Friday, May 29, 2009

It's not easy being green

While conspiracy theorists clamour over which tyrannical corporate cabal killed the electric car, many major car makers are preparing to unveil the next generation of electrified clever cars. Regardless of your belief in CO2 induced global warming and the impact (if any) that mankind may have on this natural process, crude oil is a finite resource. Be it 10, 50, or 100 years in the future, eventually we will require a substitute to fossil fuel for personal and industrial locomotion.

Until that day when the eggheads at Ballard Power can devise a viable and effective hydrogen fuel celled engine, our options are limited. I long for the day when I can wake up in the morning and drain my bladder into my gas tank to propel myself to work. In the meantime, electricity would appear to be our most logical avenue. Before the shareholders of Archer Daniels Midland espouse the marvels of Ethanol I will offer an ominous warning; tapping into the food supply to help satisfy our insatiable appetite for fuel, what could possibly go wrong? And to those who proclaim that we must drastically increase our imports of Brazilian sugar ethanol to fight Global Warming; are you suggesting that we tap into the millions of acres of sugar cane growing in the dirt where the rain forests once consumed massive amounts of carbon? Do we really want to offer Brazil more incentive to replace rain forests with sugar fields? But I suppose that caring about the rain forests is so 1980’s…

Thus electricity in the near term is the most efficient means of powering our propulsion (aside from crude oil that is). Let’s assume that environmental activists are successful and we end up with a Chevy Volt in every driveway? Question: What happens when you dramatically increase the demand for electricity by millions of mega watts daily? Answer: Unless you simultaneously increase the capacity to produce it, the price of electricity will emulate sky rockets in flight. How many wind turbines does it take to power a million Volts? Needless to say, I have serious doubts that we will be able to increase capacity sufficiently to power this seemingly inevitable revolution of electric cars. Demand for this critical resource will grow exponentially faster than our ability to produce it.

The developed world is so definitively dependent on electricity for so many critical functions in every day life that any significant price shock would have disastrous consequences. The Obama Administration is steadfast in its desire to create new green technology, a renewable means of replacing a non renewable resource. That is a noble endeavour and I hope that they are successful. But forgive me for being skeptical of the ability of the government to build enough wind turbines and solar panels to replace oil and coal anytime soon. Barak, as dignified as your dream of a green revolution may be, just remember that a wise amphibian once said, “It’s not easy being green"...


  1. The world is floating on oceans of oil, the alberta oilsands have over seven hundred years of production capacity. Battery powerd vehicles present their own problems. The earth is cooling yet they carry on. Why? because they are all nut's thats why.How is it possible for sixty percent of the population to be nut's, that is the real question.

  2. Well put! Let's look at the options for producing electricity then. Governments around the world - including all jurisdictions in Canada - are looking at the same options:
    1. Solar/Wind/Wave (green) technology: can't bring the necessary overall capacity and can't match the ebbs and flows of peak and low demands cycles.
    2. Hydro technology: almost all rivers are tapped to their maximum amount. Facing the ceiling of their use right now.
    3. GeoThermal technology: sure, sounds really cool but, it is location specific for maxium efficiency and very costly to set up. Still, it should be something governments look into.
    4. Nuclear: a constant source of electicity with little CO2 emissions. The cons are storage of spent fuel rods but, in the end, the only viable source of energy given our immediate technological sophistication. I think this is why many jurisdictions are going with nuclear.