Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Volt is a Joke

I had a difficult time today deciding what to write about. The world seems at times to be spinning out of control and off its axis. Racism, both real and imaginary, the continuing tale of the JournoList 400, Climategate, and the incredible ability of Gaia worshipers to say, in essence that even if we got the facts wrong, goofball warmening is still true, all tug at me to make a comment. But then I stumbled upon an article by Doctor Zero entitled The Value of a Volt. I have noted before that the good Doctor has a way with words. It's a rare enough gift, and I appreciate how he says things as much as what he says. Here's a quote:

But wait, there’s more. Almost four hundred million dollars in federal subsidies were pumped directly into the design and production of the Volt. The initial production run consists of just ten thousand units, with 45,000 more planned for 2012 if sales are good. This would add just over $7200 more in taxpayer subsidies to each Volt produced over the next two years. Since 2012 production will be scaled back if early sales are disappointing, it might be more logical to add the subsidies to the first 10,000 units only, which would leave early adopters outside of California paying $33,500 for a car which actually costs $81,000 per unit, with taxpayers picking up the remainder. It’s actually even worse than that, because GM expects to lose money on every Volt sale. Those losses will be spread among other GM products, or perhaps wiped out with further taxpayer subsidies.
The Chevrolet Volt is, of course, a complete joke. And having the President of the United States hawking the product is down right embarrassing. I would imagine that many inside GM feel diminished realizing what has become of a once great company.

Besides the costs, which this article emphasizes, there are the environmental costs, which causes one to wonder what problem the Volt is supposed to solve? For instance, although the Volt runs on electricity stored in batteries, how is that electricity generated? A coal or natural gas fired plant perhaps? How much cleaner is the generating plant than your car? It must be substantially cleaner to overcome the losses in energy that occur that occur from converting one source of energy into another, only to have it reconverted back again. These losses are physical facts that can not be overcome. They are the price for utilizing any form of energy, including muscle power. For example, a potential energy source such as natural gas is burned to spin an engine (losses) which spins a generator (losses) to make electricity which goes out over the wires (losses) to a transformer to be stepped down to 120 volt AC (losses) to go to your home (losses) to charge a battery (losses) to spin a motor (losses) to power your car all of 40 miles. You can eliminate some of those losses by putting the potential energy source closer to the final conversion point, which is what gasoline powered vehicles do. But it gets worse. At some point, you will have to recycle the batteries. Modern batteries contain exotic heavy metals which are extremely toxic, and expensive, and can not be simply thrown out. So in the end, an electric car is no more environmentally friendly than a fossil fueled automobile.

The problem has been a confusion of goals. We have three potential goals, none of which are improved by the Volt. One goal is to become more eco-friendly. As shown above, the Volt is not really all that eco-friendly when to take into account the lifetime costs of the vehicle. Another is to achieve energy independence. To improve our energy independence, a simpler way would be to convert the truck fleet over to natural gas. We have an abundance of natural gas, and it is pretty clean relative to coal and petroleum. The third possible goal is to get us off fossil fuel altogether. That goal, unfortunately, is not possible, and only exists among people who hold to an ideology that believes people are a cancer on this planet: the Gaia worshipers. Is that who this administration is pandering to?

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