Nissan’s electric car

Next year the Japanese automaker Nissan will come out with the Leaf, an all-electric car that will cost no more than its equivalent gasoline-powered model, under $30,000. GM’s Volt is expected to cost over $40,000. The Volt was supposed to come out next year when the Leaf does, but now reports are that it might not come out until 2011. The Volt’s electric engine will go for 40 miles, whereupon a gasoline engine kicks in to charge the battery. The Leaf uses no gasoline at all, but its electric engine will go 100 miles before recharging, which can be done in 30 minutes. Nissan is working on setting up charging stations all over so that you do not have to charge the car at home. The company seems to be using the “freemium” model we blogged about earlier: The car is inexpensive, but the battery will be leased separately with monthly payments, parallel to but said-to-be less than what a person would spend for gasoline. Here is a picture:

Nissan Leaf

So does this sound like another case of the Japanese auto industry beating out the Americans? Would you buy one of these?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Matt C.

    Overall, the Leaf seems superior. The only advantage that the Volt seems to have is that one could both drive it around town and go on long trips with it.

    Still, it won’t end up in my garage. I’d never lease my car, so why would I lease a part of my car?

  • Matt C.

    Overall, the Leaf seems superior. The only advantage that the Volt seems to have is that one could both drive it around town and go on long trips with it.

    Still, it won’t end up in my garage. I’d never lease my car, so why would I lease a part of my car?

  • Kirk

    It seems like the Leaf has limited appeal. It’d be fantastic for city drivers, but if you’re planning on driving further than an hour, you’d really need a gas-powered car in your garage. Still, it’s a step in the right direction and further demonstrates why American automobiles just aren’t competative anymore. Everything truly is better in Japan.

  • Kirk

    It seems like the Leaf has limited appeal. It’d be fantastic for city drivers, but if you’re planning on driving further than an hour, you’d really need a gas-powered car in your garage. Still, it’s a step in the right direction and further demonstrates why American automobiles just aren’t competative anymore. Everything truly is better in Japan.

  • http://www.mobileblog.us Mobileblog

    This Car is really nice, really good looking and the most important is that it is eco-friendly. The CO2 emissions are increasing much, and the big usage of automobiles last years, means that it will not stop increasing. We should reduce it, with such cars, like this. I hope that car builders will pay more attention to the earth and will care about it much more.

  • http://www.mobileblog.us Mobileblog

    This Car is really nice, really good looking and the most important is that it is eco-friendly. The CO2 emissions are increasing much, and the big usage of automobiles last years, means that it will not stop increasing. We should reduce it, with such cars, like this. I hope that car builders will pay more attention to the earth and will care about it much more.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    100 miles and a half hour recharge?! That’s awesome. If the leased battery is really comperable to $2 gasoline in a comperably sized car, I would definitely go for the Leaf (don’t really like the green name, but oh well). It would be perfect for the kind of driving I usually do for my work in the city.

    By the way, the folks at despair.com have designed a pretty funny GM t-shirt incorporating the hammer and sickle. As long as its Government Motors, I will never buy one of their automobiles out of principle. Go FOMOCO!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    100 miles and a half hour recharge?! That’s awesome. If the leased battery is really comperable to $2 gasoline in a comperably sized car, I would definitely go for the Leaf (don’t really like the green name, but oh well). It would be perfect for the kind of driving I usually do for my work in the city.

    By the way, the folks at despair.com have designed a pretty funny GM t-shirt incorporating the hammer and sickle. As long as its Government Motors, I will never buy one of their automobiles out of principle. Go FOMOCO!

  • kerner

    I have to drive long distances fairly frequently, so it might not be practical for me, but other than that, I would consider it.

  • kerner

    I have to drive long distances fairly frequently, so it might not be practical for me, but other than that, I would consider it.

  • Joe

    How is 100 miles and then a 30 minute recharge awesome? It may be better than what the current electric cars can do, but it is pretty lousy. I can drive several hundred miles now and “recharge” my gas tank in about 5 minutes. That is the standard. The supposed benefits to having an electric car are not at all worth the cost of having to drive one with these restrictions.

  • Joe

    How is 100 miles and then a 30 minute recharge awesome? It may be better than what the current electric cars can do, but it is pretty lousy. I can drive several hundred miles now and “recharge” my gas tank in about 5 minutes. That is the standard. The supposed benefits to having an electric car are not at all worth the cost of having to drive one with these restrictions.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    If we could add wings to it for big Al Gore, then we would truly be able to save the planet.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    If we could add wings to it for big Al Gore, then we would truly be able to save the planet.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Joe, Its awesome, because of the low price compared to other tries at something comparable, that and it blows other electric cars out the water on range and charge time (if these numbers are to be trusted). If they can actually get the charging stations out there, next to some good internet access and some coffee, I’m all there. Plus, a hundred miles is about all I can do with my kids before they need a 1/2 hour break anyway. Stop and smell the roses, man!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Joe, Its awesome, because of the low price compared to other tries at something comparable, that and it blows other electric cars out the water on range and charge time (if these numbers are to be trusted). If they can actually get the charging stations out there, next to some good internet access and some coffee, I’m all there. Plus, a hundred miles is about all I can do with my kids before they need a 1/2 hour break anyway. Stop and smell the roses, man!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Plus I think having an all electric car would be pretty cool. Being a confessional Lutheran, I’m all about cool ;)

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Plus I think having an all electric car would be pretty cool. Being a confessional Lutheran, I’m all about cool ;)

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Plus it would balance out the carbon footprint of my ’68 Mustang. Ha!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Plus it would balance out the carbon footprint of my ’68 Mustang. Ha!

