Going Out On A Limb

I’ve made predictions before about trends in technology, but mostly to myself. I’m often right, but you would have no way of knowing that, so here’s one I’ll announce in a way that can prove whether I got it right or wrong. Assuming I’m around and this blog is still accessible.

Here are my predictions….

electric charge stationThe internal combustion reciprocating gasoline engine is just about at its zenith in popularity. Over the next several years, we’ll see a decline in its consumer use.
There are some fundamental reasons to believe this is true but it primarily depends on only two.

  • Continued increase in fuel prices which make operational costs higher
  • Development and improvement of electric-powered vehicles
  • Availability of charging stations
  • Legislation forcing automotive manufacturers to retool or fade away
  • Removal of price support (tax incentives) for large petroleum companies

I think full conversion to an alternate engine/propulsion system is still an unpredictable time frame. It may take 10 to 15 years for this technology to be prevalent. Twenty to thirty years and I think the gasoline internal combustion engine will go away like steam engines. Sure, there will be some left but more of a curiosity on the way things were rather than anyone wanting them. The one thing that can and probably will impact the development & distribution of electric power cars is legislation. There has been a significant push by some of the public toward legislation affecting output of carbon emissions. It doesn’t matter if you are in a panic or unconcerned about global climate change, the reason government officials are for the idea of limiting carbon emissions, is it gives them more control and tax revenue. Money is power and if tax policy can be shaped to place limits on industry and their products as well as allowing trading these credits for tax purposes (cap & trade), you know they like the idea. Why else would they use the IRS as a punitory administrator in health care? This is simply an expansion of power. Good intentions aside, power likes to aggregate more power. There’s a common bond between an environmental agenda and political power, so that is why I think there will be more controls and incentives to seek alternative power sources for transportation.

Tesla supercharger station

Tesla Supercharger station

Refueling is the key and the charging station proliferation will play an important role in the wider acceptance of this type of mobility. Significant efforts have been made in some areas of the country which have public charging stations available for work. You drive to your place of employment and they provide an electrical plug-in. Many homes are already equipped with 220 volt power connections. Having an outside or in garage charging connection is something within the scope of a licensed electrician.

Tesla motors is at the forefront of making this technology viable. They have worked with companies to install charging facilities so it’s possible to drive across country with their long-range electric vehicles. Any vehicle only capable of 100 miles or less between charges wouldn’t work but the Tesla is in the 200 to 400 mile between charge range. Rapid charge is possible but their other proposal is to use quick battery exchange. You drive up and the battery pack to your vehicle is quickly removed and a fully charged one takes it’s place. Again, as more electric vehicles are on the road, new ways of providing quick re-fuel will be made possible. They have also installed a few supercharger stations which provide a range of about 150 miles in 30 minutes time.

What are some of the additional benefits or impetus to promote electric drive technology? Let’s examine what happened in another form of transportation history. Steam locomotives opened a new era in large capacity, fast transportation. Wide spread use beginning in the 19th century continued into the first 3rd of the 20th century. Then a completely new technology was introduced, diesel-electric locomotives started use in the 1930’s and by the early 1950’s, steam engine powered trains were part of history. The diesel-electric locomotive was a hybrid and in a way points to modern automotive hybrids. Electric motors were used at the wheels as primary mover and a diesel engine running an alternator was a constant source of electrical generation. Hybrid cars such as the GM volt use a gasoline engine coupled to a generator to do much of the same type of work. I think this is an interim step, fully electric will be the eventual dominate form.

Steam powered locomotives were ‘settled technology’. Even though they were more complex, steam engines were admired for their speed & pulling power, all of that appealed to the engineers at the time. They had a life unto themselves from the way they sounded to how they responded to throttle application. In short, they had their adherents. When the diesel-electric locomotive was introduced several things happened, all of the existing fueling locations were no longer necessary, coal and water stations were outmoded. steam engine locomotiveServiceability was improved, because these new locomotive propulsion systems were a lot less complex and required less maintenance. This is exactly the way it is for all-electric vehicles. Hybrid automotive systems don’t accomplish the fewer parts rule. The complexity for electric cars and the general reliability of motors and electronics can help the consumer to reduce cost as well as fuel savings. Electric cars are more efficient in energy conversion as well. Battery life is a significant factor because replacement is usually required after a few years and the replacement cost is significant. More production should reduce costs and improvements in battery technology make that attainable.

The United States will have to find a way forward on energy policy or its future isn’t going to be a good one. The constant all or nothing mentality needs to move past the petty partisanship because if we are to find strategies that work, cooperation is needed. Simply passing law that mandates a 30% reduction of carbon emissions in coal fired electric power plants aren’t going to manifest productive outcome. Energy costs force people to change but those who suffer the most are the lower-income individuals and families. They need to have electric costs which are affordable and dependable transportation is critical if they are to fend for themselves. Politics often makes problems worse rather than help because unforeseen or at least, under researched insufficiently explored consequences are a result.

