Friday, March 06, 2009

How much additional electricity for electric drive vehicles?

In addressing the topic of electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (electric drive vehicles), the layman often points out the fear of running out of electricity. But we must not forget that this transition to electric drive vehicles will be gradual over 20 to 25 years and will provide us with a rare opportunity to stimulate local economies.

With regard to additional amounts of electricity required the calculations are explained in my book «Rouler sans pétrole» (Driving without oil), assuming that 70% of the mileage of vehicles is traveled with electricity. The results are shown on the graph above. The higher values correspond to the technologies to be commercialized within the next few years, while the lower values refer to the mature technologies, consuming less energy, which will be widely available after 2020.

With this graph we realize that the province of Quebec is very privileged, as the additional electricity required is only about 7% by 2030 say. One could easily obtain this amount by relying on greater energy efficiency. Another option would be to install geothermal heat pumps to heat half of the homes and buildings. This would save the 7% of the electricity we need (70% of space heating is electric in Quebec). If the percentage of additional electricity is so low in Quebec, this is because Quebecers have at their disposal 3 times more electricity per capita than the French and the Californians, and two times more than the U.S. citizens, on average. In addition, the electricity in Quebec is cheap (CDN $ 0.07/kwh) and clean (95% hydroelectric).

Illustration - The wind can provide a significant portion of the additional electricity required. (photo: Wikimedia Commons, author: Kapipelmo, April 2008)

For the United-States, it is about 22% extra electricity that is needed to power vehicles. But as 70% of U.S. electricity comes from gas and coal power plants, these plants are under-utilized at night, and could be used partly to recharge the vehicles, without building new power plants.

Furthermore, installing solar panels on the roofs of buildings in the southern U.S. to recharge plug-in vehicles is cheaper than buying gasoline for a traditional vehicle. It is very conceivable also to add 15% to 20% of wind power in the coming 20 years. And with new technologies for the storage of heat in molten salt, we can now build solar thermal power plants that operate 24 hours a day, and sunny arid locations are not lacking in the United-States. The engineers of the Ausra company have calculated that it would suffice to cover a 150 km x 150 km (94 miles x 94 miles) square area into the desert to supply all the electricity consumed in the United-States. Finally, the Raser company has just opened a geothermal power plant of a new type, operating 24 hours a day, and using water at a lower temperature than traditional geothermal plants. They estimate that over 10% of U.S. electricity could be generated by geothermal energy. If moreover we add energy efficiency for buildings, smaller vehicles, and more public transit, we realize that the only problem is political will, not the additional electricity required. Fortunately, with president Obama it seems to be a thing of the past.

In closing, we should not forget that implementing renewables to increase the electric power capacity of a country will stimulate its economy. As for the financing of these projects, they will be paid with the money saved by lowering oil imports, which account for tens and hundreds of billions of dollars annually, depending on countries.

1 comment:

  1. Check out Raser. This company not only has opened up a vast green energy potential using low temperature geothermal but has new PHEV technology. They have several videos worth watching on their website.