  • Peter Leavitt

    There are several all electric cars in the pipeline including the Dodge Spirit and the Ford Focus.

    My guess is that some small unsclerotic outfit with serious venture capital, maybe from China, will solve the difficulties with lithium batteries and sweep the field.

    For an excellent short article on all-electric cars read Electric Cars: A Definitive Guide.

  • Peter Leavitt

    There are several all electric cars in the pipeline including the Dodge Spirit and the Ford Focus.

    My guess is that some small unsclerotic outfit with serious venture capital, maybe from China, will solve the difficulties with lithium batteries and sweep the field.

    For an excellent short article on all-electric cars read Electric Cars: A Definitive Guide.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    So now we think it’s ecologically better to burn coal with 30% efficiency in a power plant (and lose about 25% of the remaining efficiency to transmission and conversion losses) than to burn gasoline with about the same efficiency?? Hello?????

    And it’s going to be better to spend a boatload of time and effort mining lithium and nickel than to use gasoline that’s easily extracted? Say what?

    My brother, an ardent environmentalist, laments the fact that about 95% of environmentalists can’t do math. Sad to say, he’s right.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    So now we think it’s ecologically better to burn coal with 30% efficiency in a power plant (and lose about 25% of the remaining efficiency to transmission and conversion losses) than to burn gasoline with about the same efficiency?? Hello?????

    And it’s going to be better to spend a boatload of time and effort mining lithium and nickel than to use gasoline that’s easily extracted? Say what?

    My brother, an ardent environmentalist, laments the fact that about 95% of environmentalists can’t do math. Sad to say, he’s right.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Hey Bike Bubba, do you have anything to point to in order to back up those numbers? I honestly would like to see what is more efficient and long-term responsible for our communities, the production and use of petroleum based vehicles, electric vehicles, or some other. Very interesting, but I still think an all-electric would be neat-o.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Hey Bike Bubba, do you have anything to point to in order to back up those numbers? I honestly would like to see what is more efficient and long-term responsible for our communities, the production and use of petroleum based vehicles, electric vehicles, or some other. Very interesting, but I still think an all-electric would be neat-o.

  • Cincinnatus

    Bike Bubba (@12) actually raises a good point. There is an interesting little article I read in Wired recently dealing with these very contentions:

    http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/magazine/16-06/ff_heresies_09usedcars

    I won’t be buying any car like the one above until they’re actually more cost-effective, efficient, environmentally-friendly, and, above all, useful than the Leaf (100 miles is good/safe for a short commute or trip to the store, but that’s about it).

    On the other hand, baby steps and all that.

  • Cincinnatus

    Bike Bubba (@12) actually raises a good point. There is an interesting little article I read in Wired recently dealing with these very contentions:

    http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/magazine/16-06/ff_heresies_09usedcars

    I won’t be buying any car like the one above until they’re actually more cost-effective, efficient, environmentally-friendly, and, above all, useful than the Leaf (100 miles is good/safe for a short commute or trip to the store, but that’s about it).

    On the other hand, baby steps and all that.

  • Cincinnatus

    Actually, I meant to say that I won’t be buying a Leaf until it’s more efficient, etc., than my old Honda with 140k on it. Which will take quite a few years, it seems.

  • Cincinnatus

    Actually, I meant to say that I won’t be buying a Leaf until it’s more efficient, etc., than my old Honda with 140k on it. Which will take quite a few years, it seems.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Brian–typical older plants are at about 32% efficiency, new ones get to 40%. If you find a way to use the waste heat, you can get up to 60% or so, but nobody wants a coal fired power plant in their city for some reason.

    http://www.asme.org/NewsPublicPolicy/GovRelations/PositionStatements/Need_Additional_US_CoalFired.cfm

    In terms of carbon/sulfur/etc.. emitted, far worse for the environment than gasoline or even diesel.

    Far worse, and that doesn’t even count the environmental impact of lithium or nickel mining–see old pictures of Brantford, Ontario for that. Before they figured out how to capture the sulfur (nickel exists in a sulfur bearing ore), you couldn’t keep a plant alive or paint on any surface in the city due to the acid rain.

    Yeah, I’d say there’s a reason that advocates of hybrid cars don’t talk about this. As a EE myself, I love electric power–nice flat torque curve, and it’s easier to balance a motor than it is a piston engine to get high rpms and high output power.

    However, when applied to passenger cars and buses, the weight restrictions and need for batteries result in a vehicle that’s far heavier, does less (lower towing, for example), and costs far more–both to your pocketbook and the environment. Rule of thumb; when government subsidizes something, there is a physical reality why it’s not being done otherwise.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Brian–typical older plants are at about 32% efficiency, new ones get to 40%. If you find a way to use the waste heat, you can get up to 60% or so, but nobody wants a coal fired power plant in their city for some reason.

    http://www.asme.org/NewsPublicPolicy/GovRelations/PositionStatements/Need_Additional_US_CoalFired.cfm

    In terms of carbon/sulfur/etc.. emitted, far worse for the environment than gasoline or even diesel.

