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By Matthew Stepp on Feb 21, 2013 with 10 responses

The Tesla-Broder Debate and What It Says About Decarbonizing Transportation

The Electric Highway

The New York Times reporter John Broder recently published his account of an East Coast road trip he took with the Tesla Model S electric vehicle (EV). It marked an important development: Tesla has opened two new public “supercharging” stations some 200 miles apart in Delaware and Connecticut that can fully replenish the Model S battery in an hour and potentially provide consumers the ability to drive the well-traveled Interstate 95 corridor at near-zero carbon emissions. Unfortunately, Broder’s test results came up short, showing the limitations of existing EV technology, the need for more innovation, and the division of opinions on how the United States should decarbonize transportation.

(Read More: Putting Some Emphasis on Electric Vehicle Charging Technology)

The set-up was simple: Broder was to travel from Washington D.C. to Milford, Connecticut in the souped-up Model S. But according to Broder, he faced a host of inconveniences as the Model S fell short of its projected 300 mile range, resulting in the car losing charge mid-drive and the need to re-route to find additional charging stations. Since then, he and Tesla CEO Elon Musk have traded accusatory statements, (Musk, Broder, Musk, Broder), with even the New York Times Public Editor chiming in with an investigation.

Tesla Model S (Wikipedia)

Tesla Model S (Wikipedia)

The back and forth ignited a mini-Internet firestorm. The Atlantic Wire, for example, heavily scrutinized Musk’s rebuttal while Chelsea Sexton at Wired defended Tesla by characterizing EVs as being different from gas cars and thus deserving of different expectations. “The day-to-day experience EVs offer is so much better than gas cars for 95% of driving. Long-distance road trips are among the last 5% of usage scenarios,” Sexton writes, before concluding that “it’s ridiculous to expect EVs to deliver the same experience as the incumbent product.”

This final point really gets to the heart of the debate. Ultimately, the Tesla vs. Broder spat is a proxy for the debate on how to best decarbonize the transportation sector.

Consumer Expectations

On one hand, there are those like Sexton (and David Roberts at Grist) that believe decarbonizing transportation requires fundamental changes in consumer behavior. The most often used comparison is the shift from land-line phones to mobile handsets. Mobile phones didn’t become a dominant technology by mimicking the performance of land-lines – they offered many new productivity features and robust social accessibility that made it easy and beneficial to rapidly change behavior, such as dealing with charging mobile batteries and being connected all day, even at a higher cost. EVs are like mobile phones because they require consumers to think differently about refueling, driving capabilities and route planning compared to what they’re used to. Some behavior change – more so than what Broder exhibited – must be expected.

David Roberts takes this a step further and assumes that consumers also need to reframe their expectation of the transportation system as a whole, from sprawl, highways, and long commutes to urban centers, public transportation, and short trips. In this sense, decarbonizing transportation requires consumers to change how and where to live and travel. In this context, EVs have a small role to play as a zero-carbon option for taking short trips and commuting to work, but they doesn’t necessarily need to meet many, if any, existing expectations of gasoline-based vehicles because the whole system has to change.

From both of these perspectives, EVs are an entirely new technology to be used much differently than the cars of today.

Cost and Performance

On the other hand, there are those like former Executive Director of the Sierra Club Carl Pope and former Vice Chairman of GM Bob Lutz that believe decarbonizing transportation requires EVs meeting most, if not all, consumer cost and performance expectations. This parallels the thinking of many EV companies, which aim to (eventually) offer vehicles at comparable prices as gasoline equivalents with similar performance. In fact, the Tesla Model S brochure states, “Whether it’s running quick errands with the kids or a weekend getaway to the mountains, enjoy worry-free driving every day.”

(Read More: High Cost Prevents Electric Cars From Penetrating the Market)

In other words, EVs have a big role to play in decarbonizing transportation and they can assume that role by becoming a drop-in replacement for gasoline cars. Changes to the transportation system are necessary in that EV charging infrastructure is needed to eliminate range anxiety, but fundamentally changing consumer behavior to live differently – as Roberts believes – isn’t necessary. In this sense, EVs are an entirely new technology that should be used in exactly the same ways as the cars of today.

The one core message to take from the Broder-Tesla kerfuffle is that both are correct, but with a caveat: making EVs cost and perform like gas cars is a real barrier to EVs playing any role, big or small, in decarbonizing transportation.

