March 27, 2006
Lithium Ion Nanoparticle Batteries Better For Cars

An article in Technology Review reports the Altair Nanotechnologies lithium ion battery has the fast charging and discharging needed for all electric vehicles.

Advances in lithium-ion battery technology over the last few years have experts and enthusiasts alike wondering if the new batteries may soon make high-performance electric vehicles widely available. Now one company, Altair Nanotechnologies of Reno, NV, has announced plans to start testing its new batteries in prototype electric vehicles, with road tests scheduled to begin by year-end.

The batteries can be recharged in 6 to 8 minutes.

Also, Gotcher says an electric vehicle using their batteries could charge in about the time it takes to fill a tank of gas and buy a cup of coffee and snack -- six to eight minutes.


Gotcher says the new battery materials can be produced for about the same cost as conventional lithium-ion materials, but will have two to three times the lifespan of today's batteries.

Lithium is lightweight. Lithium-based batteries could make electric cars feasible.

Nanoparticles that provide much more surface area allow the batteries to charge and discharge much more rapidly.

The added surface area of nanoscale particles on electrode materials helps the ions escape, freeing more of them to travel and provide bursts of power or quick recharging.

Some electrochemists think lightweight high energy density batteries are within the realm of the physically possible. Development of long lasting, quick charging, cost competitive, and lightweight batteries could make electric cars commonplace. Such a development would greatly reduce our dependence on oil and allow any energy source that can produce electricity (e.g. nuclear, coal, wind, solar) to replace oil for most transportation needs.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 March 27 09:18 PM  Energy Electric Cars

Russ said at March 28, 2006 4:24 AM:

I hope the Japanese are working on this. They're the only ones who seem to be able to put out a manufactured product with long-term sustainability.

Rob said at March 28, 2006 7:58 AM:

most transportation needs

This should read, "most personal, intra-city transportation needs". It's not going to replace big, old diesel engines and it's probably not there yet for cross-country travel. Still, of course, just solving the daily commute is a big deal.

Alan Njeru said at March 28, 2006 8:22 AM:


A lot of technologies have been invented in the USA only to be exploited commercially by Asian manufacturers. Examples include solar panels, LCD, plasma screen technologies. It seems that innovation is one thing development is another.


From my view a lot of these electric- hybrid technologies and devices are complementary products that simply reduce fuel consumption or induce efficiency rather than work independently. Some products in the market place e.g. butter or margarine are purely sold for consumption with other items; in the case of jam you need bread - you can't eat it by itself.

Paul Dietz said at March 28, 2006 8:39 AM:

There are several problems with batteries; power density and charging time are only two. Energy density is also important, as are durability (in the sense of maximum number of charging cycles that can be tolerated), cost, and safety.

Rapidly charging an all-electric vehicle also has the problem of requiring an enormous amount of electrical power, unless the vehicle is one of those ultralight toys that very few will actually buy. Do you want to have a half-megawatt powerline hooked to your car at the charging station? And don't try to tell me we can swap out battery packs; that's clearly impractical in the real world (due to the hardware equivalent of Gresham's law).

Gus said at March 28, 2006 9:56 AM:

Yeah it's just like now with the problems we have with people handling flamable liquids when fueling up their car. Can you immagine all the fires that will happen. Seriously though, if you ever have used an electric car you would know that most charging hookups use induction to transfer the energy. There are no exposed cantacts for someone to shock themselves with.

Paul Dietz said at March 28, 2006 11:28 AM:

Yeah it's just like now with the problems we have with people handling flamable liquids when fueling up their car.

Uh huh. A 500 amp, 1000 V circuit is just the same as a hose. Brilliant!

I'd love to see a 500 kW inductive connector. Better not have any magnetic strip cards in your wallet, and maybe you could move it with a forklift.

Daniel said at March 28, 2006 11:30 AM:

Hmm... not being raped on gas prices, and cutting global warming back a bit. Sounds like a winner to me.

K said at March 28, 2006 11:32 AM:

These recent battery announcements seem much more "real" than those from the previous decade. Let us hope so.

Randall has been a strong advocate of heavy federal funding for battery research. I disagreed somewhat and felt it would probably make things worse. We may never know. But a reasonably sized and priced car with 150 mile range and home recharge seems near.

About the increased load on the grid: Where better to place the load? At least we know how to expand and reliably operate electric grids. It is established technology. Compare that to the dozens of difficulties with hydrogren generation, distribution, and utilization.

Nick said at March 28, 2006 12:00 PM:

"There are several problems with batteries; power density and charging time are only two. Energy density is also important, as are durability (in the sense of maximum number of charging cycles that can be tolerated), cost, and safety."

