Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Who Killed The Electric Car?

That is the name of a documentary I watched recently which outlines the origins and sporadic existence of the electric vehicle from its inception in the 1830’s to present day. The filmmaker did an exceptional job of presenting an unbiased look at the advances and hindrances that proponents of electric vehicles, hereafter referred to as EV’s, have faced over nearly two centuries of stunted advances.  He showed that contrary to what the oil companies would have you believe, there is sufficient demand and desire for EV’s to justify mass production by the major auto makers. He also revealed a handful of thought provoking facts that more or less prove that the opinions of large corporations largely outweigh consumer demand.

Many automakers would have you believe that EV technology if still too far away to justify mass production. This is simply untrue. The GM EV1 program showed that a car could service the needs of a commuter in a major metropolitan center. With a range of 80-120 miles on a single charge, when the average commute is only 29 miles, the EV1 was an optimistic spot on an otherwise bleak landscape. The zero emission cars could easily keep up with freeway traffic at 70mph and unless told, you would never even know they were there. They were stylish, quiet, dependable, useful and used no fossil fuels. Herein lies the problem.

Major fuel producers, and their powerful  government lobbyists, will never allow EV’s to compose a substantial  portion of today’s automotive production. The old corporate practice of buying competitors you cannot beat came into reality in 1994 when GM purchased controlling interest in Ovonics and later sold that interest to Texaco in 2001. Ovonics, founded by Stanford Ovshinshky, made major advances in NiMH battery technology that extended the range of the electric car to 150 miles on a single charge. Unfortunately, GM scrapped the EV1 program before these batteries became commercially available.    

It seems now that instead of moving forward, the auto industry has decided to take a detour and explore hydrogen technology. They are of the opinion that a car, that currently costs $1,000,000, has the potential to supplant the EV as the solution to our future needs. They believe that, even though the infrastructure is not in place, hydrogen is a clean, efficient and viable alternative to fossil fuels. While I agree with this in principle, I also see that it is fundamentally flawed thinking at its best. If our true goal is to reduce our dependency on traditional fuels and instead use readily available renewable resources, then hydrogen is not the answer.

I think the only viable, long term solution is an EV supported by solar produced electricity. Solar technology has advanced to the point that it is now financially viable and commercially available in most parts of North America. Because it is naturally occurring, it is the only true zero emissions energy source and is inexhaustible. Even hydrogen, a very clean fuel, pollutes the environment during it production and delivery.

So who did kill the electric car? I think the answer to this question is far more difficult to answer than I first believed. I think that our world’s collective opinion has to pass the point of critical mass, where the environment is an everyday concern instead of a passing conversation. Until this happens we will continue to follow the easiest path and will be at the mercy of major corporations and their interpretation of our needs.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, 25 November 2011


It is amazing how much of a role perspective has in our understanding of our world. A simple change in thinking has a butterfly effect on the rest of our existence.

You are probably wondering by now what it is that has me waxing philosophical.

Yesterday, while returning home from an overnight trip, I was listening to a program on public radio. The debate was on whether or not to impose a moratorium on offshore oil exploration and drilling. Only a short time ago I would have been a proponent as I felt that we needed to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I would have also pointed out the fact that we need any options to create new jobs for the many out of work individuals in our world today. Although I still think the jobs are a much needed reality today, I think that we are looking at it from the wrong side of the equation.

As a collective world, we have the mentality of "if it's not broke, don't fix it". This narrow thinking has inadvertently limited us to accept what is readily available and most easily mass produced. For example, most people would not be aware that the first electric car was invented in the 1830's! In 1899 a Belgian built electric car set a land speed record of 68 mph! What has prevented the electric car from becoming a mainstream commodity? The easy answer is that we are told by the auto industry that the costs involved are too inhibitive and there is not enough consumer demand, but in reality this is not true. If electric cars were available on the mass market the demand would reach a point where the price could be reduced to a range that is comparable to conventionally powered vehicles.

Look at DVD players. When first available in 1997, a simple unit cost approximately $1500. Today a comparable unit costs $29. That's a price reduction of about 98% in only 15 years!

What would happen if we applied this formula to clean alternatives to our dependance on fossil fuels? It would mean that we would not have to further debate the issues of off shore oil drilling. It would mean that we would not have to have our coast lines jeopardized by our ever increasing need to feed our society with the power we thing we have to have. It would also mean that we could dictate to the manufacturers and energy providers what we are willing to pay and what products we desire.

To summarize the reason for my recent change in perspective I would have to use the word options. I have learned that there are affordable options for heat, electricity and growing my own food. I have learned that I can reduce my monthly budget by using free solar and wind power for a relatively low cost. I have also learned that most jurisdictions will pay me for my excess power which helps my neighbors reduce their dependance on fossil fuels.

