section I assumed a 60/40 non-FF/FF split for imported power and got the essentially same numbers you did -- a 40% FFE (you got 39 but I was pretty sloppy with my rounding.)

Really I don't know how good these numbers are aside from as an order-of-magnitude measure. For all I know the batteries make an e-car heavier and therefore need more energy, or differences in exploration, extraction, processing and delivery costs are significant enough between coal/bunker oil/natural gas and gasoline that e-cars have an even greater advantage. There are at many more open questions which could significantly affect these numbers -- email me if you want the whole list (I identified 5 more in as many minutes.)

I guess the real point is it seems to me that going to all-electric cars isn't going to reduce our dependence on FF for transportation entirely -- in fact the rough benefit is on the order of 30% -- unless we go to non-FF sources for the additional demand. Now, a 30% decrease in demand would tear the bottom out of the oil market, but it's hard to say how long it would take for, say China's demand to increase enough to negate that benefit.

Assuming that the best ways to get significant non-FF capacity on line quickly are probably hydro and nuclear (that's just my impression -- I don't know for sure,) and given the current political and environmental difficulties associated with those options, it'll probably be a long time before we can be non-FF reliant for transportation, even if we all go buy electric cars tomorrow.

*I giggle a little every time I type "FF" because that's one of the options on the top line of my local Chinese restaurant's menu: e.g., "Chicken Wings: 2.00/3.00 with FF." If I ever have to use "PFR" as an abbreviation in a post I'll probably expire from hysterical laughter.
posted by Opposite George at 1:37 AM on December 3, 2005


incidentally, tonight's WSJ "Editorial Report" on PBS was the last...those goofballs are headed over to Fox now that Ken Tomlinson's been shitcanned.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 1:46 AM on December 3, 2005


mathowie,
Did the WSJ forget to credit the blogger that came up with all this a couple weeks ago?

I'm too tired to read the blog link real closely but I wouldn't be surprised if the WSJ columnist came up with his numbers independently. Imposing-looking equations notwithstanding, the analysis and derivation is pretty straightforward (once you've done similar exercises a million times or so) and I'd expect a WSJ columnist to be able to do it on his own. My brother basically did the same exercise six months ago when he was car shopping.

Now, where the analyses would most likely differ would be in their parameters (e.g., length, $(oldcar), etc.) If both columnists ended up with the exact same numbers at the end (again, my eyes are too blurry right now to see if that's the case) then yeah, the WSJ guy might have lifted it.

On preview: "tonights WSJ... was the last"
If only we could get Moyers back and on for an hour again...
posted by Opposite George at 2:02 AM on December 3, 2005


But anyway, the WSJ article reprint the FPP links to doesn't seem to give anybody special credit for the analysis.
posted by Opposite George at 2:07 AM on December 3, 2005


"It'll probably be a long time before we can be non-FF reliant for transportation, even if we all go buy electric cars tomorrow."

Sure. It's just that it'll be an even longer time if we don't. Most of the big sources of energy that aren't fossil-fuel-based, including nuclear power, hydro, solar, wind, etc., are good for generating electricity but not for creating liquid fuel. Since we're already putting batteries in cars, there's no reason not to let people have the option of charging them from whatever sources are available. That will link up the oil market with the electricity market, making it possilble to start substituting electrical power of whatever kind for oil when it's reasonable to do so. Based on current energy prices, it's already reasonable to do that in many places. And that's why the plug-in hybrid is "obviously" a good idea.
posted by sfenders at 8:14 AM on December 3, 2005


I agree, and it's not even very good satire.

And I agree with that.

Sell your car. Take the bus.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:50 AM on December 3, 2005


I guess the real point is it seems to me that going to all-electric cars isn't going to reduce our dependence on FF for transportation entirely -- in fact the rough benefit is on the order of 30% -- unless we go to non-FF sources for the additional demand. Now, a 30% decrease in demand would tear the bottom out of the oil market, but it's hard to say how long it would take for, say China's demand to increase enough to negate that benefit.
I've spent some time thinking about this and doing a lot of reading regarding the hardcore number-crunching. I think the benefit of an electric car infrastructure is more than JUST the potential 30% reduction in FF usage you'd get by centralizing the energy production.

