back to article Uncle Sam's boffins stumble upon battery storage holy grail

According to the head of ARPA-E – the research arm of the US Department of Energy – a number of breakthroughs in battery technology have been achieved, with huge implications on the use of renewable energy and electric cars. Speaking at an ARPA-E event in Washington DC this week, director Dr Ellen Williams told an interviewer …

Anonymous Coward

Re: There is no way driving will get cheaper

"In the Netherlands over 60%! of the price of a liter of fuel is taxes. And then we pay VAT on the taxed price"

And for energy that isn't petrol or diesel, for road vehicles or elsewhere? How much of the price of domestic gas or electrickery is tax? How much of the price of LPG/propane/etc, either for road vehicles or other uses?

The original claim related to *energy* prices being mostly tax, Plainly untrue, perhaps with the exception of some popular classes of road vehicle fuel.

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Re: There is no way driving will get cheaper

Roughly 50% of the price is tax on both gas and leccy: (sorry, only have a dutch link, but I think the pics and numbers are clear enough) https://www.energievergelijk.nl/energievergelijker/energiebelasting

Tax on LPG makes up slightly over 30% of the total price.

A lot of the rest of the costs of energy (any energy source) is things like transport costs for leccy (fixed), fixed costs for the fuel pump owner, etc, etc. Less then a third of the price of energy is from the variable part of energy production costs. The rest comes from fixed costs that won't become cheaper (and probably more expensive)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There is no way driving will get cheaper

"50% of the price is tax on both gas and leccy"

This varies around Europe though doesn't it? And in most (every?) other European countries, electricty is cheaper than yours is? Because, apart from anything else, it's less heavily taxed?

NB all electricity is energy. Not all energy is electricity. Ish.

"Less then a third of the price of energy is from the variable part of energy production costs."

Further citations welcome.

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Re: how is the government going to backfill the loss in income

Yep. They're already starting to whine just from the loss of revenue due to hybrids.

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Re: This is less of a thing in the US

According to the most recent statistics even in the US 25% of the price of gasoline is down to taxes. Even that is treating the cost of crude as a pure cost and not taxed.

http://energyalmanac.ca.gov/gasoline/margins/

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Re: This is less of a thing in the US

Progrards were out in full force for this article. Downvoting facts is a sure sign of jihadist like rage.

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It's ok for them to take swipes at Musk, but at least he got product out to market and did something. How long are they going to sit on this stuff before the masses get to use it? We hear of new battery technology on these pages so many times but have any of them made it into products we use yet? No, not one.

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@ Martin Summers

"It's ok for them to take swipes at Musk, but at least he got product out to market and did something"

All Musk has done is set up a business to suck subsidies from the government, very clever, but if he was actually relying on profit from his marketed products he would be bankrupt many times over!!!.

The guy is a massive cockwomble!!!.

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Electric Cars: Rich People

Electric cars need massive increase in power production (Power stations) and distribution (Grid) if everyone had them.

Currently tax payers are subsidising rich people and Elon Musk.

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Re: Electric Cars: Rich People

Not as much massive increase as you might think. Better load management on the grid (even to the extent of getting your fridge to switch off for 5 minutes to shave the peaks), micro-generation (reducing the distance the energy has to be transported), and storage technologies like the ones discussed, which can also be placed close to areas of consumption as they don't emit pollution and don't have to be huge, and can be charged dynamically in response to grid capacity variations.

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Re: Electric Cars: Rich People

about 6KW of energy (3KW electricity and 3KW heat energy) goes into to producing each gallon of petrol.

In summer I get about 5 miles and the depths of winter with lots of heating about 3.3 miles per KW out of my leaf.

That means that the most thirsty petrol cars out there actually use more electricity than my Nissan Leaf on top of the fuel that they burn!

Almost all charging is done over night, so the additional demands on the electricity infrastructure that would be caused by inscreased usage of electric cars are not actually as great as you might think

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Electric Cars: Rich People

"6KW of energy (3KW electricity and 3KW heat energy"

Please repost with words that show that you've understood the difference between energy and power.

If this was a discussion on cricket, would people really post without understanding the difference between total runs scored and run rate (e.g. runs per over)? (Suitable soccer example welcome). They're clearly different (though obviously not clearly enough).

Have a great weekend. Don't use all your energy at once.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Electric Cars: Rich People

"micro-generation (reducing the distance the energy has to be transported"

reducing the distance is largely irrelevant; such losses as there are in electricity distribution are less than 10% or so (source: see Mackay [1] and look it up there), and those losses are largely in the local/low-voltage "last mile" part of the distribution network, The same "last mile" losses would largeky also apply if generation was decentralized and/or micro-generation became widespread.

