Electric Cars are Toys for the Rich

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 22nd, 2014

Week in Review

It turns out that the majority of electric car owners share something in common.  They’re rich (see Electric-Car Buyers Younger And Richer Than Hybrid Owners by Jim Gorzelany posted 4/22/2014 on Forbes).

Based on calendar-year 2013 sales, the study found that 55 percent of electric vehicle buyers are between 36 and 55 years old and have an average household income of $175,000 or more. By comparison, 45 percent of those driving hybrid-powered models off the lot are 56 years old or older (compared to just 26 percent of new EV owners), with only 12 percent having an annual income of $175,000 or higher.

So electric cars are toys for rich people.  Why?  Because working-class people can’t afford to throw money away.

This would more or less reinforce the popular wisdom that hybrids, which typically cost only nominally more than comparable conventionally powered models, appeal more to family minded penny-pinchers than do the pricier EVs, which pack more in the way of high-tech luster and are often purchased as rolling status symbols (they also require a certain infrastructure – i.e. a garage with an updated electrical system for charging – and because of their limited range are usually the second or third car in a family’s fleet)…

… buyers of both EVs and hybrids tend to reside in more affluent zipcodes than typical consumers, with most green-car buyers clustered in hip cities along the west coast.

A gasoline-powered car is utilitarian.  It’ll get you to and from work.  Day or night.  Rain or shine.  Hot or cold.  If you need heat, headlights, windshield wipers and an extra hour to get home because of slow rush-hour traffic the gasoline-powered car gives you these things.  Unlike an electric car.  Because all of these things drain the battery.  Making getting home in night, rain and cold a risky proposition.  Especially if you get stuck in rush-hour traffic.  Which is why electric cars are “usually the second or third car in a family’s fleet.”  And who can afford having 2-3 cars in a family?  People earning more than $175,000 a year.  People who take their electric car out for nice, short afternoon drives.  Then get into old reliable (gasoline-powered car 1 and/or 2 in the family’s fleet) when they really need to get somewhere.

But even having two other cars can’t do anything about the weather.  For rich people in Minnesota are probably not driving their electric car to work in a February blizzard.  Which is why the most popular places to own and drive an electric car are on the west coast.  Where it rarely is winter.  So the rich may take the electric car out of the stable for a pleasant afternoon drive.  But working class people who have to deal with night, rain and cold on a daily basis will be driving to work as they always have.  In their gasoline-powered car.  For after a hard day’s work there is nothing better than going home.  Which is why they drive gasoline-powered cars.  Because they will always get you home.

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Hot and Cold Weather reduce Range of Electric Cars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 22nd, 2014

Week in Review

AAA makes a lot of money during cold winters.  Because when the temperatures plummet a lot of batteries won’t start their cars.  A low cost service call for AAA.  For all it requires is about 5 minutes of time on site and a pair of jumper cables.  Connect the cables to the dead battery.  Give the AAA vehicle a little gas to increase alternator output and the car with the dead battery will start up like it’s a summer’s day.  And as soon as it does the driver can drive home.  She doesn’t have to wait for the battery to charge.  For it will trickle charge on the drive home.  While the car’s alternator will provide all the electric power needed to run the defroster blower on the windshield, the electric defroster on the rear window, the headlights, the turn signals, the stop lights, the radio, whatever.  Once the car starts gasoline will do the rest by providing the rotational motion that spins the alternator.  None of this could happen, though, with an all-electric car (see Electric car range fluctuates in extreme weather, reports AAA by Richard Read posted 3/21/2014 on The Christian Science Monitor).

We’ve known for some time that battery range in electric vehicles can fluctuate in response to temperature. However, studies and simulations have produced varying estimates of how much range owners can expect to lose…

To carry out its tests, AAA used a 2014 Ford Focus Electric Vehicle, a 2012 Mitsubishi iMIEV, and a 2013 Nissan Leaf…

When tested at the moderate temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit, AAA says the three vehicles averaged 105 miles per charge. After the thermostat was cranked up to 95 degrees, however, that range plummeted to just 69 miles.

The batteries performed even worse in cold weather. When the vehicles were tested at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, they averaged just 43 miles — a 57 percent reduction in range.

