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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Leaf or MiEV? Which should I buy?

According to this website, Nissan is about to start taking reservations again.

Beginning May 1, Nissan will reopen reservations to selected US customers who were registered before April 20, 2011 in states currently selling the Nissan LEAF™ (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington).

Following this early-reservation period, reservations then will open to the general public in those launch states. More details to follow soon regarding other markets.

It will cost me $99 (which is refundable if I don't buy a Leaf) to get in line to purchase one. Before actually purchasing one at a dealership, I'm expected to spend another $99 to have a Nissan approved electrical contractor send an electrician to my home to tell me what it will cost to install one of their 240 volt, $700 chargers in my garage, which will require a dedicated circuit similar to that used for a clothes dryer.

Mitsubishi is also now taking reservations for its MiEV electric car. However, they want a $299 refundable reservation fee, which they claim will apply to the purchase price of the car (but I suspect the MSRP has already been jacked up by that amount so don't think you're getting a deal). They are waiving the $99 electrical inspection fee for the first batch of customers to sign up. I also doubt if they will be using the same electrical contractor as Nissan.

So, anyway, I ponied up for the MiEV and will also pay to reserve a Leaf on May first. I need help deciding which one to get.

I would rarely need to drive beyond the range of either car and because we are already a three car family (wife and two driving children) I can always use one of the other cars for longer trips.

My youngest daughter thinks it would be dumb to pay an extra $5,000 to be able to haul a fifth person about twice a year.

I test drove a Leaf and was very impressed. My biggest concern about the MiEV is range at highway speeds. The official ranges given are for a mixture of city and highway. Note that the Leaf has a much lower drag coefficient. This means it will get better mileage at high speeds than the MiEV.

But in all seriousness, that would only mean driving a regular car about half a dozen more times per year if I chose the MiEV. For two car families, the range difference is largely irrelevant, and for one car families as well come to think of it because you never want to stretch your electric car to its limits.

Before Mitsubishi dropped their price below that of the Leaf I could see no reason to buy it instead of a Leaf. Why pay more and get less of everything? Although, that logic hasn't stopped Smart car owners. Maybe they should change the name ; )

I also wonder if people will spring for the Leaf just because it has better performance in the same way people spring for a Prius over the Insight?

Which should I buy?

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Parsing The Nuclear Cost Argument

Photo courtesy of Siovene via Flickr

Mining the moon for minerals is not likely to be profitable. This explains the dearth of debate on the topic (and the fact that there are no moon mines).

If, as the latest anti-nuclear arguments insist, nuclear energy is also not profitable, why are we debating the topic? In reality, nuclear generated electricity has proven to be profitable, otherwise, like moon mines, they would not exist.

Unlike moon mines, there are lots of nuclear power plants planned as well as currently under construction and many hundreds already humming along producing gargantuan amounts of affordable low carbon electricity.

Nuclear cost arguments are largely academic because we don't get to pick what the market decides to build. If investors don't see a reasonable potential for profit, they won't invest in nuclear ...or solar, or wind.

The cost argument against nuclear generated electricity is a chain with two missing links:

1) Wind and solar, especially with a super grid to make them feasible, are also more expensive than coal and require government assistance in the market. The cost argument against nuclear is equally applicable to wind and solar.

2) A renewable grid capable of lighting two coasts and everything in between every night is an untested hypothesis.

I'd rather see nuclear join forces with a renewable grid to defeat King coal, which would work, no question about it. Not sure it's smart betting our children's futures on an untested hypothesis.

Try to keep in mind that an argument in favor of nuclear generated electricity is not an argument against other low carbon forms of energy. Obviously, there are many economically feasible, mutually beneficial ways to make electricity depending on circumstances. Here in the Pacific Northwest we are presently idling wind turbines and giving hydro power away. That does not mean that hydro is the answer to the world's energy needs. We will need a mix of energy sources.

