Electric Cars and Wind-Generated Power – A Giant leap backward for Mankind

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 31st, 2011

Electric Cars don’t Like the Cold and Snow

There have been some big snow storms hammering the U.S. and the U.K.  Huge snow falls have snarled traffic this past Wednesday in the Washington area.  Not exactly Nome Alaska or Fargo North Dakota.  But it still turned rush hour traffic commutes into parking lots.  Cold parking lots.  Unless you had an internal combustion engine, that is.  And most people did as it turns out.  Lucky for them.  For if they had electric cars, they would have been waiting outside for a tow home.  Or walking home.  Because batteries don’t work well in the cold weather (see Cold truths about electric cars’ cold-weather shortcomings by Charles Lane posted 1/28/2011 on The Washington Post).

It is a basic fact of physical science that batteries run down more quickly in cold weather than they do in warm weather, and the batteries employed by vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Volt are no exception.

The exact loss of power these cars would suffer is a matter of debate, partly because no one has much real-world experience to draw on. But there would be some loss. Running the heater to stay warm, or the car radio to stay informed, would drain the battery further.

If you want to understand some of the science, here’s some of that science:

“All batteries deliver their power via a chemical reaction inside the battery that releases electrons. When the temperature drops the chemical reactions happen more slowly and the battery cannot produce the same current that it can at room temperature. A change of ten degrees can sap 50% of a battery’s output. In some situations the chemical reactions will happen so slowly and give so little power that the battery will appear to be dead when in fact if it is warmed up it will go right back to normal output.

So think of this the next time your wife is about to start her commute home during the next snow storm.  And then imagine this.  She gets home okay.  Barely.  But you’ve lost your electrical power.  So you can’t plug in your car to recharge.

And many electric-car drivers who did manage to limp home Wednesday would have been out of options the next day: You can’t recharge if you don’t have electricity, and hundreds of thousands of customers were blacked out Thursday from the snow. The Post reports that this will be the case for many of them for days.

An internal combustion engine, though, could start up the next morning.  Because cold weather doesn’t affect them as much as they do batteries.  So if you had to go out for groceries or medicines, your internal combustion engine could get you where you had to go.  Even to a gas station if you needed to fill your tank to give you the range to drive somewhere that had electrical power and open stores.

Wind can be Fickle when it comes to Generating Power

Yeah, but, come on, what are the odds of this happening?  For the most part, batteries are reliable.  Electrical power is reliable.  The chance of losing power after ‘going green’ is so rare that it is statistically insignificant.

All right, let’s forget about driving a car in rush hour traffic in a snowstorm with the heater and your lights on.  Because that rarely ever happens.  Let’s look at wind-generated electrical power.  Like in the U.K.  They’ve added quite a few wind farms.  And they’re providing a rising percentage of their total electrical generation.  And, in a recent cold snap, the wind stopped blowing.  And the windmills stopped turning (see Customers face huge bill for wind farms that don’t work in the cold by Tom McGhie posted 1/9/2011 on the Daily Mail).

In the last quarter ending December 23, wind turbines produced on average 8.6 per cent of our electricity, but the moment the latest bad weather arrived with snow and freezing temperatures, this figure fell to as low as 1.8 per cent.

The slack was immediately taken up by efficient, but dirty, coal-fired power stations and oil-fired plants.

That dirty, filthy, nasty coal and oil no doubt meant the difference between life and death for some.  Why?  Because they’re reliable.  The wind doesn’t have to blow and the sun doesn’t have to shine.  They will always be there.  And this is why they serve as backup to wind generated power.  Because coal and oil are more reliable than wind.

So little energy was generated then that the National Grid, which is responsible for balancing supply and demand of energy in the UK, was forced to ask its biggest users – industry – to ration supplies.

So you may not be able to turn on your lights when you get home.  Cook.  Or run your heat.  But you’ll be saving the planet.  Sure, you may kill yourself in the process, but at least you’ll feel good.  For saving the planet.  By being so green.  As you turn blue.

Only Fossil Fuels can Walk it like they Talk It

There will be some sacrifice going green.  Some could even die (if their electric car battery dies during a blizzard before they get home from Grandma’s).  Or you may have found Grandma shivering in the cold because the wind wasn’t blowing that day.  Muttering to herself about the good old days when we burned coal.  And stayed warm.

When it comes down to it, fossil fuels are life.  Renewable energy sources might give us a brief respite from fossil fuels.  But when anything happens with those renewable energy sources, guess who we go running back to?  That’s right.  Fossil fuels.  And it’s time we stop demonizing the great life-giver of civilization.

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