The latest batteries from Altair, A123 Systems, and Toshiba all seem to address all of these problems. I believe that they're generally much more stable than the Lithium-Cobalt batteries that are now standard. Cycle durability is dramatically improved: 10,000 cycles with 99% of capacity remaining, versus 500 to 1000 and 50%, currently. Energy density is supposed to be comparable to current Li-ion batteries. The remaining wild card was cost, and Altair says that's comparable. You should keep in mind that these batteries have much greater depth of charge, which combined with greater life effectively reduces cost by an order of magnitude (5-10x), so if cost is the same for the same nameplate capacity, then these batteries will be much cheaper.

"I'd love to see a 500 kW inductive connector. Better not have any magnetic strip cards in your wallet, and maybe you could move it with a forklift."

I understand the GM EV1 used this kind of connector successfully. Anybody have the specs on that?

Dave said at March 28, 2006 12:46 PM:

"It's not going to replace big, old diesel engines"

Why not?
Some large dumpers already use electric motors from power generated from the diesel engines, whats to stop the engine being replaced by a battery once they become good enough?

There have already been experimental electric buses.

Paul Dietz said at March 28, 2006 1:02 PM:

I understand the GM EV1 used this kind of connector successfully. Anybody have the specs on that?

The CARB standard charging paddle had a power level of 6.6 kW, I believe.

Wolf-Dog said at March 28, 2006 1:32 PM:

It is only a matter of time for batteries to be competitive, and in a few years there will be reasonable electric vehicles that will get you where you want.

Thus the coming worldwide uranium shortage is at hand. Here is a web site where the price of uranium is graphed:

Note that between now and 2015, only about 50-60 new reactors will be built in the world. The current total number of reactors in the world is just a little over 400.

But given that electric power conversion is so much more efficient than cars, even building thousands of coal-fired plants in the US (to charge electric cars) might actually be less polluting, PROVIDED that there is an effort to filter the heavy metals.

hamerhokie said at March 28, 2006 8:36 PM:

"The CARB standard charging paddle had a power level of 6.6 kW, I believe."

The CALCAR spec for plug in hybrids calls for a mere 1 KW charger, since the expectation is the cars will be recharged overnight and time is not a factor.

With these fast recharge cells, no one has explained exactly how the rapid recharge will be accomplished. For an electric car, compact sized, you are talking about 50 kWh energy for a full recharge, and to do that in minutes will require, as Paul states, a huge power transfer device.

Randall Parker said at March 28, 2006 8:43 PM:

That 50 KWh for a full charge sounds like good news for another reason: It amounts to about $4 to $6 dollars for most Americans (assuming about 8 to 12 cents per kwh).

But how many miles would the vehicle then be able to travel?

AA2 said at March 28, 2006 8:48 PM:

Personally I never travel more then about 30 kilometers away from home. So honestly even current electric vehicles would satisfy my needs. The issues are cost and durability.. which are both not hard to overcome when mass production happens.

I've argued by about 2020 most people in north america will have two cars for their family... One all electric for commuting and day to day life.. and one hybrid-electric incase they are going to take longer trips.

However with fast charging batteries I don't see much point in having the hybrid in the long run.. Although it may take a fair amount of time to transition to that model.

Nick said at March 29, 2006 7:52 AM:


I believe the Prius uses 200 whrs per mile (150-250 depending on speed, conditions, etc), so 50 kwhrs would give you about 250 miles.

Rob said at March 29, 2006 9:17 AM:

I've argued by about 2020 most people in north america will have two cars for their family... One all electric for commuting and day to day life.. and one hybrid-electric incase they are going to take longer trips.

I also think this is the way it will go. Lots and lots of families have a second car only for the commute of the spouse. There is one, big car to hold everyone on various excursions and a second car used mostly for commutes and short trips. It would cause very little disruption in the family's transportation patterns to replace that second car with an electric runnabout. The runnabout would have to be capable of highway speeds and crash safety, but only have a range of 100-200 miles.

Since this is doable today with existing technology, I think we can say that this solution is just waiting to become a societal norm.

Paul Dietz said at March 29, 2006 10:45 AM:

Since this is doable today with existing technology, I think we can say that this solution is just waiting to become a societal norm.

Or we can say that consumer preferences have already been expressed, and the market has spoken.

Matt said at March 29, 2006 11:02 AM:

Can anyone comment on the energy density of these lithium ion batteries vs. gasoline or ethanol?

For a given weight or volume, will these batteries store as much energy as fluid based sources?

