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Assault on batteries

March 24, 2012

[31st J.P.'s Moment of Common Sense on Broad View, KBZZ 1270 AM and 96.1 FM in Reno.]

As President Obama travels around the country at our expense on his magical never-ending campaign trip that started in 2004 (believe it or not), he’s mentioning energy an awful lot.

He should be. His energy policy is an embarrassing mess and Americans are suffering from it. All those solar plants and electric car manufacturers he spent three years bragging about are failing and laying off employees. They were bad ideas. Turns out getting energy money from the Obama administration was never about having a good business idea – it was all about being one of Obama’s buddies.

And the definition of "buddies" is people who donate money to his never-ending presidential election campaign.

On Wednesday, the president gave a speech here in Nevada at a Boulder City solar plant... which received $54 million in government money and employs five people. It doesn’t take much common sense to realize $54 million for 5 jobs is a bad deal, but there he was giving a speech and bragging about it. Here’s an idea, Mr. President: next time, ask those 5 employees if they’ll take one million each to retire in Arizona – that would save taxpayers $49 million and those five guys will be happy as clams.

The next day he gave a speech in Cushing, Oklahoma, where he bragged about making the southern half of the Keystone Pipeline a priority... which is like saying the sun rising in the east is a priority. The sun doesn't require any sort of presidential help and neither does the southern half of Keystone. But the northern section into Canada, where they have billions of barrels of oil they want to sell somebody, that part needed federal approval and Obama nixed it.

Meanwhile, the price of gasoline has gone from $1.82 per gallon when he took office three years ago to $3.87 today, and the price we pay for electricity has gone from 10 cents per kWh when he took office to 12 cents per kWh. That’s a hundred-and-twelve percent rise in the price of gasoline and a twenty percent rise in the cost of our electricity. That’s what happens when your energy policy depends on windmills, solar panels, and unicorns.

Batteries are another boondoggle that Obama loves. He thinks having cars that run on batteries is a great idea and he’s gambled billions of our money on it. It’s a stupid idea. I’m sorry if you’re a Volt owner or put money down on a Fisker Karma and this hurts your feelings but... you bought a stupid car, that’s all there is to it. Those chemical batteries they’re using will never be a viable option for moving vehicles down the road, and the reaction of consumers to the Volt shows that most Americans understand physics better than our Nobel-prize-winning Energy Secretary. The public is refusing to buy them.

The problem is storing electricity. It’s not easy to do. The word “battery” was invented by Benjamin Franklin who lined up a bunch of Leyden jars, which are devices used to store static electricity. He was trying to accumulate a bigger jolt. Remember, this is the guy who flew a kite in a thunderstorm, so accumulating a bigger jolt was important stuff to Benjamin Franklin. When he looked at all those jars lined up on the table, they looked like a battery of cannons so that’s what he called them.

That’s where the word battery comes from, but Leyden jars are actually called capacitors, not batteries, in modern terminology. Here’s why that’s important (bear with me because there’s a point to all this): capacitors are devices used to condense electricity directly, not as ionized chemicals like car batteries. Remember the “flux capacitor” from Back to the Future? Doc Brown used the “flux capacitor” to gather the electricity from a lightning bolt, then deliver it to his Delorean time machine.

Here’s the deal: capacitors accumulate electricity as fast as you can supply it, and give it back as fast as you need it. That’s what makes a capacitor different than a battery. Which brings me to the point: a few years ago scientists invented carbon nanotube capacitors which store electricity directly, can be charged and emptied instantaneously, and last about a thousand times longer than batteries. They’re already commercially available and being used in small devices, and making them big enough to run automobiles is simply an engineering problem, not a matter of physics.

When it comes to the issue of cars running on capacitors, it’s not a question of whether it will happen, but when it will happen. Everybody seems to know this – everybody except the government which keeps pouring money into batteries.

In other words, if our woefully ignorant president and his nincompoop Energy Secretary had simply butted out and let smart people solve the problem, we would eventually have electric cars without a dime from the government. They’ll arrive in their own time, work much better than monstrosities like the Volt, and sell like hotcakes.

As usual, the government went in the wrong direction and wasted a bunch of our money.

That's... today’s dose of common sense..

"The electrical matter consists of particles extremely subtile, since it can permeate common matter, even the densest metals, with such ease and freedom as not to receive any perceptible resistance. If anyone should doubt whether the electrical matter passes through the substance of bodies, or only over along their surfaces, a shock from an electrified large glass jar, taken through his own body, will probably convince him." – Benjamin Franklin

"Eripuit coelo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis. [He snatched the lightning from the sky and the sceptre from tyrants.]" – Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, admiring Benjamin Franklin

From Reno, Nevada, USA       

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