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Electrifying the transportation network November 27, 2008

Posted by cleanidahoenergy in Electric cars, electric vehicles, Politics and nuclear, Transportation.
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This is a very welcome bit of news to hear: The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is promoting large-scale use of plug-in vehicles to reduce transportation costs and cut pollution.

According to the council’s latest Northwest Power Plan, these plug-ins could also help the stability of the power grid by contributing power during times of high demand – in effect, turning each car that’s plugged in into a mini-battery that can contribute a bit of power to avert a blackout.

Plug-in vehicles may be all-electric, or they may use a small gasoline engine for motion or to recharge their batteries. In any case, I believe people will increasingly use plug-in vehicles in the coming years, shifting a huge part of our nation’s energy demand from gas stations to homes. At least half of the energy consumed in the U.S. goes to moving autos; the rest goes to agriculture, industry and buildings. Within 50 years, I believe, the average consumer will cease to use gas stations.

I find some things in the report hard to believe, such as the assertion that plug-in vehicles could replace 43 to 73 percent of all the cars and light trucks in the nation, without adding power plants. This assumes plug-ins would be recharged mainly at night, when demand for electricity is lower. But as plug-ins become more common I foresee many more electrical outlets in parking lots and businesses, to serve them at all hours and extend their range.

One of the benefits of fossil fuels is that they’re extremely concentrated and reliable. To replace those qualities for plug-ins, we must have base-load electrical power – power that is absolutely reliable and affordable. For those reasons, a renewable-based energy system could not power our national vehicle fleet. People won’t tolerate their cars quitting on the roadway because there wasn’t enough wind or sun to fully charge them the night before. Vehicles can only be as reliable as their fuel source and wind and solar only produce electricity 17 and 25 percent of the time. Also, if we burn coal to power electric vehicles, we have simply trade one kind of pollution for another.

As you might have expected, here is the pitch for nuclear power. Only nuclear power has the ability to provide the abundant, reliable and affordable energy we need to power our vehicles. With a balanced approach of nuclear, natural gas for peaking and renewables to replace fossil, we can meet our energy’s increasing demands for electricity and shifting power demands.