Imagine yourself driving home in a February blizzard after work.  With a 30 minute drive home on the expressway.  Which is crawling along at a slow speed due to the bad weather.  Your normal 30 minute drive home turns into an hour.  As you inch along in heavy traffic.  With your wipers running.  Your heat on.  Your headlights on.  Your windshield defroster blower running.  Your rear window defroster on.  And your stop lights blinking on and off as you ride your brake in stop and go traffic.  All of these things just sucking the charge out of your battery.  Imagine all of that and tell me which kind of car would you rather be in.  An all-electric car that has only 43 miles of charge in it?  Or a gasoline-powered car that can sit in that traffic for 3 hours (or longer) before getting you home with everything running while keeping you toasty warm inside?

If you don’t want to wait for a tow truck standing next to your all-electric car in that blizzard to tow you home after it runs out of charge in that stop and go traffic I’m guessing you’ll probably choose the gasoline-powered car.  Which is why few people are buying these all-electric cars.  People don’t want a car that can only be driven in nice weather when there is little traffic on the road to slow your way home.  That’s why they choose gasoline-powered cars.  Because it will drive in anything and will always get you home as long as there is gasoline in the tank.

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Car Companies making more Electric Cars that people will not Buy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 9th, 2014

Week in Review

Auto makers are caving in to green paranoia.  Fooling themselves that electric cars are worth the investment (see Geneva Motor Show: Electric cars no longer the exception? by Theo Leggett posted 3/6/2014 on BBC News Business).

The Porsche Panamera S is quite a car. Sleek, powerful and aerodynamic, it’s capable of 167mph.

But that’s not all. The version on display here in Geneva is also able to travel for about 20 miles on nothing but battery power.

It is, of course, a hybrid. It has an electric motor sitting alongside a 3-litre petrol engine. It is fast, powerful and remarkably economical. Porsche claims it can drive for 91 miles on a single gallon of petrol.

Wow.  A whole 20 miles on battery.  A Ford Taurus with a full tank of gas will take you 522 miles on the expressway.  With heat or air conditioning.  In snow or rain.  Night or day.  That’s what the internal combustion engine gives you.  The ability to get into your car and drive.  Whenever.  Without worrying if you have enough charge in the battery.  Or whether you can risk running the heat or use the headlights when you’re running low on charge.   All you need is gasoline.  And when you’re low on gasoline you just have to spend about 10 minutes or so at a convenient gas station to refill your tank.  Something no battery can do.  For the fastest chargers (i.e., the highest voltage chargers) still require more than a half hour for a useful charge.

Now, under pressure from regulators around the world, carmakers have been working hard to reduce emissions and fuel consumption. So hybrids have become decidedly mainstream…

“There’s no doubt in our mind that it’s coming and it’s coming quickly and there is legislation supporting this in many cities.

“You can drive into London and pay zero congestion charge, for example. There are taxation incentives in the UK, but also in the US and Asia as well…

“We know our customers now,” he says, “and we remain totally convinced that electric cars have a strong, strong place in the market…”

Yet although sales of electric vehicles are growing rapidly, they remain a tiny fraction of the global total. For the moment, the internal combustion engine remains king.

The only thing causing electric cars to become mainstream is the coercion of government.  Legislation.  The only way you can make an electric car more attractive than a gasoline-powered car.  Also, just to get people to buy electric cars requires massive government subsidies.  No.  Hamburgers, fries and Coke are mainstream.  Because you don’t have to subsidize them or coerce people to buy them.  In fact they are so mainstream that some in government use legislation to try and stop people from buying them.

The internal combustion engine is king and will remain king until you can drive an electric car as carefree as a gasoline-powered car.  Until the electric car makers can give us the range and the ability to use our heaters and lights without sweating profusely as we sit in gridlock during a blizzard worrying whether we’ll ever make it home people just aren’t going to buy an electric car.  Because people want to know they will make it home safely.  And right now nothing does that better than the internal combustion engine.

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There will be Carbon Emission whether we Power our Cars from Poo or Gasoline

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 2nd, 2014

Week in Review

Hydrogen is very flammable.  It’s why we use helium in our blimps.  Because using hydrogen is just too dangerous.  As the Hindenburg disaster has shown us.

So hydrogen is a pretty dangerous thing to be messing with.  Unlike gasoline.  Which is pretty safe and stable in the liquid form.  You could even put out a cigarette in a puddle of gasoline.  It’s dangerous doing so.  And you shouldn’t try it.  But the most dangerous thing about gasoline is its vapor.  Ignite that and there will be an explosion.  Which is what happens inside our internal combustion engines.  Where our cars first aerosolizes the gasoline, mixes it with air, compresses it and then ignites it.  Of course that explosion is deep within our engines.  Where it can’t harm us.  Still, it isn’t advised to smoke while refueling.  Because there are gas vapors typically where there is gas.  And you don’t want you car exploding like the Hindenburg.

