The Future of Cars: Light, Electric, and Powered by the Sun

Today’s panel on the “Cars of Tomorrow” featuring Tesla Motors was a lively and thought-provoking discussion that didn’t tiptoe around controversial energy issues. Even some typically sacred cows were confronted. The assembled experts focused on the simple question, “where is the auto industry headed?”

Vijay Vaitheeswaran, Global Environment and Energy Correspondent for The Economist claimed the worlds current energy system is “fundamentally unsustainable” and that fossil fuels are “needlessly dirty and inneficient.” Vaitheeswaran claimed the primary dysfunction lies with the nature of oil. After all, “There will never be a global economic shock over windmills.”

Because of its gasoline dependent status, Vaitheeswaran said “The Prius is not the car of the future” it may be an important stepping stone, but not the long term solution.

Professor Nate Lewis of Caltech said that engineering issue number one is to reduce the weight of cars. Number two is to move away from the internal combustion engine, and migrate to all-electric vehicles. Lewis says both are inevitable. After that, the argument becomes how do we generate the needed electricity without destroying the atmosphere? The answer is one of the following:

1) Clean up Coal.
2) Put up lots of nuclear power plants.
3) Go solar.

Considering more energy is beamed to the Earth from the sun in one hour than humans use in a year, Lewis advocates moving to solar and wind as our main sources of electricity.

One thing I do know, is that as Vaitheeswaran said: “There’s no way in hell we’re going to persuade 300 million Americans to get out of their cars.”