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Week of 10.30.09

Electric Car Dreams

Will green energy and electric cars drive a new global climate change plan?

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Home to a worldwide summit on climate change in early December, Denmark is setting a global example in creating clean power, storing it, and using it responsibly. Their reliance on wind power to produce electricity without contributing to global warming is well known, but now they're looking to drive the point home with electric cars. To do this, they've partnered with social entrepreneur Shai Agassi and his company Better Place.

The Weekly Q
This week, NOW investigates how the Danish government and Better Place are working together to put electric cars into the hands of as many Danish families as possible. The idea is still having trouble getting out of the garage here in America, but Denmark could be an inspiration.

Will so much green enthusiasm bring about a "Copenhagen Protocol"?

This show is part of a series on social entrepreneurs at work that we call "Enterprising Ideas."

Related Links

Web Features

Interview: Alexandra Paul and her Electric Car
The former "Baywatch" star talks about her passion for electric cars.

Electric Car Timeline
The life, death and rebirth of the electric car.
Better Place

U.N. Climate Change Conference

The Skoll Foundation

In the News

Bloomberg: Electric-Car Companies Grab U.S. Cash to Blunt Risks

CNET News: Tesla breaks record for going the distance

Electric Cars: A Definitive Guide

The New York Times: The Electric Car and the Road Not Taken

U.S. News & World Report: Electric Car Startup Fisker Buys GM Plant to Build Midsize Car

Viewer Comments

Commenter: Classic Muscle
Funds given out for Electric Vehicle Technology, Now! How do we get some of that money! We at "Classic Muscle LLC" are getting ready to announce the first Brand New manufactured Classic Muscle Cars, in both Gas and Electric power. The Electric powered 1970 Cuda; 1969 Camaro Conv; 1957 Chevy Belair; 1965 & 1970 GTO or 1967 Mustang Eleanor GT 500; just to name a few; is faster then the Big Block Gas powered drive train.
Go to; and see for yourselves - Electric and Gas Technology in the number one cars ever built. You pick your favorite Year/Make/Model/Color and now Power!
NOW THAT'S TECHNOLOGY! Still looking for funding!

Commenter: greg fisher
BY keeping the electric car lightweight as possible, solar power is viable. The Animas quadracycle can be recharged from just a few PV panels, but does not carry them because of the weight. That is the closest thing to a solar car we can design at this time. Given our grasp of superconductors and of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, that may be the best we can do right now.

Commenter: Leo
Wesley White: In Denmark mostly AC (130-150 kV) is used for connecting offshore wind farms to the grid. DC is only used when the distance to shore (or to the connection point) is very high. Then DC is the most economic solution.

Ralph: In Denmark wind power produces energy corresponding to around 20% of the electricity consumption. In Spain they make 12%, in Germany 7% and the average of the whole of EU is around 4% at present. EU is intending to tripple that by 2020.

The relative proportion of wind power in the grid is largest over night. Not because there is most wind at night, but because the consumption is lowest. If E-cars are mainly charging during nighttime, there proportion of wind will be higher than the average consumption.

Commenter: greg fisher
The Animas Quadracycle is another entry to the electric vehicle future. Pedal AND electric makes it immune from dead battery syndrome.
Here is our vehicle in action.

Commenter: Wesley White
What type of power transmission is Denmark planning to use to get power from the wind turbines to land? AC or DC?

Commenter: Ralph F
From comments below, things that trouble me are numerous people using inverters to dump power onto any electric grid are hazards to line maintenance personel. They can no longer safely isolate and de-energize lines for maintenance or repair.
Wind and solar will always be small contributor of kilowatts, not providing consistant 24/7 megawatts or gigawatts needed for modern urban society. Both wind/solar require huge storage capability to smooth power delivery 24/7. Better to use geothermal as core of earth is a huge battery which delivers energy 24/7 from small footprint facilities compared to wind/solar collectors covering many square miles. But wind/solar create so many new O

Commenter: Charlie D.
Replacing gas-powered cars with electric cars is certainly an improvement for the environment and our health. However, it does nothing to solve the problems of congestion and parking that cars bring. The Danes are very wise by relying so heavily on bicycling, walking, and mass transit. In the US, we dedicate so much of our land to parking and roads, that we have cities that are very spread out and therefore require people to drive cars. I worry that if the Danes make driving electric cars much cheaper than driving gas-powered cars that more people will buy cars and congestion will increase. However, one part of the story said that electric cars will only be cheaper for a few years. The only way to mitigate an increased demand for driving that I see would be to raise the price of electric cars to the current price of gas-powered cars, and raise the price of gas-powered cars to such a high level as to all but eliminate their use.

