Does this mean we’ll all suddenly have solar panels and electric cars? Hardly. Some people have requirements that an electric vehicle can’t handle. If you’re packing your family of four and their worldly belongings into a vehicle and attaching your trailer to the tow hitch, there’s nothing pure electric that I’m aware of that will do the trick. But a biodiesel power plant is an interesting renewable energy solution for heavy-duty requirements.
The other challenges for electrified driving are structural. In Northern California, Pacific Gas & Electric Company asserts that its current grid can handle the charging requirements of up to twenty percent of the vehicle population in the market they serve. But that’s not really the case when you do a bit of digging. There’s that problem of neighborhood power distribution that raises its ugly head when everyone gets home at six or so and plugs in. And there’s the city apartment dweller who’s the perfect candidate for an electric vehicle. Where does he or she plug in?
Hydrogen has another structural, and in my view, practical challenge. As a fuel, hydrogen can power an electric vehicle through fuel cells or it can be burned in a modified internal combustion engine. The good news is that the byproduct of this effort is water. On the other hand, we produce hydrogen fuel by either natural gas reforming or electrolyzing the water. And when it’s all done, there’s no delivery infrastructure. If you’re placing bets on a carrier of energy, don’t double down on this one as a mainstream player.
Biodiesel is intriguing. There are impressive geeks near where I live who fill their tanks at the local fast food restaurant for free and feel their French fry oil burner is smoke free. The effort includes keeping the fuel warm so it doesn’t turn to gelatin and modifications to their elderly mechanical diesel engines. If you’re reasonably handy, like able to build useful stuff from random spare parts, it’s an interesting way to go. Otherwise, don’t try this at home.
Biofuels can become part of clean diesel engine technology. The newest engines available from such companies as Volkswagon and Mercedes-Benz are as clean as the best gas engines and much more efficient. And most can run on up to ten percent refined biofuel. The best thing government can do to help this technology is to get the hell out of the way with its ever-changing standards that stifle innovation and keep fuel prices high.
These are challenges that are best solved with a combination of government and private industry. Politicians have become fond of talking about spending on infrastructure and how to pay for it. So here’s an idea. How about a coherent energy policy where we add a reasonable tax to gasoline, thereby encouraging fuel sipping and then use every cent of that revenue to address these structural needs?