[1] http://www.withouthotair.com/

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Re: Electric Cars: Rich People

Apologies..... 3KWh of electrical energy an 3KWh of heat energy

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Electric Cars: Rich People

"In summer I get about 5 miles and the depths of winter with lots of heating about 3.3 miles per KW out of my leaf."

mm, considering that is way more than even nissan claims I smell bullshit! especially for the winter with heating.

I did consider buying one, but then ran the math, checked what owners were saying about range, and worked out I would be lucky to get home, even if I decided to drive in full thermal gear with no heating.

My present car gets 50miles to a gallon, so at 6kw = 50/6 = 8.33 miles, so it still beats yours even with bullshit figures!!!.

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Re: Electric Cars: Rich People

....unless they all charge their cars at night, when power plants and wind turbines are loafing.

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Re: Electric Cars: Rich People

In fairness, the kWh is a ridiculous unit for energy and has probably done more to confuse and put off secondary school pupils than anything else in the science syllabus.

A Norris-Double-decker-bus is much better (though smaller).

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The last mile

"The same "last mile" losses would largeky also apply if generation was decentralized and/or micro-generation became widespread."

Why? I've got plenty of neighbours to use the energy I generate.

But I'm glad that's the only thing you disagree with.

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Charging...

We seem to be barely able to generate enough power at the moment, god knows how the required power plant construction will get through planning in time for electric cars.

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TRT
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Re: Charging...

Good point, but it's a question of the energy crunch. Ageing fossil and nuclear plants are going off-line and there's too much uncertainty about what to replace them with. It's really, really good that "free to refill" sources like wind, tide and solar are out there, thanks to our friendly neighbourhood fission/fusion reactor, and we've got the capture part worked out, but the storage side of things... not so good. Pumped hydro-electric is a fairly cool way of doing it, but that comes with it's own environmental impact (it takes a LOT of space, usually a few dozen miles of valley). So the debate continues and long term investment is less attractive. We are at a turning point - as the Victorians oversaw the coming of the industrial revolution, so we stand at the crossroads of the energy revolution. I won't be around in 100 years to see the result!

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Re: Charging...

It's really, really good that "free to refill" sources like wind, tide and solar are out there,

The one massive problem with ALL renewable power sources is that the are INTERMITTENT and can not supply base load.

Any power generation system that dies not supply power 12/7/365 is nothing but a disruption on those systems that do, especially when the unreliable sources are mandated to have priority over the reliable ones as in the UK.

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Re: Charging...

> It's really, really good that "free to refill" sources like wind, tide and solar are out there, thanks to our friendly neighbourhood fission/fusion reactor.

They've been trying to get planning permission to build a runway at an airport for pretty much my entire lifetime, they've been trying to build a nuclear reactor at a nuclear power plant for so long it won't be a nuclear power plant by the time they start work.

I just don't see anyone being allowed to build this stuff.

Windmills won't cut it, we'll be needing an extra 60 or so KWh per household per day if everyone went electric.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Charging...

"an extra 60 or so KWh per household per day if everyone went electric."

Where the heck did you pick that number from?

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Re: Charging...

>The one massive problem with ALL renewable power sources is that the are INTERMITTENT and can not supply base load.

So imagine if your base load was a million battery packs.

With enough electric cars and a smart charger that would sell power back to the grid you wouldn't need base load at all.

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Re: Charging...

> "Where the heck did you pick that number from?"

You're right, it's probably a bit low.

http://www.carstuffshow.com/blog/how-to-convert-gasoline-energy-to-kilowatt-hours-kwh/

Guessing at more than one car per household of course.

Here as well:- http://www.withouthotair.com/c3/page_29.shtml

"40 kWh per day per person."

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TRT
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Re: Charging...

I think you're all missing the point in the article which is that the DARPA people are developing mass cheap efficient storage to address exactly the problem of renewables not having consistently the same output 24/7/365. The other alternative is solar collector / reflector in space, out of Earth shadow. You spread your supply across many bases. If these storage devices make renewables a realistic source then that's a good thing. One day, one day very soon, we will run out of fossil fuels. The more nuclear you build, the more likelihood that one of them will go wrong in a bad way, even a 1 in a billion chance is unacceptable if that one instance has global consequences for centuries to come.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Charging...

