March 2019. Ohms Law & A Little Resistance.


The war had come to its inevitable conclusion, and ‘Little Jumbo’ as my father called me, had little to remind him of the momentous event except that which I am about to relate, being my first memory – or it might have been walking into a lamp-post somewhere in the Grand Parade on the front at Hastings, an event, according to my mother, from which I never recovered. Anyway, we will proceed to more serious things on the strength of the first point. 1945 then!

Most of the male population at the time were demob happy, except for my father, who having decided to make a career of it, found himself the CO of a POW camp for Italians. The only thing of importance to this preface is it was somewhere in the Midlands, Bridgnorth or Stafford in the industrial belt of Britain, home to a lot of engineering companies who made good use of any POW’s with a trade. The hero of this little tale, and an exceedingly bad influence on ‘Little Jumbo’, was a very large Italian engineer who having not seen his own young son for three years, therefore saw me as a useful surrogate. He was responsible for providing my first set of wheels. My first car, if you don’t count the Austin 10, fifteen years later. (March Blog 2017) Red naturally, and made from a collection of scrap metal he no doubt purloined from his day job, along with other accessories for this enterprise. It was a rather prophetic one, as according to my father, the little buggy was meant to have an electric motor with the battery being stored under the seat. That rings true as there was a handy box under it where I used to keep things edible – chestnuts, apples, along with what can only be described as a chocolate corn-flake cake, that my mother made. Apparently, my hero had too much trouble achieving a flexible drive system for this buggy, and to everyone’s relief, settled for a pair of pedals. I, on the other hand, despite legs that were too long, was an overindulged, exceedingly happy mini Fangio!

From this you may have deduced I seemed about to give my thoughts on POW’s. However, the more perceptive among you will have gathered I am about to discuss Electric Vehicles, and as things have turned out, consider the subject of EV’s an interesting topic to bolt on to last months Family Anemoi, they having much in common. Not that I’ve come across any of these electrical upstarts, and the nearest I can relate is a hybrid motor owned by an American friend who considers this the bees knees, even though it doesn’t have an ammeter, and Ohms Law is the only one that matters in this sort of bus. However, I’ve been forced to contemplate this new vehicle phenomenon as virtually all the manufacturers ‘that ever there were’ are producing the likes in an effort to catch up with Elon Musc. Fat chance with the Tesla Roadster turning in at $200,000, and 250 miles an hour. By the by, when even governments are falling over themselves in an effort to be seen as eco-friendly, so smelling a rat, thought I’d better throw a spanner in the works before I have a short circuit.

It must be said I would welcome an electric automobile, but with one proviso. Before they foist it upon a reluctant public, such a vehicle must be as convenient as its present petroleum fuel competitor. Sadly it appears not, and I fancy, though improvements will be forthcoming, they will not come to a satisfactory conclusion in the foreseeable future. The smug owners of these fantasy chariots will find themselves in an endless change of obselescence for many a year yet. May they have deep pockets. The UK and French governments ‘Fear’ tactic of banning all non electric vehicles by 2040 is very much like pointing a blunderbuss at the traffic, and pulling the trigger while closing their eyes. The EU, not exactly a nation, in my view never likely to be one, was the first major economic area to submit itself to the new agreement. One does not wonder why President Trump walked away in disgust from the Paris Climate Accord. As a shock to motor manufacturers such a policy will obviously work. With no options for this ‘just in case’ syndrome, they will spend billions on development projects only to probably end up a shade further on than they are now. Some have been down this sort of road before. How many can remember the tremendous possibilities of the so-called Wankel engine that Mercedes Benz spent the German GDP on, and never fulfilled its expectations? Worse, does anyone know how Governments made up of engineering nincompoops can tell its citizens all will be resolved in twenty years. Having taken one hundred and twenty years to get the petrol engine this far, you’ll forgive me for being sceptical. Don’t tell me. I know electric vehicles have been around for a long time. Just now they’re taking out an old idea, dusting the thing down to see what can be done about its failure. I know. There’s tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow! If you’re three score years and a bit, don’t hold your breath.