    Far worse, and that doesn’t even count the environmental impact of lithium or nickel mining–see old pictures of Brantford, Ontario for that. Before they figured out how to capture the sulfur (nickel exists in a sulfur bearing ore), you couldn’t keep a plant alive or paint on any surface in the city due to the acid rain.

    Yeah, I’d say there’s a reason that advocates of hybrid cars don’t talk about this. As a EE myself, I love electric power–nice flat torque curve, and it’s easier to balance a motor than it is a piston engine to get high rpms and high output power.

    However, when applied to passenger cars and buses, the weight restrictions and need for batteries result in a vehicle that’s far heavier, does less (lower towing, for example), and costs far more–both to your pocketbook and the environment. Rule of thumb; when government subsidizes something, there is a physical reality why it’s not being done otherwise.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    One other thought; keep in mind that the efficiency noted is PEAK efficiency. However, many power plants spend a lot of time burning a lot of coal on what’s called “spinning reserve,” which is a complicated way of saying that you can’t just start up a power plant just in time for the morning’s activities. The boiler takes hours to heat up–and some can’t be cooled at all without major repairs being performed. So real world efficiency is somewhat lower than the ASME “best case” numbers.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    One other thought; keep in mind that the efficiency noted is PEAK efficiency. However, many power plants spend a lot of time burning a lot of coal on what’s called “spinning reserve,” which is a complicated way of saying that you can’t just start up a power plant just in time for the morning’s activities. The boiler takes hours to heat up–and some can’t be cooled at all without major repairs being performed. So real world efficiency is somewhat lower than the ASME “best case” numbers.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@12) makes some good points, although his statistics about electricity sources are not applicable in all parts of the country. Here in the Northwest, I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think well over half of our electriticy comes from hydro power, which, you know, is fairly clean, pollution-wise.

    Still, yes, as we continue to increase our electricity consumption, we’re going to have to get serious about how we produce our electricity. I don’t see how we can get around this without serious nuclear power investment.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@12) makes some good points, although his statistics about electricity sources are not applicable in all parts of the country. Here in the Northwest, I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think well over half of our electriticy comes from hydro power, which, you know, is fairly clean, pollution-wise.

    Still, yes, as we continue to increase our electricity consumption, we’re going to have to get serious about how we produce our electricity. I don’t see how we can get around this without serious nuclear power investment.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, looked it up. 80% of our electricity here comes from hydro. Which means we can use electric cars with much less impact.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, looked it up. 80% of our electricity here comes from hydro. Which means we can use electric cars with much less impact.

  • Brenda

    I also live in the Northwest. The Inland Northwest, far from the crowds of Portland and Salem. We drive our clunker 50 miles to church, 20 miles to a good grocery store.If we had a ‘current bush’ every 50 miles perhaps it would work. I’m not holding my breath.
    Brenda

  • Brenda

    I also live in the Northwest. The Inland Northwest, far from the crowds of Portland and Salem. We drive our clunker 50 miles to church, 20 miles to a good grocery store.If we had a ‘current bush’ every 50 miles perhaps it would work. I’m not holding my breath.
    Brenda

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Actually, tODD, it doesn’t mean you can use them with no impact. When was the last hydroelectric dam built on the Columbia?

    A while ago, wasn’t it? So when you increase your electric use with an electric car, what’s being used for your enjoyment?

    Hint; it’s spelled “c-o-a-l” or “n-a-t-u-r-a-l g-a-s”.

    Never mind the fact that dams aren’t exactly free of environmental impact (concrete, salmon), and never mind the issue of those batteries in the car.

    I’d love an electric car if I could justify it either practically (useful range, etc..),economically or ecologically. Unfortunately, they fail all of these tests pretty dismally.

    (just like public transit, windmills, and a host of other “ecologically sound” initiatives that fail these tests pretty badly)

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Actually, tODD, it doesn’t mean you can use them with no impact. When was the last hydroelectric dam built on the Columbia?

    A while ago, wasn’t it? So when you increase your electric use with an electric car, what’s being used for your enjoyment?

    Hint; it’s spelled “c-o-a-l” or “n-a-t-u-r-a-l g-a-s”.

    Never mind the fact that dams aren’t exactly free of environmental impact (concrete, salmon), and never mind the issue of those batteries in the car.

    I’d love an electric car if I could justify it either practically (useful range, etc..),economically or ecologically. Unfortunately, they fail all of these tests pretty dismally.

    (just like public transit, windmills, and a host of other “ecologically sound” initiatives that fail these tests pretty badly)

  • Scots

    >>Would you buy one of these?<<

    No, I have a Y chromosome.

  • Scots

    >>Would you buy one of these?<<

    No, I have a Y chromosome.

  • Carl Vehse

    One should be suspicious about the amount of snake oil in a LATimes article about the Nissan Leaf headlined with “Nissan’s greener-than-chlorophyll EV: The LEAF”.

    In fact, the Leaf’s electric motor can run up to 80kW (107 hp), giving a top speed (unless the Leaf has gone over a cliff) of 87 mph (that’s right lane cruising speed on west Texas highways). The batteries that are leased cost $10,000 and are welded inside a steel enclosure integral to the 3500-lb car’s structural framework. Thus changing a Leaf’s dead battery is not going to be a 10-minute exercise by the driver while in a Walmart or Pep Boys’ parking lot.

