Monday, September 08, 2008

Using Wind to Power Cars


Lester Brown calls T. Boone Pickens to task for pushing natural gas as a vehicle fuel when using wind to recharge electric cars is a much more efficient process (and far easier to implement).

Brown gives Pickens credit for the wind power side of his argument in an opinion piece for The Capital Times, but sees no sense in the natural gas advocacy. In this piece, he asks:

Why not use the wind-generated electricity to power cars directly? Natural gas is still a fossil fuel that emits climate-changing gases when burned.

Plug-in cars are here, nearly ready to market. We just need to put wind in the driver's seat. Several major auto manufacturers, including GM, Ford, Toyota and Nissan, are producing plug-in hybrids. Both Toyota and GM are committed to marketing plug-in hybrids in 2010. Toyota might even try to deliver a plug-in version of its Prius gas-electric hybrid, the bestseller whose U.S. sales match those of all other hybrids combined, next year.

GM is in the game, too, with its Chevrolet Volt. This plug-in car is essentially an electric car with an auxiliary gasoline engine that generates electricity to recharge the batteries when needed. It boasts an all-electric range of 40 miles, more than adequate for most daily driving. GM reports that under typical driving conditions, the Volt averages 151 miles per gallon.

Brown goes on to say:

This new car technology is matched by new wind-turbine technology, setting the stage for an automotive-fuel economy powered largely by cheap wind energy. The Energy Department notes that North Dakota, Kansas and Texas alone have enough wind energy to easily satisfy national electricity needs. To actually put wind power on the road, of course, we would have to tap the wind resources in nearly all the states, plus those that are off-shore, which the department says can meet 70 percent of national electricity needs.

Who is right? I'm inclined to cast my vote in favor of Occam's Razor, or, as it is often paraphrased: All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best. Wind-powered plug-in hybrids appear to be the simplest solution.