The Speculist: The Ultimate Hybrid


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The Ultimate Hybrid

Some great alternative energy ideas are emerging around our two most recent posts on the subject. Stephen has us powering our homes with either miniature nuclear reactors or nano-solar panels. Reader Da55id, in the comments section of the earlier post, suggests using those some solar panels to launch a potentially workable version of the hydrogen economy:

1.) Water is delivered via current water pipes (no charge)

2.) Solar power cracks the water to yield hydrogen (appx $15k investment)

3.) The hydrogen is stored to be used by fuel cell that the govt funded to ensure that critical infrastructure can be "battery powered" for months at a time AND this same tech can backup whole houses...and now for the final piece.

4.) The electricity generated by the hydrogen runs your Tesla of Chevy Volt (saves you about $3,000 in gasoline costs per year)

I like this. It seems a reasonably workable model for hydrogen, using it to store solar energy, which has this little not-always-available issue associated with it.

Meanwhile, Will Brown is offering up a veritable smorgasboard of new battery technologies and new approaches for solar, nuclear, and hydrogen power.

Everybody wants their electric car now, it seems -- and I'm right there with you, guys -- but if I were a betting man, I would predict that we'll still be using internal combustion engines for at least a couple more decades. Rarely does Phil Bowermaster want to err on the side of caution when it comes to the roll-out of new technologies, but what with this whole thing going on, and all...

President Bush on Wednesday signed an energy bill designed to cut U.S. dependence on overseas oil by imposing the biggest increase in fuel-efficiency standards in 32 years and mandating a fivefold increase in the use of home-grown biofuels.

"Today we make a major step toward reducing our dependence on oil, confronting global climate change, expanding the production of renewable fuels and giving future generations of our country a nation that is stronger, cleaner and more secure," Bush said in a ceremony at the Department of Energy.

...I think we have to be (and again, nobody hates this word more than Yours Truly) realistic. The new law requires that cars become 40% more fuel-efficient (in 12 years) and that we make some modest progress in ethanol and other biofuels. Clearly, the US Government is not on a Speculist time schedule.

Baby steps, guys. Baby steps.

We'll have electric cars in a few years, but we're going to muck around with hybrids for a while until we get it right. And, yes, I think we'll have mini-nukes or hydrogen fuel cells or nano-solar collectors powering nano-wire batteries to generate electricity for our homes and cars, but this is all going to take a while. In the mean time (building on a all of these various ideas), I would like to see us work towards a scenario where every new vehicle built is either:

1. A flex-fuel plug-in hybrid, or

2. A diesel plug-in hybrid

Today we have a lot of cars running on gas, a few plug-in hybrids running on gas and grid power, and a few vehicles out there running on biodiesel. Petroleum is still dominant. But if every new car fit into one of those two categories, we would eventually see our vehicles powered by:


The Grid
Fuel Oil

Off the Grid
Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Compact Nuclear

Most of these different approaches to fueling cars actually work together -- so you can have a flex-fuel car burning any combination of gas and alcohol while getting its battery power from the home system, which is half nano-solar and half coal power from the grid. Or you could have your biodiesel car with its battery charged from a compact nuclear power source or a hydrogen fuel cell charged by nano-solar. Choices!

Sooner or later, the less environmentally friendly options (standard gas and diesel, and coal) have to start being phased out in favor of the lower-emission options. But in a world where just about anything you can think of can power your car, that shouldn't be that hard to do.

UPDATE: Then again, maybe the future isn't that far away. Glenn directs us to a video of a test drive of the 300MPG Aptera, which we recently blogged about.


My concern is that too many folk wait for future-tech before doing anything.

I mean, if the future will be all puppies and ice cream, why not buy another Tahoe today?

Hi Phil Everything I list in my post is already or will be commercially available and MARKET VIABLE w/in two years at worst. Also, when I say electric car, I really mean plug in hybrid or better. I also said I expected it to take 10 years to reach the "hockey stick point". But the REAL driver will be *money* - immediate money savings!

The Total system price for the "Continuity of Operations" solution I described is less than $40,000 and will be financed as part of a mortgage or refi (excluding the car). Amortizing $40k over a 30 year mortgage costs $240 per month. Which would be more than paid for directly by avoided costs of grid supplied power and gasoline which typically cost at LEAST $600 per month...yielding a positive cash flow payback period of ZERO MONTHS!!!

HEY Da55id you didn't factor in the cost of the electric car! OK let's add in a $10,000 premium for an electric car (added cost over a standard gas only car) minus $3000 tax credit=$7000...financed over 5 years at $140 per month. We STILL get immediate and significant cash flow positive results well over $200 per month in the very first month! Or, $72,000 after tax cost avoidance over 30 years or $167,000 if you put the monthly positive cash flow in a 5% interest bearing account. CFO's call that a no brainer. Now, make that calculation for energy using major companies and grins and champagne corks pop out all over the place

plus we get near total grid independence.

at least one saved loss of frozen etc food due to black out risk

real saving of lives and property during massive grid failures in hurricanes or freezes (will happen at least once during system life)

And there's the community benefits of not having to build the marginal peak power hugely expensive centralized capacity (non-coal /nat gas)

vastly reduced CO2, micro/nano particulates reduces morbidity system wide

growing energy independence

improved balance of payments

improved gdp

productivity growth virtually unbounded by lack of energy sources

totally renewable forever

significantly reduced international tensions over oil as it gradually becomes as valuable as whale oil (ie not very) - and a crime to burn it

less "venture funding" available for international bad actors with hostile intent

They complained about the Prius, and it only costs $21K ;-)

(In fact it is lower TCO, total cost of ownership, than a majority of new cars sold.)

yes odograph...I wanted to be super conservative in my post - I think the cash benefits will actually turn out to be higher than I posted. And as soon as we can get a plug in hybrid (plug in Prius would be great) we can start saving that money. Of course, the battery packs will need to be larger, and that's why I included the $7,000 premium in my financial scenario above.