    “The Leaf uses no gasoline at all, but its electric engine will go 100 miles before recharging, which can be done in 30 minutes.”

    The normal range is 100 miles (That means level ground, no head wind, and moderate speed; the range in San Francisco or Seattle will likely be less!). The 30-minute recharge is only “at planned electric recharging stations,” where the batteries will only up to 80% of its full capacity.
    The batteries store 24 kWh of electricity. To fully recharge the battery at home over eight hours will require recharging at a 3 kW rate. This means a separate 220 V circuit similar to your electric clothes dryer or electric stove would be need. Apartment owners are not likely to run a 220V extension cord out to their Leaf in the parking lot. That also goes for homeowners who use their garage as a workshop or storage area.

    For comparison, 1 gallon of gasoline has approximately 33 kWh of energy. It takes 1-2 minutes to fill a 12-gallon tank of gas wilth 396 kWh of energy in my car.

  • Carl Vehse

    One should be suspicious about the amount of snake oil in a LATimes article about the Nissan Leaf headlined with “Nissan’s greener-than-chlorophyll EV: The LEAF”.

    In fact, the Leaf’s electric motor can run up to 80kW (107 hp), giving a top speed (unless the Leaf has gone over a cliff) of 87 mph (that’s right lane cruising speed on west Texas highways). The batteries that are leased cost $10,000 and are welded inside a steel enclosure integral to the 3500-lb car’s structural framework. Thus changing a Leaf’s dead battery is not going to be a 10-minute exercise by the driver while in a Walmart or Pep Boys’ parking lot.

    “The Leaf uses no gasoline at all, but its electric engine will go 100 miles before recharging, which can be done in 30 minutes.”

    The normal range is 100 miles (That means level ground, no head wind, and moderate speed; the range in San Francisco or Seattle will likely be less!). The 30-minute recharge is only “at planned electric recharging stations,” where the batteries will only up to 80% of its full capacity.
    The batteries store 24 kWh of electricity. To fully recharge the battery at home over eight hours will require recharging at a 3 kW rate. This means a separate 220 V circuit similar to your electric clothes dryer or electric stove would be need. Apartment owners are not likely to run a 220V extension cord out to their Leaf in the parking lot. That also goes for homeowners who use their garage as a workshop or storage area.

    For comparison, 1 gallon of gasoline has approximately 33 kWh of energy. It takes 1-2 minutes to fill a 12-gallon tank of gas wilth 396 kWh of energy in my car.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@21), you’re the only one talking about “no impact”. If you’ll read my comment (@19), you’ll notice I said “less impact”, which is true. If I plug in my electric car right now and charge it, it will certainly have less impact than if someone from an all-coal region plugs in their car. And I don’t see how you could argue that a gas-powered car would have less environmental impact than a car powered by 80% hydro-electricity.

    Of course, as I also noted (@18), if electric cars actually catch on, then we’ll need to address our electrical power supply. It makes no sense to move our nation’s cars to electricity if said power still comes from non-renewable, and polluting, sources like coal. No doubt one of the many conversations we’re going to have more as our electricity consumption increases is which of the many non-perfect options we have is worth the cost. Sure, dams kill (some) salmon, but they’re renewable, and far better (I would argue) than coal or natural gas. I also favor nuclear power, in spite of the difficult problem of nuclear waste.

    That an electric car fails the tests for you (and, it would seem, all Republicans, who apparently are required to live places where they have to drive an hour to get anywhere) does not mean it does so for everybody. In fact, it very much fits my urban lifestyle.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@21), you’re the only one talking about “no impact”. If you’ll read my comment (@19), you’ll notice I said “less impact”, which is true. If I plug in my electric car right now and charge it, it will certainly have less impact than if someone from an all-coal region plugs in their car. And I don’t see how you could argue that a gas-powered car would have less environmental impact than a car powered by 80% hydro-electricity.

    Of course, as I also noted (@18), if electric cars actually catch on, then we’ll need to address our electrical power supply. It makes no sense to move our nation’s cars to electricity if said power still comes from non-renewable, and polluting, sources like coal. No doubt one of the many conversations we’re going to have more as our electricity consumption increases is which of the many non-perfect options we have is worth the cost. Sure, dams kill (some) salmon, but they’re renewable, and far better (I would argue) than coal or natural gas. I also favor nuclear power, in spite of the difficult problem of nuclear waste.

    That an electric car fails the tests for you (and, it would seem, all Republicans, who apparently are required to live places where they have to drive an hour to get anywhere) does not mean it does so for everybody. In fact, it very much fits my urban lifestyle.

  • Brian

    Considering all the tradeoffs to the design of the Leaf that I know about, I’m still interested in this car. I personally have never driven more than 100 miles in a day, and if I had to go further I’ve always carpooled with someone else.

    Those who prefer gasoline powered vehicles ought to be glad if electric cars become popular since that will reduce the demand for gas which will help keep the price down.

  • Brian

    Considering all the tradeoffs to the design of the Leaf that I know about, I’m still interested in this car. I personally have never driven more than 100 miles in a day, and if I had to go further I’ve always carpooled with someone else.