Fuel cells use hydrogen to make electric power.  All you have to do is stop at your hydrogen fueling station and fill up your hydrogen tanks.  Just don’t smoke while doing this.  Because hydrogen in its natural state is an explosive gas.  This danger aside the hydrogen fuel cell is about to give the all-electric car a run for its money.  And last’s night meal may be providing the hydrogen (see POO-power comes to California: Orange County residents to trial SUVs fuelled by human waste by Mark Prigg posted 2/25/2014 on the Daily Mail).

The fuel-cell powered Tucson can drive for 50 miles per kilogram of hydrogen, and its two tanks hold about 5.64 kilograms (12.4 pounds).

Costs of compressed gas in California range from about $5 to $10 per kilogram, depending on the facility, and it takes around three minutes to fill the tank.

Hyundai says it hopes the technology will become popular – and will take on the electric car as the eco-vehicle of choice.

‘Hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles represent the next generation of zero-emission vehicle technology, so we’re thrilled to be a leader in offering the mass-produced, federally certified Tucson Fuel Cell to retail customers,’ said John Krafcik of Hyundai Motor America.

‘The superior range and fast-fill refueling speed of our Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle contrast with the lower range and slow-charge characteristics of competing battery electric vehicles.

‘We think fuel cell technology will increase the adoption rate of zero-emission vehicles, and we’ll all share the environmental benefits.’

If you crunch the numbers and compare it to a gasoline-powered Ford Taurus the numbers aren’t so good.  A Ford Taurus gets 29 miles per gallon on the highway.  And has an 18 gallon gas tank.  Which means one tank of gas will take you 522 miles on the highway.  At $3 per gallon for gas that one tank of gas will cost you $54.  By comparison the fuel cell gives you only 282 miles on a full tank.  And costs between $28.20 and $56.40 for a full tank.  Dividing cost per mile that comes to somewhere between $0.10 and $0.20 per mile.  While the gasoline-powered Ford Taurus costs about $0.10 per mile.

So at best the fuel cell will have a fuel cost equal to the gasoline-powered engine.  But it only has about 54% the range on a full tank.  Meaning you’ll have to stop about twice as often to fuel up with the fuel cell.  And good luck not blowing yourself up playing with hydrogen at the fuel pump.  That is if you can even find hydrogen fueling stations along your drive.  The only real good thing you can say about a fuel cell when comparing it to a gasoline-powered car is at least it’s not as bad as an all-electric car.  And those zero-emissions?  Sorry, that’s not exactly true.  The hydrogen may be zero-emissions but making the hydrogen isn’t.

First, sewage is separated into water and biosolids.

The waste water is cleaned, filtered and treated for reuse, while solid waste is piped into airless tanks filled with microbes.

A byproduct of their digestion is a gas that’s 60 percent methane and about 40 percent carbon dioxide, which is burned at the plant for power generation.

However, some is filtered and piped into a unique, stationary ‘tri-generation’ fuel-cell device, designed by the Irvine team, that produces electricity, heat and hydrogen.

The hydrogen gas is then piped several hundred feet to the public pump where fuel-cell autos are refueled daily.

Almost half of the source gas is carbon dioxide.  And carbon dioxide has carbon in it.  This is the same gas they want to shut down coal-fired power plants for producing.  Oh, and methane?  That’s a greenhouse gas.  This is the gas coming out of the butts of cows and pigs that some are saying are warming the planet.  And when you burn methane guess what you get?  Water and carbon dioxide.  More manmade carbon emissions.  That’s a lot of global warming they’re creating in the effort to prevent global warming.

This is one thing fuel cells share with all-electric cars.  They may be emission free.  But the chemistry to make them emission-free isn’t.  We’re still putting carbon into the atmosphere.  We’re just doing it in different places.  And if we are wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier just to keep using gasoline?

