I sing the body electric (with apologies to both Walt Whitman and Ray Bradbury)
Let’s take a moment to think about electricity. Think about a world in which we extend the use of electricity beyond our light bulbs, refrigerators and computers. Think about a world in which our transportation system is energized by electricity rather than by fossil fuels. What would that be like?
We have had electricity-based mass transit for years. Subways are universally moved by electricity. Trains are moved by electricity in many parts of the world, especially the high-speed trains that are widely used in Europe and Japan. Buses are electrified in some cities.
But our ubiquitous form of transportation, the automobile, stubbornly clings to fossil fuels. Even the small steps towards hybrid vehicles are based on fossil fuels, and only use the electric portion to extend the range of the gas or diesel used.
Pure electric vehicles are still few and far between, but seem to be increasing. The best-known example is Tesla Motors, backed by Elon Musk (founder of Paypal). But other electric car companies are beginning to take the initial steps towards mass production of vehicles that could have a gentler impact on the planet.
- India’s Tata Motors announced today that they plan to market an electric vehicle in Norway within one year (India’s Tata to launch electric car in Norway in 1 yr – from Reuters).
- Zap! sells electric scooters, and is taking reservations for electric cars (ZAP Electric Cars).
- Toyota, while trimming expectations for sales of gas-based cars and trucks in 2009, announced plans to launch an electric car “in the early 2010s” (Toyota Trims ’09 Outlook, Plans Electric Car – BusinessWeek).
- General Motors continues to inch towards manufacturing of the Chevy Volt, announcing that it has selected a battery supplier (GM picks Chevy Volt battery maker – Detroit Free Press).
But even if we can assume that electric cars make it to market, that is only a small piece of an overall solution. We would also need more power generation and more effective and efficient power distribution systems. Don’t forget that just a few short years ago, California came to a standstill because it could not purchase enough electricity to run the economy – which directly lead to the recall of Gov. Gray Davis and the election of “the Governator.”
On the generation side, I have been both researching and investing in solar generation and wind generation. These are investments for the long-term, and I fully expect that many of the early companies will fail before they solve both the technical and business problems needing solutions for a commercial success.
On the distribution side, I’m just getting started – but I am excited about the intellectual challenge of helping to solve this perplexing and important puzzle.