Transforming the Transportation System Philosophy

There is very real consumer anxiety in addition to range issues, like driving EVs under normal weather conditions (e.g. winter in the Northeast states, hot summer days, etc.) as well as the classic chicken-and-egg problem of the need for building vehicle charging infrastructure. Tie these performance barriers to the higher sticker price of EVs compared to gas cars and it’s no surprise EV sales growth is slow. No amount of additional luxury benefits or system change – such as the impressive information and display technologies highlighted by Broder – is enough to overcome their real limitations. Only significant technological innovation in batteries and charging products can eliminate them.

The same can be said for transformative system and consumer behavior change. Without a doubt, some consumer change is inherently necessary (as with any new technology), such as getting used to charging vehicles at home compared to driving to the local gas station (though it wouldn’t hurt if gas stations transitioned to charging stations). But that level of behavior change is easier to come by rapidly with better and cheaper EV technology. And Roberts’s belief that the transportation system needs to change is absolutely correct, but still requires innovation. Without better technologies, it won’t be feasible in any timescale relevant to solving climate change to create a more efficient, affordable electrified transportation system that includes EVs, buses, trains, and any host of people-movers that don’t emit carbon.

As Boing Boing Science Editor Maggie Koerth-Baker opined in the New York Times Magazine, “You can change the technology. You can change the infrastructure and culture. And sometimes, you have to change both, easing people into accepting a new tool by making it look and feel like the old one you want to replace.” In the case of decarbonizing transportation, new, cheaper technology, behavior change, and system change are needed, but the better and cheaper technology must come first to make the rest possible.

  1. By Colin Murphy on February 21, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    A generally well-stated piece and there is quite a bit of research to support the positions of Chelsea Sexton and Elon Musk. In the near term, people will probably not see electric-fuel vehicles as a perfect substitute for petroleum-fuel ones. Luckily, they don’t need to in order for EV’s to be a significant element of low-carbon transport. Most American households have multiple cars right now; they’re likely to continue to do so in the future; this would allow a family to have an EV which is restricted to normal commute activity (the 95% of vehicle activity mentioned by Sexton) and an ICE (or better yet, a plug-in hybrid) for long-distance trips. Car manufacturers are also starting to realize that they don’t need to build every car to be a swiss-army knife, focusing on doign one or two things really well is enough. For example, BMW, which currently owns the Mini brand, is marketing a battery-electric version of the Mini Cooper. People who buy a Mini-E also receive vouchers to rent a standard-engine BMW sedan or SUV for two weeks per year. This way, they have access to the full vehicle when needed, but get the electric-drive benefit during their commute trips.

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    • By Russ Finley on February 23, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      Most American households have multiple cars right now; they’re likely to
      continue to do so in the future; this would allow a family to have an
      EV which is restricted to normal commute activity…

      I agree. The only meaningful barrier to electric cars is the cost. They would be ideal as an inexpensive second car for urban families. Public charging stations will likely prove to be a waste of capital.

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  2. By Mark Goldes on February 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    The solution is in the birth canal in the form of Black Swans – highly improbable innovations with enormous potential impact.

    See Moving Beyond Oil and Cheap Green at http://www.aesopinstitute.org for a few of them.

    Future electric cars and trucks will have unlimited range. They will be
    mobile power plants, capable of selling electricity to local utilities
    when suitably parked. There is a reasonable probability they will be
    investments that can pay for themselves in this manner.

    Autonomous electric vehicles can end the need for central power plants.
    Think about that with regard to China, where a new coal plant breaks ground every
    few weeks.

    Black Swans are, for the most part, very poorly supported financially as
    they are ridiculed, or worse, by much of the media and scientific
    community. Cold Fusion is one excellent example. See lenr-canr.org for a
    solid scientific overview that might change a few minds.

    With a bit more support from Angels, wise enough to intelligently
    evaluate risk and entrepreneurs, a few of the needed technologies might
    be in production fast enough to speed the superseding of fossil fuels.
    Some of those mentioned on the Aesop Institute website may prove
    practical quickly enough to transform the energy and economic landscape.

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  3. By Thomas Willis on February 22, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    I think the price is really the sticking point. When someone can build a reasonably equipped EV with 150 mile range for MSRP under $30k. All this range anxiety will turn out to be over hyped. The mobile phone is a good analogy. None of the manufacturers make any promises about talk time. Building an EV with a 300 mi range would be a huge waste of money for the buyer and the manufacturer. Because the other 150mi of the battery would hardly ever be used.

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  4. By Russ Finley on February 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Good analogies are worth their weight in gold. Bad ones …not so much. The cell phone/electric car analogy is a poor analogy. Cell phone sales and technology is driven by huge consumer demand. Electric cars need massive tax credits to help consumers buy them. Cell phones beat land lines in performance. Electric cars, not so much.