Your concept is attractive. I'm not sure I agree with your math, but I don't have better math. (yet)

I know I priced solar for my house earlier this year and it came out to a 10-11 year payback on cash flow. Yes- after all available tax credits and rebates. Yes, assuming net metering (so the grid would be my backup/storage).
But- I couldn't power an electric car so I got no gasoline savings. (Mostly because one isn't available unless I want to build it myself (I don't- not yet anyway).)
And I couldn't generate/store enough at those numbers to get off the grid.
And I assumed a conservative 10x on monthly savings (electric) as the increase to value in my house. (This number turns out be really important for builders and investors. A little less so for homeowners who plan to be in their home awhile. FWIW- Builders are generally looking for a positive multiple on cost- 2x is typical - or they won't install it.)

You reassurance that everything will be on the shelf w/in 2 years at worst is encouraging, but your model assumes two things I'll believe when I see:
1) The necessary solar panels that make it workable at the kind of expense you estiamate. (Though at $40K I'm not going to be first on my block. And neither are a lot of others)
2) "stir briskly via tax credits and incentives"
These couldn't make solar work for me now. Remind me why they will later?

That said- I'm scheduled to test drive an Aptera Nov 14 2008. And I have a request in to test drive the Tango asap.

Phil- Realistic? really?
How about these for some realistic guys:
- “640k ought to be enough for anybody.” – Bill Gates 1981
- “So we went to Atari and said, “Hey we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.” And they said, “No”. So then we went to Hewlett Packard and they said, “Hey, we don’t need you; you haven’t even got through college yet.” – Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s pc.

You know this area of tech blindness at least as well most, better I would think

I'm not asking for my own personal orbital vehicle nor even my flying car (though I think a flying Segway would be wicked cool and not that hard technologically). I just want enough electric storage to move 1500-2000 pounds for 80-100 miles, that can recharge overnight. The technology exists now- though I admit there is no market and Toyota was right to hide the plug in outlet ont he early Priuses. ("Priusi" ?)
So the realism you are urging is on the market- not the technology. And this may be one of those Catch-22's where no one will build it commercially because there is no market and there is no market because the thing is not commercially available.
I don't trust GM"s market assessment that led to the end of the EV1. Partly because I don't trust GM anyway, but mostly because they have a vested interest (namely the rest of their business) in not having ev's take over.


You know, the only thing conceptually wrong with the Aptera is that it's essentially a motorcycle with doors. While there are a lot of folks in the m/c market that would consider such a vehicle, it's being marketed to car drivers instead and I don't think it will satisfy the ancillary requirements of that market (kids, cargo, etc).


It's only a motorcycle because it has three wheels. It's a technicality that has several benefits- namely that it need not be crash tested. Though my understanding is htat the APtera has been and will be further.

As one in need of routine cargo and kid hauling- I think it can work. My aversion to the first model is that not only does the top not come off- the windows don't open. I also wish I could get my test drive sooner than next Nov. Maybe Phil can pull some Speculist strings and get behind the wheel as "press".

I;ll foot the bill if I can do it.

@ MDarling,

Not only does the top not come off (for the very good reason that a row of solar cells are installed there to charge the ancillary equipment power supply, the windows have to remain closed for the airodynamic efficiency gai9ns to be realised. Otherwise, I suspect the mpg rating would drop to under 100.

One of the ancillary functions is a blower circulating air through the cabin and venting it out the rear of the fin. This keeps the electronics - not to mention the passengers - cool (or at least thermally vented) and further reduces drag while in motion.

Don't get me wrong, it's a neat concept and I would likely consider one once delivery comes down a couple months or less.

Ah jeez. You guys will just have to figure all that out for yourselves.

Spellcheck, Spellcheck, Spellcheck ...

Forget hydrogen. If the Stanford battery technology works as advertised, hydrogen as an energy storage medium just got really uninteresting. The Stanford team claims it's easy and cheap to manufacture, and has 10x the storage density of today's best lithium batteries. Imagine your laptop battery giving the same juice at 1/10 the size. The Tesla has 6831 batteries today. Imagine it with 1/10 as many.

Larry- huh?
I can imagine ...well I can imagine a lot. Wait- I imagine a reference to a device or source about it?

I get the reason for the sealed bubble. But I still want the top to come off. ANd fcku spchlleecheck - if it was still imprtant than the site would do it for us...

MD --

I shouldn't speak for Larry, but I think his point is that you could collect power by any of a number of means -- nano-solar, anyone? -- and then store it in one of these new super-batteries rather than, say, a hydrogen fuel cell.

BTW, "realistic" is strictly in terms of what the current political/social/economic infrastructure will allow, certainly not what's technologically feasible. The Apollo program showed us how fast an idea can become technological reality, and it only scratched the surface. Did you ever see When World's Collide? I think if we had a couple years warning of Earth's certain demise, we could have a substantial population living in space -- maybe in space stations, maybe on Mars -- within that time. But failing that level of motivation, changes are bound to move more slowly.

On the subject of spelling check (not "spell check" -- please, what is this? Hogwarts?) get a better browser, pal. Why should I waste precious resources on something that Firefox builds right in?

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