Hybrid cars, or how I learned to love the oil peak

Miriam waxed terrified about the oil peak a couple of days ago, and I have to explain why I’m not worried. Because it’s in the bag. Problem solved. We got it covered. The key? batteries.

Americans use 20.8 million barrels of petroleum day, and cars use about 9 million of those barrels (the rest of in truck, construction equipment and airplanes). Now, how can we dramatically reduce those 9 million barrels? Better batteries, of course. The Chevy Volt will travel 40 miles purely on battery power, while EDrive has developed a battery add-on for Priuses which can last about the same distance. Both have to be plugged in to get a full recharge, but both carry gas engines to get you home.

And consider also that 87% of Americans commute less than 20 miles one way. That means battery-added hybrid or the Volt will allow most Americans to use zero gallons of gas on a daily basis. That ought to put off the oil peak for a while.

The trouble is time. We need to get these types of cars onto the driveways of American consumers fast. We can’t wait for an oil scare that will force us to tap the scant reserves Miriam describes. The U.S. government needs to create incentives so that more people can afford these cars. This isn’t just a greenhouse gas issue. This is a security issue. Because if we dawdle, some of Miriam’s nightmares could become a reality.

P.S. I know plug-in hybrids will require more electricity generation. I solve that by advocating for more wind and solar energy. Lots more.


4 Responses to Hybrid cars, or how I learned to love the oil peak

  1. Iain says:

    I’m glad that you are thinking about this. Electric cars with clean power generation can help.
    Do not forget though, that manufacture of cars is an even bigger concern than their use. Life cycle studies demonstrate that the cleanest car is the oldest one, even if it is a guzzler.
    New cars built should be clean, but more importantly we must move away from disposable appliances (cars included) and restructure our lifestyles to become less dependant on them.
    Oil will run out eventually and this does present a reason for speeding the replacement of petrol/diesel powered vehicles. Most of these vehicles can however be run on biofuels with little or no modification. The simpler the vehicle the more likely that this will be straightforward. So I still believe preserving the existing fleet while reducing dependency is a better option for the planet, but maybe not for the industry.

  2. I remain unconvinced. The study that I cited in my post, that 90% of the world’s fossil fuel reserves would be depleted by 2076, includes coal. Right now, that means that most of the world’s electricity. So there will be nothing to charge the cars up with unless we get our act together. Wind and solar can supplement, but the technology right now isn’t even close to meeting modern needs. We either need an alt-energy Manhattan project, or we might need to seriously reconsider nuclear. (yes, I realize the irony of that sentence.)

  3. Eric Wolff says:

    Iain, I think you make an excellent point abotu the production fo cars, however, Idont’ think that’s an argument against hybrid cars with batteries.

    I wouldn’t say you’re especially guilty fo this, but I do get frustrated with environmentalists who demand a complete solution to a problem when a partial solution is ready to, so to speak, roll. So, yes, producing new cars is environmentally costly, but given that people buy cars, we shoudl be creating incentives to buy hybrids with batteries.

    As for Miss Miriam and her concerns about the coal peak and its effect on coal-produced electricity, well, I am a firm believer in the power of solar and wind power to solve that problem. But I shall have to address it more thoroughly in a future post.

  4. Soylent says:

    Electric cars need massive quantities of neodymium for lightweight electric motors. If we wanted to build a billion electric cars in the next couple of decades, we just couldn’t do it.

    You’re also competing with wind turbines which waste precious neodymium producing electricity that is all but useless. Here’s the wind output of the entire of germany in one-hour increments, updated daily: http://reisi.iset.uni-kassel.de/bilder/dyn_pics/Erzeugte_Energie_aus_Wind_de.png . If you know anything about the way the electrical grid operates this just looks like a whole lot of natural gas being burnt and no coal power being displaced(Germany is actually thinking planning to add 26 new coal plants so they can phase out nuclear. Breathtakingly stupid move).

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