Saturday, December 23, 2006

How it all began...

The purpose of this blog is to explain why I decided to convert a car to run on 100% electric power, and give anyone who is remotely interested in doing this themselves visibility into the process I've been going through over the past six months since I made the decision to "go electric." The first post will focus on how my interest in electric vehicles began, and what I am trying to accomplish with this conversion.

Prior to June 2006, I had put absolutely 0% of my brain power towards thinking about electric cars. I have never been especially interested in cars; I have never driven fast, or fancy cars, and in fact, generally try to avoid having anyone see the white 1996 Plymouth Grand Voyager mini-van that I drive as my primary commuter vehicle since it often seems to be the butt of jokes around more sophisticated autophiles. However, sometime in early June, my whole perspective changed.

On that fateful day, my wife Corrinne and I went to see 'An Inconvenient Truth' on the advice of some friends that had recently seen the movie. I don't remember what our expectations were going in to the movie. We consider ourselves pretty environmentally conscious: Corrinne is often reminding me to turn off lights in rooms that I have vacated, we recycle what we can, we've done some volunteer clean-up work, and we get mad when we hear about corporate pollution. But, that has really been the extent of our activism......until we saw the movie.

An 'Inconvenient Truth' is brilliant, scary, and leaves you realizing that we alone control the future of our climate and our earth. For those of you that haven't seen the film, or heard about it, I'll give you a brief synopsis. In the movie, former Vice President Al Gore attempts to convince the world that Global Warming is real and, if left unchecked, will have devastating consequences. He does this by giving a PowerPoint presentation on steroids. Gore shows a side of himself we never saw while he was in office, a side that is absolutely passionate about a cause, a side that puts his emotions and frustrations on his shirtsleeve.

He gives a presentation that is at once informational and absolutely mesmerizing. He does an incredible job debunking many of the anti-greenhouse arguments and leaving the audience realizing that there is no alternate ending to the story as long as the plot stays the same and humankind continues to throw CO2 in to the atmosphere at the current rate. He describes third world countries as even more destitute and first world countries stretched to the breaking point by massive flooding and economic disaster. I won't say more, other than I think every citizen should see it, whether or not they think Global Warming is something they should be worrying about. If you don't believe in Global Warming, still watch it, then do some of your own research, then make up your mind.

As the movie ended, I was struck with the inevitible question, "What can I do to raise awareness about Global Warming and our responsibility?" Walking out of the theatre, a couple of people that must have been similarly struck by the movie at an earlier time were handing out flyers that listed ways we could each help raise awareness and forestall Global Warming. I forget everything that was listed, but some items were simple conservations ideas like "turn off lights when you leave the house" and others called for political activism such as, "send mail to your congressman telling them to support the CAFE bills." I took the flyer home and went down the list; I decided I'd first start by mailing my congressman and senator about CAFE and Greenhouse gas emissions. I remember sending them mail, sitting back, and thinking "now what?" With a congress and president in power that are preoccupied with a war over oil I really didn't expect much to happen, so I started thinking more about what I could do. Looking at the other list of ideas, nothing really jumped out, until I looked at a line that suggested looking at alternative energy sources and linked to a calculator that would tell me how much greenhouse gas my activities caused in a year:

As I started adding up all of the sources of CO2 in my life I was shocked by how much CO2 was put out by my car. Assuming I drive only a modest 12,000 miles annually I will emit over 5 tons of CO2! I was startled by that number, and had to look back at my physics and chemistry days in college to realize that there was no error there, just good old laws of physics and molecular bonds at work. The short of it is, for every 1 gallon of gasoline burned in a car, roughly 19 pounds of CO2 are produced. This page has the some nice equations to explain the phenomena in more detail. This relationship between gasoline consumption and greenhouse gasses more than anything pushed me to think hard about what I could do to affect this reality.

Looking around I-5 on the way to work every morning, I was struck by how little diversity of automotive propulsion there was on the road around me. Thousands of cars streaming buy, day after day, all humming along, starting, stopping, burning gas. Oblivious to the homogeneity around us, we drive, not questioning why we are powering our cars by gasoline. Separate from the global warming issue, I also found myself pondering the futility of the current conflict in the middle east and how captive we are to ensuring the constant flow of oil from this volatile region. As much rhetoric as there has been about reducing our dependency on foreign oil, the fact remains that it can never be more than rhetoric, we simply do not have nearly enough domestic oil to sustain our current petroleum demands. We currently import 54% of our oil, and that # is expected to increase more than 10% in the next twenty years. Clearly, we need a change of course or we will continue to find ourselves forced to intervene in the middle east. I just found an interesting article here which pegs the cost of keeping a military force ready to intervene in the Middle East at $49 billion dollars per year. That would pay for a really nice fleet of electric cars!

All of these factors pushed me towards thinking of what I could do to encourage thinking "outside of the box" to the tens of thousands of fellow commuters that join me each day on the road. I settled on converting a car to run on electricity as a way to show that the status quo can be questioned, and that innovative forms of transportation like this can be more than just curiosities, but also a very practical and cost effective way to get around. I want to encourage everyone that sees my car driving along the road (it will be clearly labelled as electric) to think about the vehicles they have at home, and their chosen method of daily transportation and ask the same questions I have been asking myself. I guess I would be ripping off Apple if I said the motto of my quest is to encourage people to "Think Different" but that would really be the goal. Just like we have a choice between Apple or Windows, ATT or Cingular or Vonage, or DirecTV or local TV or cable TV we should be asking ourselves what kind of choice do we want to create for ourselves for our personal transportation.

In future posts I'll talk about the process I went through to get my car converted (it isn't yet done, so I'll talk about my experiences actually driving it when I get it on the road). I'll also discuss many of the trade-offs that you encounter with electric vehicles, many of the exciting cars being produced by companies like Tesla Motors and others in the next year. Till then, examine your transportation needs, and try to practice thinking different.

1 comment:

KD7SHU said...

It has been quite some time since you have posted on the EV project. The world is awaiting a progress update.