Once everyone's on an electric grid, any centralized improvements (new nuclear plants, solar, wind, hydro, whatever) are immediately shared by the transportation infrastructure. Rather than having two separate systems (auto/transport AND electrical) to convert, you have one.
posted by verb at 10:03 AM on December 3, 2005


Also, don't forget that even if electric cars only provide a minor benefit to emissions over all (I wouldn't call 30% minor, but for arguments sake...) they are still a great idea because they require no new infrastructure. Biodiesel requires the creation of a new industry, so does hydrogen fuel cells. But plug in cars simply use the same grid that we already have. As noted by others, improvements to the cleaness of power sources will benefit emissions instantly without people being requested to adopt new technology. And these improvements are just around the corner. New ways of collecting solar power and non-tokamak fusion power are very close to becoming practical. Clean electricity solves a bunch of other problems too, like where we would get our hydrogen from if we were to make hydrogen fuel cell cars. We have to electrolyse water to get the hydrogen to power the car. So hydrogen fuel cell cars are pretty much like plugin battery cars except that it cost billions of dollars to make fuel stations for them (plug-ins major disadvantage is very long "refueling time" so this cost is not unwarranted considering). And of course if you fuel up with liquid hydrogen, the fuel cell car becomes much less efficient than the plug-in. There is no quick fix to be sure, or even an easy decision about what direction to go in. So keep reading Scientific American and an internal combustion killing technology will arrive eventually... Maybe not if W keeps cutting funding for the physical sciences like he's in a war against science (oh wait, he is.)
posted by Farengast at 10:29 AM on December 3, 2005


sfenders, Since we're already putting batteries in cars, there's no reason not to let people have the option of charging them from whatever sources are available.

I agree, as long as this flexibility doesn't come at the cost of efficiency or increased pollution. It would be nice to be able to choose my car's power source depending on whether I'm feeling frugal or environmentally friendly. In a best case, there will be one fuel that will maximize both criteria. And my gut feeling is that at some point keeping the energy-generating portion of the transportation system fixed (that is, in a high-efficiency plant instead of dragging it around with the car) will be the best solution.

I think where we disagree is on the issue of timing. I just feel more comfortable making up my mind about how to go about changing the world after getting a bit of insight on the end-to-end process. Call it my personal affliction. :) Well, since you've been kind enough to read these rants I guess it's your affliction too (thanks!)

For example, if it had turned out that the U.S. gets 80% of its electricity from FF rather than my SWAG of 40% then going to electric cars today would be a step backwards both environmentally and in terms of energy consumption -- focusing on building up non-FF plants first would have been a better solution. And that would have been a very good reason not to let people have the option of charging their cars from whatever sources are available, at least not today.*

And until last night I didn't know how much energy came from which sources. Maybe the proportions were incredibly obvious to the whole world except for me (but hey, remember, I'm not an engineer, just a bored guy on the internet :) ); a little research yielded a SWAG indicating it probably is a good idea and merits further investigation.

But designing a vehicle to take advantage of multiple sources adds weight and complexity that may result in decreased efficiency or increased pollution, especially during the initial adoption phase as bugs get worked out**. And there could be environmental issues attributable to production and disposal of new tech power subsystems -- I don't know. As for alleviating pollution, I know that new plants can run very clean but I've also heard that the way current law is structured it's often better for a company's bottom line to continue running an inefficient and filthy plant than to take advantage of the best available technology (thus the presence of the very low-tech high-pollution "Sooty Six" power stations in my neck of the woods.) So we need to fix our clean-air legislation first or risk increasing pollution by blindly adopting plug-in cars.

Until I understand the details better I can't definitively say I feel strongly about what the right path is (but hey, give me a chance; I've only been studying this for a few hours! :) )

Again, I think we agree on the final destination. It might sound to you like I'm hesitant to pull the trigger, but I'm just asking for the opportunity to aim first.