    Those who prefer gasoline powered vehicles ought to be glad if electric cars become popular since that will reduce the demand for gas which will help keep the price down.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    The complaints some people make about the problems with early electric cars could just as easily have been made about the early gasoline-powered vehicles:

    “Where am I supposed to get this gasoline? Am I suposed to drill a well in my front yard? What are you going to do, build giant pipelines to move the stuff all over the country and then haul it to pumping stations using trucks? Won’t the trucks themselves use gasoline? Isn’t that inefficient?”

    The people mainly talking about recharging electric cars from your home outlet are those who want to make a point pooh-poohing the idea. Nissan is thinking more in terms of recharging stations, an electrical analog of our current gas infrastructure. Frankly, this makes more sense, as it allows for quicker, more powerful, and safer recharges.

    There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, of course, but then, that was true for the early gas cars as well, and I think we can agree that problem was solved.

    Carl (@23), where did you get your information on the Leaf’s battery ($10,000, welded, etc.)?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    The complaints some people make about the problems with early electric cars could just as easily have been made about the early gasoline-powered vehicles:

    “Where am I supposed to get this gasoline? Am I suposed to drill a well in my front yard? What are you going to do, build giant pipelines to move the stuff all over the country and then haul it to pumping stations using trucks? Won’t the trucks themselves use gasoline? Isn’t that inefficient?”

    The people mainly talking about recharging electric cars from your home outlet are those who want to make a point pooh-poohing the idea. Nissan is thinking more in terms of recharging stations, an electrical analog of our current gas infrastructure. Frankly, this makes more sense, as it allows for quicker, more powerful, and safer recharges.

    There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, of course, but then, that was true for the early gas cars as well, and I think we can agree that problem was solved.

    Carl (@23), where did you get your information on the Leaf’s battery ($10,000, welded, etc.)?

  • Cincinnatus

    I’m in agreement with tODD on this issue: the solution to our electric woes is quite simply to go nuclear, rather than construct infinite windmills or sit on our hands until scientists invent a viable method of cold fusion. Only a renewed investment in nuclear power can ameliorate the environmental impact of our expanding electricity usage, which will be due in part to the growing popularity of electric cars (which will, no doubt, be more practical than the Leaf).

    All this does not mean we should ignore or cease development of electric cars in the meantime (despite my griping–warranted, I think–about the practicality of the Leaf and its lithium batteries); even if we do not simultaneously lessen the ecological impact of driving by switching to electrically charged cars, we can still reduce our dependence upon foreign sources of energy, which, as we all know, is a good thing. Coal still comes from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, dirty though it may be.

  • Cincinnatus

    I’m in agreement with tODD on this issue: the solution to our electric woes is quite simply to go nuclear, rather than construct infinite windmills or sit on our hands until scientists invent a viable method of cold fusion. Only a renewed investment in nuclear power can ameliorate the environmental impact of our expanding electricity usage, which will be due in part to the growing popularity of electric cars (which will, no doubt, be more practical than the Leaf).

    All this does not mean we should ignore or cease development of electric cars in the meantime (despite my griping–warranted, I think–about the practicality of the Leaf and its lithium batteries); even if we do not simultaneously lessen the ecological impact of driving by switching to electrically charged cars, we can still reduce our dependence upon foreign sources of energy, which, as we all know, is a good thing. Coal still comes from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, dirty though it may be.

  • DonS

    I lean toward tODD’s point of view on this issue. The all-electric vehicle is definitely a niche vehicle, but that’s OK. In regions where electricity is relatively plentiful, clean, and inexpensive, and in urban and suburban settings where people drive shorter distances and generally avoid freeways, they can be an excellent option, particularly as a second or third car. They are quiet and dependable, and very clean at the point of use. Nuclear power should be a top priority in this country, to provide the necessary electricity for options like electric vehicles, and to phase out coal and natural gas plants, and I think it will be. The Obama administration has quietly warmed to nuclear power, and is currently beginning to work toward addressing and facilitating the growing number of nuclear reactor construction applications.

    Unfortunately, here in California we have chosen to shut down our hydro power plants to save the snail darter. Sigh.

    Carl @ 23: your comment made me smile. I don’t know how many times I have been in the Pep Boys parking lot, changing my battery so I can go back inside to return the core and my $10 core deposit.

  • DonS

    I lean toward tODD’s point of view on this issue. The all-electric vehicle is definitely a niche vehicle, but that’s OK. In regions where electricity is relatively plentiful, clean, and inexpensive, and in urban and suburban settings where people drive shorter distances and generally avoid freeways, they can be an excellent option, particularly as a second or third car. They are quiet and dependable, and very clean at the point of use. Nuclear power should be a top priority in this country, to provide the necessary electricity for options like electric vehicles, and to phase out coal and natural gas plants, and I think it will be. The Obama administration has quietly warmed to nuclear power, and is currently beginning to work toward addressing and facilitating the growing number of nuclear reactor construction applications.

    Unfortunately, here in California we have chosen to shut down our hydro power plants to save the snail darter. Sigh.

    Carl @ 23: your comment made me smile. I don’t know how many times I have been in the Pep Boys parking lot, changing my battery so I can go back inside to return the core and my $10 core deposit.

  • Carl Vehse
  • Carl Vehse
  • Paul of Alexandria

    As another EE, I have to concur with Bike Bubba and Carl.

    tODD (#24) said:

    And I don’t see how you could argue that a gas-powered car would have less environmental impact than a car powered by 80% hydro-electricity.

