John Hoffmire: Electric cars and the hydrogen economy

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  • RedShirtMIT Cambridge, MA
    Nov. 14, 2013 9:34 a.m.

    To "UtahBlueDevil" the difference is that thanks to regulation we are not adding much in the way of capacity. Remember a few years ago California was experiencig brownouts during the summer. Those were due to coal buring power plants being shut down because of regulation.

    If you go to the Energy Information Administration, they have a graph of the total generating capacity within the US. We have been at a constant since 2003 for capacity. Unless somebody beging to build large power stations that can provide a large base load (nuclear), you will raise the cost of electricity and put the grid at risk of failures due to preventive maintenance not having enough time to be performed.

    Yes we have great ways of predicting failures, but if it takes 8 hours to replace a part and the power plant only has 4 hours to accomplish the job, somebody somewhere is going to suffer.

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    Nov. 14, 2013 7:49 a.m.

    Redshirt - we will do the same thing that has been done for over 100 years. We added electrical appliances, and the system compensated. We added air conditioning, consuming power at peak hours, and the system compensated. We have added always on consumers like TVs, and the system has adjusted. We have increased the density of consumers, and the system has adjusted.

    We have also added technologies such as prescriptive and predictive asset analytics that allows for much more intelligent scheduling of preventive maintenance. We have added optimization analytics that allows for real time system balancing - and we have emerging technologies such as smart grids, micro grids, and sychrophasors that allow for much granular management of the grid.

    The grid as instituted is very old technology, and there is a lot of room for operational improvement... and all the utilities I know of are working hard to institute these changes.

  • RedShirtCalTech Pasedena, CA
    Nov. 14, 2013 7:37 a.m.

    To "UtahBlueDevil" and what do you think will happen when we all start to recharge our cars at night? Worst case you have power plants running at near capacity 24/7. Best case you cut their maintenance time from 8 hours to 4 hours. Either way it isn't good for the maintenance on the power grid.

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    Nov. 14, 2013 4:49 a.m.

    redshirt - they aren't at capacity 24/7 for most of the say. The systems are scaled to support peak load which usually happens mid day. In the evenings the demand drops off significantly, and is why companies like PG&E have tiered rates for their customers trying to get them to move consumption to non-peak. Foe example, in parts of California, they have plans where if you run your appliances in the evenings, they offer lower power rates to their customers.

    From after 9 or 10 pm, there is huge over capacity in the system.

  • RedShirtCalTech Pasedena, CA
    Nov. 13, 2013 2:28 p.m.

    To "Lowonoil" were were primarily an agrarian culture for those 99 centuries. How are you going to get enough land out there so that more people can farm it?

  • Lowonoil Clearfield, UT
    Nov. 13, 2013 1:40 p.m.

    How we fuel our vehicles is not the real problem. The real problem is the century old idea that we should rebuild our civilization in such a way that people typically live a dozens of miles from the places they need to go everyday and have no practical alternative to driving in order to reach those places. Civilization functioned for 99 of the past 100 centuries with walking being the primary means of transportation for almost everyone, and all the resources of towns and cities clustered so that this was convenient. Is the way we do things now really all that much better?

  • RedShirtCalTech Pasedena, CA
    Nov. 13, 2013 9:36 a.m.

    To "UtahBlueDevil" I don't think you understood Strider303's statement.

    If the power plants are running 24/7 at near full capacity, when will they have time to perform necessary maintenance to keep the equipment running?

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    Nov. 13, 2013 6:05 a.m.

    @Strider303 - or you could look at it that over night there are billions of dollars worth of assets that sit there underused during non-peak hours, that could be leveraged to increase the overall efficiency and utilization of these assets.

    I think you are way over estimating the amount planned outage and work orders being completed and the number of assets being serviced in non-peak hours.

  • Strider303 Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 12, 2013 9:28 p.m.