At the last count there were 30 million licenced cars in the UK, which means that from yesterday, to meet the deadline, 1.5 million of the 2.5 million cars leaving the showrooms must be electric. They managed 200 thousand in 2018. Any bets on a 700% increase in 2019? It will be an uphill slog marketing something as impractical as the present state of the art electric car. Then there’s the problem of disposal. Has anyone worked out the cost of a trade in yet, as your petrol banger will be worthless? The average electric vehicle with a 120+ miles maximum range would be all right on the school run, but wouldn’t be much of a hoot for holiday touring, or to the army of company representatives. In fact I’d be worried going to Florence and back, let alone to Bologna, which would be an absolute impossibility for the average state of the art vehicle. You’ll also have to start out earlier as the bog standard EV is very much slower than the average benzene burner! In the future there’d be no petrol stations of course, only mini power stations every questionable few miles. Conceivably, attached to drive in motels, where you could get a 12 hour trickle charge which wouldn’t damage your battery, or a 30 minute one which probably would long term if you were the impatient sort! I don’t doubt the whole thing would, at least, make your hair stand on end! Replacement batteries, if you give it 4 or 5 years of high end use, can wade in at about £2500. Now there’s a problem. No. Not one of cost. Think about the environmental problem, that electric cars are supposed to remedy. Lithium batteries weigh in at approximately half a ton. Globally, given the supposed very much increased rate of sales by 2030, could mean 11 million tons of waste batteries to be recycled. Glibly, EU regulations require the manufacturers of such batteries to collect, treat and recycle their own products. Only problem seems to be no one will guarantee that the bad guy, Lithium, will be recovered, and the best they can do is use the old batteries tarted up for home energy storage. Of course, at £8,000 installed that’s the way to go. Do you feel a touch of déjà vu just about now? It’s not just Lithium. These batteries also require Cobalt and Nickel mostly procured by invasive open mining, destroying the landscape along with the water table. That should strike a bell - Shades of Wind Turbines and Solar Farms. But we’re talking about new technology, aren’t we? Nothing much can go wrong there, surely. Let the future take care of itself. Fair point, if you don’t have grandchildren. People numbers are a case in point. The larger the vehicle the larger the battery needed, seems to be logical, and if there is an optimum charge rate for a particular battery, then a large battery will need a lot more umph to charge it than one of a moderate size. You can run up a lot of kilowatt-hours on your electricity bill in that time if it’s something as big as a SUV. But then, in this scenario, what’s new? It gets worse in the winter. If lithium batteries don’t function too well in very cold temperatures, they don’t function at all below minus10°C. which means at the moment Finland, Russia and Canada will have no cars at all by 2040, unless someone comes up with a miracle. Don’t laugh. Anywhere north of Calabria the batteries will find it hard going coping with the vehicles heating, wiping, demisting and lighting during the winter months. It’s going to cost a lot. A lot more ‘plug ins’ for flat batteries. No problem they’ll tell you, Local Councils have instructions to make charging points available. Even our regional COOP are putting in 138 charging bays at 40 of their supermarkets. You can see the looming problem, so why can’t they? Even if these bays are for electric vehicles only, the thirty minute charge will be hogged by shoppers taking an hour or more, leaving someone else’s flagging battery with nowhere to go. Then there’s the little matter of paying, which no doubt will be by plastic cards. Petrol stations with an attendant might take a cheque, but a dumb machine having rejected your card can be very obdurate. Those with a private drive will turn out to be a privileged few being able to have their own private charger. A small additional cost of between £1000 - £1500 depending on the level of charging rate required should see you at the top of the pack. As the present mode in society seems to lean towards those hulking, elephantine SUV’s, the lights in your street should dim at about 1700 hours plus, due to the excessive drain on electricity. If you live in an apartment in the centre of town – tough! Going out and about on your own two feet could be a new dangerous experience, as you won’t hear an EV coming. There was some talk about artificial noise being added to their movement, which will be a business opportunity for some sharp lad, creating the rasp of racing Jaguars Rolls Royce sounds will be a non-starter, with Hospitals on permanent stand by. As it’s unlikely any government will have the nous to create the infrastructure to cope with the demand for the zillions of new megawatts of electricity required, the whole of the Western World will probably come to another standstill. If by some miracle they do manage the impossible, then take note. As the UK government reaps in 28 billion pounds a year in fuel revenue they’ll have to make up the shortfall from somewhere, and the only place they can purloin it is your electricity bill. For governments it’ll be a doddle. In Italy the TV licence is collected by this method. You have to inform them you haven’t got a TV every year, otherwise the licence fee is slapped on your electricty bill. I wonder how many old folk in the UK who don’t have a car, and become totally confused for one reason or another, will end up subsidising the megawatt crowd. Anyway, at the moment the EV is not a very socially benign instrument. This is not a 'VW People’s Car' way to go. Most motoring journalists seem to accept electric cars not, as alternatives, but as a family second car. Great, when a huge chunk of the population struggles to maintain just the one.

