Peak oil, in historical context

Are electric or hybrid cars a green marketing myth, or a real solution?

The solutions we seek depend on the problem being solved, electric cars seem to largely be meant to solve environmental problems, but there are many other transportation problems to solve.

Will adopting electric or hybrid cars solve any of the problems it's hoped they'll solve? A lot of money and effort is being spent on them, but so too is money being spent on developing gasoline cars. The question is, what is the best allocation of research resources to solve transportation system problems?

When we set out to solve a problem it's best to describe the problem correctly. The solution we end up with is controlled by how we define the problem.

Many are promising big things about electric and hybrid cars, while some are saying it's a bunch of hype. One thing we do know is the big payoff only comes when electrified vehicles become common.

Most of the focus is on environmental issues, primarily greenhouse gas reduction. Electric and hybrid cars are largely seen as solving environmental problems because of their tailpipe emissions. Electric cars have zero tailpipe emissions, and hybrid cars tend to have much less tailpipe emissions than equivalent gasoline powered cars.

But, of course, the tailpipe emissions aren't the whole environmental impact story, not even for gasoline powered cars. Mining gasoline from fossil oil resources requires many kinds of environmental disasters at wellheads, transportation systems, refineries, more transportation systems, not to mention the final consumption as an explosion in an internal combustion engine. Similarly electricity tends to come from coal-fired or natural gas-fired, or nuclear plants, or hydroelectric dams, each of which have negative environmental side effects. However repeated studies show that even if the electricity comes from a coal fired power plant, the electric car "tailpipe" is cleaner than the "tailpipe" of the equivalent gasoline car.

Many see the problem to solve as solely the environmental impact of cars. This means the solutions being offered cluster around the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts. It's been shown over and over that electrified cars do provide some environmental benefit over gasoline powered cars, even for coal-fired-electricity, but the benefit is not terribly large, especially for coal-fired-electricity. Which understandably leads some to question the push for electrified cars.

There are other problems with the transportation system begging to be solved, but these problems largely go unrecognized and aren't part of the problem statement being addressed.


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Good article. This really appears to be a rational look at ALL the problems facing the automobile. The solution to the energy peak oil issue can be addressed, however, by immediately switching to natural gas. It burns the cleaner than gasoline; and we have ample supplies in Amercia. Furthermore, the next-gen IC engines will likely be HCCI and/or split cycle with air hybrid which will burn even more efficiently. Solve the peak oil problem totally? No, but it is a significant step in that direction. Unfortunately, the EV as it is designed and configured right now simply has too high of an upfront cost to make a difference; and hoping for a magical reduction in cost via more EVs is not the solution as it is self limiting simpy by using lithium. At the very least we need a lithium-air battery, better yet zinc-air of which we have greater supply to meet global needs. No sense in creating a peak lithium scenario. In my opinion, electrification does not have to be all or none either. We can have both as we have with hybrids. I see more electrifcation coming even with downsized IC engine use, especially with stop-start; and nat-gas would avail even greater gains. A system approach might be our best overall bet until that one stand-out solution appears. Ultimately, a full EV with the same driving range and replenishment time as a gasoline engine supported by a clean energy source is the ideal. Problem is, the ideal energy source like wind and solar simply cannot supply enough electrons to support the hungry grid and our dependence on electricity. A single source of energy is not wise either. So, we'll likely have to live with a combination of wind, solar, hydro, nat-gas and nuclear. Each is a part of a solution, and that is how I see the industry going through 2030.
"Sustainable Mobility" to use the car industry buzz word, is unfortunately in the control of the car manufacturers, who obviously have alliances with the major oil companies to ensure both industries benefit no matter what the solution is. Think of it this way. Right now the hybrid car is the "bridge" that will eventually get the car industry to the point where "sustainable mobility" will be more of a reality...the absolute certainty is that oil will play little or no part in that reality, for the simple reason there will be none left. Will it be EV's? The likelyhood is yes - the problem will be creating the power source to fuel the EV's. The environmental aspect is a whole different ball game - city planners and transportation departments will most likely make decisions that will restrict the type of vehicle that can be used in their domains. Thus we may well see only short range EV's allowed to operate in some areas while allowing larger capacity and longer range transport operate elsewhere. The car companies will need to "adapt" to this culture rather than "drive" it. Then we will see the oil companies metamorphing into "energy" companies, to supply power for all the above. Also, twenty years ago a mobile phone had a battery pack as big as a briefcase yet the benefits of this "commsmobility" were so huge the industries moved rapidly to bring us to the era of the multi functional "in your hand" mobile comms devices we have to day. If the car industry does similar we are in for an interesting ride....
I have been trying to solve our home energy future for the last couple of years. We have a solar powered house and I bought a NEV to use in town. It has proven to be a failure, I have been through a couple of sets of batteries that aren't cheap. You may say that I don't know how to use the car but at the same time if electric cars are going mainstream 90% of the people want to just drive not be a electric car tinkerer. I also have an electric bike which is great transportation but I have to bring the litium battery in at night when it's cold or it doesn't work right. I don't think the technology is there yet and don't know if it will be in the near future, at least I know what I have tried isn't. On the other hand the Prius that we own for out of town driving is awesome. We have talked about getting rid of the electric car and buying a plugin Prius. Just observations from Missouri.