"http://www.withouthotair.com/c3/page_29.shtml"

Thank you, SEWTHA/Mackay is always an excellent place to start. So, what do see when we look more closely/

First, as you note, it's not 60kWh per day but 40. And where does that come from?

It comes from a "typical" 50 miles per day at a "typical" 30 miles per gallon.

Any European vehicle doing significantly less than 60mpg is no longer "typical". It's especially untypical of the commuter-run car or school+shopping run car in 2016.

So that 40kWh per day could easily become 20kWh per day just from mpg improvements from 30 mpg to 60(ish) mpg. Adjust accordingly if you don't like 60mpg.

Additionally, for those cars that are used only for the school run, shopping, etc, it's likely to be rather less than 50 miles per day. For simplicity let's assume that 25 miles per day covers a worthwhile number of cars. For a typical round-town mph that's a couple of hours of driving.

So that's 10kWh per day, for a good proportion of the number of vehicles on the road in Europe today. And with a 3kW charger that's maybe four hours of charging for two hours of driving.

So no real problem with supplying extra electricty for these levels of power and these lengths of time, either at grid level or via the local distribution network, for levels of electric car penetration likely in the foreseeable future.

Aren't facts, numbers, and logic (Mackay style) great. Random numbers picked from thin air are less useful (such as my unevidenced assumption that a reasonable number of cars do less than 25miles per day), but can still serve a purpose when it's clear what's going on.

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Re: Ageing fossil and nuclear plants are going off-line

I read that same line of crap from econazis posing as my friends back in the 1970s. Last time I checked our aging fossil fuel reserves were higher now than they were back then and most of those nukes are still online. Of course at the time I was about 12 and didn't recognize them for the econazis they were and neither had my parents.

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@Ivan 4

Yes and no. IF the storage capacity for the system were such that it could hold enough power for more than the expected down time for the system you could do it. Even a system that only covered the overnight/calm period and excluded a parked weather system would make it acceptable for most use. BUT

That assumes you can get enough generation to displace fossil fuels in the first place. El Reg has run the calculations here repeatedly to the dismay of the green weenies. It simply isn't possible. Cover the whole UK in solar cells or windmills and at best you still get 50% of the demand covered.

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TRT
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Re: Ageing fossil and nuclear plants are going off-line

I didn't say that the fossil reserves were running out in that post, though they are. I said that fossil plants were going off line and there isn't the economic or political certainty to say "we build so many of these, and so many of this other and we're sorted".

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FAIL

Re: Ageing fossil and nuclear plants are going off-line

Yes you did because the way I reply to quotes is copying a snippet from them for the title.

But that is the sort of bold faced lie I've come to expect from econazi like you.

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Re: Charging...

> So that's 10kWh per day...

I'm perfectly happy to accept that would be possible for your selected demographic, and it is indeed possible with petrol engines right now. It isn't what they do though.

Oh, and it quotes 40 per person (actually car) where I estimated 60 per household, so you see I'm actually already at roughly 30 per car.

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TRT
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Re: Ageing fossil and nuclear plants are going off-line

" the way I reply to quotes is copying a snippet from them for the title."

Thank you for proving the point then. I'd get your eye's (or brain) checked.

As for "econazi"... I think you're just showing yourself up there.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Charging...

Additionally, for those cars that are used only for the school run, shopping, etc, it's likely to be rather less than 50 miles per day.

Assume one car per household. Average distance travelled by a car in the UK is ~ 12,000 miles per year, that's about 32 miles per day. Even at only 1.5 cars per household you easily get ~ 50 mile per day average.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Charging...

"Even at only 1.5 cars per household you easily get ~ 50 mile per day average."

Correct, if you average over the whole national fleet of cars.

But as you clearly realised, electric vehicles cannot realistically address (for example) the road warrior consultant or sales rep or whatever doing hundreds of miles a day and many tens of thousands of miles a year.

For now, focus on the road journeys the electric vehicle *can* realistically address. As well as the vehicles doing tens of thousands of miles a year, there are many doing a few thousand miles a year, all in short journeys. It's a smaller (in energy terms and maybe in numbers of cars terms) but potentially still worthwhile sector of the market.

Clearer now?

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Re: Charging...

> Correct, if you average over the whole national fleet of cars.

Anything else would be cherry picking.

Besides, 12,000 miles is typical usage for cars, I have a short commute and generally hit just over 9,000.

