The Land Rover Writer

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fill 'Er Up With Electricity?

This past week in Maine, over 145,000 homes lost power in a storm that began early Monday morning. Three days later, over 20,000 homes and businesses remain without electrical service. Regional power companies note that the high amount of snow, poor road conditions, and extreme weight of the moisture-laden snow all contributed to the slow restoration of power.

Am I the only one rethinking plug-in cars?

We lose power routinely enough in northern New England that we know to gas up the vehicles before the onset of a major storm. My 1966 Series II-A has a range of about 200 miles on its 12-gallon tank, and I can always fill additional gas cans should conditions become extreme. By the time I've travelled 200 miles, I can be reasonably certain that the power company has restored electrical power.

What if I had a plug-in car?

First off, I would be doing a lot of walking right now. Secondly, the surge on the power grid - thousands of owners charging up their cars all at once - would be enormous and likely unsustainable. Thirdly, a lot of goods and services would be undeliverable because we made the shift to plug-in electric cars before we constructed the infrastructure to support them.

Dutch Mandel of Autoweek has wisely noted that we could reduce our petroleum consumption by 1.5 million per day just by increasing the diesel fleet of our cars and trucks by 30%. Virtually all Land Rovers sold in the UK and Europe use diesel engines - you can't even get a Defender in the UK with a petrol engine. Across Europe, 53% of the cars sold are diesels; in the US, the diesel fleet constitutes 5% of all cars sold here.

Diesels burn cleaner overall than petrol engines, perform about the same, yet deliver up to 30% better mileage. The US would need to mesh its emissions standards to that of the EU in order for us to get more diesel powered cars here more rapidly, but once manufacturers have ramped up production for the US market, we could then jointly plan for emissions standards that meet both European and American concerns.

Yes, I know you could start up the home generator to produce electricity to plug in your hybrid, but doesn't that defeat the purpose?

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