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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is the Tesla Model X the Hummer of electric cars?

Another Tesla goes up in smoke. I've written about some of the other incidents here and here.

When I built my electric bicycle back in 2007, I had been waiting for a battery that was less volatile than what had been available. I didn't want to risk having a fireball under my seat. Tesla traded volatility for power density.
2007 cell phone photo of Hummer and Cherokee

I think electric cars are great for all kinds of reasons, which is why I bought one in 2011. But like any car, they are not created equal, and as marketers begin the process of differentiating them to get us to buy them, that inequality will grow and diversify as it has for conventional cars. And for any fellow electric car enthusiasts out there who think electric cars are going to make a significant dent in carbon emissions in the foreseeable future, read Robert Rapier's article on that subject. Even a strongly biased study by the UCS shows that electric cars, on average, presently produce about half of the emissions of conventional cars in a cradle-to-grave analysis. Eliminating fossil fuels (instead of nuclear) from our energy mix will improve that over time.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

First Annual Clean Energy Forum at the Columbia (nuclear power) Generating Station

Photo Credit Utilities Service Alliance

I was recently invited to attend the first annual Clean Energy Forum, hosted by Energy Northwest in Richland, Washington, which included a tour of the Columbia Generating station.

The Tour

We were greeted at the security gate by three polite security guards who inspected the bus and checked our photo IDs against a list. This level of security isn't unique to nuclear power stations. You would have to go through a similar procedure to take a tour of Hoover dam. We also had to leave our cell phones on the bus (which would also be the case should you ever get the chance to take the highly recommended Boeing, Everett factory tour).

Next, we had to pass through metal detectors very similar to the ones I had to walk through at the airport. Between the airports and tour, I passed through metal detectors four different times on this trip.

We were given radiation dose badges (to document that exposure levels were well-below any amount that could possibly affect health).

We saw the control room mock-up where crews are trained to staff the real control room. They ran through a simulated core shutdown from an earthquake (including a shaking floor and emergency lighting), which took only a few seconds to complete. It looked complex but I doubt that there were many more gauges, lights, and switches in that control room than you would find in a 747 cockpit (between 365 and 970 of them, depending on model). Because a control room does not have to fly, the gauges and switches were quite large and widely spaced in comparison.

 Photo of 747 Cockpit National Air and Space Museum