AA2 said at March 29, 2006 3:01 PM:

Matt I will look up the exact numbers for you tonight.. The difference is huge, especially in energy per kg. Like 75 wh/kg for nickel-metal hydride batteries.. versus 13,000 wh/kg for gasoline. However other factors matter too like energy per cubic litre.. And with gasoline you need a large and heavy engine to turn the stored energy into motion.

Randall Parker said at March 29, 2006 4:06 PM:


If the Prius really does travel 250 miles on 50 KWH and that amount of electricity costs about $5 then that works out to 2 pennies per mile. Amazing. You could travel 10,000 miles for $100.

As for the fuel station recharging problem: A lot of recharging will take place at home. What is the average number of amps available at a home electric wall plug?

At the moment I'm charging my car battery because I accidentally left the car lights on. A full charge normally takes hours. But lithium ion nanoparticle batteries would charge more rapidly.

Tom said at March 29, 2006 4:29 PM:


Electric Range - 30-50 AMP
Dryer - 30 Amp
Typical outlet 15-20

Bob Badour said at March 29, 2006 4:30 PM:

Standard lighting is 120V x 15A = 1.8kW
Electric Stove/Dryer is 240V x 30A = 7.2kW

Newer homes have 100A or 200A breaker panels, but keep in mind that many older homes have 35A or 60A service, which would certainly need upgrading.

I suspect I would want to upgrade the 100A breaker panel when adding an electric or hybrid car charger.

Heck, 240V x 100A is 24kW.

I assume current models put the rectifier in the car. Would it make sense to wire up a heavy-duty rectifier at the house external to the car? Would that save much vehicle weight?

Tom said at March 29, 2006 4:45 PM:

I commute 60 miles a day, and get 33 mpg - I think I'd want a 150 mile range before I'd feel comfortable buying a purely electric car - failing that, I might consider a hybrid getting 60+ miles on virtually no gas. The problem there is I end up paying for and hauling around an ICE, which dead weight.

I fall into Rob's category: My wife (with the 1 mile commute) drives the big(ger) car - a Subaru Legacy wagon (22 mpg in nearly 100% city driving). Whenever we go on trips, that's what we use.

Randall Parker said at March 29, 2006 5:05 PM:

Bob, Tom,

So then (and it has been a long time since I took college physics) at 120V and 15A the 1.8 KW means it would take 1 hour to put 1.8 KWH into the car's battery, right? If one needed to then put 50 KWH it'd take 27.8 hours which seems unacceptable.

Even upping to 150A at 120V it would still take 2.8 hours to charge the battery, right?

240V at 200A would be 48 KWH per hour?

Also, ideally one would want a garage location that did the charging automatically with an inductive connector would allow one to avoid messing with a cable. But some (probably most) people do not live in places where they could put a car in their own garage.

Another point: An electric filling station would be very spiky in terms of its demand on the grid.

Wolf-Dog said at March 29, 2006 8:49 PM:

How much more electric power generation would be needed if all the cars were made pure electric in the US?
Any numbers? For instance, compared to how much power is being generated in the US now, how much more would be needed if all cars were electric?

Randall Parker said at March 29, 2006 9:25 PM:

Wolf-Dog, you ask a very interesting question.

Think about that Prius and what it would take to operate it for a year if charged up from wall socket electricity.

Some questions:

1) How many cars are on the road?

2) How many miles driven per car on average?

3) How many watt-hours would be needed per mile for the average car?

Ditto for trucks.

Let me take a first order SWAG at this question: Imagine 100 million Priuses driving 10,000 miles per year at 200 watt-hours per mile. That works out to 2000 kwh per vehicle per year. Then that becomes 200 billion kwh per year, right?

To put that in perspective, in the United States in 2004 3567 billion kwh of electricity were sold (see page 20 of a very interesting presentation). So that increase in demand for electricity for cars doesn't seem all that large.

But 3567 billion kwh at 10 cents per kwh is $356.7 billion. Does that sound ballpark?

Even if we doubled the number of vehicles and doubled the watt-hours per mile we'd still be at only 800 billion kwh per year. Shift that into dollars by assuming 10 cents per kwh and that is only $80 billion in a 12 trillion dollar a year economy.

Anyone want to supply more realistic numbers as inputs to this calculation?

Also, am I making any mistakes?

Wolf-Dog said at March 29, 2006 10:02 PM:

Yes, this is the KEY question for electric vehicles: If we make all cars, trucks and buses pure electric in the United States, then how much more electricity would be needed as a percentage of the electricity we are consuming now?

IF Randall Parker's figures that at most 1,000 billion kwh per year would be needed for pure electric cars in the United States, then this is less than 30 % of the current annual electric power consumption here.