    I offer that using electric cars requires recharging at night which is a time when electric power generation is a a relatively low point and some companies take generators off line for maintenance. Increasing the need for electricity at night will alter the maintenance cycles and creat some problems for the power generation people.

    It appears that with change come the law of unintended consequences, be careful for what you wish, it might be granted and you or we will have to live with it.

    Change is not always progress.

  • procuradorfiscal Tooele, UT
    Nov. 12, 2013 5:48 p.m.

    Re: "The next problem, however, is infrastructure."

    That's only a real problem if you're intent on putting the existing energy power structure out of business.

    There are hundreds of ways of converting solar, wind, bio, and nuclear electrical energy into chemical energy stored in a liquid of the approximate weight and viscosity of petroleum products. That would make the EXISTING infrastructure the best in the world to distribute energy from those that produce it to those that need it.

    But, that's not what our current crop of greenie crony capitalists really want.

    They will only be happy if they topple, then replace, the current moguls of energy production and distribution, assuming their power and prestige. And, the only entity strong enough to do that for them is greedy leftist government.

    As Al Gore and hundreds of other leftist greenies daily demonstrate -- it's not "green energy" they want, it's the greenbacks that come from being the only distributor of it.

  • Redshirt1701 Deep Space 9, Ut
    Nov. 12, 2013 1:16 p.m.

    To "news.john2" CNG is not a viable option. Right now we use natural gas for heating our homes and generating electricity. Imagine if you take all of the gasoline engines and replace them with CNG. The demand for CNG will be so great that it will cost more than gasoline currently does. CNG is cheap only because the demand is small.

    To "RichardVotaw" and how expensive was your Tesla Model S? According to the Tesla Web site the Model S runs $62,400 base price. How affordable is that to somebody making $30,000/yr?

    To those that like the idea of hydrogen cars. Did you consider what the emissions do? Water vapor right now is not a significant greenhouse gas being produced by man. However, if you turn that into something coming out of every tailpipe, you now create a problem. Are the environmentalists prepared to make their cities more humid and raise temperatures more?

  • RichardVotaw Sandy, UT
    Nov. 12, 2013 8:20 a.m.

    I drive my Tesla Model S and experience no lack of power or range. With a 300 mile range and 0-60 speed of 4.2 seconds, I am proud to drive my cool car. Tesla is building its own infrastructure of fast charging stations across the country, changing my car from empty to full in a few minutes and many of them are solar powered!

  • Baron Scarpia Logan, UT
    Nov. 12, 2013 6:22 a.m.

    The vision for electric vehicles is that ultimately, they will be powered increasingly with renewable energy. In California, they have charging stations with solar panels, so when workers park at Google or Apple, they charge their EVs with the sun all day. It exists, and expanding this model across the country is the next step.

    As noted above, the problem with hydrogen is that the energy to split water for hydrogen is still not ready for prime time. I've seen some renewable energy projects where wind and solar are used for electrolysis to make hydrogen. Still in the R&D stage -- but it could be the model for the future.

    The next problem, however, is infrastructure. Electricity's infrastructure is already in place -- only need to build those fast charging stations. Creating an infrastructure for hydrogen will be very costly vis-à-vis electricity charging stations. I read recently that old pay phones (that we don't need in this age of cell phones) that are already connected to communications and electricity infrastructure could become the basis for developing charging stations with minimal electrical extensions, etc., to parking areas.

    EVs are the most promising technology for the very near future.

    Nov. 11, 2013 8:26 p.m.

    Ditto the other comments about hydrogen only being a means of energy storage and not a primary energy source. Hydrogen cars would still be ultimately powered by coal, natural gas, or nuclear, as electric cars currently are. It seems much simpler to skip the hydrogen step and focus on better batteries, as there are really difficult problems associated with storing and transporting hydrogen.

