The only way to meet such a huge potential demand, without aggravating global warming, is to generate the additional electricity with carbonfree sources of energy. That means nuclear fuel and/or renewable energy coupled to energy storage. In this case, wind energy becomes as interesting an option as nuclear. In many locations with strong wind resources, the wind velocity profile is much stronger at night than it is during the day. Under our current demand and consumption patterns, this isn't very helpful. If millions of electric vehicles are charging up at night, however, it's a different story. (And if you've got a storage system hooked up to that wind farm, then the cars can charge up whenever they want!)
When you make a bet on electric vehicles, however you essentially are pitting the entrenched global petroleum business against the more parochial and fragmented electricity industry companies (i.e., the utilities). The largest supplier of electricity is still a dwarf compared to the global petroleum behemoths. The petroleum industry is far more consolidated into a few huge companies; the electricity supply and delivery business is still very much fragmented. It is a daunting prospect to expect the renewable industry lobby and the electricity lobby to take on the petroleum guys.
Consumers offer no help. History teaches us that when petroleum and gasoline prices fall, fewer people care about electric cars, alternative fuels, and so on. That is, unless consumers understand the other financial stakes. For example, the emerging business of carbon credits and trading means that carbon discharges now can be valued quantitatively. Each increment of carbon emissions carries a price—or a cost. A government-imposed "cap and trade" program provides the mechanism to value the carbon footprint in the financial analyses.
What if you also quantified the value of energy independence, as we discussed in an earlier chapter? Imagine going to a filling station and seeing not only the price per gallon, but the hidden cost per gallon to protect our petroleum supply lines, fight wars in countries with oil and natural gas reserves, and lead global military defense! When you compare electricity to other forms of energy with these values and costs illuminated, you begin to wonder why we're not deploying our military to secure and protect nuclear fuel supplies for the next 50 years and not the petroleum supply of the last 100.
The best way to liquidate the advantage of the oil lobby is to redefine the economics of using petroleum-derived fuels for transportation.
In this way, electric vehicles represent greater electricity use but still savvy consumption. Nothing comes free, however. Suitable battery technology still isn't ready for prime time in electric vehicles. And if horse manure in cities was a reason to switch from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles at the end of the last century, imagine what it will be like to manage discarded electric vehicle batteries once everyone switches to this mode of transportation. Let's hope that the creative inventors figure out a way to use materials that are valuable enough to recycle instead of creating a disposal nightmare.
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