This is however beside the point, even at 10KWh we will need a nuke plant the size of Fukushima to generate the leccy even if only a quarter of households have your feeble-mobiles. We will need to substantially increase generating capacity regardles. A more realistic 20Kwh for half of the cars or just under one for each of 20 million households and it should be obvious that a truly epic building programme is required.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ageing fossil and nuclear plants are going off-line

Well SSE are closing their coal power stations as quickly as they can, including paying fines of over GBP 30 million for one station which had signed up to the governments "capacity market" auction for 2018 onwards. Given the spare generation capacity in the UK during winter is down to around 5%, I guess that losing 2 to 3 GW means we'll need another couple of quick-build gas generators.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Charging...

"Correct, if you average over the whole national fleet of cars.

Anything else would be cherry picking."

You don't think it might be classed as using the right tool for the right job? In the same way as, for example, we don't use buses for freight deliveries and vice versa? Or two seater sports convertibles for the monthly shopping run?

"I have a short commute and generally hit just over 9,000."

30-40 miles a day isn't what I'd class as a short commute, though obviously some unlucky people might. I know a number of people left my previous employer when they proposed moving thousands of employees from an accessible suburban and slightly dated (but demolishable and sellable for housing) site to an out of town site fifteen miles away with no sensible public transport for miles. Others had little option but to grin and bear it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ageing fossil and nuclear plants are going off-line

"including paying fines of over GBP 30 million for one station which had signed up to the governments "capacity market" auction for 2018 onwards"

Oh, I missed that. I'd seen the closure announcement (3 of 4 units, ie 1.5GW out of 2GW, to close [1]), but hadn't seen discussion of a ~£30M penalty for non-delivery to the capacity market [2]. Still, what could possibly go wrong.

"another couple of quick-build gas generators."

Filling fields with banks of diesel generators seems to be fashionable at the moment as it's even quicker to profit than the original "dash for gas" or "dash for gas 2.0". Diesel's not exactly low carbon, but hey, money talks.

Someone should also point out that SSE could have chosen to invest in their coal fired stations (not just Fiddlers Ferry) in order to achieve compliance with the 10+year old Large Combustion Plant regulations, which limit the number of hours of pollution a coal station can produce, but SSE chose instead to live with the limited hours and shut down afterwards [3]. And now it's caught up with them, and the victims of the underinvestment are not going to be SSE management, they're going to be SSE employees who lose their jobs, and you and me when the lights go out.

[1] http://sse.com/newsandviews/allarticles/2016/02/consultation-on-future-of-sses-fiddlers-ferry-power-station/

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/12128668/Energy-security-threat-as-SSE-mulls-early-closure-of-coal-plant.html

[3] BBC4's excellent documentary Power to the People, co-produced with the Open University, covered Ferrybridge in episode 1; not on iPlayer, try this for background

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/whats-on/tv/power-the-people

and for the programme itself try this, and see if you can see any evidence of significant investment in recent decades (e.g. in the kind of control systems that might have allowed LCPD compliance):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSoa6XKgJXo

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Re: Charging...

Pumped hydro-electric is a fairly cool way of doing it, but that comes with it's own environmental impact (it takes a LOT of space, usually a few dozen miles of valley).

Hydro is also a non-renewable energy source according to the Thermageddonists. So it goes...

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Re: Charging...

The one massive problem with ALL renewable power sources is that the are INTERMITTENT

Geothermal energy is intermittent? Whoda thunkit?

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Re: @Ivan 4

El Reg has run the calculations here repeatedly to the dismay of the green weenies. It simply isn't possible. Cover the whole UK in solar cells or windmills and at best you still get 50% of the demand covered.

Easy peasy, just kill off all the excess population. In UKLand, an estimated 15,000 people died unnecessarily between December and March 2015 because they were living in homes they couldn’t afford to heat and nearly 160,000 excess winter deaths during the five years of the last Parliament. Sounds like a start has already been made...

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Re: Charging...

The one massive problem with ALL renewable power sources is that the are INTERMITTENT and can not supply base load.

And the massive problem when nuclear came along was that it was slow to turn on and off (and the problems weren't just with the reactors - I saw the video of what happened to the stator end windings on a 600MW set when it went from 0 to full load...) ie constant generation, whilst the load was variable - sort of the converse of wind/solar/tidal.

It's why Cruachan and Dinorwic were constructed in the first place. And they can do the same job for renewables - store until needed.

Anyway, we've kicked the can a decade or two down the road by extending the life of a number of existing nukes.

