I’ve been having a chat with arch-doomer Mike Stasse. We were discussing a nuclear powered Electric Vehicle economy, and I shared how America buys something around 12 million cars a year, and so that’s probably something like 24 Gigafactories. At 500,000 EV’s per gigafactory per year, it’s grossly simplified because I haven’t estimated the number of trucks included in that figure (that might work best on an alternative synthetic fuel like hydrogen or ‘rechargeable’ boron), and the Gigafactories are only about supplying the batteries: not building the whole EV. But this is about mass-producing the batteries to cut the battery cost by 30%!
I’m just trying to make the point that replacing oil for domestic driving is not impossible. I also had to include a disclaimer that I don’t necessarily agree with Americans buying 12 million cars a year. I wish it were at least a quarter of that because I wish Americans had better New Urban planning! I read many studies that conclude places like Portland and Manhattan are actually becoming more desirable. But this is a conversation about getting rid of oil, fast, and I’m happy to overlook the trucks and ecocities just to make a point! So assuming all those cars are EV’s, and assuming America doesn’t learn from Portland and Manhattan, they can still replace ALL 12 million Internal Combustion Engines by building 24 Gigafactories. Elon Musk is already building his first.
Then the premise of this typical doomer question got to me, and I just couldn’t stand it any more. It’s not my best writing, but here it is.
The other thing that strikes me as disingenuous about your typical “How are you going to do that without oil?” schtick is that it’s just so untrue to peak oil theory. The oil’s not going to run out overnight. It’s going to become more expensive. For *decades*. Like thumb screws that are slowly and gradually wound up tighter and tighter, the quest for alternatives to oil will gradually become more and more urgent. There’s time.
It’s also self-regulating. When high oil prices hit the economy, the economy slows down a bit and people don’t consume as much oil. Just look at the GFC. Americans stopped consuming 25% of their oil without a single bit of oil-saving legislation being passed! Note that they’re not a quarter of the way back to the stone age. Europeans use half the oil per capita than America. They’re not half the way back to the stone age. Economies can and will function on less oil, and when alternatives take over they can and will function with NO OIL!
So don’t trot out the entirely anti-science, anti-geology, anti-peak oil “How ya gonna do it without oil, huh?” meme at me when we have decades and decades of oil left, including all those disgusting brown-tech options ROEOZ always said would never amount to anything. Boy, you guys got that wrong didn’t you?
I guess I should have added that the best thing about this oil is that it is going to be more and more expensive. The whole reason we have cheap oil again is that Saudi Arabia didn’t like the threat from America’s non-conventional oil, and opened up her taps a bit more to bring the price down to bankrupt the dirtier brown-tech non-conventional oils that rely on a higher price. This kind of action will ricochet around the American economy well before the effects of declining oil hit. Maybe they’ll wake up before becoming addicted to brown-tech oil? Elon’s already building the Gigafactory which will be completed by 2020. It’s only $5 billion.
So what’s the bottom line? If America really wanted to get off oil in a hurry, all her family cars could easily be replaced with somewhere around 24 Gigafactories (and that’s being excessive because I haven’t allowed for all the pick up trucks that might run on other synthetic fuels like hydrogen or boron). This would cost around $120 billion for the factories alone. Americans would have to buy their own cars, and part of that cost would probably be importing lithium from Bolivia. That’s a win for Bolivia, but it’s about time South America had an economic win, hey?
Meanwhile, the other crucial part of doing without oil is also learning to do without natural gas and coal. Gas is about as bad as coal, because of the methane leaks from the old pipe infrastructure in most American cities. Not only do all fossil fuels destabilise our climate, but air pollution costs America a lot of money every year. As a Harvard study (that includes Richard Heinberg) says: “We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually.” Not only this, but America imports about $400 billion worth of oil annually. (Some have estimated more). Switching to clean nuclear power + renewables + EV’s (& synfuel) would clean up the air and prevent America importing oil. It would save them a third to half a trillion in health costs, and a quarter trillion in imported oil. With potentially an extra trillion dollars every 18 months to 2 years floating around in the American economy, and energy independence, and (with that independence) less likelihood of being dragged into future oil wars), it soon becomes clear. The question is not whether America can afford to go ‘nuclear gree’ with EV’s. It’s whether America can afford not to!