Friday, July 16, 2010

Green Stimulus

Just over a year ago, June 27, 2009, I wrote:

Hands on Stimulus News:
A government installation I do work for got one of these today:

Look at that price tag. It's a little steep for a flimsy plastic box that goes 25 mph tops. It's cute, but it shouldn't be counted as an electric vehicle. It's not a car; it's a golf cart. (made by Chrysler, btw) This option is the giveaway:

Now, don't get me wrong, golf carts are fine for some things. And this installation can use a few of these in places they already have golf carts. But that's the thing - they already have golf carts. They didn't need another one just to increment a government electric vehicle fleet number up by one.

Guess how much use it's gotten since I wrote that? Just about none. What happened was that a few brave souls drove it around for the novelty the first week it was here and it's been mainly parked since then.

I say "mainly parked" because I get on them to charge it every month or two, because its batteries will sulfate and die if it sits too long without a charge.

Your tax dollars at work. Phase one.

Phase two is what our technonovice president has been doing this past week:

He's been out telling the battery story:
Standing at a podium in a muddy construction site, Obama celebrated the groundbreaking of an advanced car battery factory that the White House predicts will produce 300 permanent jobs. It was his fourth battery-related trip as president, and it came as the White House makes an aggressive push to tell what one senior official called "the battery story" — the tale of a small piece of technology that could affect daily life and spur employment if properly nurtured.

But the administration's $2.4 billion investment in the development of batteries and other electric-car technology in the United States is an enormous bet on a product that has yet to gain broad commercial success. Major manufacturers have yet to sell electric cars in the United States. Hybrids, though they have been around for a decade, represent less than 1 percent of the nation's roughly 250 million-vehicle fleet.

"The battery story is highly questionable," said Menahem Anderman, the founder and chief executive of Total Battery Consulting. "Basically, there's really no proven market, neither electric vehicle nor plug-in hybrid electric vehicle -- and there's really no battery company in the United States that has a verified product."

Although U.S. battery makers could export their products, the global market is glutted, according to analysts. Anderman said global capacity to build car batteries in 2014 will be three times greater than demand that year.

Sadly for me, I know batteries. (I say sadly, because I spent this afternoon in the hot sun installing $18,000 worth of batteries I sold the government for a total profit of possibly $300. Why couldn't I have gotten into $900 toilet seats?)

And though I mainly work with lead acid batteries, I've followed the other battery technologies closely. And all current technologies have serious drawbacks. Obama was in a truck manufacturer earlier this week promoting Lithium Iron Phosphate battery technology. (and it is cool) But go on a google shopping trip for Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries: they're hugely expensive. And you know you're going to need to replace them. How many of you would buy a car that you were guaranteed would need many thousands in repairs at the end of five years?

It is worthwhile to put money into R&D. I have faith that one day there will be a way to make cheap, lightweight, and powerful batteries; and even cheap solar panels, maybe. But it is a waste to pour billions into building factories to produce batteries that don't make the grade and aren't needed.