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  5. By ben on February 26, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    I agree with Finley–sort of. I think cost matters a great deal especially when the technical attributes of EVs remain to a very real extent “out with the jury.” I believe Matthew has done a very solid job here in teasing out some of the fundamental dynamics between the various camps on the issue of change (real and imagined). The truth is that consumer habits change incrementally and are hardly inelastic when it comes to costs. Recharging infrastructure is, and will probably remain, important, if not definitive. As the infrastructure improves, confidences are likely to accompany the rising tide of commonplace useage. Will this spell the end to fossil fuel vehicles anytime soon? Not likely. Will it help contribute to a reduction in a dependency on traditional transporation fuels? Surely. Is that a good thing? Yes, and I dare suggest that we might call it “progress.” What percentage/time-frame of total vehicles might we expect out of the EV industry in the coming decade? At the risk of a dodge, that will depend on the price of current transportation fuels. Given that I expect gasoline/diesel fuels to remain in a range not far removed from today’s pricing for the near-to-intermediate term, it may be a stretch for EVs to grow beyond a single digit share of the market before 2020. That said, 9.9% would be an awful lot of vehicles–and dollars toward decarbonizing our transportation matrix.
    Thanks for the exchange on an important subject that very much merits our continued attention.
    Ben

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  6. By Keyto Clearskies on August 24, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Chronicles of Mark Goldes, Aesop Institute’s Perpetual Scam Machine

    1976: Goldes seeks investors with fraudulent claims to have developed a production-ready wind-propelled, wind-rechargeable motorcycle that can reach 60 mph:

    1998: Goldes fools the witless US Air Force with his “room temperature superconductor” scam, receiving over four hundred thousand dollars in “Innovative Research” grants. Goldes has never produced any superconductor.

    2005: Goldes seeks investors with fraudulent claims that his company, MPI, is developing “Magnetic Power Modules”:

    2008: Goldes seeks investors with fraudulent claims that “MPI is also developing breakthrough magnetic energy technologies including POWERGENIE (Power Generation of Electricity by Nondestructive Interference of Energy).” Goldes claims to have “run an electric car for more than 4,800 miles with no need to plug-in.” According to Goldes, “[MPI] Revenues from licenses and Joint Ventures are conservatively projected to exceed $1 billion annually by 2012.”

    2009: Goldes seeks investors with fraudulent claims that his latest scamporation, Chava Energy, “has been developing enhanced theoretical and practical paths that lead towards commercialization of energy conversion systems that utilize hydrinos.” He now claims to be “developing a Self Powered Internal Combustion Engine – SPICE(tm) powered by hydrinos.”

    “For over 20 years Mark Goldes has claimed his company MPI has been developing machines that generate energy for free. In over 20 years his company has not presented one shred of evidence that they can build such machines…

    “For the past five years Mark Goldes has been promising generators ‘next year.’ He has never delivered. Like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ there will always be jam tomorrow, but never jam today.”

    - Penny Gruber, December 2008

    - Gruber’s comment was written almost five years ago – but it’s just as true today – except that MPI, Goldes’ corporation that he claimed would bring in one billion dollars in revenue from his imaginary generator in 2012, is now defunct, having never produced any “Magnetic Power Modules” – just as his company called “Room Temperature Superconductors Inc” is also now defunct, having never produced any “room temperature superconductors.” Evidently there’s a limit to how many years in a row the same company can claim it will finally have something to demonstrate “next year.” Now Goldes has a new scamporation, Chava Energy.

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    • By Robert Rapier on August 24, 2013 at 7:33 pm

      I just read through the discussion at the following link, and it’s pretty damning with respect to Mr. Goldes. He has dropped by here from time to time with his pitches, but I had never read through the history. http://peswiki.com/index.php/Talk:Directory:Magnetic_Power_Inc

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      • By Keyto Clearskies on August 24, 2013 at 8:39 pm

        The POWERGENIE (for which Goldes pretended to possess a trademark – but never did) is especially laughable. The brilliant revolutionary idea is to blow a horn at a magnetized tuning rod, designed to resonate at the frequency of horn, and then collect the electromotive energy produced by the vibrations of the rod.

        I’m not making this up.

        POWERGENIE tuning rod engine explained – from the patent:

        [The device incorporates] “an energy transfer and multiplier element being constructed of a ferromagnetic substance possessing magnetostrictive characteristics, magnetoelastic characteristics,or both; and having a natural resonance, due to a physical structure whose dimensions are directly proportional to the wavelength of the resonance frequency…”

        “In this resonant condition, the rod material functions as a tuned waveguide, or longitudinal resonator, for acoustic energy.”

