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California Wind Farm
Carmakers argue that forcing them to sell EVs in California is stupid given the state's shortage of electricity. So, here's a couple suggestions on how carmakers could avoid the mandate and help the state at the same time.

California's Dreaming

Let's dump the mandate and make carmakers build windfarms, instead.

By Bill Moore

A couple days ago, an EV World reader called me one his cell phone from California. He was driving through Los Angeles in a rented Honda Insight -- courtesy of EV Rentals -- and he wanted to share the experience with me. "You know," he said, "if everyone drove one of these, we could cut our oil imports in half." He was obviously excited about the car and its performance which ranks it as the world's most energy efficient gasoline powered vehicle. Since I drive an Insight everyday, I can personally attest to the veracity of the car's remarkable performance, along with its Toyota counterpart, the Prius.

But this story isn't about hybrid electric cars, directly. Instead, it's about California's energy crisis and it's potential impact on the ZEV mandate. Can the state continue to endorse and actively support the use of grid-connected electric cars while its electric power system is stretched so dangerously thin?

The current crisis (no pun intended) seems to play directly into the hands of carmakers who would like the mandate either abolished or at least delayed to 2007.

Seemingly lending credence to hypothesis, the city of West Hollywood issued a press release last week urging its citizens to practice energy conservation. For its part, the city said it would temporarily unplug its electric car, along with taking a number of other conservation measures. But will unplugging EVs make much difference in the present situation? According to the LA Times, an electric car uses about the same amount of electricity as the average home on a daily basis. Certainly, that's a fair amount of energy, but given the small number of EVs in the state at present {less than 3,000)that only represents 0.06% of the state's energy output.

So, the question isn't really whether or not today’s EVs contribute disproportionately to the problems in the state. It could even be argued that far more electricity is used to distribute and pump gasoline in the state than than what it takes to recharge a few thousand EVs. I don't know if anyone has looked at the numbers here, but it would be worth investigating.

Today, what is known is that electric cars contribute little to California's energy problems. But what about when the mandate takes effect in 2003 and beyond? Could 22,000 new EVs a year impact the states utility grid? Certainly, but focusing on just this part of the problem ignores other important aspects of the energy equation.

The first is the dramatically improved efficiency of electric cars versus their gasoline counter parts. The GM EV1 with an advanced lead acid battery can travel about 70 or more miles on 26 kilowatt hours of energy. At 10 cents a kilowatt hour it will cost, at most, $2.60 to travel this distance. If the car is recharged overnight at off-peak rates that can be as low as 2 cents a kilowatt hour, it could cost only 52 cents to make the trip.

By contrast, it will cost the owner of a gasoline car getting 24 mpg, $4.37 (at $1.50 per US gallon). Make the trip in an SUV getting 18 mpg and it will cost you $5.83, ten times the cost of the EV1 using off-peak electricity. Even if you consider all the attendant transmission line losses associated with recharging an EV from the grid, EVs still come out far ahead of your average gasoline vehicle in their overall efficiency. In short, EV owners will get more travel bang for their energy buck.

The second factor strikes even closer to home during California's energy crisis and that is the massive transfer of wealth out of the state to pay for its burgeoning energy needs. While much attention during the present crisis has been focused on the billion dollar bills owed by PG&E and Southern California Edison to out-of-state energy producers, similar attention should be applied to the massive imports of oil that arrive daily at terminals in Long Beach and other California ports. I don't know how much of California's wealth is sent overseas to pay for the oil it imports, but the US daily transfers some $50 million to foreign oil suppliers. The critical difference is while the state can't easily replace the oil it must import to fuel its gasoline-powered transportation system, it can tap multiple sources of North American generated electricity to run an electric-powered one, several of them renewable sources which create no pollution.

Just last week the Nevada Test Site Development Corporation announced that a partnershp of M&N Power and Siemens Energy will build a 260 megawatt wind farm just across the California border. When completed in 2004, this facility will generate enough electricity to power 260,000 homes or 260,000 EVs. This one wind farm alone could provide enough power for the equivalent of 11 years worth of EV sales under the current mandate and 27 years under the proposed 2% quota.

By contrast, a comparable fleet of gasoline vehicles will consume 130 million gallons of fuel -- more than half of it imported -- in the same period and generate 1.56 million tons of CO2. Carmakers want an unfettered right to sell consumers products they want. So I suggest that California let them do just that. Forget the ZEV mandate. Let them sell as many vehicles as they can as long as those vehicles can be fueled by California-produced energy only, no imports allowed. In fact, let's extend this principle to all vehicles sold in the US. As long as you can power them with energy produced in the US, carmakers can sell anything they want...biodiesel, ethanol, domestic gasoline, synthetic fuels, electricity. Imagine compelling an entire nation -- one that currently monopolizes a disproportionate share of the world fossil fuels -- to live within its national energy budget. Imagine how our priorities would change, how the development of domestic energy sources would be encouraged, how energy efficiency would be reinvigorated and how billions of dollars in our trade deficit would be eliminated.

Of course no one is going to take such a proposal seriously, certainly not carmakers, the government nor consumers. So, let me suggest another option. We let carmakers sell any type of car they wish as long as they also build alternative power plants that offset the amount of energy their vehicles consume. The more SUVs they sell, the more wind farms and solar arrays they must install. The more EVs they sell, the fewer renewable energy plants they must build. Such a move would not only help California address its energy problem but also offset the pollution carmaker’s products generate. The plants could be operated by the ISO with carmakers sharing in the profits. The same approach could be adopted by other states and nations.

As the Air Resource Board deliberates the fate of the ZEV mandate, EV World hopes they will consider the larger energy picture. Reducing or even eliminating the mandate without a compensory response by carmakers will only exacerbate the energy problems of the state in the long run. Energy is energy whether it comes from a power plant or a refinery. By linking the two, California could restore its imagine as the nation’s pacesetter in confronting the challenges of the 21st Century.

But then, it’s just a suggestion.

Times Article Viewed: 4995
Published: 23-Jan-2001

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