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Overkill : Electric dreams: Running on nothing

By Anton Java
Cebu Daily News

Posted date: July 08, 2008

Electric cars have come of age. Not only are they easier to maintain but they also run cheaper, are now more powerful and, perhaps more importantly, run cleaner than their fossil-fuel counterparts. Or, at the very least, their carbon footprint is dictated only by whatever method it is your power producer uses to produce electricity. If your power producer runs on coal, then, in a way, your electric car will still have a huge carbon footprint down the line. But if your power producer taps, say, geothermal energy or wind as a power source, then your car will have almost zero emissions.
Geothermal power plants and wind turbine farms are few and far between, however. Most countries in the world use a combination of several sources, both clean and unclean, to produce power. This means that if you’re an average person charging your electric car from home, the electricity that runs your car would still have left a carbon footprint somewhere.

This fact has not escaped visionary auto maker Tesla Motors Inc. In creating their flagship car – the Tesla Roadster – the people at Tesla not only aimed to make an efficient, stylish, high-performance sports car, they also aimed to make it emissions free. Completely emissions free, with no carbon footprints anywhere in the charging process. They do this by tapping a very abundant, very underutilized, yet very free and absolutely clean power source: the sun.

For anyone who purchases a Roadster, Tesla Motors refers them to a partner company that provides solar power systems. The customer may then have solar paneling installed in their homes to charge home-based batteries from which the Roadster’s charger can draw power. By using this scheme, not only does the car produce absolutely no carbon byproducts, but powering the car will have no cost at all apart from the initial investment. That’s right: The Roadster, as with all electric cars past, present or future, can RUN ON NOTHING. No gasoline, no diesel, not even your household electric bill will stop you from running the Roadster. All a Roadster owner has to do is spend to maintain the car. And because it’s electric, there are fewer moving parts in it than in internal-combustion vehicles, so maintenance is significantly much easier.

The response to the Tesla Roadster has been phenomenal. Since it started selling earlier this year, the car has not just been sold out, but there’s a one-year waiting list for those who are willing to wait to get one.

Being a sports car, and an electric one to boot, the car is not cheap. But surprisingly, it’s no more expensive than less-efficient, worse-performing sports cars that run internal-combustion engines. At $109,000 (around P4.7 million), most of the Roadster’s price is due to the fact that the vehicle is, in fact, a performance sports car. And it’s a sports car because Tesla wanted to prove a point about electric cars.

And now that the company has made its point, Tesla plans to follow up the success of the Roadster with a cheaper electric car meant for the family. In another year or two, Tesla will start production of a mid-size, four-door electric sedan, currently codenamed “White Star.” While pricing data for the vehicle is not yet available, it is expected to be much cheaper than the Roadster, in line with the company’s aim to produce decent-performing electric cars for the mass market.

It’s high time the world switched cars and mindsets. Electrics are the way to go for a cleaner, less-expensive (or even no-expense) motoring experience, as Tesla has more than proven. While the United States, Europe, Japan and other countries have already taken their first step towards this with the introduction of hybrid vehicles and tax cuts for low-emission forms of transportation, the Philippines, whose people are supposedly proud of their sense of innovation and creativity, has not made much effort to take that first step.

Car manufacturers have proudly presented to local media their hybrid models, but I have seen very little in marketing for such vehicles, while the government does little to encourage the sale or use of hybrids or electrics. (The common belief is that your everyday, run-in-the-mill lawmaker is on the payroll of some giant oil company, so they’re not keen on creating anti-oil laws. How true that is, only they would know.) To date, I have yet to see even a hybrid running on Philippine roads.

While car manufacturers, like Tesla, do their part to combat rising fuel costs and environmental damage, people and especially their governments should also take steps to work towards the same goal. After all, by simply tapping technology that’s already readily available (not to mention free), the only things we have to lose are pollution and our dependence on fossil fuels, while we have our own health, our planet’s health, and long-term savings to gain.

LINK:Electric dreams: Running on nothing -, Philippine News for Filipinos
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