    Again, you have to look at not just the electricity vs gasoline issue – which is important in and of itself – but the overall effect of the manufacture, storage, and disposal of the battery as well as the additional power generation and transmission facilities required. No, one car won’t make that much of a difference. But 100,000 will.

    The U.S. electrical generating capability is pretty much full-up. Since pretty much all of the potential hydro-electric sites are already in use that will have to be a new coal or gas (or nuclear) plant.

    Of course, as I also noted (@18), if electric cars actually catch on, then we’ll need to address our electrical power supply. It makes no sense to move our nation’s cars to electricity if said power still comes from non-renewable, and polluting, sources like coal.

    There’s the rub, isn’t it. Quite frankly, ground-based solar and wind ain’t going to cut it.

  • Paul of Alexandria

    As another EE, I have to concur with Bike Bubba and Carl.

    tODD (#24) said:

    And I don’t see how you could argue that a gas-powered car would have less environmental impact than a car powered by 80% hydro-electricity.

    Again, you have to look at not just the electricity vs gasoline issue – which is important in and of itself – but the overall effect of the manufacture, storage, and disposal of the battery as well as the additional power generation and transmission facilities required. No, one car won’t make that much of a difference. But 100,000 will.

    The U.S. electrical generating capability is pretty much full-up. Since pretty much all of the potential hydro-electric sites are already in use that will have to be a new coal or gas (or nuclear) plant.

    Of course, as I also noted (@18), if electric cars actually catch on, then we’ll need to address our electrical power supply. It makes no sense to move our nation’s cars to electricity if said power still comes from non-renewable, and polluting, sources like coal.

    There’s the rub, isn’t it. Quite frankly, ground-based solar and wind ain’t going to cut it.

  • E-Raj

    Scots @22, you are right on, brother!

    Once they can make an electric car that can burn rubber and do 0-60 in less than six seconds, all with a loud roar from under the hood, call me. I mean no offense to anyone, but it seems that all the electric cars we are reading about are being made for people who view automobiles as strictly utilitarian vehicles to go from point A to point B, while not being worried about bodily injury in a crash. Also, it seems like these cars are completely unrealistic for any family of even moderate size. I’m from the school that says a car or truck should look good and provide pure driving enjoyment, while offering plenty of steel all around to absorb the impact of a potential accident (instead of my body). Just an opinion from a genuine gear-head.

  • E-Raj

    Scots @22, you are right on, brother!

    Once they can make an electric car that can burn rubber and do 0-60 in less than six seconds, all with a loud roar from under the hood, call me. I mean no offense to anyone, but it seems that all the electric cars we are reading about are being made for people who view automobiles as strictly utilitarian vehicles to go from point A to point B, while not being worried about bodily injury in a crash. Also, it seems like these cars are completely unrealistic for any family of even moderate size. I’m from the school that says a car or truck should look good and provide pure driving enjoyment, while offering plenty of steel all around to absorb the impact of a potential accident (instead of my body). Just an opinion from a genuine gear-head.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Actually, tODD, I’d even quibble with “less” impact. Again, unless we get nuclear going, every electric car will require more fuel from a coal or gas fired power plant. It will also require the environmentally problematic process of mining nickel or lithium for the batteries, and also (due to battery weight and such) causes more wear and tear on roads.

    And yes, it’s going to be mostly from coal; the left side of the aisle prevents nuclear (as do waste disposal concerns) and additional hydropower, and basic economics prevents windpower.

    Again, I like the idea of an electric motor spinning the wheels of a car. It has all kinds of advantages. However, when you add in the costs of power generation, batteries, and additional weight, it’s not a clear environmental winner. I would even suggest that when the entire cost is counted, it’s a clear environmental loser.

    Not to mention a loser in terms of performance and cost. There are great ways of reducing dependence on foreign oil and reducing pollution, but electric cars are not among the ways.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Actually, tODD, I’d even quibble with “less” impact. Again, unless we get nuclear going, every electric car will require more fuel from a coal or gas fired power plant. It will also require the environmentally problematic process of mining nickel or lithium for the batteries, and also (due to battery weight and such) causes more wear and tear on roads.

    And yes, it’s going to be mostly from coal; the left side of the aisle prevents nuclear (as do waste disposal concerns) and additional hydropower, and basic economics prevents windpower.

    Again, I like the idea of an electric motor spinning the wheels of a car. It has all kinds of advantages. However, when you add in the costs of power generation, batteries, and additional weight, it’s not a clear environmental winner. I would even suggest that when the entire cost is counted, it’s a clear environmental loser.

    Not to mention a loser in terms of performance and cost. There are great ways of reducing dependence on foreign oil and reducing pollution, but electric cars are not among the ways.

  • Carl Vehse

    Some more concerns about the Nissan Leaf (and EVs in general):

    In the southern U.S., running the A/C (using 10 to 15 horsepower) during the day when driving the car is normal for at least half the year. Running the A/C will decrease the effective driving range of the 107-hp Leaf, especially in rush-hour traffic.

    In the winter, and particularly in northern states, heat from the internal combustion engine (normally sent to the radiator) is used to heat the car’s passenger area. The Leaf’s electric motors produce less heat and thus the battery will need to supply resistive heating, reducing the range. And while some slight self-heating occurs when the lithium-ion battery is used, in winter the capacity of the batteries themselves can drop at least 10-20 percent at temperatures below freezing, still more reduction in the battery’s driving range.