Finally, I think the biggest lesson I learned is that we don"t have to believe something just because someone says it is true. The internet has allowed consumers to research any subject prior to making decisions on everyday issues and purchases. I think as a more educated world, you will see more and more opposition to further expansion of oil and gas drilling and the advent of more clean energy options.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, 19 November 2011

Experimenting With The Kids

Today we decided to dig out the Power House experimental kit we bought as part of our homeschooling curriculum. The kit included the materials to build a simple structure, with a greenhouse, and includes enough materials to do 70 different solar experiments. Since solar energy is a passion of mine, I decided that it would be a great opportunity to spend time with my children and share the learning process with them. It is our eventual goal to be as close to off the grid or net zero as possible.

 As you can see, there are ALOT of small interesting pieces in the kit. All the items in the kit will be used at some point including the packaging! What a well thought out item.

The only thing that surprised me was the material they chose for the base structure. I guess I associated the whole concept of renewable energy with the idea of environmental awareness. I assume the Styrofoam was chosen to amplify the effects of the solar energy because of the small scale of the energy components.

The kit was very easy to assemble, with the exceptions of the small cardboard boxes used to fill the windows and doors. The instructions seem to have large gaps in them which require you to use minor deduction skills to finish the construction. A few more pictures would have been helpful as well.

Here is the completed house.

We attempted to do the first experiment which uses radiant energy to heat the greenhouse on the front of the structure. Unfortunately it is minus 16 degrees Celsius outside and completely  overcast. The instructions suggest using a 60 watt incandescent light bulb as an alternative. Foiled again! We searched the house from top to bottom but there is not a single incandescent bulb in our house, only compact florescent. We will have to save this experiment for another day.

In a couple of days we will continue our experiments with radiant heating. The weather forecast is optimistic for next week so we should be able to get the expected reactions to each of the lessons.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, 14 November 2011

A New Beginning

Ever have one of those moments where your perception of your life changes and you finally see things clearly? It's that moment when you realize that you have been swimming against the current to get to a destination that has been within your reach the entire time.

My life's desire is to be financially secure. To have the ability to have all my needs met with little or no effort on my part. This does not mean that I want to lead a life of leisure or extravagance, it simply means I want my "needs" met. As an example, I want to buy groceries without a calculator, buy tires before they are completely worn and support worthy charities when called upon.

In the past I was focused on "getting ahead". I tried to accomplish this by putting in the extra effort at work, starting multiple businesses and participating in various multi-level marketing ventures. While there was nothing wrong with any of these avenues, nothing seemed to gel. The promotions at work never seemed to produce the added financial stability, the businesses helped but failed due to my administrative shortcomings. Multi-level marketing is a great opportunity for the average person with above average inter-personal skills and indeterminate will, in which I fell short on the latter. So what is the solution?

The simple life.....

I know, corny and idealistic right? My perception of the simple life extends past the common definition of the phrase. I am way too addicted to electronics and technology to give it all up in one fail swoop in trade for chickens and a straw hat. I cannot imagine being cut of from the information that I find instantly at my fingertips that pertains to every aspect of my life. I "pre-shop" items on my blackberry before I arrive at the store, I check my weather app almost daily and my banking can be done on the fly no matter where I am. It doesn't make sense to go back to writing checks, filling out envelopes, adding postage, mailing and then waiting a week to ten days for a check to clear when it can be done it 90 seconds electronically. Our time has to assigned a monetary value as well, so many meaningful things can be accomplished in the time we are gifted with by modern conveniences.

So how do we accomplish our goals? Simply, we will reduce, reuse and limit ourselves to primarily "needs" instead of "wants". This does not mean we will practice an unrealistic self-deprecating lifestyle which leads to binging on things that satisfy our feelings of depravity. It means that we will be smarter about how we structure our life.

For example, the community we live in has an average single family home cost of around $300,000. The mortgage payment would be around $1800 per month plus taxes and utilities. If we were to move today, 8 hours to the south, we can purchase a comparable home for $40,000 with a mortgage payment of $425 per month. This is a monthly saving of $1375 or $16500 per year. This means that instead of needing a job that pays $60,000 per year, a job paying $43, 500 would do. We will be moving in 2012 to accomplish this. We decided on a less conventional solution to this part of our life though. We bought 21 acres of bare land and plan to live in a converted school bus while we build our house.

Another area of our life that we intend on changing is our dependency on traditional energy. We plan on building a self-contained, or close to, solar energy system to power our home and provide hot water. The technology exists at a reasonable price so it makes sense to take advantage of it.

Fact: Residential hot water accounts for 30% of home energy usage!

Food production will also play a part in our path to self-sufficiency. We plan on using a variety of growing techniques and animal sources to provide wholesome foods at realistic prices.

We will be posting information on our life as it progresses in the hope that it may encourage others to gain a new perspective as well.

Thanks for visiting,