Basically, the issue is how many coal fired and/or nuclear power plantes will be constructed for the electric cars. The rest is very easy in comparison.

To put things in perspective, already approximately 20 % of the electric power is nuclear in the United States. There are approximately 100 nuclear reactors in operation in the United States:

From this perspective, if it is true that (according to Randall Parker's back of the envelope estimate), less than 50 % extra electricity is enough to make all vehicles (including cars, buses and trucks) electric, then there is light at the end of tunnel. This would mean only 250 nuclear reactors in the United States, in exchange for preventing WW III. Or even if we doubled the price of electricity in order to make 100 % clean coal-fired plants instead of nukes, this would be OK for cars, since oil is so much more expensive.

So again, I would like to hear what people have to say, as far as the approximate amount of annual electricity that is needed for pure electric vehicles in the US... Any comments?

AA2 said at March 29, 2006 11:06 PM:

One way to look at it might be looking at the total energy picture. I believe the breakdown is 40% electric, 30% transport and 30% thermal. Of course electric vehicles are substantially more efficient then combustion engines.. and a lot of transport is things like airplanes which we can't replace with electric any time soon.

A 50% increase in the electric grid imo is a high estimate of what would be needed. So say 250 more nuclear reactors of the current size. Not that hard to do, just takes giving the go ahead. GE, Toshiba and others have safe nuclear reactor designs ready to go.. and the costs to build them are coming down, especially with scale.

AA2 said at March 29, 2006 11:17 PM:

Also I should add electrical demand is coming up exponentially anyway. Not even counting electric cars, people are demanding more electricity per capita. And the population in the US is itself growing at 10% a decade. If you take what is probably a high estimate of 2% per capita increase in use of electricity per year, then that is 3% electrical demand growth per year in the USA. Which means 24 years from now, in 2030 America will have to produce twice the electricity that it does today.

If you take a conservative estimate of 1% population growth and only 1% per capita increase annually, then in 2030 America will need 60% more electrical production then it has today.

If we are going to continue to progress economically we will need a massive buildup of electrical generation in the coming decades anyway. My opinion is if we let them make money and let them build plants, Duke, Exelon, Entergy, Southern Co., Dominion, TXU and the other utilities will build as many plants as needed.

Wolf-Dog said at March 29, 2006 11:20 PM:

This web site gives a rough estimate that electricty per mile is half the cost of the dollar cost of gasoline per mile.

But at the same time, the main resistance against pure electric cars is not just the oil companies, but also the automobile companies, because pure electric cars are FAR easier to make than intenal combustion cars, and this would make competition against the big automobile companies such as not only GM, Ford and Deimler-Chrysler, but also all the established Japanese and European automobile companies very dreadful. Right now the engry into the automobile market is very prohibitively expensive, since cars are so complex. Although it is very easy to make an older generation and unsophisticated internal combustion car from the 1950s, it is FAR more difficult to make a high quality internal combustion car that can compete with the German and Japanese cars, because all the moving parts of the car, the carburator, the radiator, the exhaust pipes, the gears, belts, transmission, etc, must be designed and manufactured with competitive precision. If pure electric cars were possible, all the well established Asian, European and American automobile companies would suddenly face stiff competition from a variety of upstart companies, since the entry to the field would be much less expensive.

Paul Dietz said at March 30, 2006 5:48 AM:

The main resistance to electric cars is neither oil companies nor car companies.

The main resistance is customers. People have overwhelmingly demonstrated they don't actually want to spend money on electric cars. They mostly don't want to spend money on smaller gasoline cars or hybrids, either. The most efficient hybrid auto on the US market, the Honda Insight, sold just 666 units last year.

I can't blame car companies for not wanting to build vehicles that their customers don't want.

Bob Badour said at March 30, 2006 5:59 AM:
So then (and it has been a long time since I took college physics) at 120V and 15A the 1.8 KW means it would take 1 hour to put 1.8 KWH into the car's battery, right?

That assumes no losses, which is unrealistic. I would double the time or halve the energy getting into the battery.

Rob said at March 30, 2006 8:33 AM:

When you're talking about the extra demand on the grid to support electric cars, it's important to realize that what the utilities care about most is peak demand, which typically comes in the afternoon. It is only when your peak demand exceeds your generating capacity that you have to build more power plants.

In other words, it would make a huge difference if you could arrange for all of those cars to recharge at night, during off-peak hours. That would cause the utilities to run more plants at higher capacity, but not to build new plants, which is very, very difficult and expensive.