    Curiously enough, a gallon of gasoline contains 64% more hydrogen than a gallon of liquid hydrogen. The gasoline gets an extra energy boost from the carbon it contains, and it doesn't have to be maintained at -423 degrees F. Gasoline is pretty good stuff. Yes, let's find better and cleaner technologies, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    Nov. 11, 2013 6:58 p.m.

    I get a good laugh at these comments. Had we followed this mentality, we would still be digging huge canal systems because rail was going to need so much more energy to run.... or we would be using steam engines because diesel was not ready for prime time and steam was a proven method of generating torque... or we would still be flying prop planes because there was not a ready supply of jet fuel.

    These are all nonsense reasons to try to freeze technology and maintain the status quo. We hear all this gibberish about electric cars use electricity... yes they do.... but we have options on how we generate electricity. This is not an issue we can not over come. And it is a lot easier and cost effective to create 100 non-poluting power generation plants - even coal, than creating hundreds of thousands or millions of non-poluting automobiles running on fossil fuels.

    And if the electricity is created by coal - we can install scrubbers on these plants far easier than cleaning up the remaining emissions of diesel and gas cars. These "arguments" against are most ill informed.

    Long live the dinosaurs.

  • redshirt007 tranquility base, 00
    Nov. 11, 2013 6:04 p.m.

    Hydrogen is an unnecessary conversion step to an electric drive train. Don't forget that we could be running the cars we already have on hydrogen, it's just too expensive.

    If you have batteries you can provide your own energy with solar panels and apparently that scares the daylights out of the money interests who keep pushing the idea of hydrogen so they can tax it and profit from it.

    Go electric and solar. Be free. I'm halfway there, I'll have the pure electric car soon.

  • Johnny Triumph American Fork, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 1:01 p.m.

    @OneAmerican - I've been saying this for years, electric cars aren't green. They're fed by, most likely, coal fired power plants. We're kidding ourselves if we think that buring more coal to feed electric cars is much different than burning refined petroleum. Somehow we've been convinced that it is different.

    I guess the upside of it is that we can push our bad air well away from our homes, maybe stop some of the inversion pollution problems we see...but that's really just kidding ourselves.

  • Obama10 SYRACUSE, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 12:01 p.m.

    I agree with some of the other comments, it wouldn't take long for the Environmentalist to start complaining that we are killing the ocean to power our cars. The "War on Hydrogen" would just be the latest in their fundraising. I believe the quickest and easiest way to clean up the air and get off of oil is natural gas. I would love to see our politicians and policy makers steer the US in that direction.

  • Brer Rabbit Spanish Fork, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 11:54 a.m.

    Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe, but pure hydrogen is expensive here on Earth. A great deal of electrical energy is lost in separating the two hydrogen molecules from that oxygen molecule and this electricity has to be produced through current methods. Hydrogen can also be produced from fossil fuels such as natural gas, but that defeats the purpose and energy is also lost in the process. Hydrogen is not in the future as an inexpensive clean fuel.

  • Shawnm750 West Jordan, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 11:32 a.m.

    I'd like to point out that only hydrogen extracted from water requires electricity (or some other form of power.) Right now, various institutions, both foreign and domestic, public and private, are working to create an efficient method of capturing hydrogen emissions from bacteria and algae.

    The author isn't making any arguments that can't be said about any alternative fuel technology. Current processes for delivering and utilizing these forms of energy are inefficient, but we're not investing heavily enough in them.

  • Z South Jordan, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 9:49 a.m.

    No fuel source is free. You can't get 'free' hydrogen from water; the only available technology to create it requires... electricity. So your car will only ever be as 'green' as the original source of the electricity.

    Sure, hydrogen offers benefits in refueling that pure electric cars do not have, but the hydrogen economy is a long way off.

  • dell San Antonio, TX
    Nov. 11, 2013 9:47 a.m.

    I don't get why the author makes a big deal about energy for electric cars being produced elsewhere, but hides the energy required for production of H2. All the energy a fuel cell uses comes from another source(coal, nat gas, wind, solar, nuclear), the hydrogen fuel cell is merely another type of battery. True it can be made from water, but most is made by splitting off the H2 from natural gas which leaves...wait for it...CO2. Doh!