What I can state definitively is I believe we (that is, the U.S. if not the world) should be doing a ton of research on solving our energy problem through development of new technology and social policy encouraging more-efficient, more-renewable and less-polluting sources of energy. Our behavior over the last couple of centuries has been incredibly short-sighted; over the past 20 years it's been downright shameful (since we know better now.) Unless we work on getting and implementing the right answers and not just the right-sounding answers we're basically condemning our grandchildren to life in a sewer.

Farengast, if I gave the impression that I estimated a 30% decrease in emissions I apologize. My 30% figure refers to an efficiency boost (assuming all those parameters are in the ballpark -- the modelers among you know how that goes...)

I don't know what the relative emissions differences are between current power plant inventory and automobiles, but if I had to guess I'd think that today's power plants output proportionately less carbon (since they're more efficient) but more particulates than autos (cars are very clean there, at least gas-powered ones, and there are a lot of dirty plants still on line.) So I can't say I'm comfortable right now taking a guess on how switching to electric cars will effect net emissions unless we also take steps to change the law so that future power generation is more environmentally friendly. It seems like we are already polluting more than we have to.

And don't minimize the capital investment that will be required if we have to deliver another 10-33 kWh to every suburban home every night (0.3 to 0.5 kWh/mile * 12000 mi/yr /365 * 1 to 2 cars -- thanks again, Wikipedia (I know, I know...)) If people are willing to leave their cars on the charger for 8 hours that means an increased nighttime demand of 1 to 4 kW per household and that's significant if current household average power consumption on the order of 12000kWh/year is correct -- That's an average power draw of 1.4 kW/home -- say it averages double that in the early evening when everybody's home and running the heat/AC/TV/stove, etc. -- you're still talking about increasing peak energy delivery by 30 to 130% to these households before considering losses in the charger loop; and the infrastructure demands increase if people want to charge their cars faster. I suspect that'll require significant improvements (either running expensive heavier lines or converting to a higher service voltage) and they'll cost a bit, though the good news is that they can be amortized over a long term; still, my gut tells me it doesn't look like our current grid'll cut it if everybody wants to plug their car in, at least at the pole-to-meter level and maybe not even at higher distribution tiers. It also means we'll probably need to build new power plants (we should do that anyway if we want a clean planet but we'll need to build more of them.)

verb, good point on increased efficiencies from centralization; I hadn't really thought about that. One thing that needs to be worked out is what happens in the case of another Katrina -- maybe cars will have fuel cells to better deal with extended periods off the grid.

Thanks all for your comments; they've been really helpful in working through this important topic.

------------------------------------------
*Not to mention that we need to make sure we add non-FF power plants in a high enough proportion to stay on the positive side of the environmental balance sheet as the grid supplies more of our transportation needs.

**Sure, current hybrids are more efficient than gas-powered cars but that's mostly because of regenerative braking and better engine management -- you don't plug them in. And if a portion of the current pricing gap between gas tank energy and electrical energy is due to the current infrastructure not running at full capacity that gap will decrease as more and more people choose to plug their cars in and tax the system, leading to more required investment and higher costs.

posted by Opposite George at 12:37 PM on December 3, 2005


A thought: We can minimize distribution network power handling upgrades (but not total energy delivery) if we use slow chargers and switch battery packs. We can change our building codes to require new houses to have space for equipment that does this automatically (and also do the same thing in future "gas stations.") Note we'll still need to build some new plants to deal with increased demand, but peak demand will be lessened and difference to present power handling capacity will be minimized at all levels of the distribution network.
posted by Opposite George at 12:48 PM on December 3, 2005


And don't minimize the capital investment that will be required if we have to deliver another 10-33 kWh to every suburban home every night

It's not like everyone is going to switch to pure EV overnight. Even with the most optimistic projections, it will take a decade or two to get hybrid technology into any large fraction of the vehicles on the road. Perhaps the process will be slow enough that it won't knock out the whole grid.

