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credit: GM

Today gentle readers, we delve into two electric vehicle concepts: electric airplanes and using EVs to power one’s home(?)!  Yes, the concepts are as unlikely as you imagine, but let’s jump right in with using an EV, like the pictured Chevy Bolt, to power your home in the event of a power outage:

General Motors (GM) and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) are exploring whether electric vehicles can be used to power homes in California. The hope, according to press releases the automotive corporation and the utility company shared on Tuesday, is that the vehicle can serve as ‘on-demand power sources’ in the future, offering a way for homeowners to stay connected when PG&E’s electric supply is unavailable, like during preventative shutoffs, power failures, or other grid-related incidents.

Golly, that sounds like a great idea, except for all of the inherent flaws in reasoning and the usual refusal to accept reality, but more on that later.

Here’s how it would work, in theory: GM’s electric vehicles (EVs) would be equipped with bidirectional hardware, which could both charge the vehicle and use the vehicle’s battery as an outside power source. This sort of tech is already being used by automakers like Ford and Hyundai to facilitate vehicle-to-vehicle charging (GM previously announced it would be a feature in its 2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV). GM and PG&E said this technology would be coupled with ‘software-defined communications protocols’ that would automatically direct that power into homes when PG&E’s electric supply shuts off.

As The Verge notes, there are still key process details the two companies are trying to determine, such as whether the power transfer will happen directly through the vehicles or another piece of equipment. Still, Rick Spina, PG&E’s vice president of EV commercialization, told The Verge he ‘could envision’ this tech being utilized on a state-wide scale, with customers given some sort of benefit to ‘feed power back into the grid’ when there is high demand. Spina used a Chevy Bolt as an example to show the power potential, saying the typical California home uses about 20 kilowatt-hours of power per day and the Bolt’s battery has a 60kWh capacity.

So your Bolt wouldn’t actually power your home.  The available juice in your Bolt battery would be sucked into “the grid,” which may or may not have any electricity to route to your house.  I’d bet on “not,” as EVs are reportedly less than 1% of all vehicles on the road.

But that’s not all.  This scheme depends on hundreds of thousands, even millions, of EVs sitting happily in their garages, all completely topped off with electricity, just waiting to be sucked into the grid.  As regular readers know, even with super-duper fast chargers, completely topping off batteries takes many hours.  They can only be charged to 80% of capacity within around 45 minutes–that’s the fastest charger/vehicle combinations–and must then slow down dramatically to avoid overheating the batteries, which might burst into flame, which is commonly known as “bad.”  How much longer?  Hours, but we can’t be sure because they’re not saying, which means hours and more.

Also keep in mind batteries have finite lives.  Every charge/recharge cycle diminishes the life of the battery, and these batteries can’t be recycled, nor are there large-scale plans for disposing of them, and by the way, they contain loads of toxic and environmentally nasty substances, but that’s OK to greenies, because shut up you racist planet killer!

Would PG&E commit to sucking your Bolt battery dry only if it were absolutely necessary, or would they drain a bit here and there, which would not only theoretically give them a little extra juice to make up for their purposeful lack of generating capacity, but force you to pay more to recharge your Bolt than normal because you have to keep recharging it?  But let’s not worry about that.  I’m sure they’re absolutely trustworthy.  After all, they’re not willing and/or allowed to build enough generation capacity to keep California in power, so I’m sure nothing could go wrong.

Let’s say there’s a massive power outage, and all the EVs in a substantial portion of California get sucked dry to provide power.  There is no way there will be enough EVs, nor would their power provide enough electricity, to make any substantial difference.  There is no such thing as a battery with sufficient size and power to provide on demand electricity to any meaningful number of homes or businesses.  Power comes in from EVs and must immediately go out to—how many homes and for how long?  They’re not saying.  I wonder why not?

But here’s the best part: your EV has been sucked dry, and there’s no power to recharge it, or run your home, so now you’re stuck, and so is everybody else with an EV.  Try not to need any medication refills, groceries or have any medical emergencies, and good luck!

D/S/Cs, as I’ve so often observed, seem to have no idea from where electricity comes.  In this case they seem to think it comes from parked EVs, which get their electricity from magical power plants, which get their electricity from fairy dust and unicorn farts, only to send it out to homes and parked EVs, which send it back to magical power plants, which…

And now let us take a trip to NASA, you know, the agency that back in 2010 was focused on this:  

A few days ago, in Cairo, [Charles] Bolden told Al Jazeera that when he became the NASA administrator, President Obama charged him with three things: ‘One, he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and engineering — science, math and engineering.’

I was under the obviously mistaken impression NASA had something to do with space and stuff like that, but circa 2022, they’re also all about this:

And they’re also all about this:

The Tecnam P2006T

NASA is planning its first crewed test flight of an all-electric plane, the X-57 Maxwell test aircraft, in the next few months as interest in electric aircraft grows.