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Re: Charging...@TRT

I think you got downvoted because your last sentence is plainly ridiculous. Chornobyl was about as bad as it could be yet the main problems have come from the kneejerk reaction to evacuate the entire area; it is now an annoying problem but no worse than one of those coalmines which are on fire underground. It's having local consequences for maybe ten decades, not global consequences for centuries.

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Re: Charging...

"So that 40kWh per day could easily become 20kWh per day just from mpg improvements from 30 mpg to 60(ish) mpg. Adjust accordingly if you don't like 60mpg."

Cars just used for short trips have a lot worse MPG than cars mainly used on longer A road journeys. That's because so much time is spent running with a rich mixture to deal with (a) cold engine and (b) heating catalyst. In winter our smallest car does a little over 30mpg, mainly around town. In summer it averages around 44mpg, which is the "realistic" end of official consumption figures of 60mpg. Part of the reason for that is that it usually travels 2 up plus luggage, unlike the official test with one adult only on board.

We need to look at the winter figures because that's when load is highest. Electric cars use more power because they need heating. (I'm surprised nobody seems to have thought of deviating from ideological purity and fitting them with small propane tanks and Webasto-type heaters, but there you go.) The power available for mass charging may be low due to demand elsewhere. There have been articles about the "smart grid" required to charge EVs only when power is available, it's a known problem.

The difficulty is that under our "free market" system nobody wants to build more electrical capacity without a bribe subsidy. We can't even get Hinckley started. Unless we can find a way to increase capacity massively without simply burning gas, any talk of mass conversion to EVs is just hot air. (Which is also what current ones are short of in winter.)

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Re: @Ivan 4

"Easy peasy, just kill off all the excess population"

Given the rapid development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and the failure of the pharma companies to develop new ones (not profitable enough - you only take them for a week, they like things you need for the rest of your life) the Black Death might just come along again and do exactly that.

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Re: Charging...

For now, focus on the road journeys the electric vehicle *can* realistically address. As well as the vehicles doing tens of thousands of miles a year, there are many doing a few thousand miles a year,.

This is the classic spurious argument, assuming that if 90% of journeys can be done by electric cars, then 90% of cars can be electric. It's false.

My daily commute is 50km round trip, with a need fot heating in winter and sometimes AC in summer. My wife's is something similar. My car is garaged at night right beside the main electricity distribution board. I could indeed use an electric vehicle for 90% of my journeys. Except that once or twice a month I have a 250km round trip to an airport, maybe twice a year a 600-100km holiday trip, and usually one 3000km+ longer trip.

The only practical approach for us would be two cars, one electric for the short trips, but not only would that only work for one of us, my wife is quite attached to her sporty two-seater and isn't likely to react well that I replace it with a Leaf or similar.

Clearer now?

It's been perfectly clear for a long time, thanks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Charging...

"if 90% of journeys can be done by electric cars, then 90% of cars can be electric."

Yes that's total sleight of hand, which is why I didn't say anything like that. I said address the market where electric cars are a practical answer. It won't be anything like 90% of cars, and I thought earlier posts had reflected that electric cars aren't going to take over in any meaningful way although they do have a role to play. If things do change it isn't going to happen in double quick time, for reasons of practicality as well as emotional attachment e.g. cars as fashion statements/comfort blankets.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: heating and air conditioning

"a need fot heating in winter and sometimes AC in summer."

Your car air conditioner is a heat pump. In summer it moves heat from inside to outside. A little "thinking outside the box" (actually, repurposing the existing tried and tested commercial air source heat pump) reverses the heat pump setup so it moves heat from outside to inside.

Put 1kW of electricity into the heat pump's motor, get 4kW of heat out at the hot and, and a matching amount of cold at the cold end. Or 10kW, or whatever's in the design.

This is what's already in a Nissan Leaf, maybe Tesla too. Further reading:

http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/TECHNOLOGY/OVERVIEW/heat_pump_cabin_heater.html

If necessary in colder climates, back it up with either or both of a resistive heater, and/or the cooling air from the motor+electronics (do Tesla already do this?). Or maybe in certain climates a small oil or gas fired heater could be fitted, as I believe is already used in some cars, either as original fit or as aftermarket add-on.

Lots of the apparent engineering issues (such as this) are already sorted somewhere. If you want to find reasons to object to electric cars, fine, some of them might be valid. Energy use for passenger comfort (heating/cooling) on relatively short journeys isn't necessarily one of them.

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Re: @Ivan 4

Given the rapid development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and the failure of the pharma companies to develop new ones

I'd be more worried about a pneumonic Ebola or Marburg mutation than bubonic plague, but your point is an excellent one.

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