        “Ferrite rod 800 is driven to acoustic resonance at the second harmonic of its fundamental resonant frequency by acoustic horn 811, resulting in acoustic wave 816 within the rod having two nodal points. Each nodal point exhibits instantaneous acoustic pressure opposite the other nodal point. Bias magnet 801 produces magnetic flux 802 extending axially through both nodal points developed within rod 800. Since both nodal points within the rod develop oppositely signed instantaneous acoustic pressure, the electromotive force developed via the magnetoelastic effect at each nodal point is oppositely directed. Coils 820 and 821 are wound oppositely and connected in electrical series, such that their developed electromotive forces add. The sum electromotive force of coils 820 and 821 develops electrical current and power in resistive load 830.”

        - But the patent doesn’t tell us who is going to volunteer blow the horn at the rod all day. Perhaps it will come with an elephant.

        Goldes claimed in 2008 that this wonderful triumph of human genius would bring in one billion dollars annually by 2012.

        http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.htm&r=1&p=1&f=G&l=50&d=PTXT&S1=%28Chava+AND+Energy%29.ASNM.&OS=an/%28Chava+and+Energy%29&RS=AN/%28Chava+AND+Energy%29

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  7. By Kelfin Planck on February 19, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    Mark Goldes’ “Aesop Institute” is simply an elaborate fraud.

    Mark Goldes, starting in the mid-seventies, engaged for several years in the pretense that his company SunWind Ltd was developing a nearly production-ready, road-worthy, wind-powered “windmobile,” based on the windmobile invented by James Amick; and that therefore SunWind would be a wonderful investment opportunity.

    After SunWind “dried up” in 1983, Goldes embarked on the long-running pretense that his company Room Temperature Superconductors Inc was developing room-temperature superconductors; and that therefore Room Temperature Superconductors Inc would be a wonderful investment opportunity. He continues the pretense that the company developed something useful, even to this day.

    And then Goldes embarked on the pretense that his company Magnetic Power Inc was developing “NO FUEL ENGINES” based on “Virtual Photon Flux;” and then, on the pretense that MPI was developing horn-powered “NO FUEL ENGINES” based on the resonance of magnetized tuning-rods; and then, on the pretense that his company Chava LLC (aka “Chava Energy”) was developing water-fueled engines based on “collapsing hydrogen orbits” (which are ruled out by quantum physics); and then, on the pretense that he was developing strictly-ambient-heat-powered “NO FUEL ENGINES” (which are ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics).

    But of course, the laws of physics always make an exception for the make-believe pretenses of Mark Goldes.

    Goldes’ forty-year career of “revolutionary breakthrough” pretense has nothing to do with science, but only with pseudoscience, pseudophysics, and relentless flimflam, in pursuit of loans and donations from gullible people who never mastered physics very well.

    Mark Goldes’ “Aesop Institute” has engaged for many years in the very dishonest and unscrupulous practice of soliciting loans and donations under an endless series of false pretenses, that it is developing and even “prototyping” various “revolutionary breakthroughs,” such as “NO FUEL ENGINES” that run on ambient heat alone – or run on “Virtual Photon Flux” – or on “Collapsing Hydrogen Orbits” – or even on the acoustic energy of sound from a horn.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe strictly ambient heat engine is ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This has been understood by physicists for at least 180 years. There is no “new science” that has ever determined such an engine to be possible.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe “Virtual Photon Flux” engine is based on the idea that accessible electric power “is everywhere present in unlimited quantities” – which we know to be false.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe “Collapsing Hydrogen Orbits” engine is based on Randell Mills’ theory of “hydrino” hydrogen, which every scientist knows to be false.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe horn-powered engine is based on the pretense that a magnetized tuning rod could somehow “multiply energy” – a ludicrous notion, which is obviously ruled out by the law of conservation of energy.

    Aesop Institute’s very latest make-believe engine is a perpetual motion machine in the form of a self-powered air compressor, which proposes to use a turbine to compress air to spin the turbine to compress air to spin the turbine.

    Aesop Institute has never offered the slightest shadow of evidence that it is actually developing or “prototyping” any of these make-believe physics-defying “revolutionary breakthroughs.” All it has ever offered are mere declarations that it is doing so – unsupported by any proof whatever, of any kind whatever.

    There are no “revolutionary breakthroughs” to be found on Goldes’ fraudulent “Aesop Institute” website. There is only pseudoscience, relentless flimflam, and empty claims of engines that are ruled out by the laws of physics.

    http://physicsreviewboard.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/perpetual-flimflam-machine-mark-goldes-fraudulent-aesop-institute/

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