The first crewed flight of NASA’s plane will take place at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Center, part of Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California. NASA is currently aiming for May for the flight, Tim Williams, NASA research test pilot, told UPI in an interview.

“Crewed” means a maximum of four people in its fuel powered version.  I somehow suspect all the batteries necessary will limit that to two–or one.

Williams plans to fly the plane, a modified Italian-made plane known as a Tecnam P2006T, in the first test of its all-electric propulsion system, he said.

The use of a modified Tecnam, a proven flight vehicle, means he doesn’t have to “worry about wearing a parachute, but I’ll be worried about plenty of other things,” Williams said.

‘The first thing that you have to worry about is electric motors, and how to get power out to them throughout the flight, and … you’re going to have electro-magnetic interference that is potentially an issue,’ Williams said.

Uh-huh, and then there’s the cold, which at altitude will dramatically reduce range, and headwinds or turbulence, which will dramatically reduce range, and batteries spontaneously combusting in flight, which in pilot-talk is “bad on toast,” and…

The X-57 initially will have a range of approximately 100 miles and a cruise speed of 170 miles, which puts it in the air for about 40 minutes, according to NASA.

I’m not sure exactly what this means.  Will the aircraft fly at 170 knots for “about” 100 miles?  Perhaps 170 MPH, which works out to 148 knots, which is how airspeed is normally expressed?  But this is not the only electric flight program:

Researchers at the Florida Institute of Technology are already testing an all-electric plane, a Velis Electro made by Slovenia-based Pipistrel Aircraft, for short distances with two people aboard, associate professor Brian Kish told UPI in an interview.

‘We can only fly for about 20 minutes up to about 85 mph, so this is not a viable plane for transport yet,’ said Kish, who chairs the institute’s flight test engineering program. ‘But we are testing the user experience of an electric plane.’

‘One thing that I learned in the last six months about operating an electric airplane is how important the cooling of the batteries is,’ Kish said. ‘The plane was only practical after Pipistrel got the liquid cooling system right and the battery management system.’

Hmmm.  So let’s see, that’s about enough range for a trip to the grocery store, and maybe back, but there’s no place to land.  And I suspect the “user experience” is something like nervously checking the remaining charge indicator about every ten seconds of an “about 20 minutes” in the air—sort of.  I suspect I’d maintain an altitude of no more than say, 10 feet.  It turns out to be fortunate the XC-57 will be pretty much a two-seater:

Another researcher watching NASA’s X-57 test program is Richard ‘Pat’ Anderson, professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

Anderson has co-founded an aviation startup company, VerdeGo Aero, with Erik Lindbergh, grandson of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh.

‘In terms of all-electric aircraft, anything bigger than about a two-seater is impossible with any sort of range and payload,’ Anderson told UPI in an interview

He said NASA research is valuable to test the limits of such all-electric propulsion, but he believes a hybrid system that also uses liquid propellant, or some form of jet fuel, will be ideal.

Oh, you mean like the Chevy Volt?  Sure, why not have two entirely separate propulsion systems in an aircraft, where every ounce counts?   That’s a real technological step forward.  As I recall, the Volt disappeared into automotive infamy in about 2018. 

I know these EV airplanes are experimental; “hey, let’s do this and see if we can make it fly at all” experiments.  But are they, like earthbound EVs, not ready for prime time?  Here are the quoted performance specs for the X-57:

Range: 650 nautical miles/748 miles

Cruising speed: 145 knots/167 MPH

Passengers: 2

Keep in mind these are projections.  The projected performance figures to date of every EV have been wildly optimistic.  We have no idea of the cargo carrying capacity of this aircraft.  The conventionally fueled aircraft on which it is based is capable of lofting just over 900 pounds.  Cold dramatically reduces battery range, turbulence and headwinds will do the same, as will running a cabin heater.  The conventional aircraft has good range and performance specs because it is very lightweight.  We have no idea what all those batteries are going to do to the weight of the aircraft, but it can’t be good.  But here’s the best part: the range and cruising speed figures are those of the conventionally fueled aircraft, not the electric experiment.  I rather doubt those figures will come remotely close for the EV flyer.

Boeing 737
credit: Boeing

Just to give you a dose of reality, here are the performance figures for a Boeing 737-800/900, carrying 162 passengers: 

Range: 2458 nautical miles/2829 miles

Cruising speed: 520 knots/598 MPH

There’s a market for Boeing 737s. Where’s the market for an X-57 or anything less?

Nothing known comes close to the energy efficiency of fossil fuel for vehicular and air transport.  We keep hearing of miraculous battery tech that will revolutionize everything, but somehow those stunning, world-changing breakthroughs never make it to market.  How about it, gentle readers: is either concept ready for prime time?