Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hybrid Cars on the Bleeding Edge

I've run across two great posts that feed into one another.

First, Thomas P.M. Barnett notes how higher gas prices have put Toyota in the catbird seat for now with their Toyota Prius hybrid. The next step is the plug-in hybrid market, and even beyond that, hydrogen fuel cell cars:
I know, I know. Amory Lovins is a nut.

But I see a lot of good coming from these high prices. The Middle East needed a big resource transfer to handle that 100 million young heading toward non-existent jobs. WE were going to pay that money one way or the other. Hybrids beat bullets and bombs.
Complementing the above is the news that, with our current energy set-up, mass acceptance of plug-in hybrids would mean a huge increase in water usage by existing power plants:
If 25% of the nation’s fleet converted to plug-in vehicles it would require an additional 1 billion gallons of water for electricity generation. For comparison, that’s almost half the total urban water used by the state of California in one year.

But no one, including the study authors, is saying that plug-in hybrids should be blacklisted. It just adds an important consideration for water-stressed areas that have plans for a grid-based automotive fleet. It also highlights the importance of using sustainable (wind, solar) sources of electricity for electric vehicles.

And as far as the alternatives go: PM pointed out that growing a bushel of corn requires 2200 gallons of water, which only makes 2.7 gallons of ethanol. I would take a fleet of plug-ins over a fleet of Flex-Fuel vehicles any day.
My take: once again we see that corn-based ethanol is a big dead end. Second, plug-in hybrids are great but we need a change in our energy generation so as not to engender a whole new set of water scarcity issues.

Long term, somehow the growing globalizing Core is going to have to come up with the low-carbon emissions energy to produce either mass quantities of electricity for the plug-ins, or the sort that can enable relatively low-cost, low-energy production of mass quantities of hydrogen for fuel-cell transportation. Probably both, with the latter being the long-term solution.

I share Tom Barnett's optimism and only hope that we take care to integrate the Middle East into the Core as we engage in this massive transformation.

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