  • Carl Vehse

    Some more concerns about the Nissan Leaf (and EVs in general):

    In the southern U.S., running the A/C (using 10 to 15 horsepower) during the day when driving the car is normal for at least half the year. Running the A/C will decrease the effective driving range of the 107-hp Leaf, especially in rush-hour traffic.

    In the winter, and particularly in northern states, heat from the internal combustion engine (normally sent to the radiator) is used to heat the car’s passenger area. The Leaf’s electric motors produce less heat and thus the battery will need to supply resistive heating, reducing the range. And while some slight self-heating occurs when the lithium-ion battery is used, in winter the capacity of the batteries themselves can drop at least 10-20 percent at temperatures below freezing, still more reduction in the battery’s driving range.

  • Carl Vehse

    In his report, The Case Against Electric Vehicles, Tom Austin, an automotive engineer and formerly executive officer of the California Air Resources Board, writes:

    “Consultants hand-picked by CARB [California Air Resources Board] to analyze electric vehicle costs, including researchers at the University of California’s Institute for Transportation Studies, have concluded that electric vehicles are going to cost about $20,000 more than comparably sized gasoline vehicles. Because of their limited driving range, electric vehicles are also expected to have substantially less value to the average motorist.”

    To offset these negatives, EV subsidies will have to be provided by forceably extracting higher taxes on gasoline and surcharges when buying and licensing gasoline-powered cars.

    “Claims that electric vehicles are as efficient as gasoline vehicles getting over 100 miles per gallon are based on simplistic analyses that account only for the power the battery charger takes from the wall outlet. Such claims ignore the energy required to produce the electricity at a fossil-fuel-fired power plant and deliver it to the wall outlet. Detailed energy use analyses I have conducted indicate that there is no significant difference between the energy efficiency of electric vehicles and modern gasoline vehicles.”

  • Carl Vehse

    In his report, The Case Against Electric Vehicles, Tom Austin, an automotive engineer and formerly executive officer of the California Air Resources Board, writes:

    “Consultants hand-picked by CARB [California Air Resources Board] to analyze electric vehicle costs, including researchers at the University of California’s Institute for Transportation Studies, have concluded that electric vehicles are going to cost about $20,000 more than comparably sized gasoline vehicles. Because of their limited driving range, electric vehicles are also expected to have substantially less value to the average motorist.”

    To offset these negatives, EV subsidies will have to be provided by forceably extracting higher taxes on gasoline and surcharges when buying and licensing gasoline-powered cars.

    “Claims that electric vehicles are as efficient as gasoline vehicles getting over 100 miles per gallon are based on simplistic analyses that account only for the power the battery charger takes from the wall outlet. Such claims ignore the energy required to produce the electricity at a fossil-fuel-fired power plant and deliver it to the wall outlet. Detailed energy use analyses I have conducted indicate that there is no significant difference between the energy efficiency of electric vehicles and modern gasoline vehicles.”

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    No doubt this is a very cool car…but it wouldn’t work too good here in Houston. Ultimately, though, this is not a green car. Anything plugged into the power grid is burning fossil fuels. Until we solve the national energy grid, all the electric cars in the world are pointless for the environment, and since the performance is terrible compared to its fuel counterparts, it is a lose-lose situation.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    No doubt this is a very cool car…but it wouldn’t work too good here in Houston. Ultimately, though, this is not a green car. Anything plugged into the power grid is burning fossil fuels. Until we solve the national energy grid, all the electric cars in the world are pointless for the environment, and since the performance is terrible compared to its fuel counterparts, it is a lose-lose situation.

  • MarkB

    Why use the onboard batteries for main propulsion all of the time. Why not change our infrastructure to have embedded in the highways transformer coils that could magnetically transfer electrical power to the car as it drove by. This could be computer monitored and (monetary) charges could be deducted automatically from your account.

    Just one thought on the possible future of electric vehicles.

    Also, nuclear power might not be the panacea that some think it would be. There is not a whole lot of possible fuel available to last for that many years. Secondly use of nuclear fuel unleashes energy stored in the elements that will contribute to warming in the atmosphere. So those who worry about global warming would have something else to worry about, although I am not a proponent of man caused global warming. As would using solar panels in outer space to change and then transmit solar power that does not already come to earth to electricity that would be used on earth.

  • MarkB

    Why use the onboard batteries for main propulsion all of the time. Why not change our infrastructure to have embedded in the highways transformer coils that could magnetically transfer electrical power to the car as it drove by. This could be computer monitored and (monetary) charges could be deducted automatically from your account.

    Just one thought on the possible future of electric vehicles.

    Also, nuclear power might not be the panacea that some think it would be. There is not a whole lot of possible fuel available to last for that many years. Secondly use of nuclear fuel unleashes energy stored in the elements that will contribute to warming in the atmosphere. So those who worry about global warming would have something else to worry about, although I am not a proponent of man caused global warming. As would using solar panels in outer space to change and then transmit solar power that does not already come to earth to electricity that would be used on earth.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Mark, using coils to allow Faraday Coupling of electricity to car would, of course, require, well, coils and significant DC fields through all roads–and how do you “meter” the energy so that drivers can pay for their fuel? It would be a nightmare, especially in northern states where cracking roads could shatter such coils in nothing flat. You’d also get concerns about field exposure (google “cell phone fields”), and you’d lose a tremendous amount of energy to eddy current and Joule losses.