Nick said at March 30, 2006 11:17 AM:

"That would cause the utilities to run more plants at higher capacity"

Rob, you're partly right. The trouble is that there's a limit to that: many of the nuclear and coal plants which provide base-load power are maxed out, and the peak power is provided to a great extent by natural gas plants, which are expensive, and aren’t designed to run for extended periods.

The logical answer here is wind. Plug-in hybrids could provide the missing (and thus far too expensive) storage needed to deal with the intermittency of wind. Cars these days are computers on wheels, and are getting highly connected (GM is hoping to get all of it's customers using Onstar, for instance, but the likely bet would be powerline communications from a smart electric meter). They would be perfect for demand management: owners could choose the price point at which they are willing to start charging, and the utility could communicate minute-by-minute rates for use by the car's onboard computer. Even more fun, the process could eventually be reversed, with cars providing peak power when needed: 200M cars (85% of the US fleet) at 2.5 kw each is 500GW of peak capacity, roughly the total US current peak generating capacity! Of course, you wouldn’t want to do that for long, because you’d want to rely on the battery storage, and not the ICE, but you could use the ICE also in a pinch. An end forever to grid instability.

I see a world where most cars are plug-ins, and people charge them at 2.5 kw for 22 hours per night in their garage or at parking/power meters (they have these in Minneapolis for engine heating) to get 110 miles per day of power. They'd have a capacity of 250 miles, typically use 20-50 per day, and use the excess for longer trips (and electricity arbitrage, as described above), supplemented by the small on-board ICE generator. After a long trip the battery would be refilled over 2-5 days.

We would get to this world gradually as battery costs fall. Batteries get bigger, ICE's get smaller, everyone is happy. Mostly.

AA2 said at March 30, 2006 2:22 PM:

One concept gaining popularity is charging different rates for electricity depending on the time of the day. Because of the peak issue. Consumers could then decide to charge their car up at say 12 cents a kw/h during a peak time.. or wait until the dead of night and pay 3 cents a kw/h. Of course they could set automated dials to start at the preferred times. As is already done in parts of Europe with things like washing machines.

Of course you have to factor in things like replacing everyone's meters, and creating a whole new bureaucracy to figure this system out and administer it.. and when you make those calculations in the utility business its often easier to just throw in another billion dollar plant.

Tom said at March 30, 2006 4:44 PM:


"The most efficient hybrid auto on the US market, the Honda Insight, sold just 666 units last year."

Yet the Prius sold 107,897 (

I think that suggests that the kind of people who are interested in hybrids want:

a) 4 seats
b) an automatic transmission
c) a car that doesn't look like a go-cart.


"So then (and it has been a long time since I took college physics) at 120V and 15A the 1.8 KW means it would take 1 hour to put 1.8 KWH into the car's battery, right? If one needed to then put 50 KWH it'd take 27.8 hours which seems unacceptable."

Absolutely. With that kind of power, you wouldn't be able to run off your existing garage outlet. You'd want to run a 240 V, 50Amp (I ran that myself for my range - you need 8 gauge cable, which is a bit of a pain to work with). Typically you try to run way under the max, so lets say you actually pull 40 Amp, so we're talking 5.2 hours. That's not great - not a stop at the gas station - but it's reasonable for a commuter car.

Randall Parker said at March 30, 2006 6:45 PM:


If you go page thru the US Energy Information Administration 2006 projection of future US energy growth to page 18 you'll see they are projecting US coal consumption to grow by 61% by 2030.

See page 22 where they are also expecting coal to grow from 50% to 57% of electricity by 2030. Nuclear shrinks from 20% currently to 15% even as the absolute amount of power from nuclear increases.

They do not show renewables becoming all that big of players. I suspect they are underestimating the future for renewables. But maybe not. Hydro is the biggest source of renewables now. If wind grows a great deal then that might only allow renewables to maintain their current percent of a growing total.

On page 20 they show electric demand rising from 3567 billion kwh in 2004 to 5341 billion kwh in 2030. That's a 50% increase and the size of that increase appears to be far larger than what it would take to shift all transportation to electric power.

I agree with Rob's point about peak capacity and varying levels of demand. Add in dynamic pricing and electric utilities could produce a lot more power without building new power plants.

Electric cars will increase demand for coal electricity. Why? If we do get cheap, lightweight, fast charging, fast discharging, high energy density, durable batteries and dynamic pricing the resulting electric demand growth will happen at night. I see it shifting even more rapidly toward coal. Why? Natural gas costs more per kwh. So coal will be favored over natural gas. At the same time, my guess is that nuclear power plants already run full tilt 24 hours a day 7 days a week because they have very low fuel costs and huge capital costs. So without building more nuclear plants nuclear can't supply more electric for transportation. Whereas coal plants can increase output at night.