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The Ford Model T is probably a Safer Choice for a Cross-Country Trip than an All-Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 16th, 2014

Week in Review

The United States is no doubt tired of winter.  It’s been a long one.  Snow, ice and cold.  Especially cold.  With below-zero temperatures in northern states.  And freezing temperatures even in southern states.  In fact, it’s been such a brutal winter that every state in the United States but one has snow.  Florida.  It’s just been a long, cold winter.  But it’s been a good one for those in the snow removal business.  And for those in providing a jump-start for dead batteries.  For batteries just don’t like cold weather.  Which is another problem with all-electric cars.  In addition to finding a place and the time to charge them (see Tesla Model S Electric Car Versus … Ford Model T? A History Lesson by John Voelcker posted 2/14/2014 on Yahoo! Autos).

While the fast-expanding network of Tesla Supercharger DC quick-charging stations now permits both coast-to-coast and New York-to-Florida road trips by electric car, the magazine conducted its test last October…

And as it points out, in its area of the country (Ann Arbor, Michigan), there were no Supercharger stations last fall.

(There is now one, along I-94 in St. Joseph, Michigan, 26 miles north of the I-90 cross-country corridor–one of 76 operating U.S. Supercharger locations as of today.)

So it couched its Tesla-vs-Model T test as the equivalent, a century later, to the question it imagined potential buyers of the first automobiles may have pondered: How does this stack up against my old, familiar, predictable horse..?

In due course, small roadside businesses sprang up to sell gasoline for the newfangled contraptions, usually in the same place they could be repaired.

But travelers couldn’t be confident of finding gasoline until well into the 1920s, a result of the Model T turning the U.S. into a car-based nation almost by itself.

Imagine driving across a state the size of Michigan on a road trip.  From St. Joseph to Detroit on the other side of the state it’s about 200 miles.  Which it will take you over 3 hours to drive at posted speed limits.  Now imagine driving this with only one gas station to stop at.  One you’re not familiar with.  One that you will have to drive around a little to find.  While you’re running out of energy.  Now imagine you’re in an all-electric car.  And you find this one charging station and there are 4 cars ahead of you waiting for their 30-minute quick charge.  Which could increase your charging time from one half hour to two and a half hours.

Every gas station has electric power.  So every gas station could sell electricity for electric cars, too.  If someone had to wait a half hour to charge their car that is a lot of time they could be buying stuff from the mini mart all these gas stations have.  So why aren’t they building these things?  Is it that they don’t want the liability that might come from a faulty charger starting a battery fire?  Is it because there are so few all-electric cars to waste the investment on?  Is there a question of how to charge for electricity?  Or do they not want to turn their gas stations into parking lots with a bunch of cars waiting for their half hour of charge time?

Perhaps the reason Michigan only has one Supercharger station is because Michigan has long, cold winters.  Limiting electric car traveling to the summer months.  In fact, if you live in a northern state look for the charging stations some big stores have installed to show how green they are.  Chances are you won’t see a single car at them during the winter.  For when it comes to cold winters gasoline has it all over batteries.  Gasoline provides far greater range.  You can jump-start a gasoline engine in the coldest of winters and then drive home.  And if it’s cold you can crank the heat up to make it feel like summer inside that car.  Something you can’t do in an electric car without sacrificing further range.

The Model T was an improvement over the horse.  But the electric car is just not an improvement over the Model T.  Because a gasoline-powered car is superior to an all-electric car.  For if one was going to travel across a state the Model T would have better odds of getting you where you were going before running out of energy.  And even if you ran out of gas someone could bring a can of gasoline to you so you could drive to the next gas station.  Whereas an electric car would require a tow truck to the next charging station.

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Girl sits on Phone in Back Pocket and starts Fire just as Damaged Batteries start Fires in Electric Cars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 2nd, 2014

Week in Review

Lithium-ion batteries are a wonder.  But they can be temperamental.  Which you can expect when you put highly reactive chemicals together.  Which is the price of higher energy storage densities.  Danger.  To make that charge last longer in the batteries powering our electronic devices.  And they can only do that by a chemical reaction that produces heat.  Boeing had a problem with their lithium-ion batteries that nearly caught a couple of their new Dreamliners on fire.  Resulting in an FAA grounding of the entire fleet until they found a way to make their batteries safer.  But it’s not just big lithium-ion batteries that can burst into flames (see iPhone catches fire, teen girl burned by Chris Matyszczyk posted 2/1/2014 on CNET).

An eighth-grader in Maine is sitting in class when she hears a pop. Then she notices smoke coming from her back pocket…

The culprit is said to have been her iPhone. Images suggest it had caught fire…

The division chief of the local emergency medical services, Andrew Palmeri, told Seacoast Online that the phone’s battery had “shorted out.” He suggested that the phone had been crushed in the teen’s back pocket. Local fire services are investigating…

Cell phones of whatever brand do catch fire. iPhones have caught fire on planes, just as Droids have exploded in ears.