Thanks to the Internet, the old arguments against nuclear power have come under scrutiny and they are not holding up very well. For example, the scare tactic of exaggerating the dangers of radiation has just joined the discredited arguments about waste disposal and bomb proliferation thanks to environmental journalist George Monbiot's article titled:

The unpalatable truth is that the anti-nuclear lobby has misled us all

Amory Lovins, a major figure spearheading the nuclear cost argument, used this radiation scare tactic just a few weeks ago in an article posted on Grist:

Nuclear-promoting regulators inspire even less confidence. The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 2005 estimate ...of about 4,000 Chernobyl deaths contrasts with a rigorous 2009 review of 5,000 mainly Slavic-language scientific papers the IAEA overlooked. It found deaths approaching a million through 2004, nearly 170,000 of them in North America. The total toll now exceeds a million, plus a half-trillion dollars' economic damage. The fallout reached four continents, just as the jet stream could swiftly carry Fukushima fallout.

Riiight. That "rigorous review" he mentions was not so rigorous. Read what Andrew Revkin of the New York Times had to say to a commenter who was parroting this argument:

You may have missed that bit of journalism where Monbiot contacted the New York Academy of Sciences, which said it in no way endorsed or peer-reviewed the book (noting that no one else did, either). And his citation of that review that strongly challenged its conclusions. Perhaps you have another source for the 970,000 deaths? Here's the relevant section of Monbiot's piece:
Like John Vidal and many others, Helen Caldicott pointed me to a book which claims that 985,000 people have died as a result of the disaster(14). Translated from Russian and published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, this is the only document which looks scientific and appears to support the wild claims made by greens about Chernobyl.

A devastating review in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry points out that the book achieves its figure by the remarkable method of assuming that all increased deaths from a wide range of diseases – including many which have no known association with radiation – were caused by the accident(15). There is no basis for this assumption, not least because screening in many countries improved dramatically after the disaster and, since 1986, there have been massive changes in the former eastern bloc. The study makes no attempt to correlate exposure to radiation with the incidence of disease(16).

Its publication seems to have arisen from a confusion about whether the Annals was a book publisher or a scientific journal. The academy has given me this statement: “In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work; nor by its publication do we intend to independently validate the claims made in the translation or in the original publications cited in the work. The translated volume has not been peer-reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences, or by anyone else.”(17)

With the old arguments beginning to crumble all around them, nuclear energy critics have been rallying around the newer cost argument.

If there were mines on the moon producing a significant amount of our minerals you could argue about their costs but there are no mines on the moon. There are a lot of nuclear power plants producing a very significant percentage of the electricity generation on this planet at very affordable prices and these power plants have the lowest environmental footprint of any power source.

As the cost argument begins to crumble (more cost efficient and safe nuclear plants are built), critics are expanding it to include the length of time it takes to build a conventional nuclear power plant--as if it won't take a long time to build a renewable energy grid.

It took years to design and build the Nissan Leaf. If your car were custom designed from scratch like a typical nuclear plant of today it would have cost you tens of millions of dollars.

Standardized nuclear power plant designs could be built fast and cheap as was done in France, which gets over 70 percent of its power from nuclear.

For more thoughts on how nuclear could be used to help renewables defeat King Coal read:

The Nuclear Enhanced Renewable Grid (NERG)

Reframing Nuclear Power as an Ally of Renewable Energy

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Is it wise to exclude nuclear from the mix?

Click to enlarge

I borrowed the above image from another blogger, who borrowed it from another, who ...

This chart puts into perspective the magnitude of what we face. Now ask yourself, is wise to exclude a low carbon energy source like nuclear from the mix?

Look at those threads that represent wind and solar. To eliminate oil we need to greatly increase the electrification of transport, which means generating even more clean electricity. Note that most biomass goes to industry, which means that it is mostly the burning of waste wood chips at places like sawmills etc. The thread that branches off of that is corn ethanol and 70 percent of the energy in a gallon of corn ethanol comes from fossil fuels.

Think about it.