Randall Parker said at March 30, 2006 6:49 PM:

Another point: Since reactors supply 20% of US electricity and US electricity consumption in 2004 was 3567 billion that means nukes supplied 713 billion kwh. That's pretty close to my SWAG calculation above of how much electricity would be required to shift all transportation to electricity.

Given that the average nuclear power plant size existing today is smaller than the average nuke that will be built in the future it seems likely that 100 new nuclear plants could power all vehicles - given a suitable battery technology. But even if I'm low by a factor of 2 then 200 nukes would be needed.

Wolf-Dog said at March 30, 2006 8:05 PM:

Coal Plants currently cause heavy metal pollution. I wonder if there is any provable correlation between overall pollution in the United States, and the current mysterious epidemic of attention deficit disorders in American schools. Since many of the attention deficit disorder victims are at the elementary school level, this deleterious epidemic cannot be due to the illegal drugs sold in high schools. This is something to take into account. Are there any statistics about this? If we end up with a mentally retarted nation, the nation itself will not survive very long... Especially in this current violent world...

Another question is the cost of completely filtering the heavy metals from the coal plant emissions. How much more would this increase the cost of electricity? Right now, even at twice the price of electricity, the electric cars would be more economical than gasoline cars. Would doubling the current price of electricity make it possible to filter all the heavy metals from the emissions?

AA2 said at March 30, 2006 9:00 PM:

Randall... I think they might run coal plants during the night anyway. Because it takes more coal to reheat the boiler for the next day, then it does to just burn coal all night. I admit I could be wrong on this though.

I know in BC we are almost all hydro. So during the night we import electricity from neighbouring Alberta, which is thermal. While our damns are shut off, storing the water. Then during the day we export power from the damns.

AA2 said at March 30, 2006 9:10 PM:

The EIA forecast seems conservative on the low side to me, even not factoring in electric cars. A 50% increase in electrical consumption in 2030 is only a 1.7% annual increase. That is only around a .7% increase in electrical consumption per year per capita. Because the population is growing at almost 1% a year.

Philip Sargent said at April 1, 2006 3:33 AM:

That's right. Electricity demand in developed economies grows at about 1.7- 1.8% pa. It is extremely well documented by the IEA in many countries over many years.

The major trends are:
- population growth
- GDP per person growth
- increasing energy efficiency of growth (GDP/TWh)
and also
- increasing carbon efficiency of energy use (GDP / Gt CO2)
though that last one is not strictly relevant to this discussion thread.

Nick said at April 4, 2006 9:20 AM:


The EIA projections are astonishingly simplistic and traditional. Even a simple projection of current growth and decline rates for domestic natural gas and renewable electrical generation would paint a very different picture.

1) they assume that domestic lower 48 natural gas production will continue to increase: I don't think any industry experts believe that - instead there is a consensus that production has peaked, and declining reasonably quickly (very fast depletion of current wells, partially offset by a high volume of new drilling, which in turn is slowly becoming less productive). They show an increase in production in 2010, and only a small decrease by 2030 - this is breathtaking out of touch with reality.

2) they show renewables increasing only slightly, even by 2030. As you've noted before, wind is growing by 45% per year. In fact, domestic wind is growing even faster than that, as 2006 installations will grow by 65% over 2005. Even 40% annual growth gives you doubling every 2 years. Wind kwhr production at the end of 2006 will be .9% of the total, and doubling for 10 years would give 29%. Now, it may slow down or even peak between 10% and 20% (though I think geographic spacing, storage and demand management advances will allow slower but still steady growth), but clearly growth will be very strong.

Solar is doubling every two years globally. While this is due to subsidies, especially in Germany, solar costs are dropping fairly quickly. Subsidies are phasing out in Japan, and I believe solar PV costs have reaching the breakeven point there, given their high electricity costs (mostly from oil!) and low interest rates. Subsidies will go away only slowly, and cost reductions will stay ahead of them, so solar will continue to grow quickly - PV growth rates are actually accelerating. Concentrated thermal solar is growing very fast - 500 MW installations are being built, albeit slowly at the moment, while utilities hedge their bets.

In 15 years it is very likely that wind and solar together will add more than 3% electrical generating capacity to the overall electrical supply per year, and that no new capacity will be needed from other sources from that point on.

Even if that might seem over-optimistic, I think any reasonable and objective analyst has to agree that it's entirely unrealistic to think that the total renewable contribution will not increase at all in 25 years, as shown by the EIA projections.

3) Take a look at the coal price chart. You'll see that the data doesn't show the recent dramatic price increases. These will probably moderate as infrastructure is built up, but this shows quite clearly how sloppy these projections are.