So lithium-ion batteries can be dangerous.  Despite being the wonders they are.  For these chemical reactions are powerful.  And need to be confined perfectly.  But if you sit on a cell phone you can damage the confinement of those chemicals.  Causing a fire.  Just as accidents in electric cars have resulted in battery fires that have totaled these cars.  Or a faulty charging circuit started a fire overnight while charging in an attached garage.  Starting the house on fire.  Or nearly started a plane on fire.

The greatest hindrance to electric car sales is a thing called range anxiety.  Will I have enough charge to get home?  The answer to this problem is, of course, increasing the charge available in these cars.  Typically with bigger and more powerful batteries.  Which can burn the car to a crisp after an accident damages the battery.  Or debris on the roadway is thrown up by a tire into the battery.  Things that won’t total a gasoline-powered car if they happen.  Because gas is a high-density energy source.  Like these lithium-ion batters.  But it takes a lot more abuse to the gas tank to get it to start a fire.  Which is why electric cars will not replace the gasoline-powered car.  As they provide a far greater range and are safer.  And until the electric car can out do the gasoline-powered car on these two points the electric car will remain a novelty.

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Tesla has made it Possible to drive Cross-Country in an Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 1st, 2014

Week in Review

Tesla has installed charging stations across the country.  You can now drive from Los Angeles to New York City.  As long as you want to take the scenic route and are in no hurry (see Tesla’s 800-mile cross-country detour by Chris Isidore posted 1/30/2014 on CNN Money).

Tesla owners can now drive across the country using the company’s network of charging stations to power their batteries — as long as they don’t mind going about 800 miles out of their way…

Tesla says the route…is…3,400 miles long…

The superchargers provide enough juice in 30 minutes to take a Tesla about 170 miles. There are 32 stations on the route between downtown Los Angeles and New York City, and more than 40 others mostly up and down both coasts.

The Model S, which starts at about $69,000, needs to be charged every 244 to 306 miles, depending on the battery size.

Sounds good.  But for those of us comfortable with ease of traveling with gasoline will not experience that same ease driving from one charging station to another.  Let’s look at this by first looking at a full-size sedan powered by a gasoline-engine.  Like a Ford Taurus.  They can get about 29 miles per gallon on the highway and have an 18 gallon gas tank.  Crunching the numbers for that 3,400 mile trip it will take about 117 gallons of gasoline (3,400/29).  With an 18 gallon gas tank it will take 7 fueling stops to complete the trip (117/18).  Assuming 5 minutes to refuel and another 10 minutes for incidentals (pulling in, pulling out, paying at the pump, waiting for a fuel pump to become available, etc.) that’s 105 minutes (7 X 15).  Or 1.75 hours (105/60).  Adding just under 2 hours to the trip for fueling.

For 32 charging stations to cover that 3,400 miles means they are on average 106.25 miles apart.  So a half-hour quick charge will take you to the next charging station with 170 miles of charge available on your battery.  Assuming 30 minutes to charge and another 15 minutes for incidentals (pulling in, pulling out, waiting for another car to complete their 30 minute charge, etc.) that’s 1,440 minutes (32 X 45).  Or 24 hours (1,440/60).  Adding 24 hours to the trip for charging.  Or a full day.  Or 2 days if you only drive 12 hours a day.  Or 3 days if you only drive 8 hours a day.

Now imagine a world where everyone is driving electric cars.  And there are three cars ahead of you at the charging station waiting for a charge.  Adding an hour and half waiting time in addition to your 45 minute charging stop.  If it was like this at every charging station and you drove 12 hours a day that would add 6 days of traveling to that trip.  Whereas the odds are less likely that you will have to wait for 3 cars ahead of you at a gas station.  Because there are so many more gas stations to go to.

Driving cross-country in an electric car could add 6 days to a 4-day trip.  Making the electric car a novelty at best.  Unless your vacation is all about getting there.  And not about being there.  Where you drive there, turn around and return home.  Because you have no time to spend there due to the time it took to get there.  You could do that.  Or drive a gasoline-powered car.  And do more than just drive on your vacation.

