Like nearly everyone else in the world, I’ve been glued to news reports from the Japanese nuclear crisis, trying to refrain from full-blown panic. Some of the updates seem encouraging, but more seem frightening.
Every worry that I’ve had is for the health of people in the danger zone, while I’ve ignored news about what this all means for the energy industry. The future of nuclear power just didn’t seem as important as the immediate impact on human lives. That isn’t going to change, but one idea floating around there has managed to strike a chord with me.
If the possible – ok, probable – meltdown at Fukushima does have an effect on nuclear power across the globe, does that mean that we can kiss electric cars goodbye?
Think about it. Other than the development of long-range batteries, the biggest obstacle on the road to an electric car future is infrastructure. Currently, there simply aren’t enough charging stations to make the public comfortable with relying on electric power for their driving. No one wants to get stranded on the way home from work, or turn a fun road trip into a life-or-death goosehunt for a power outlet. There needs to be vast improvement in electric vehicle infrastructure before the general public fully adheres to buying Volts and Leafs.
But as this article points out, a massive electric vehicle infrastructure may not be feasible without a strong nuclear power industry. Nuclear power is the most efficient and expansive way to generate a lot of energy very quickly, which is exactly what we will need to keep thousands – millions? – of electric vehicles humming to and fro, day after day. If events like Fukushima are going to melt the future of nuclear power, it may be impossible to supply the energy needed to sustain electric cars.
I'm not expert enough to give you a definitive picture of the future. All I know is that when I search for electric charging stations around my home in Long Beach, there aren't enough locations to make me confident in relying on them. It gets much worse if I venture outside city limits.
The development of electric car technology could end with the Volt and Leaf (as well as the Tesla Model S and Fisker Karma, if they ever see showrooms). In recent years, automakers raced to produce eco-friendly vehicles and we are finally seeing the fruit of their efforts. If it’s not fully-electric cars, it’s hybrids, and that’s fine and well too. It was never necessary – or probably feasible – to expect a completely-electric future. The important part was that cars were becoming greener, and that has happened and will continue to happen.
But fully-electric cars are still an important piece of the puzzle. If a cutback on nuclear power leads to the death of an electric infrastructure, it’s difficult to see how far automakers will still be willing to go to produce environmentally-friendly vehicles.