Commenter: R A Fontes
Apparently a Tesla was rear-ended by a Prius and pushed under an SU-V-W in Denmark a couple of days ago, but not the one in the NOW piece.

Commenter: dave
Susan : There is hard evidence we are aiding in the warming part of the cycle, search "ipccdata"
Besides, the drive towards cleaner forms of transportation is equally aimed at reducing our dependence on foreign energy and gearing it towards localized solutions, we have solar, coal, natural gas, geothermal, and wind farms to generate electricity in the US which can help us with our transportation energy. (Coal is cleaner when compared to 90% of internal combustion engined vehicles (not including hybrids) emissions used for transportation vs electric charging from coal. Although we should move away from coal!)

very good point, I'd also like to see EPA studies of battery developers and manufacturers, but I'm pretty sure you'll see the same kinds of results from refineries, oil storage and tankers.
One major problem with certain types of batteries is mining of precious metals, this activity is going to increase so it does need to be a big topic for discussion.

There are companies that include panels as standard on their electrics, but they are not so much range extenders as park charge so you don't have to plug in. 16-18% efficiency of PV panels dictates that you'd have to have a very light vehicle if you wanted to power it directly from the sun all the time.

Commenter: Susan
Global warming is a FARCE...and too many people are buying into it when it is just a natural phenomenon that the earth warms and cools in cycles and has done so for millions of years...ENOUGH ALREADY!!

Commenter: Sharon Brenner
Although I like the idea of gas saving vehicles, I do not think all those batteries are healthy. Have you visited a battery making facility and do you notice how much vegitation is nearby? Batteries are a killer to the environment and the human body. I would like to see this discussed.

Commenter: Jay Salsburg
I am a little skeptical of some of what Shai Agassi said on camera. While it is a good and practical idea to move toward Electric Transportation, the statement that the batteries in the cars could be used to inject stored power back into the Grid is not practical, at least not yet. The idea of injecting Electricity into the Grid may be more difficult and controversial than Electric Transportation. This is based on the fact that each battery would require a Grid-Tied Inverter. This is an expensive and troublesome device. If thousand to millions of these devices were to be enrolled onto the Grid, the catastrophic problems they would cause that are obviously unforeseen by Shai Agassi would overwhelm and destabilize the current "Stupid Grid.". A few Grid-Tied Inverters are not a problem. Whereas a large number of them will cause Catastrophic "Islanding" inside the Grid. The Smart Grid is not a solution either, what is needed is an "Intelligent Grid" implementing "Anti-Islanding" technology that intelligently communicates with the large number of inverters allowing control by the Grid Engineers and an automated control systems that does not yet exist. Technology does exist to overcome this chaotic and destructive instability in the Grid, but this technology must be Legislated to force the Power Utilities to adopt "Anti-Islanding" technology which they will oppose.

Commenter: SeemsOdd
A friend owns an electric car/truck dealership. When he drives his new vehicles from the harbor to his car lot, he stops to re-charge some of them at my house. He plugs into the 'grid' for his power. I told him it seems odd that electric cars need grid power when the sun provides everything he needs. He also wondered why car makers don't have 'solar' panels as standard equipment on all electric or hybrid cars. Does anyone know the backstory on lack of solar technology on new electric vehicles? Hey auto-makers wake-up and give us some solar recharging on our new electric or hybrid vehicles.

Commenter: bwine
It is hard to understand how an electric car that has to be charged by a (probably nuclear) power plant counts as "sustainable." Have we forgotten the nuclear waste problem?
I think the direction needs to be using LESS energy, less transportation. Substitute communication (web conferencing) for business trips (cars and planes).
Walking and bicycling are truly sustainable.