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California offers Tax Breaks to help sell $70,000 Tesla Model S

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 22nd, 2013

Week in Review

Electric cars aren’t selling anywhere near enough to make them a profitable business.  Because they just won’t do for you what gasoline will do for you.  Let you carry lots of stuff over great distances.  Because the electric car is so less of a car as a gasoline-powered car governments bribe manufacturers to build them.  And people to buy them.  Just so rich people can have these toys (see California Is Giving Tesla Another Huge Tax Break. Good Move. by Will Oremus posted 12/19/2013 on Slate).

This is going to drive the Tesla-haters crazy. The luxury electric-car maker is getting a huge new tax break from California, SFGate reports. The state will let it off the hook for sales and use taxes on some $415 million in new equipment it’s purchasing in order to expand production of the Model S at its Bay Area factory. That amounts to a $34.7 million tax break to produce more of a vehicle whose sticker price starts above $70,000…

So, in fact, it isn’t Tesla per se that’s getting special treatment from the state. It’s the clean-tech industry in general, which California is very keen to promote…

More broadly, whatever sense a tax on the purchase of manufacturing equipment might once have made for California, it’s patently counterproductive in the context of clean-tech startups in the 21st century. Add to that some of the highest income and sales taxes in the nation, and it’s no wonder California is worried about companies like Tesla picking up stakes and heading elsewhere. Businessweek notes that new manufacturing jobs in the state have risen less than 1 percent since 2010, compared with nearly 5 percent nationally. Gov. Jerry Brown has been chipping away at the tax already, and Tesla is just the latest example.

Nor is the deal likely to burden the state’s taxpayers. Tesla’s Model S is in huge demand, and the company has been scrambling since its launch to ramp up production.

No.  The Model S is not in huge demand.  Demand may be up for the car.  But if the demand was ‘huge’ like every other popular car that sold well you wouldn’t need subsidies or tax breaks to build and sell them.  For cars in high demand are often the cars with the greatest profit in their selling price.  Because people want them so much that they are willing to pay these higher prices.  SUVs and pickup trucks were these kinds of vehicles.  And before gas prices spiked they were the lifeblood of manufacturers.  Because people paid more for these than they would for the sedans at the time.  Which is when the imports took over that segment.

People like SUVs and pickup trucks because they are big.  They carry a lot of people.  And a lot of stuff.  Even pull campers and boats.  The ideal vehicle for the family vacation.  Something the electric car just sucks at.  For any extra weight just sucks away charge time.  Limiting your range.  Which takes all the fun out of going on vacation.  And makes it a little scary.  For there is nothing worse than having a car that doesn’t move anymore in a strange place far from home.

But if you’re still convinced that tax breaks to big manufacturers are unfair and wrong, you might want to train your ire on a state a little further north, which just offered an all-time record $8.7 billion in tax breaks to a company that manufactures perhaps the least-green transportation technology of all. The worst part: Boeing might just move out anyway.

There is a bit of a difference between Tesla and Boeing.  Boeing employs a great many more people than Tesla.  And they’re all union workers ‘further north’.  Hence part of the reason for the tax breaks.  To help them compete with their high labor costs against the heavily subsidized Airbus.  Also, Boeing leads U.S. exports.  And is about the biggest component in U.S. GDP figures.  So while tax breaks and subsidies are abhorrent at least Boeing gives us something for theirs.  Unlike clean-tech industries.  That receive huge government subsidies and tax breaks.  Only to go bankrupt (Solyndra, Fisker, etc.) a short time later.  Tesla is the exception to the rule.  Because its founder, Elon Musk, is a billionaire who spends his own money.  A lot of it.  Unlike the other failed clean-tech start-ups.

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Man arrested for Stealing Electricity for his Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 7th, 2013

Week in Review

A bankruptcy judge just ruled Detroit can file bankruptcy.  Dealing a blow to the union workers and pensioners who will see their benefits cut.  A lot.  But in so doing Detroit may be able to do something it hasn’t been able to afford in a long time.  Turning the streetlights back on.

A lot of these streetlights have burnt out lamps.  Some are damaged.  While others have been shut off to cut costs.  Because the electric power to light these is a large cost item.  Even in Britain some cities are turning their streetlights off during parts of the night because they just can’t afford to keep them on all night long.  Which puts a silly incident like this into a new light (see Why Did This Man Get Arrested for Charging His Electric Car? by Tyler Lopez posted 12/5/2013 on Slate).