    The advantages of fuel cells are the range and refilling ability which the author points out, but also that fuel cells don't require huge amounts of lithium and other toxic and/or rare chemicals like car-sized batteries do.

    In regards to the source energy for electric car batteries--only 35% of US electricity production comes from coal, the rest is natural gas, nuclear, or renewables. Additionally the huge fossil fuel electricity plants are much more efficient and clean than a small car/truck engine can be.

    I do think water based fuel cells would be the better long term option...mostly because the very limited world supply of lithium. But electric cars are a good option for now.

  • Ticus Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 9:45 a.m.

    First, you say "[electricity] has to be produced somewhere." But extracting hydrogen from water also requires electricity!! Either way, it brings us back to the same issue.

    You describe hydrogen fuel cells like they're somehow different than a battery. But really, a both are nothing but a chemical reaction to convert some kind of chemical potential energy into electricity. So, again, we're really talking about the same general idea.

    In either case the power has to be produced and stored somewhere, (be it a battery or a hydrogen fuel cell), so either way we're merely "shuffling the deck". Power can be produced much more cleanly and efficiently in dedicated power-plant facilities then it can be in the combustion engine of a moving vehicle. If our cars are dependent on electricity (stored in either a battery or a fuel cell) then the proposition of replacing our fossil fuel burning power plants with Nuclear or with Solar or whatever is a much easier thing to do! Our cars wouldn't have to be redesigned in order to make that change.

    P.S. Elon Musk recently made comments about this. Search "elon musk hydrogen" to find it.

  • news.john2 Orem, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 8:43 a.m.

    Professor, what do you think about natural gas? I have a natural gas car and love it, but the availability of CNG stations is an issue. It is getting better however.

  • procuradorfiscal Tooele, UT
    Nov. 11, 2013 8:17 a.m.

    Re: ". . . we have to be aware that electricity produced through traditional carbon-based sources of fuel is not leading to a sustainable energy future."

    Wrong, Prof. A sustainable energy future is EXACTLY where carbon-based fuels IS leading us.

    As your opinion piece mentions, but apparently fears to come right out and say -- "green" technologies are just not ready for prime time. They're all experimental. None offer alternatives to standard fuels any time soon.

    That won't stop callow, doctrinaire liberals from killing off the energy industry they'll need in the brave new energy world they claim to be trying to create, though.

    Mindless greenies and liberals don't actually give two hoots for "green" energy. What they really want is to hand-pick the energy moguls of the future. And, of course -- as Al Gore, Terry McAuliffe, Solyndra, etc., etc. etc., have so aptly demonstrated -- they will hand-pick themselves.

    "Green energy" is nothing more than a financial-political scam, designed to wrest control from those that have it, and bestow it upon those that want it.

  • OneAmerican Idaho Falls, ID
    Nov. 11, 2013 8:11 a.m.

    Let's not forget that electric cars are simply taking electricity that has been produced by either hydro, nuclear, and, most likely coal generation plants and transferring it to the batteries. They are not, for the intellectually honest, "green" technology, per se. And their future is being doomed further with every coal plant Obama shuts down. All-electric cars are not realistic for wide-range use here in the West where the need to stay warm during cold winters reduces the mileage range significantly and distances between destinations are often beyond the range of the batteries. Once the batteries are dead, you're done. Hydrogen technology sounds great, but what will it cost? How much water would have to be sucked out of the ocean to create the hydrogen? How long before the environmentalists scream we're killing the ocean to drive our cars? (Ted Danson predicted in 1988 we had 10 years to live because we were killing the ocean; of course, we're not dead, but environmentalists must use hyperbole to thrive). Until extreme environmentalists and the politicians who cater to their contributions can be intellectually honest, we are a long, LONG way from arriving at realistic energy solutions.