I didn't look closely at the numbers to see whether the various kinds of atmospheric emissions are reduced by using electric cars, because I was already convinced of that several years ago when EVs were briefly popular in California. There was much debate around the subject, and it did convince me that the EVs win on that question. I suppose not much has changed since then.

Environmental concerns are of course not the only reason to prefer hybrid cars that can be powered from the grid. Oil is going to get scarce. Nobody is really sure when it will start being a real problem, but it will be fairly soon. Within a decade or two, at the latest. Personally, I expect my cars to last that long. Anyway, difficult though it may be to make a large upgrade to the capacity for electrical generation, it is at least a lot easier than any other substantial replacement I've seen proposed for good old crude oil.

Whether or not you buy the idea that "peak oil" is imminent, there's no doubt that oil consumption has for years been growing faster than production capacity. This trend can not continue for much longer, but so far it shows no signs of reversing course without a big crunch. Oil will get expensive over the next ten years, and I think it will stay that way. So for purely selfish reasons, I'd rather have a car that uses very little of it. Linking the electricity market to the oil market via hybrid cars would push up the price of electrical power, but that might just make some of the more marginal renewable energy projects viable. It's not without difficulty, but nothing else has a chance to be ready in time.
posted by sfenders at 2:57 PM on December 3, 2005


Opposite George: "And don't minimize the capital investment that will be required if we have to deliver another 10-33 kWh to every suburban home every night"

If I remember correctly, nighttime demand on the electric grid is significantly less than the daytime demand. I haven't bothered to check this in any way for this post, so flame away if I'm wrong :)

For the moment though, I would run with the idea that there would be no further capital investment required, only increased fuel consumption at the existing power plants during what is currently an "off-peak" period. I know that one of the electric power pricing options I have as a domestic consumer would make my daytime rate 3 or 4 times higher than my nighttime rate...and the nighttime rate would be I think about half of the current flat rate price I pay.
posted by ruggles at 7:05 PM on December 3, 2005


I must say this has been one of the best threads. Thanks you guys.
posted by tkchrist at 7:11 PM on December 3, 2005


Someone tell me why it's okay to say something this dumb in the WSJ: "petroleum not consumed by Prius owners is not "saved." It does not remain in the ground. It is consumed by someone else."

I assume he means it in that if total demand exceeds total supply (which I would assume is roughly true in a time of increasing prices; not true in a time of decreasing prices) then any segment savings less than that difference is not actually saving any oil, just letting other people have it slightly cheaper.

Similarly, if I make dinner for four and eight people show up, no food is going to be saved if I decide not to eat.

He could also mean it in a timeshifting sense. If we assume that eventually all oil will be used, regardless of how much we minimize our use of it, then by not using it now we are simply shifting when it will be used.

Those are the only ways I can make sense of it, though. I don't know if the underlying assumptions (that demand exceeds supply or that all oil will eventually be used regardless) are true.
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:52 PM on December 3, 2005


verb, good point on increased efficiencies from centralization; I hadn't really thought about that. One thing that needs to be worked out is what happens in the case of another Katrina -- maybe cars will have fuel cells to better deal with extended periods off the grid.
Thanks.... And yeah, that's definitely a concern. Though I think that an electric car in that situation has more potential solutions waiting for it than a FF car. An electric car is, by its very nature, a multiple-power-source vehicle. You might be running a fuel cell in your backyard. You might be plugging it into the national grid. You might be propping a bank of solar cells up on your roof and letting it charge for a week...

Obviously, those solutions take supplies as well. It just seems to me (and I could be wrong, obviously) that we have a lot of potential ways to get an electric car juiced up in an emergency and only one way to get a FF car moving: haul in more gasoline.

Interesting points made by others upthread -- the increased demand for electrical power could make 'marginal' generator technologies feasible, and provide considerable incentive for increasing the efficiency of current methods.

This is definitely a fascinating thread.
posted by verb at 1:33 AM on December 4, 2005


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