Monday, September 12, 2011

What does the "right" have against energy efficiency?

Of all the no-brainers ever, the desire to become more energy efficient certainly tops any meaningful list.  Economically, the equation is simple--when you buy energy, you know for a fact that you are going to consume it and the overwhelming majority of it will end up as unusable waste heat.  There is a scientific law that covers these things: The second law of thermodynamics.  With energy, you buy it, you use it, and with rare exceptions, it's now gone.  So the less you need to use, the less you need to buy.  The less energy you need to buy, the more money you have for other things—including things you don't want to burn up.

Because I grew up around Mennonites, I discovered early that folks can have perfectly irrational discussions about technology and how much they would allow into their lives—for religious reasons.  For example, when I was a child, there were small groups of Mennonites for whom the telephone was a sign of sin—it encouraged gossip, it demonstrated pride, etc.  Not long ago, I was near where these people lived and discovered they have now decided that CELLphones are just fine.  So apparently, what they really objected to was land lines and telephone poles.  Or whatever.  I didn't ask.  I heard too many discussions about these matters as a child and they now creep me out.

But at least the Mennonites TRY to make sense.  The Tea Party objections to energy efficient light bulbs or Rush Limbaugh's demented rant against Motor Trend awarding its Car of the Year award to the Chevy Volt are just crazy.  With light bulbs, the math is overwhelming and swapping out a lightbulb is so easy, the task has inspired a 1000 jokes.  With the Volt, GM has demonstrated a formula for actually making the transition to post-petroleum transportation.  Motor Trend called this demonstration project ground-breaking and they are probably right—because the Volt is an idea that can be built in dozens of configurations, it is precisely the sort of thing the automakers and their customers just love.

The rest of the automotive press seems enchanted:

Newsweek did a summary:
Chevrolet Volt - What the Auto Press Says
The 2011 Chevrolet Volt ranks 2 out of 21 Upscale Midsize Cars. This ranking is based on our analysis of 25 published reviews and test drives of the Chevrolet Volt, and our analysis of reliability and safety data. Car reviewers have been buzzing about the Volt ever since Chevrolet floated the idea of an extended-range electric car. With plenty of test-drives under their belts, reviewers agree that the Volt, which is the 2011 North American Car of the Year, exceeds their expectations.
Car and DriverElectric Revival: Not only did it not kill the electric car, GM's reinvented it. 
Edmunds come complete with a long-term test and concludes: The 2011 Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid is arguably the most fuel-efficient car on the market, but it's pricey for what you get.
Businessweek claims: The new plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volt is a great little car. It's green, comfortable, and peppy. Too bad about the price
Ah yes, the price.  If there is always one thing that trips up the folks with the slum landlord mentality, it's price.

Veblen told us that according to the laws of Leisure Class respectability, the price of something is always to be debated if the object in question is useful.  Because the Volt will have an effective 100 mpg, we are talking VERY useful.  Of course, if the performance feature was the ability to accelerate to 60 mph in under 5 seconds, or the function of a Hummer that was never driven off-road was to advertise the driver's tiny penis, these features are useless so we never have to get angry over the costs.

A trouble-free, well-engineered electric car should command a premium.  The BEST feature of my LS is the quiet and lack of vibration.  If Lexus can do this with an internal combustion engine, imagine what they could do with an electric motor.  Quiet cars are also the perfect platform for premium sound systems.  If something like a sub 5-second 0-60 time can command a premium price and is a feature you will never use, why shouldn't a car with a great sound system that doesn't beat you up—something you use every day—also command a price bump?

And here's a guy who asks the same question.
Ignorance and the art of electric car bashing

There has been a lot of misinformed commentary, being passed off as fact, appearing in mainstream newspapers lately about the supposed “disaster” that is the electric vehicle. Much of it is appearing in the Ontario press, presumably to attack the current Liberal government’s supportive policies in this area in the lead-up to October’s provincial election. My Clean Break column this week in the Toronto Star offers a reality check:
Tyler Hamilton 
There is a certain curmudgeonly segment of the population that seems to despise new, attention-grabbing technologies, particularly those that hold the potential to make the world a better place. 
Electric vehicles fit all three categories, and this is probably why they have been criticized so much over the past two years – or past two weeks, for that matter. 
The following points are almost always emphasized, and confidently passed off as “unwelcome facts” in attempts to prove electric vehicles are just a passing fad:
  • They’re too expensive and always will be;
  • They don’t drive far enough on a single charge and this will always be a problem;
  • They’re not really green if the electricity you charge them with is dirty;
  • Electric cars have come and gone in the past, and this time is no different.
Let’s start with cost. They do come at a premium and will for the next few years. But how is “premium” defined? 
The roughly $42,000 (before rebate) price tag for the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid or $39,000 for the all-electric Nissan Leaf is high when you compare it to a Honda Civic or Mazda 3, but not for folks who opt to purchase an Acura TL. 
Why would consumers purchase an Acura TL when they could get a Honda Civic instead? I’m not sure, but they do. Maybe it’s faster, or has extra features that appeal to certain individuals. 
Similarly, electric vehicles such as the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf will appeal to those who want the latest technology, better performance, place a higher value on clean transportation, and are tired of being gouged at the gas pumps. more

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