You can smell it — fear that have squandered our energy; fear we may already have fouled our air and water beyond redemption; fear that we’ve wrung the last kilowatt from our fossil fuels. Our president-elect campaigned on a platform of solving these crises, and he won by a landslide.
“We are entering a new fiscal era of what I call ‘eco-bamanomics,’” says Victor Udo, manager of business planning and research for Atlantic City Electric. “Instead of funds trickling down, we will be generating wealth through a series of ecological initiatives.”
To point out how these new sources of eco-wealth may be tapped, the New Jersey Technology Council invited Udo and other panelists to speak at “Green Collar Jobs: Preparing a Future Workforce” on Wednesday, December 10, at 4 p.m. at Weiser LLP, 399 Thornall Street, in Edison. Cost: $60. Visit www.njtc.org
Presenters include Udo, speaking on new careers in the automotive revolution; Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, vice-chair of the Legislative Committee on Higher Education, and Robert Goodman, Rutgers’ executive dean of agriculture and natural resources.
By happy coincidence, Udo began his professional research in the very element that is giving electric auto designers their greatest challenge — the battery. A native of Nigeria, Udo says he learned the value of education from his father, a school administrator.
Before obtaining his electrical engineering associate’s in Nigeria, Udo practiced as an electrician and worked in a major battery manufacturing plant. Udo graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering in 1989.
After a brief stint with another power company he was recruited by Atlantic City Electric, which spotted his ability and sent him to school. He earned his masters in energy and environmental engineering from the Penn, followed by a doctorate in public policy. As part of the Governor’s Renewable Energy Taskforce, Udo helped forge New Jersey’s 20-20 goal of having 20 percent of the state’s energy come from clean sources by 2020. It is a uniquely ambitious plan with which the state so far is on schedule.
For Udo, the shift to electric autos is a no-brainer. “Our current electric power system represents both an aging and critical infrastructure that lacks any real energy storage capacity to meet peak demands,” he says. “Conversely, automobiles are basically distributed energy storage — currently in the form of liquid energy, but easily transferable into electric storage.”
Autos as energy silos. Forget what you have heard about the electric car as sci-fi, or as a second-string errand vehicle. Last year Atlantic City Electric produced a fleet of 10 electric autos at the prototype price of $70,000 each. (As gas reached $4 a gallon, even that extra $50,000 in sticker cost would have been paid back over the car’s 12-year life.)
BMW was impressed and bought ACE’s technology. On November 21 at the Los Angeles Auto Show BMW unveiled its all-electric Mini Cooper. Lease price: $850 a month.
Electric automobiles run either on one hefty or scores of smaller batteries that can be charged from any electric outlet. This is the biggest benefit and biggest hurdle. The benefit comes from transforming your car from gas guzzler to an integrated energy storage unit. Calling on its charged battery, your new electric automobile can swap energy back and forth with your home, with a simple plug. It’s the same sort of wall-socket connection cars in colder climes now use to keep combustion engines warm.
This energy swap would be efficiently orchestrated by the grid. “What most consumers don’t realize is that they pay differing rates for electricity by the day, the season, even the hour,” says Udo. Kilowatt hours at 3 p.m. in mid-July cost a lot more than the comparative down hours of 3 a.m. in mid-February. ACE, PSE&G, and JCP&L are trying to bring home this point with the advent of smart meters. These not only display these cost differences, but allow consumers to program use accordingly.
Electric car owners could plug in their cars, set them to recharge during the cheap hours, and then, during high-cost, peak-use times, switch the current in reverse and draw power from the auto battery, quietly parked in their garage. The hurdle in this is developing a better battery that allows increased power and storage.
While all this is happening, the aging, overworked, non-storing grid of which Udo speaks would receive a boost from thousands of autos in thousands of homes, helping meet peak-hour demand. As the infrastructure grows, autos in, say, train station parking lots could plug into electrical posts and alternately charge and feed the grid as they await their drivers’ returns.
Cleaning the grid. All of this begs the question of cleanliness. With 32 percent of our nation’s greenhouse gasses coming from electricity and 28 from transportation, are electric cars still tying us to fossil fuels with merely one step removed?
Not necessarily, says Udo. “The same timing device that regulates auto charges for on and off peak hours, can be used to take advantage of renewable energy sources.” Existing technology attached to the electric car’s charge timer can sense and draw energy from homes when the sun shines on the solar unit or when the wind caresses the turbines of the local wind farm.
ACE’s plan is a lot less far fetched than, say, proposing to erect poles and string copper wires into every structure in the state, though hundreds of new technical fields will be demanded. The thousands of new jobs this electric and auto revolution will create have already begun.
Job initiatives. Atlantic City Electric has begun the enormous task of installing 480,000 smart meters in its customers’ homes. Would-be installers are flocking to the utilities’training schools for these high-paying jobs. PSE&G is facing the same 1.2 million-meter challenge.
As the number of units increases, mechanics will be required to gain desperately needed skills. Entrepreneurs will be demanded to develop an ever-expanding line of batteries. Currently the top electric autos can go 150 miles before recharging, as opposed to 400 miles for most commercial gas-powered autos. American ingenuity will close this gap. Armies of technicians will install the new electric charging infrastructure. We may, as we did a century ago, put ourselves back in business with our autos.
How soon? Udo estimates that by 2030, 30 percent of all cars on the road will be electric-powered. A lot of auto manufacturers view this as too conservative an estimate.
Now, all you doubting Thomases who believe that the electric car is merely a toy and nothing can ever replace good ol’ gas power, stand up and take your best shot. But realize you are spitting into the wind. After BMW quietly drove its all-electric Mini Cooper onto the floor of the Los Angeles Auto Show, 500 manufactured models were carefully offered to select drivers in California, New York, and New Jersey. Within five hours, they were besieged by more than 10,000 orders for the car. Its drive is silent, smooth, and efficient. The surrounding air remains unfouled.
One final note. At the Los Angeles Auto Show, considered by many to be the world’s most important, General Motors unobtrusively set out its own electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt, with all the noise and fanfare of an electric powered penlight. In the face of this foreign competition, GM executives canceled all launches and media events. These are the corporate heads seeking taxpayer dollars. No further comment.