I’m not convinced by all this battery business. I’ve run out of petrol five times or so in my life. In each case I’ve hauled the can out of the boot, hitched a lift, and got myself motoring again. Think about that when you’re standing next to your flat EV, cell phone in hand, waiting for the pick up truck.

Revolutionary stuff.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, there’s the Magnetosphere. Mr Grayling, the UK Transport Minister (at this time of writing), probably hasn’t even given it a thought. Neither, I suspect, has Mr Toninelli his Italian counterpart. I came across this phenomenon just recently while investigating the entirely different matter of missing airliners, but its existence seems very pertinent to this one as well. They say the problem effects climate, so it's apt to consider how it may effect the EV environment as well:

The magnetosphere is a region in space surrounding the earth where the earth’s magnetic field interacts with the solar wind – charged particles streaming from the sun. It forms a shield against solar and cosmic particle radiation that are forced by the magnetic field to flow round the earth, instead of crashing into it. However, this shield is not perfect and there are entry funnels situated over the poles. The defence is weakened for example when these magnetic poles swap places and become areas of potentially devastating consequences. They could burn out electrical and communication systems and equipment, radar systems, and even shut down entire power grids, besides badly effecting global positioning systems, the receivers being unable to calculate their positions. (Satellite navigation systems such as Gallileo could be disturbed and cease to function accurately.)

To illustrate how awkward such affects can be, an intense burst of solar activity actually halted trading on Toronto’s stock market in 1989, causing the malfunction of personal computers right across Canada. More to the point perhaps, Electrical Grids are potentially vulnerable because of a rare domino effect called ‘cascading failure’ or overloading of the wires, creating what the industry refers to as a ‘Power Outrage’, the sort of thing that rapidly morphs into a Macron style ‘Road Rage’. While it’s true such magnetospherical ‘blackouts’ don’t happen often – perhaps a dozen times in a century – the fact that they do take place, means I wouldn’t be in the government’s shoes when all the lights go out, and the batteries go phut! Not an ambulance, not a fire engine, not a police car in sight. Just a big, black silence. But that’s a Worse Case scenario. They don’t happen these days, do they?

But back to the EV’s. Do I have a scenario that would set aside my somewhat cantankerous sentiments? After all one should try and see the positive side as well as the negative. This then might set the EV world to ‘RIGHT ON’ as the Cornish say:

  1. Manufacturers need to reduce weight. Too many SUV’s a miracle ‘does not make’. Smaller and lighter, using materials that are familiar to the industry, such as fibreglass and aluminium, though they might have to do some tinkering of their methods for mass production. Other exotic materials to fix the problem will probably be too expensive.
  2. Very much lighter batteries of higher capacity. That will need a technical breakthrough, but the headaches would surely be worth it. Points a) and b) will need a giant leap in technology but as 350 miles should be the minimum range, the industry will need to make it. If the batteries are light, twin units could extend the range, or handle a vehicle of greater weight.
  3. Scrap any ideas of private local charging of batteries. To create the infrastructure to cope would be an economic, social, and environmental disaster, so it needs to be kept as low a profile as possible. Petrol Stations are ubiquitous and could readily be converted to Battery Stations where you pull up, for an attendent to swap your battery. There, they can be recharged locally in ‘black time’ when most of the world’s asleep, at minimal cost, and inconvenience. This may mean manufacturers settling for a common battery, but governments can pass laws if necessary. It also creates employment, something whole industries have been trying to eliminate. In the direction we’re heading, a world of civil servants would make an environmental catastrophe seem tame in the extreme!

I thought to end on a positive note, but sadly such iniquity also means that classic cars will turn a wheel no more, and Shakespeare’s immortal words abandoned:

 ‘ The spirit of the time shall teach me speed.’

 Absolutely, if you’ve paid your electricity bill, and can settle for sixty miles an hour! Now what was I saying about Thorium?