Since I took the plunge and decided to buy an electric vehicle as my next car from Better Place, I’ve been following news on various green energy and driving web sites: not a corner of the net I’d spent much time in before. I’ve seen no good reason to believe human activity is wholly responsible for the slowly varying climate that was slowly varying long before man started burning stuff in vast quantities a few hundred years ago. I’m not saying we have no impact, but I am saying that we can’t work out what impact (good or bad) we have so we’re better off investing our amazing inventive talents in adapting to change as we’ve done throughout sentient human time on the Earth.
So the news that Volvo has made an innovative step with a sophisticated combination of fully electric car for driving and some small use of a liquid fuel (ethanol or petrol) for heating up the car is a great example. I see plenty of non climate reasons for driving down our use of petrol (gasoline): the main one is to reduce our transfer of vast wealth to the OPEC rulers who hold the swing production today.
Using either petrol or bio-ethanol, the liquid fuel system works in concert with the electric heaters when the car is first started to quickly reach a comfortable temperature for the occupants.
Once the cabin temperature has risen, the car’s electric heaters turn off, using only the liquid fuel tank for heating. According to Volvo technicians, its 3.17 gallon tank can provide enough energy to heat the car for 24 hours at an impressively efficient rate of around 0.13 gallons per hour.
From a technical point of view, what Volvo has done is eminently sensible. Electric cars are practical today but they have a dramatically reduced range (20% or even more) in cold winter climates because running electric heaters is huge drain on batteries. Interestingly air conditioning is not such a big drain. Burning stuff, however, is very efficient so the combination of using the elctricity to drive the car and an almost insignificant amount of fuel to heat the car’s vital parts (battery and motor) and warm the occupants, is perfectly sensible.
This is where ideology bites: green ideological purists will now say the car is no longer zero emission! It might have trouble getting the tax breaks or the ability to drive in California’s sought after High Occupancy lanes. The solution is technically correct but falls between extremes.
What it represents is a moderate electric car in a world screaming for extremes.