Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weak Anti-EV Arguments Collapse Under The Weight Of Reality

The anti-EV crowd has been working overtime trying to come up with different ways to discredit EV technology and slow it's inevitable adoption as an efficient choice for transportation.  It's somewhat amusing to watch them twist themselves into pretzels and various other uncomfortable shapes as they attempt to spin every possible scrap of information into a thread of support for their untenable position.  People who obviously don't care about CO2 emissions constantly squawk about coal power, people who previously claimed that hybrids such as the Prius were nothing but green washing now tout them as a better solution to our oil usage than EV's, people who pretend to be patriots ignore the benefits of using domestically produced electricity over foreign oil,  and people who think we should use natural gas fail to comprehend that it's better to use this limited fossil fuel resource in large generating plants to charge EV's instead of wastefully burning it in inefficient individual ICE vehicles.  They look at the state of current technology, including battery chemistry and power generation, and assume it will not and cannot improve, even though it has been and will continue to do so.  They talk about limited resources as if that only applies to EV's and not other forms of transportation as well.  They imagine EV's putting additional load on the grid while ignoring vehicle to grid technology that would allow a fleet of plugged in EV's to actually help support the grid when needed, including storage of excess solar and wind power.
It's a worthwhile exercise to question the effects of widespread EV adoption but it must be done with an open mind willing to consider all aspects, not simply limited to one's personal preconceptions and existing conditions.  Today's EV's can take advantage of tomorrow's cleaner and smarter grid as well as the growing volume of home generated wind and solar power.
EV's have the potential to deliver on an unrealized promise of personal transportation by allowing us not only to go where we wish but also to control the energy we use from power we create ourselves, free from the monolithic fueling infrastructure controlled by oil companies and OPEC.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Volt Battery Issue, Much Ado About Nothing

The media and the anti EV crowd have been getting quite worked up lately about the Chevy Volt battery pack and perceived yet unrealized dangers from fire.  Two Chevy Volts were parked in garages that happened to burn down, just as happens to many ICE vehicles every year, yet in the Volt cases blame was automatically placed on the hybrid vehicles, presumably because they are something new.  However in both cases the Volts and their batteries were found not to be the source of fires.
Then in May NHTSA ran a side impact test on a Chevy Volt.  This test consists of sliding a vehicle sideways into a solidly mounted pole which totals the vehicle.  The Volt passed the test for occupant safety.

Three weeks after the test, which damaged the battery pack, the pack caught fire.  (Interestingly when the same test is done on conventional ICE vehicles the tank is drained, probably because NHTSA doesn't want gasoline flying all over it's facilities.)  This seemed to be an isolated incident as other tests done by other organizations did not result in any fires.  To further investigate NHTSA ran more tests on Volt battery packs, bare packs not in a vehicle.  The packs were penetrated, further than in the original crash test, then rotated to simulate a rollover.  In the first test nothing happened.  In a second test there was a temporary temperature increase initially, then a week later this pack caught fire.  In a third test the pack smoked and sparked but did not catch fire.  At this point it seems that leaking coolant for the batteries can cause some short circuiting if the pack is not drained after a severe accident.  There have been no fires in actual use during a crash of the Volt, and NHTSA considers the Volt to be a safe car which has a 5 star crash rating.  GM is working on some upgrades which will further protect the pack and address this battery issue which would only happen in extremely rare circumstances.
There are over 200,000 vehicle fires a year in the US, all of them ICE vehicles, yet because the Volt is a new product people are trying to paint it as more dangerous than it really is.  Any vehicle has risks, any energy storage container, be it battery or fuel tank, has the potential for mayhem, and nothing can be made completely safe.  However, in the real world, the Volt has proven to be safer than most other vehicles on the road, and with the planned upgrades it should be safer still.  I'd be much more concerned with the Volt's gas tank in a crash than it's battery pack.  The LEAF, an EV with a larger, but air cooled battery pack, has had no issues in any crash test or real world accidents.  Nor have any of the crashed Tesla Roadsters, with even larger yet liquid cooled packs.  At this point EV's are proving to be statistically safer than ICE vehicles, as I would expect, and that trend is likely to continue.

Coolant cause of shorts
Battery Upgrades
Vehicle Fires