Commenter: Mimar
Great program David!
Kopenhagen is so important for the future of the mankind that I hope every American had the opportunity to view your doc.
You see, we have a saying in the rest of the world: "half of the Americans don't read newspapers, and half don't go voting; all one can hope it's not the same half" because at the end, the most important parameter of this equation is that US getting it's act together. Not that you're the most polluting nation on earth, but you're the key to technologies/wallstreet combination to invent us a clean future (well, making money besides, too:)
The danger is, even the Kopenhagen experiment works, which I think it will work beautifully, it's not enough. We shouldn't wait until it concludes, we should rally on.
Besides, gas stations are so last century that I can't believe we had to wait so long for an outsider to come invent auto industries' future. Even now detroit refuse to participate to standardize the charging/swapping batteries, then I say better let them die, their end could be an opportunity for others (luckily for you, that could be a US company otherwise let it be Indian or Chinese, who cares!)
We're running out of time and towards the end it gets accelerated. But luckily, the reverse is also true: we can fix it in a more accelerated pace than we could have imagined. So let's not be shy of demanding the sky.

Commenter: mountaintree
Bravo !

PBS lives up to it's reputation. NOW the only problem is to get the "superpower" Americans to become educated and move from reality TV shows to world reality.

How can we get more "Americans" to become more educated and informed by watching PBS and listening to NPR.

The wife of former McDonald's hamburger chain Ray Kroc, donated $200 million dollars to NPR to support excellence in programming.

I'm an "early adopter" and will be buying one of the first affordable all-electric cars.

Commenter: larry
your show talked about bringing electric cars to hawaii, have you seen the cost of electricity in hawaii? not sure how there would be a savings there especially since the majority of electricity in hawaii comes from the burning of fossil fuels :(

Commenter: douglas
Interesting program, but I would like to see more investigative reporting that addresses the views below. The excerpt below copied from

A Conversation with Jon Boone â Toward a Better Understanding of Industrial Wind Technology

"Wind needs to be in our energy mix to the same degree that Twinkies need to be in our diet."
Boone:  Indeed!  Wind technology mirrors the subprime mortgage scams that wreaked havoc with the economy. Both are enabled by wishful thinking; bogus projections; no financial restraints, accountability, or transparency; no meaningful securitization; and regulatory agencies that looked the other way, allowing a few to make a great deal of money at everyone else's expense while providing no meaningful service. As Twinkies have done for food, leading to a society that is overfed but malnourished, wind will do for electricity.

Commenter: blowing wind
On electric cars, caught the last part of show, though would be nice to see less of the rich and more of the middle class, rich gets old after awhile, let's get real.

Commenter: Aaron Allen
Great program on Denmark's plans for electric vehicle
s and the wind/solar energy to help charge 'em up...
Pls follow up with the Hawaii and Israel projects as
they are ideal venues for electric vehicles, range

Commenter: Gary H
Following incorrect statement was found at the Electric Cars:A Definitive Guide link-

It would take about 9 days to get the same amount of energy from household electric current. Fortunately, it takes hours and not days to recharge an electric car, because it's much more efficient.

The "because" statement is incorrect. It is because the connection is greater voltage and amperage rating(and therefore greater watts per unit of time) than a normal household outlet and there is no greater or lesser efficiency.

It is best if all sides of this discussion can stick with the facts and people without scientific/engineering backgrounds should not write technical BS.

Commenter: Gary H
The Denmarl Electric Car story was interesting and informative. A few points to note that alsways seem to be missed when comparing the US to the European locations. Reference bicycles, Denmark and Holland are FLAT. Second the size, population and population density makes the infrastructure issues much different and easier in more densely populated areas than the US.

Commenter: Hai-Ho Tran

Great programing as always. Please make a facebook sharing link available so that I can simply click on it and share the videos with my facebook's friends.

thanks and continue the good work

Fremont, CA

Commenter: Ric
I would have more faith in hybrid and electric car future if each was built with 'solar' recharging as required standard equipment. Seems funny they can have a sun-roof, but lack solar technology. Since hybrid cars are parked at schools, malls, offices and in driveways many hours every day. They could be re-charged by the 'sun' and stay off the electric grid.

Electric Car Dreams

Interview: Alexandra Paul and her Electric Car

Electric Car Timeline

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