4)distributed electric production is simply not included in EIA data - only central generating stations are included. That's not a big component now, but you'll never be able to rely on the EIA to show you the effect of distributed solar installations.

5) EIA analyses often compare thermal inputs to heat engine electrical generation sources(coal/nuclear) to electrical output (converted to btu's) from renewable sources, which is obviously very misleading.

The EIA forecasts are simply very low quality. They can only be relied upon for historical data, and even there they tend to be out of date, and sometimes use bad methodology (such as the problems in #'s 4 and 5 above (these errors, oddly enough, always seem to work in favor of conventional sources...).

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2006 6:38 PM:


I think you are misinterpreting the EIA data on natural gas. Look at page 15. They show a large part of the domestic natural gas increase as coming from Alaska. Well, the Alaska natural gas pipeline is looking like it will get built. So that part makes sense. Then they have big growth in "non-associated unconventional". My guess is a lot of that is coal-to-gas.

Renewables: Your math is faulty. Yes, wind is growing rapidly. But that does not mean that total renewables are growing rapidly. The vast bulk of renewables is still hydro. So wind electric can double and yet it is such a small slice of total renewables that it does not increase total renewables by much. Total renewables is still growing more slowly than the market as a whole.

Coal prices won't go up that far because as soon as prices go up more mines get opened. That is already happening.

Still, I agree that they are underestimating the future contribution of renewables. Solar is still really expensive and its growth is mainly driven by tax credits and other government subsidies. But eventually cheap solar is going to happen.

Nick said at April 5, 2006 10:29 AM:


well, it seems like we're circling in on a consensus here, but it seems worth the time to come to agreement on the points you disagreed on in your last response, so here goes.

On natural gas: yes, they show large contributions from Alaska, and unconventional, BUT if I understand the chart conventional lower 48 (Base Production, slide 15) is shown continuing to grow until 2015, and only falling slightly by 2030. As I discussed, this is badly out of touch with the reality of the industry.

Renewables: yes, hydro is 90% of renewables (which in turn are about 15-20% of total electrical generation), and yes, if wind only doubled it would only go from about 5% to 10% of renewables (about 2% of the total), BUT wind is going to do much more than double. Wind installations are at about 4 GW (nominal) in 2006 - this is 65% higher than 2005. At a lower rate of growth of 40% per year wind installations would double EVERY 2 years, and be at 32 GW nominal (or 10 continuous) in just 8 years. That would be installation of 2% of total electrical generating capacity, per year. At that rate of growth wind could get to 20% of market share in 10 years. Even if hydro's market share drops to 10%, renewables would be at 30% market share even with no contribution from solar. Now, wind growth rates will probably slow down some when wind's market share passes about 10%, but's awfully clear that the EIA is just putting it's collective head in the sand to project 9% for the total renewable market share in 2030, even without solar.

Coal: yes, coal prices will probably drop some as capacity and infrastructure are built out, but they have ALREADY doubled, and been there for some months. That's not reflected in the EIA chart at all. The current pricing should be in the chart. The fact that it's not tells me that the EIA is just being extraordinarily bad at adjusting to new information.

Solar: It's important to keep in mind that external costs that are not reflected in market costs are in fact real costs. They're just not internalized due to bad accounting. So, for instance, even conservative economists agree that a gasoline tax for $1 would be the right thing to do, to internalize real costs that are not now reflected in the sale price (due to CO2, NO2, sulfur, mercury, congestion, fuel price volatility/security, etc.). Unfortunately, subsidies for solar are necessary because charges for external costs for conventional energy sources are politically impossible (at least under the current administration). When governments decide that subsidies (or charges) are appropriate to correct this situation, they are not distorting the market, they are making it more efficient. From this point of view, solar is currently

Do you agree?

Nick said at April 5, 2006 10:40 AM:

oops, that last should be:

From this point of view, solar is currently only moderately uneconomic (at least for peak shaving, which is at least 20% of the electricity market, and enough for solar to grow on for quite a while), and should become cost-effective (considering all costs) fairly soon.

Randall Parker said at April 5, 2006 8:51 PM:


They show what is probably lower 48 states natural gas production declining till 2010 and then rising to 2015 and then declining. Why? I don't know. But I figure they have their reasons for the reversal around 2015. Maybe they are basing this on deep water leases in the Gulf of Mexico that they expect to come on line then. A lot of stuff has gone out to lease under Bush that will start to show up making a difference.