    Put differently, there are a lot of good reasons we use hydrocarbon based fuels. Before we move to something else, people (like CARB that Carl mentions) owe a REAL accounting of the costs of the new approach. You don’t get an extra $20k price tag (and yes, the Nissan is that much extra until it is subsidized) without significant impacts on the environment somewhere.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Mark, using coils to allow Faraday Coupling of electricity to car would, of course, require, well, coils and significant DC fields through all roads–and how do you “meter” the energy so that drivers can pay for their fuel? It would be a nightmare, especially in northern states where cracking roads could shatter such coils in nothing flat. You’d also get concerns about field exposure (google “cell phone fields”), and you’d lose a tremendous amount of energy to eddy current and Joule losses.

    Put differently, there are a lot of good reasons we use hydrocarbon based fuels. Before we move to something else, people (like CARB that Carl mentions) owe a REAL accounting of the costs of the new approach. You don’t get an extra $20k price tag (and yes, the Nissan is that much extra until it is subsidized) without significant impacts on the environment somewhere.

  • MarkB

    Bike Bubba @37, you are completely right about those things. Although our inherent “get er done” inventiveness of the American could probably figure out ways around most of those problems. I was just trying to point out how you can use electric cars without having to rely on the on board batteries. There are, as you kindly pointed out, not a viable or economic option to the internal combustion engine. Although using an all electric drive vehicle with a battery used for acceleration and a hybrid generation system would be the most likely model in the near future. That way you could have a reasonable amount of acceleration with the smallest use of an internal combustion engine to drive a generator to provide for both propulsion and charging. That is because for most straight line constant driving it takes a very small percentage of the available power in our conventional drive trains.

  • MarkB

    Bike Bubba @37, you are completely right about those things. Although our inherent “get er done” inventiveness of the American could probably figure out ways around most of those problems. I was just trying to point out how you can use electric cars without having to rely on the on board batteries. There are, as you kindly pointed out, not a viable or economic option to the internal combustion engine. Although using an all electric drive vehicle with a battery used for acceleration and a hybrid generation system would be the most likely model in the near future. That way you could have a reasonable amount of acceleration with the smallest use of an internal combustion engine to drive a generator to provide for both propulsion and charging. That is because for most straight line constant driving it takes a very small percentage of the available power in our conventional drive trains.

  • Carl Vehse

    “There is not a whole lot of possible [nuclear] fuel available to last for that many years.”

    Reprocessing and the use of breeder reactors can increase fissile materials and provide fuel to be used in nuclear power reactors for centuries. Since no one wants to bury it in their own backyard, let’s reprocess our spent fuel.

    “Secondly use of nuclear fuel unleashes energy stored in the elements that will contribute to warming in the atmosphere.”

    Human breathing contributes to warming the atmosphere, but no one is volunteering to hold their breath. And if that seems trivial, then consider the energy nuclear power “unleashes”. In 2008, worldwide nuclear-generated electricity was produced at the rate of 0.39 terawatts (TW; trillion watts), with an efficiency of 33%, or a heat generation rate of 1.2 TW. (BTW, the average rate of worldwide human energy production from all sources including fossil fuel is around 13 TW.)

    The Earth also produces heat from internal natural radioactive decay, residual gravitational compression, and tidal forces. The Earth releases this heat from the surface at the rate of about 42 TW.

    In the meantime, the sun is shining (especially in Austin!) and deposits energy in the atmosphere and on the earth at an approximate rate of 120,000 TW, which is eventually emitted back into space as longer wave energy (heat).

    So, compared to 120,000 TW from solar radiation, the 1.2 TW of heat from nuclear reactors is very small, even if were ten times larger (i.e. all electrical power were produced by nuclear power plants).

  • Carl Vehse

    “There is not a whole lot of possible [nuclear] fuel available to last for that many years.”

    Reprocessing and the use of breeder reactors can increase fissile materials and provide fuel to be used in nuclear power reactors for centuries. Since no one wants to bury it in their own backyard, let’s reprocess our spent fuel.

    “Secondly use of nuclear fuel unleashes energy stored in the elements that will contribute to warming in the atmosphere.”

    Human breathing contributes to warming the atmosphere, but no one is volunteering to hold their breath. And if that seems trivial, then consider the energy nuclear power “unleashes”. In 2008, worldwide nuclear-generated electricity was produced at the rate of 0.39 terawatts (TW; trillion watts), with an efficiency of 33%, or a heat generation rate of 1.2 TW. (BTW, the average rate of worldwide human energy production from all sources including fossil fuel is around 13 TW.)

    The Earth also produces heat from internal natural radioactive decay, residual gravitational compression, and tidal forces. The Earth releases this heat from the surface at the rate of about 42 TW.

    In the meantime, the sun is shining (especially in Austin!) and deposits energy in the atmosphere and on the earth at an approximate rate of 120,000 TW, which is eventually emitted back into space as longer wave energy (heat).

    So, compared to 120,000 TW from solar radiation, the 1.2 TW of heat from nuclear reactors is very small, even if were ten times larger (i.e. all electrical power were produced by nuclear power plants).


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