Early last month, a police officer approached Kaveh Kamooneh outside of Chamblee Middle School in Georgia. While his 11-year-old son played tennis, Kamooneh was charging his Nissan Leaf using an outdoor outlet. When the officer arrived, he opened the unlocked vehicle, took out a piece of mail to read the address, and let a puzzled Kamooneh know that he would be arrested for theft. Kamooneh brushed the entire incident off. Eleven days later, two deputies handcuffed and arrested him at his home. The charge? Theft of electrical power. According to a statement from the school, a “local citizen” had called the police to report the unauthorized power-up session.

The total cost of the 20 minutes of electricity Kamooneh reportedly used is about 5 cents…

Are political attitudes toward environmentally friendly electric vehicles to blame..?

Contrary to popular belief the ‘fuel’ for electric cars is not free.  It takes fuel (typically coal, natural gas, nuclear, etc.) to generate electric power.  Which is why we all have electric meters at our homes.  So we can pay for the cost of generating that electric power.  Therefore, this guy was stealing electric power.  Even if he lived in the city he stole from.  Because current taxes don’t pay for electric power.  People pay an electric bill based on their electric usage.  As shown on an electric meter.

This illustrates a great problem we will have if large numbers of people switch to electric cars.  This will place a huge burden on our electric generating capacity.  Have you ever placed your car battery (in a standard gasoline-powered car) on a charger when you had a dead battery?  If so you may have noticed the voltage meter on the charger barely move.  Because a dead battery places a ‘short-circuit’ across the charger.  Causing a surge of current to flow through the battery.  Recharging the plates.  As the charge builds up the current starts falling.  And the voltage starts rising.  Imagine great numbers of people plugging in their depleted batteries at the same time.  It will do to the electric grid what air conditioners do to it in the summer.  As a bunch of them turn on the lights dim because of that current surge going to the air conditioners.  Leaving less power available to power the lights (and other electric loads).

Air conditioning was such a problem that utilities placed a separate ‘interruptible’ meter at homes.  So that during the summer when the air conditioner load grew too great the utility could shut off some air conditioners.  To reduce the demand on the generating systems.  People lost their air conditioning for periods of time.  But they got a reduced electric rate because of it.

As more people add an electric car to the electric grid it will strain generating capacity.  And raise electric rates.  To get people to use less electric power.  If demand far exceeds supply electric rates will soar.  Perhaps causing a lot of people to look for a free ‘plug-in’ to escape the high cost of electric power.  Transferring that cost to others.  Like cash-strapped cities who can’t afford to leave the street lights on all night.

Few have thought this out well.  Getting more people to use electricity instead of gasoline at the same time we’re trying to replace reliable coal-fired power plants with intermittent wind and solar farms is a recipe for disaster.  In the form of higher electric bills and rolling blackouts.

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A Third Tesla Model S is Consumed by Flames from their Lithium-Ion Batteries

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 9th, 2013

Week in Review

There were two Boeing 787 Dreamliners that had a battery problem and a burning smell.  Fire is dangerous.  Especially in an airplane.  There was no loss of life in either incident.  And there was minor damage.  But two incidents were enough for the FAA to ground the entire Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet.  Yes, fire is dangerous on an airplane.  But the government was also mad at Boeing for wanting to make the Dreamliner with nonunion labor.  Did this play a role in the grounding?  Who knows?

Tesla has now had three lithium-ion fires.  Not battery problems with a burning smell.  The federal government likes Tesla.  Wants everyone to drive an electric car.  And subsidizes the electric car industry.  Interestingly how Tesla can have three fires that destroy the car entirely and yet receive no scrutiny from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Guess the government thinks Boeing wants to put people on unsafe airplanes while Tesla doesn’t want to put people in unsafe cars (see Tesla reports third fire involving Model S electric car by Ben Klayman and Bernie Woodall, Reuters, posted 11/8/2013 on The Globe and Mail).

Tesla Motors Inc. reported the third fire in its Model S luxury electric car in six weeks, this time after a highway accident in Tennessee, sending shares down sharply on Thursday.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol said the 2013 model sedan ran over a tow hitch that hit the undercarriage of the vehicle, causing an electrical fire on Interstate 24 on Wednesday. A highway patrol dispatcher called the damage to the car “extensive.”

The Model S undercarriage has armour plating that protects a battery pack of lithium-ion cells. Tesla said it did not yet know whether the fire involved the car’s battery.

An electrical fire in an electric car probably involved the car’s battery.  For without gasoline and a source for ignition what else can burn in an electric car other than a high energy density device under heat and pressure?

