Monday, May 9, 2011

If Electric Cars are More Than a Century Old, then WTF?

As I sat in a diner this morning waiting for my breakfast to-go order to arrive, I had my choice of three televisions behind the bar, one of which was tuned to Fox News. The pundits were debating why the President was encouraging Brazil to drill for oil despite ignoring repeated requests to drill for oil in the United States.

His motives behind such talks with Brazil are obvious: Strike up a deal with a country that's not already gouging us, get cheap gas. Better their country than ours, right? After all, drilling for oil in our country is restricted because it's dangerous to the environment, and we've got to protect Mother Earth, correct?

I left the diner with my food and saw three electric cars parked out front. Not hybrids; not Nissan Leafs (Leaves?). These are more like souped-up golf carts, and they're called Red Bugs.

Jekyll Island has a long history of the Red Bug. Used in the early 20th century by the millionaires that frequented this island, the Red Bug was the preferred method of travel, and even back then, the little cars were fully electric, recharged by a powerhouse near their cottages. Ninety years later, the revamped carts have a similar top speed and range due almost entirely to the lack of revolution in battery technology.

Yes, that's right. People were driving fully electric vehicles back in the 1920s. Yes, they were millionaires, but the technology existed then just as it does now. Electric cars are not new technology, just certain components of them.

Jaguar just released a new battery-powered luxury vehicle with a seven figure price tag which has a thirty mile range, similar to that of other fully electric vehicles. When the battery's dead, twin jet turbines engage, burning gasoline, to recharge the batteries. For most of us, on our daily commute, we could arrive within that window and never have to fire our awesome jets. We'd just need an employer that would be cool with us charging our cars at work. Call it a benefit, like health insurance, and free Friday lunches.

Indeed, Peachtree City, Georgia has a notoriously complex golf cart road system. The retirees and golf enthusiasts here drive carts from their homes to the grocery store, to go out to eat, to dinner parties. There are even cart spaces in parking lots. Such communities proliferate and their gasoline consumption is significantly reduced. They've nearly beat the system by thinking rationally and working together.

The question, then, is not "Why are we not drilling for oil in the United States?" but rather "Why haven't we developed a reliable electric vehicle system in our major cities?" We all know we're ruining the earth, but with renewable energy sources—solar, wind, hydro— we should be able to generate power for our electric cars without damaging the Earth, right? Coal's better than gasoline, isn't it? Why haven't we moved into this?

Obviously, many will say that it has everything to do with oil barons' lobbyists hooking Senators up in some manner. But we're moving in that direction (see the aforementioned Nissan and Jaguar vehicles.)

Mid-day, my wife and I visited a brand new park on this island built within the past year, and as I pulled into a parking space, I noticed a 4-outlet power plug in between each pair of spaces. "Is that for campers?" my wife asked me. "No," I said, knowing that overnight camping is disallowed in this park, "that's to recharge your electric car." Being a state park, this means that the government is paying to recharge your Red Bug.

As gas hits $4 per gallon, an historic high, we're all asking questions. Among the favorites: Why are gas prices so high? Why isn't the President negotiating with the countries we import oil from? Why aren't we drilling for oil here, at home, in the United States?

Think about it: Rockefeller's children rode electric cars around this island almost a century ago, when roads were dirt, and ferrys were the preferred method of arrival. Why aren't electric cars uinversal?

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