Daily Archives: October 9, 2011

Contemplating an electric future, Wreck-free Sunday

I’m thinking about the future my grandkids will exist in by projecting from existing technology. I have been playing with the ebikes.ca motor/bicycle simulator with specs from LifeBatt on their 20Ah LiFePO4 cells (which have been improved recently) and the current laws for e-assist in TX. By doing this I’m assuming that there will be no real improvement in either motors or controllers, and that batteries are only going to have marginal improvement.

Actually I have made one assumption that the US national speed limit is reduced to 30 MPH. I have nothing to base this on, just hoping that someone with a little sense takes control…

Anyway, using those assumptions, and plugging the numbers into the simulator it’s possible to maintain our current suburban lifestyle by changing to a combination of a streamlined e-assist commuter bike to carry one person to a job ~20 miles each way, and a e-assist cargo bike to haul the supplies from the grocery store, or other stores with a trailer (you can haul things you would not believe with a cargo bike hauling a trailer, with or without assist) If you don’t have to climb any major hills on your commute a 3KWh battery pack will last an entire week on a single charge. Throw some 10% grades in there and you will have to charge 3 times a week, but not many people live in places that have extended grades of 10%.

In short, with a little help from the government in making roads bicycle-safe, using e-assist for a commute is not just possible but easy, using e-assist for a lifestyle is not quite as easy as using an SUV today but still not nearly as difficult as some people would make you think. The big thing is to reduce surface street speeds to bicycle-friendly as gas prices go up (and gas taxes go up with them).

The sticking point will be developing a non-fossil fueled electric grid. Obviously solar, wind, and tidal power will be a big part of that, but I don’t know what else will be in the mix. I have been talking to people in government and zoning laws will require south-facing roofs to have solar shingles in the near future, putting a large amount of power in the grid (at wholesale pricing to the building owner). One thing I don’t see is adding more hydro-electric to the mix, for one thing most of the suitable sites to put dams have already been used, for a second thing hydro causes a large loss of habitat for endangered species in the few places where new dams are physically feasible. One thing I do see as possible/probable is large scale conversion of hydrogen on the coasts and especially in the Gulf, with the H2 going to fuel aircraft and pipelines to generating plants in places where there isn’t enough wind or sun to make electricity. That would probably extend the life of current natural gas generating plants, probably with some co-generation using the waste heat in the turbine exhaust.

One thing I see as more likely on the vehicle front is a shift to velomobiles with 3 or more wheels for most commuters instead of bikes, especially for places where icy roads are common in the winter. There are some people that just can’t ride bicycles, and there are a lot of people who can’t ride a streamlined bike in low-traction conditions, so because of that I see lots of trikes in the future. It’s a lot easier to drive a streamlined trike than it is to drive a streamlined bike, at the cost of a bit of tire scrub in turns for the trike.

So, in short I see a slower future with higher energy costs, healthier people, and solar power everywhere.