The first Model S fire occurred on Oct. 1 near Seattle, when the car collided with a large piece of metal debris in the road that punched a hole through the protective armour plating…

The second fire took place later in the month in Merida, Mexico, when, according to reports, a car drove through a roundabout, crashed through a concrete wall and hit a tree…

While none of the drivers in any of the Tesla accidents were injured, the glaring headlines about fires were unwelcome for a company whose stock soared sixfold in the first nine months of the year. Since the first fire, Tesla’s shares have lost more than 27 per cent, and this week’s declines are the worst one-week drop since May, 2012.

“For a company with a stock price based as much or more on image than financials, those recurring headlines are highly damaging,” Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer said.

When image is more important than financials that means the electric car isn’t selling.  That the costs far exceed revenue.  And probably the only things allowing them to stay in business are government subsidies (both for Tesla and for Tesla buyers) and irrational exuberance.  Like when investors created a dot-com bubble in the late Nineties.  Bidding up stock prices into the stratosphere when companies had nothing to sell let alone profits.  At least in the dot-com bubble investors were betting that they found the next Microsoft and were going to get rich.  It’s a little more puzzling why investors are buying Tesla stock in the first place. 

Tesla may build the best electric cars in the world.  But they are still electric cars.  The problem is no one is buying electric cars.  Except rich people who can afford a third car.  With the other two being powered by gasoline.  In case they want to travel a long distance.  Or drive at night or in the cold with the lights and heat on.  Or have to rush a sick child to the hospital when the Tesla is on the charger.

Tesla’s battery pack is made up of small lithium-ion battery cells that are also used in laptop computers, an approach not used by other auto makers. The battery pack stretches across the base of the vehicle. In comparison, General Motors Co. uses large-format battery cells in a T-shape in the centre of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid car.

Other auto makers have dealt with battery fires in electrified vehicles, including GM’s Volt and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s i-MiEV…

“For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery” than a conventional gas-powered vehicle, he said on a blog post.

Company executives called that first fire a “highly uncommon occurrence,” likely caused by a curved metal object falling off a semi-trailer and striking up into the underside of the car in a “pole-vault effect.”

Gasoline engines are dangerous, but Americans have learned to live with them over the years, said Tom Gage, the former CEO of AC Propulsion, which developed the drive train for Tesla’s first model, the Roadster.

“Obviously, gasoline can be lit more easily and can burn with more ferocity than a battery can, but a gas tank in a car now benefits from 120 years of fairly intensive development and government regulation regarding how you make it safe,” he said.

Ever smell gasoline?  In a parking lot?  When you shouldn’t?  It might have been more common in the old days.  When the Big Three were selling their rust buckets.  Which rusted out in the northern climates where they salt the roads during winter.  Salt makes metal rust.  Including gas tanks.  Causing leaks.  If you smelled gas, though, did you run away from that car and wait for it to explode?  No.  You didn’t.  You probably thought something along the lines of, “That guy should get that fixed.  Gasoline is too expensive to waste like that.”

And you can fix a leaky gas tank.  It’s dangerous but you can.  For a tank full of gas has more liquid than fumes in it.  But an empty gas tank may be full of lingering gas fumes.  That can explode if ignited with a welding torch.  Which is why before they weld a gas tank they fill it full of sand.  So there is no room for any explosive gas vapors.

Gasoline is flammable.  It will burn.  But it won’t explode.  For gasoline in a liquid form is not as dangerous as in other forms.  It can leak out of a gas tank.  And then evaporate into the atmosphere.  In a car wreck something can puncture the gas tank and cause fuel to spill out.  If this fuel is ignited it can burn.  And the fire will follow the gasoline back to the source.  If the fire reaches the gasoline fumes under pressure in the gas tank there can be an explosion.  A very big one at that.  But if the fire department is on the scene they can wash that gasoline away with a fire hose.  And prevent any fire or explosion.  When a lithium-ion battery burns, though, throwing water on it won’t do much.

For gasoline to power a gasoline-powered car we first have to vaporize it.  Mix it with oxygen (pulled from the air).  Compress the air-fuel mixture.  And then ignite it with a spark.  That’s when it’s dangerous.  When it’s inside our engines.  Not in the gas tank.  For a piece of metal can puncture the bottom of a car—including the gas tank—without causing a fire.  Whereas it’s a little iffy with a Tesla.  If something punctures the batteries covering the bottom of the car there’s a good chance there may be a fire.  While if you puncture a gas tank you may just run out of gas.

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