Tesla and BMW are in cooperative talks

Clearly, until now the rest of the industry had rejected Tesla’s charging technology, which goes beyond just the physical plug. One can imagine numerous reasons for this, but at the top of the list could easily be the issue of control. When you’re dealing with a connector/plug standard, it’s important that a competitor can’t mess with it.

After all, it takes approximately five years to develop a car, and you are committing to a long-term standard in the automotive industry that goes well beyond five years. People take decades to get used to things, and you have to install things both at home and at public charging stations. Messing with this plug and standard is a huge issue.

Tesla is constrained is that it can’t hire engineers fast enough, and automotive engineering projects simply take a lot of time. Testing new automotive systems — batteries, bodies, motors, electronics — takes years.

From a strict investment standpoint, it had become clear that Tesla’s charging network was a major advantage. Even if someone else were to deliver a car with 265 miles of pure battery-electric range, all other things equal, a consumer would prefer a car that could be recharged quickly on longer routes.

If you have a critical advantage, you exploit it. You don’t give it away for a small fee when you didn’t really need that tiny sliver of financing anyway. Today, if you want a 265-mile electric car and the ability to charge it quickly along some of our long-range freeways, Tesla is your only option. So you have to buy the car from Tesla, not BMW.

The above quotes are from Anton WahlmanThe Street” I disagree with his assessment of the future stock value of Tesla. I’m betting on Elon Musk prevailing. Read the article if you want to find out more on investment potential. I believe Mr. Musk is smarter than the analysts advising people on stock value.

Cooperation is needed for electric vehicles to become prolific. Common standards need to emerge in this industry just as they have in many aspects of the computer communication tech. Competing charging station connections, rapidity of charge are part of the first steps.  With a small number of free-to-use stations in California, Tesla has plans for an ambitious charging station network for its new model line. The stations only work with the Model S. The Model X and subsequent Teslas will also be able to utilize these stations. Competing standards of CHAdeMO, SAE, and the Tesla Roadster are incompatible with it.

A solar powered charging station.

A solar-powered charging station.

Summarized: If we can keep from killing ourselves in other useless war(s) and our politicians start to recognize their immigration policies flooding this country with illegals (un-documented for the PC crowd), address our true educational needs and we can keep a stable growth economy, then some of these predictions will come about in a form resembling my thoughts. Don’t you just love all of the qualifying variables?

Here’s what may and in some cases should transpire.
1 – gasoline as well as diesel internal combustion engines will substantially diminish in number.
2 – Electric motors with self-contained charged energy sources will become dominant. I used a name different from battery technology because there’s likely to be significant change in storage cells, radically different than today.
3 – Hybrid systems using gasoline engines will almost be non-existent. Exactly what with will be difficult to predict set of options; an alternate source might be hydrogen fuel cells, or my more likely idea as of this juncture is a Stirling engine to run a generator.
4 – Almost everyone born in what is referred to as the “baby boomer generation”, born approximately 1946-1966, will have to pass before these predictions are true. The reasons revolve around people wanting to keep things as they are rather than how they might improve.
5 – Highways systems will include computer controlled technology permitting the individual car to only enter the interstate when the driver enters the necessary permission code to engage into the stream. Each vehicle on that highway will be autonomously controlled to avoid rapid speed changes and unforeseen lane changes. You will be able to read, watch the news, read your tablet, put on make-up, drink your coffee and eat a bagel if you want without endangering everyone around you.

I don’t see how we can continue with the present self drive single or even dual passenger vehicle clogging freeways and their uncoordinated motions and decisions which create chaos and mayhem with huge delays and injury on major highways. There will be a lot of push back on this but the alternative is greater grid lock, severe loss of time and an almost impossible to predict work arrival time. The time, material cost, energy efficiency and reduction in deaths all point to future technology taking advantage of the required on board computers and motor drive.

Here’s one other idea that comes to mind when we talk about electric motor powered vehicles. Nikola Tesla was a genius and came up with ideas we’re just now beginning to see how they might be used. Tesla’s theories on the possibility of distributing power by transmission through radio waves was and still is an unfulfilled concept but similar ideas are already being employed to charge cell phones. Placing the cell phone near the induction charging station, enables charging of the phone without physical connection. Applying that idea to future interstate highway road systems, the electric vehicle could receive a charge while driving over this highway with successively located proximity charging stations. This means your car receives a charge while driving. Costs for this charge would be applied to the specific vehicle owner registration using a scheme similar to network MAC ID’s (used to identify each physical device through a unique 12 digit code on a computer network).

An ignorant person is one who doesn’t know what you have just found out.
Will Rogers

Related Links