Wind growth: It can't grow much in the southeast because there's little wind there. I'm not sure how it is going to do frankly. Some of the current growth in wind installations is due to state-level mandates (e.g. California) for renewables as a percentage of total electricity sold. But I do not expect most states to adopt such mandates. So once the states that do adopt then get their renewables quotas satisfied by wind farms in planning stages wind sales could stop rising and perhaps even fall. OTOH, maybe wind costs will fall enough by then to push sales even higher. I do not know.

Coal: The EIA real prices seem to stop somewhere in 2004. Count the ticks on page 19 to the vertical dashed line. But have coal prices since mid 2004 really doubled? That's a complicated question to answer because there's not a single market for coal in the US. For example, Coal prices vary depending on the type of coal:

A survey Feb. 17 by the EIA found Powder River coal selling for $16.85 a short ton versus $58.25 for Central Appalachian coal and $45 for Northern Appalachian coal.

Has Powder River coal doubled? How much have railroad rate hikes contributed to higher prices?

Here's a report that lends credence to the notion that coal prices have doubled:

Robb said nationwide demand for Powder River Basin coal was 348 million tons in 2005, yet delivery was 325 million tons. He said demand is forecast to top 370 million tons this year, yet utilities are expecting delivery to fall short by 20 million tons.

That means Basin Electric, and other Powder River Basin coal customers, are forced to buy power on the spot market, where higher natural gas and coal prices translate into higher bills for consumers.

Within the span of one year, coal on the spot market increased from $7 per ton to $20-plus per ton at the beginning of 2006 for Powder River Basin coal. That means the more a utility relies on the spot market for power, the more the customer will end up paying.

But some coal is delivered under long term contracts. So has the average delivered price doubled? My guess is no, not even close.

The bigger coal bottleneck is in railroad capacity. That's what's holding back Powder River sales. How long will the bottleneck last?

I agree that the market does not show many external costs. That is true for all the fossil fuels. However, solar is so much more expensive that even if all external costs were included in fossil fuel costs solar would still be too expensive. Make coal electric prices match internal plus external costs and the result would be an increase in demand for nuclear power, not solar.

Randall Parker said at April 5, 2006 9:01 PM:

I think the railroads will expand to handle the increased demand for coal:

Price said he believes the railroads are at fault for not investing in maintenance and capacity to keep up with demand. However, they had a relatively good reason. The price of Powder River Basin coal was seriously depressed in the late 1990s through 2002, forcing some producers to sell the coal at or below cost.

"Nobody was real thrilled about putting out more coal, nor were the railroads thrilled about adding capacity," Price said.

2003 was a relatively volatile year for coal prices, which similarly detracted investment. However, with the sharp rise in oil and natural gas prices in 2005, utilities are banking on the stability of coal, particularly the low-sulfur Powder River Basin product.

Now railroads are beefing up staging areas and investing in lighter cars to in order to link longer coal trains.

If the railroads and coal mines expand then the current coal price increase will be temporary.

Andrew said at May 22, 2006 8:37 PM:

Has anyone bothered to do some basic research on Altair Nanotechnologies? They've been around for years, in various guises (mining, oil & gas, and now, nanotech). Their specialty is glomming on to whichever hot new techonology holds faddish promise, and issuing a series of breathless press releases, for the sole purpose of sucking in fresh funds from Nasdaq or the OTC market. They've been threatened with delisting from Nasdaq a number of times. Caveat investor!

jack marchand said at June 25, 2006 4:53 PM:

No kidding..Who Killed the Electric Car?
I killed it.--Why??...Too much anxiety for the owner to feel free to travel long distances.
The alternative is one minute battery swap stations and they (EVs) also interface with my high speed maglev
system presented to US DOT and that was selected "top gun" by a TRW study for the DOT way back in the 1960s'-- A few years ago transportation interests finally saw a new direction from my web site.-- the plug-in
EV had its limitations.-So the EV in the future will be part of a bigger infrastructure to suit everyone's
advantage. GM is now even considering my seperation of the passenger capsule from its bottom carrier
(the motorized wheels, support frame, including the swap batteries). The capsule that will also withstand
a vacuum negative pressure while traveling at very high speeds exceeding the Concorde. It's a
"whole new ball game". And! EVs are not dead --the're coming. --OIL....Let 'em shove it..!!
Check this web site----- tell the world...a new way is imminent ---
the PIGs (PERSONAL INTEREST GROUPS) have had more..!!--We the people will rule.--Jack Marchand

Posted by: jack Marchand at Jun 25, 2006 4:43:27 PM

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Hybrid Cars said at February 3, 2009 7:19 PM:

I love hybrid cars, can't wait to get one myself... I think Electric Cars will win over Hydrogen cars... too much infastructure has to be build just to get hygroden cars off the ground...

Here is a good article Electric Cars (

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