This summer a wave of electricity has been generating regarding the future of personal transportation. What new and exciting developments have come to light, might you ask? Well, Earlier this summer the state of Washington announced a plan which lays the groundwork for the nations first electric highway. Stretching from Vancouver, BC through the length of Washington to Portland OR. Drivers of Electric Vehicles will have the ability to drive nearly the nearly 300 miles without worries of the juice running out. Not only does this set up the makings for some epic northwest road trips, but the nearly 2,000 charging stations planned for Seattle alone will make the Emerald city’s eco-conscious commuter able to breath a sigh of fresh air. This is all part of of the Nations EV project targeting other places such as Washington D.C., Tennessee, Arizona and linking up with projects in Oregon and California to create a 1350 mile electric friendly thoroughfare from Canada to the Mexican border!
With such massive investment in electric vehicle infrastructure it is fair to ask some questions about electric vehicles. Ever since the mid 1800′s people have been intrigued with the possibility of electric powered vehicles. Many people hoped for the potential of GM’s early trials with the EV1. But for many reasons political, and practical those hopes fizzled away until recently. There has been a frenzy of engineers as of late with major auto companies such as Nissan, Ford, GM and smaller companies like Tesla motors pouring their minds in to making reliable, efficient and high performing automobiles. The main area which is improving is battery technology. Current ranges are around 200 miles, but VW’s engineers are projecting a range of 500 miles on one charge within the next 10 years. This development and the fact that Tesla has been exhibiting race level performance out of its Roadster models clearly points to the potential of Total Electric Vehicle Domination within the very near future.
So what does this mean? And is there any downside to the seemingly perfect world of ZERO Emission Vehicles? How could there be? Well one must point out that in today’s energy realities, Zero Emission Vehicles are not exactly Zero Emission. Electric Vehicles must be charged and powered by electricity. Depending where you are, a lot of that electricity might come from “dirty” or otherwise marginally environmentally friendly sources. The Northwest, where this project is to be implemented gets most of their energy from hydroelectric plants such as the massive works on the Columbia river which have definite impacts on native wildlife habitats and indigenous populations. Many other states have varying sources of electricity ranging from natural gas to nuclear to the oft despised dirty coal industry. With the national electric power grid such as it is, one is never quite sure where ones power is actually being produced.
So, the benefits of zero exhaust from your tail pipe in Tacoma might mean Montana is belching out more dirty air and mercury in to the atmosphere. One good way around this would be the more widespread use of smaller local solar and wind energy projects tied in with this Electric vehicle grid. By outfitting parking garages and private residences with solar panels and cities capturing available wind power, we can actually make these cars as close to emission free as possible. Imagine, recharging your Telsa sports car from solar energy captured from your own rooftop!
Another factor not to be overlooked is the impact the increased demand for high grade precious metals will have on the planet. Previous AP blogs have highlighted the impact on the people and environments of third world mineral rich nations. The battery technology used in these vehicles is based on and uses the same elements as laptop batteries and it will be unavoidable that more demand on these elements will create more exploitation. The recent reports on the mineral deposits of Afghanistan are another example of the real sociopolitical impacts of technology on the world. While there is massive potential of this new technology for unimagined good, we must still be vigilant of the hidden costs within.
By keeping pressure on more socially and environmentally responsible mining and resource extraction, by promoting energy independence, by insisting on cleaner coal technology, we will be able to jump start our flux capacitors back to the future.