Saturday, May 5, 2012

The “Transportation Triumvirate” That Will Change Our World.

Meet the three forces that will forever change our world…  and not just transportation.
Electric Cars,  Solar PV, and Computational Power.  

As a BMW ActiveE driver,  Mini-E driver and as the owner of a paid in full 7.5KW  Solar PV power plant,  I’ve clocked over 50,000 miles in electric cars powered by electricity generated from solar energy.   I’ve seen first hand as a practitioner, the amazing advances and decreasing prices of both technologies over the past five years. 

Looking forward to the next five years,  I predict cost parity for the electric vehicle compared to the price of a gasoline car,  I see an average range of 125-150 miles and when needed for longer drives, 20 minute charges. Lastly I see a cost of a lifetime power  source for an electric car (Solar PV) of less than the cost of buying gasoline for two years. Solar PV will continue to get cheaper.  Gasoline will continue to get more expensive.  Bet on it.

Just as sure as we transitioned from horse to car,  from steam to internal combustion, and from telegraphs to land lines to cell phones with a half a million apps,  We will transition our motive power to electricity.  To believe otherwise is to ignore mankind’s impressive history of innovation and scientific advancement.

Why will we transition?  Because it’s better for the individual, better for nations, cheaper, safer, and healthier for all concerned. Driving an electric car like the BMW ActiveE is a far more enjoyable driving experience compared to its gasoline sibling, with little noise or vibration and tons of torque, horsepower and one pedal driving.

For the first time in the history of motorized transportation, the average driver can make their own “fuel” on the roof of their garage for their own car.  We can do so at a cost that is 1/10th the cost of gasoline.  Tens of thousands are already doing just that, Thousands of average folk in the San Diego area alone. 

Jumping from the “Average Folk” to the average city transportation engineer,  it’s not hard to conceive of municipal fleets, which rarely leave the city boundaries, that are powered by a Solar PV system installed over the municipal fleet parking lot.  You need about 8 solar panels (pictured below) per car to create the electricity to drive 12,000 miles.  That's smaller in size and cheaper in price, than the space required to park the car.  The average cost for a 2kw system is $8,000 and each car needs one system. The average price to create a parking space is $15,000 and the typical car requires four spaces.

Imagine the transportation planner that can now power a tram or a bus with Solar PV.   Again, the bus yard covered in Solar PV with fast DC charging to keep the buses on the route.   Dream with me one step further as we begin exploring the world of sensors and autonomous driving made possible by computational power.   As we begin to role out this technology, bus routes that are predictable with defined pick up points will be among the first to deploy the game changing technology of autonomous or semi autonomous transportation. If that seams a bit scary and far fetched to you, know that airline travel is already autonomous or semi autonomous transportation.

Mass transit will be far cheaper per rider thus far more available to more riders and routes than ever.  Electric car sharing, bike sharing  and garage sharing will also be new forms of transit augmenting traditional rail and bus transit.  

The combined total of all this will be cleaner cities, more equity and usability in transportation choices for all incomes,  wealthier individuals and cities as transportation and fuel cost are reduced and conveyance systems are shortened. We will stop polluting the air we all share with every breath. We will stop exporting our wealth off shore as we lesson the burden of being tethered to oil. Oil in the hands of a few,  with the USA at great cost in life and money, guaranteeing and protecting it’s lengthy supply chain to our local gas station.  

Look for auto makers like BMW to make strategic partnerships with Solar PV companies. That’s a real good idea and look for it soon.   As EV drivers know, 90% of charging is done at home. You'll walk into a BMW dealership and buy your BMW i3 and the Solar PV system to provide the electricity for life. Both purchased together financed for 4 to 6 years. The combination will be far less of a monthly payment than buying a similar gas car and gasoline.

Look for cities to innovate with trial schemes involving electric cars, car sharing and solar PV such as the successful electric Car2Go program in San Diego linked by computational power, sensors and GPS.  Look for transit companies and car companies to increase the use and types of sensors, computational power and personal digital devices to make transit safer, easier and less expensive.

From the day man got off his two feet and climbed aboard a horse, transportation has always driven land use development patterns.  Every change in transportation type and utilization such as the interstate transportation system,  have resulted in drastic alterations of our cities and our world. 

We are fast approaching that point in history where we once again change our transportation world.   That change is made possible by the “Transportation Triumvirate”  and it will bring changes that are of far greater consequence to our world with far less reliance on one solution (the car) than any transportation planner or car maker can conceive of.  

I am today the most optimistic for a better future for the generations that follow than I have ever been in my life.

When you boil down your decision of what is the next transportation choice for you,  think about these concepts.  The decisions we make are far more important than just what is the cheapest car to buy.  


Spouse of an ActiveE driver 


  1. Thanks Tom, I am so busy at work, I rarely have time to write these days. Loving the ActiveE, when Julie gives me the keys.

  2. Right back at you Cooper E 230
    We are all pioneers blazing a new path.
    Thanks for posting

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