The Short Path to Oil Independence

Together, hybrid cars and wind farms can slash our oil independence.


| February/March 2005



Oil Independence

The stage is set for the second step to reduce oil dependence: the use of wind-generated electricity to power automobiles.


Photo courtesy Tom Griffin

With the price of oil above $50 a barrel, political instability in the Middle East on the rise, and little slack in the world oil economy, we need a new energy strategy. Fortunately, a new strategy is emerging using two new technologies.

Gas-electric hybrid engines and advanced-design wind turbines offer a way to wean ourselves from imported oil. If over the next decade we convert the U.S. automobile fleet to gas-electric hybrids with the efficiency of today’s Toyota Prius, we could cut our gasoline use in half. No change in the number of vehicles, no change in miles driven — just doing it more efficiently. Several gas-electric hybrid car models are now on the market including the Toyota Prius, the Honda Insight and the hybrid version of the Honda Civic. The Prius — a midsize car on the cutting-edge of auto technology — gets an astounding 55 mpg in combined city/highway driving. No wonder lists of eager buyers are willing to wait six months or more for delivery.

Many other hybrid vehicles are beginning to appear in showrooms, or are scheduled to arrive soon. Ford has recently released a hybrid model of its Escape SUV, Honda has released a hybrid version of its popular Accord sedan, and General Motors will offer hybrid versions of several of its cars and trucks, including the Chevy Tahoe, the Chevy Malibu and the Saturn VUE. Beyond this, GM has delivered 235 hybrid-powered buses to Seattle. Other large cities slated to get hybrid buses are Philadelphia, Houston and Portland.

With gas-electric hybrid vehicles now on the market, the stage is set for the second step to reduce oil dependence: the use of wind-generated electricity to power automobiles. If we add to the gas-electric hybrid a plug-in capacity and a second battery to increase its electricity storage capacity, motorists could then do their commuting, shopping and other short-distance travel largely with electricity, saving gasoline for the occasional long trip. This could lop another 20 percent off gasoline use in addition to the initial 50-percent cut from shifting to gas-electric hybrids, for a total reduction of 70 percent.

The plug-in capacity gives access to the country’s vast, largely untapped wind resources. In 1991, the U.S.epartment of Energy published a National Wind Resource Inventory in which it pointed out that three states — Kansas, North Dakota and Texas — have enough harnessable wind energy to satisfy national electricity needs. Many were astonished by this news since wind power was widely considered a marginal energy source. Yet in retrospect, we know this was a gross underestimate simply because it was based on the wind turbine technologies of 1991. Advances in design since then enable turbines to operate at lower wind speeds and to convert wind into electricity more efficiently.

The average turbine in 1991 was roughly 120 feet tall, whereas new ones are 300 feet tall — the height of a 30-story building. Not only does this more than double the amount of harvestable wind, but winds at the higher elevation are stronger and more reliable.

w..
11/14/2007 5:44:42 AM

The writer comments that 55mpg on a hybrid is "astonishing". We have a 2000 Golf TDI that has given us, over 120K miles, and AVERAGE of 51 mpg. A relatively simple design; the car cost ~$17K new. We expect the Golf to give us about 300K miles. Compare that to a very comples hybrid that cost around $30K and will need a new and very expensive battery long before it reaches 300K miles.


bush_2008
11/13/2007 6:17:41 PM

The author states: "The average turbine in 1991 was roughly 120 feet tall, whereas new ones are 300 feet tall — the height of a 30-story building. Not only does this more than double the amount of harvestable wind." HUH?? By my amateur calculations the "harvestable wind" would increase by a factor of more than six. Wind power is directly proportional to the square of the blade diameter. Zobeid states: "But just as the country's hydro potential is pretty much tapped out, it won't be long before wind is too." Upon which resource(s) are you basing that conclusion. Even replacing existing smaller turbines with the previously mentioned larger ones would give a sixfold increase. The currently used areas not to mention all the unused areas in the great plains and Texas etc. are certainly not tapped out. See the oilendgame.com for Amory Lovins free downloadable book.


zobeid
11/13/2007 11:16:05 AM

I don't believe it. I don't believe wind power can scale up to level implied by this article. I doubt whether we can produce enough wind power to replace the nuclear plants that are up for decommissioning soon, and I doubt whether we can produce enough wind power to replace coal (which we definitely need to replace with something cleaner), and I doubt even more whether we can do all that with wind and power our cars too. Wind is a limited, localized resources, much like hydro power. Hydro power is great in areas that have a lot of water, and wind power is great in areas that have a lot of wind. Those regions are already being staked out. But just as the country's hydro potential is pretty much tapped out, it won't be long before wind is too. To power our electrical grid -- and our cars -- in the future, we need to look at clean energy sources with larger potential: solar, geothermal, nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion.






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