The past two years have been a time of explosive growth in the exploration and development of everything electric. All forms of transportation from bicycles to aircraft have undergone re-engineering to create rechargeable electric-powered analogs to petroleum-fueled legacy vehicles. The RV industry lags in this technology, but manufacturers are working on it.
A prominent factor in the popular interest in and acceptance of the concept of electric vehicles has been the success of the Tesla automobile. There are now thousands of Teslas on the road, and all legacy manufacturers have entered the field to produce electric vehicles (“EVs”). Tesla recently introduced a commercial EV semi-tractor that incorporates a massive battery pack 1,000 kWh of power capacity. That will take a lot of charging.
How to recharge the batteries of EVs?
An entire industry has arisen around the need to recharge the batteries of EVs. The most ambitious of these seek to maximize and leverage solar power but, so far, the limits of solar power generation preclude meeting the demand for electric power to recharge EV batteries. In any event, the process of charging with solar is problematically slow, and is unreliable in all but the sunniest of climates. Consequently, EV charging stations are often powered by legacy petroleum-fueled technologies, such as coal-fired electric power plants or diesel generators. It has not gone unnoticed that such charging systems defeat the purpose of “clean” electric-powered vehicles.
Chuck Justus, president of Evergreen Mobile Power based in St. Louis, Missouri, wrote in the December 5, 2022, issue of Butane-Propane News:
To save money, you are going to burn diesel fuel in a generator rather than the tractor? Does that save carbon emissions? Well, that doesn’t really add up to me either. My response to this scenario is that there is no bigger hypocrisy than to charge a battery off a diesel engine. You see it already on social media. There’s a remote vehicle charging station located in “Nowhereville USA.” The cellphone video shows the electric cars charging up and then pans around the corner to show a dirty diesel engine chugging away in the name of cleaner cars. It gets millions of views and is shared around the world in minutes flat. It is truly counterproductive—a classic “cart-before-the-horse” situation.
Propane, a fuel derived through the process of natural gas production, is a cleaner alternative to gasoline and diesel. The propane fuel industry claims that Liquid Propane Gas (LPG) emits 72 percent less sulfur oxide emissions than diesel, 31 percent less nitrogen oxide, and 17 percent less greenhouse gas. LPG as an alternative represents an improvement over other petroleum products for cleaner electric generation.
Fossil fuels are still the source of most of the energy in the U.S.
Despite the hype surrounding electric vehicles and the laudable gains made in producing and using cleaner fuels, fossil fuels are still the source of most of the energy generated and used in the U.S. Approximately 35 percent of the energy consumed in America is derived from petroleum. More than three-fourths of U.S. energy production is from fossil fuels, i.e., coal-fired electrical plants produce 17.8 percent of the total; 31.8 percent is produced from natural gas. Nuclear power, which once held the promise of limitless low-cost energy, supplies a mere 9.6 percent. Renewable energy from hydroelectric dams, biomass, geothermal, wind and solar, only 12.7 percent.
Two recent developments, the purported breakthrough in the science of energy derived from fusion, and the rapid advances being made using hydrogen fuel in transportation, show promise for an energy future probably still some years on the horizon.
A successful large-scale conversion of transportation to renewable “green” energy will require the convergence of technologies that are involved in the generation of power, the practical onboard storage of energy (e.g., higher capacity, lighter storage batteries), the reduction of the massive weight and impaired efficiencies of the vehicles themselves, along with the mitigation of cost and environmental impacts associated with the generation of the energy necessary to propel them.