Nuclear-Powered Cars, Tesla, Al Gore, Solar Power, Elon Musk, and More: A Broad Spectrum Column

OK, I’m trying to figure out cars. Especially the electric and nuclear-powered ones. Mostly the fizzing and fuming about how great electrics are, or maybe the end of civilization, seems political. Liberals love them because they will prevent pollution, end global warming, and maybe stop hair loss. Libertarians hate them because they associate them with clean air, federal subsidies, and Al Gore. If Al Gore came out in favor of sex, libertarians would stop reproducing.

Now, according to the excellent automotive columnist, Eric Peters, nobody wants e-cars because they cost too much, don’t go far enough before the battery dies, and take to long to refill. This all seems to be true. Now, anyway. (He also says cars will be boring when they all have the same quiet, tedious electric motors. He may have something. Would you buy a Harley if it just made a gentle soughing sound?)

But all these objections come down to the battery, no? If you could make the dratted thing go, say, six hundred miles on a charge, then after a long day’s driving on a road trip, you could plug during lunch, or overnight at the hotel and have a full tank in the morning.

Maybe the batteries will never get cheap enough. Maybe they will explode like Samsung telephones or hand grenades.The longest-lived I have heard of is Tesla’s barely-over-three hundred mile version, and somehow they never say three hundred miles of what kind of driving.

Still, if I were forced to drive a Tesla (I sure as hell wouldn’t buy one for $35K, and lots more for the big battery.) I wouldn’t notice the difference ninety-five percent of the time, if at all. Few of us often drive three hundred miles in a day.

Next, China. (This column is going to jump around some. Get used to it.). The Chinese are going hard into Duracell cars, both funny little ones and normal ones, but they have a different government and different problems. One problem is pollution. In Beijing, it is said, you can cut the air into blocks and build walls with them. Since much of China is densely urban, and lots of Chinese are getting middle class and want cars, this is pretty serious. At least if you like breathing. Anyway, they have loads of e-cars, from funny little sort-of cars to real ones.

A funny little electric car. Think of the Energizer bunny. Beats a motor scooter in a rain storm. China is neck-deep in all sizes and shapes. Including trucks. 

So next year, they say, they will introduce an $8K electric car that won’t be much of a car but perfectly adequate for commuting and going to malls. To get around the charge-time problem, they are making the battery removable. In the gas station, they pull out the dead battery, shove in another, and you are refueled in ten minutes. Mostly you wouldn’t do this because you wouldn’t drain the battery in a day and at night you would plug it in at home.

Wiley rascals, those orientals.

So where does the electricity come from? From all kinds of generating plants, I guess–now. But if it came from nuclear power plants, then you would have a nuclear-powered car. See? And you would have zero pollution of the air.

You would also have much less need of any petroleum derivative, such as gasoline,  for ground transportation. Aha!

Now, I don’t know what the Chinese government has in mind. Mysteriously, Xi does not call to seek my advice. I suppose he wants to demonstrate his independence. I do know, though, that Beijing worries because it doesn’t have oil of its own.  China depends on Mideastern oil which Washington, now in the pathologically aggressive last years of its empire, could cut off.

Further, China is the world leader in small nuclear reactors (the Nimble Dragon) packaged as local power sources. This critter will be about the size of a bus, fit on a truck, and produce less than 300 MW. it will be much cheaper than big ones, and not require the overkill of a big plant in a small city. You could charge a gret passel of cars with one. I don’t know whether the Chinese have thought of this. I will take bets, though.

We have now covered nuclear-powered cars. Onward to solar energy. Again, libertarians are against it, probably because Al Gore thinks it is a good idea. For entirely un-mysterious reasons, oil companies and electric utilities are against it. Me, I am for it. It is free, and doesn’t smell bad. (This really does have something to do with cars. Sort of. Wait.)

Here in Mexico, many people, including yours truly, use solar hot-water heaters.They work fine, almost always, and provide a tremendous savings on propanel, and pay for themselves in a year or two, depending on the exchange rate. A great idea, unless you sell propane.

Others here get their electricity from photovoltaic panels. These cost more and the payback time is longer, and there are various ways you can do it–tie into the electric grid, or go off grid with batteries. But they work.

Now we arrive, again, at Elon Musk. (All roads lead to Elon, even if you need to launch a spaceship.) He is now selling photovoltaic Elon Tiles, You put them on your entire roof, which he claims is not killer expensive. Considering that three or four panels a few feet square run entire houses here, a Musk roof might power an aircraft carrier.

Of course, you may not have an aircraft carrier.

Not too surprisingly, Mr. Musk suggests that you buy one of his Tesla electric cars and charge it with an Elon Tile roof, storing the current in  one of his battery packs, which he knows about because Teslas use batteries.

How well all of this will work, or parts of it, I don’t know. Maybe car batteries have peaked out and won’t get better, and electric cars will just be look-at-me toys for the over-moneyed. Maybe Elon Tiles won’t work for some reason I can’t think of. But if I were a gasoline company, or electric utility especially, I believe I believe I would look for an anxiety-management clinic.

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