Now Playing at Reason.tv: McCain's Big Cash Prize!

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Paying $4 for a gallon of gas is a drag, but what may be worse is listening to White House wannabes who promise to rescue us from our misery.

Take Senator McCain's recent proposal to offer a $300 million cash prize to the inventor of a car battery that can out-green 100-mpg plug-in hybrids.  Is McCain's money pile really necessary to spur our nation's geniuses to get it together and invent an ultra-efficient car? reason.tv's Ted Balaker thinks not.

Click here to watch the video.

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  1. Oh, for pity’s sake.

  2. Ok, McCain’s new name until November is Dr. Evil.

  3. I’d much rather prizes be offered for pie-in-the-sky solutions than taxes collected to research them.

    Like, by a million kabillion miles.

  4. This is totally wrongheaded. I thought McCain was trying to get Americans to work for the greater good out of patriotism and national grit, rather than a tawdry desire for filthy lucre.

  5. Jaybird,

    Where do you think the money to pay this prize is going to come from?

  6. Hardly a bad idea. To quote Jerry Pournelle:
    (http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2008/Q2/view524.html)

    >The purpose of prizes is to focus attention on a goal.
    >Lindberg flew to Paris alone for a prize. Prizes did a lot for
    >early aviation. The X Prize got a lot of attention for commercial
    >space.

    >Now it is probably true that anyone who wins this McCain
    >battery prize will make a great deal more money for that
    >technology in the market place. Probably true: but the market
    >is uncertain, and raising capital always has to compete with
    >other places to invest.

    >Prizes reduce market uncertainties by providing a floor.

    >The neat thing about prizes is that we spend no money
    >unless someone wins. Now surely it would be worth far more
    >than $300 million to have any capitalist have the battery
    >technology McCain describes. Indeed it would be worth far
    >more, and the only real criticism of the McCain prize might
    >be that it wasn’t large enough. On the other hand, how does
    >it harm us to have the $300 million offered?

  7. For one, he looks like a total moron, talking about batteries that get ‘miles per gallon’. The whole concept is idiotic. The current electric car development market is already fighting crap like this, like the “150-MPG” plug-in hybrid SUV… that really got about 20 MPG, and they just junked up the numbers. MPG only means anything when you’re using gas.

    A battery system in cars is still useless if we’re on the current electrical grid. We can’t just replace gasoline with electricity without a lot more capacity on the grid. I think we need it anyway, but McCain’s way here is just stupid.

  8. how does mccain plan on picking the winner? what if the one that gets the most “mileage” costs $1000 to make but another that only gets, say, 85% of that mileage, costs $100? what if the lower mileage options lasts for five years before it needs to be replaced while the high mileage one wears out after two years? what if a better one than the one he chooses shows up a month later? i also wonder if instead of a prize, it becomes more of an offer to buy (ie the inventor can either take the prize and have not possibility for commercial success or vice versa, not both). if so, would that distort incentives in a way that encourages inventors to simply come up with something that will win instead of something commercially viable?

  9. Not only is McCain a blathering idiot for thinking that inventors aren’t already working on vastly more efficient tech, he’s an even bigger fool for tying the prize to a single automotive component.

  10. Paying $4 for a gallon of gas is a drag, but what may be worse is listening to White House wannabes who promise to rescue us from our misery.

    Naw, what’s worse is listening to Congress planning to raise gasoline taxes.

  11. Highway-

    EV transportation is quite a bit more efficient than internal combustion engine (ICE) transportation, and the grid is horrendously under-utilized at night. Figures I have seen indicated that there is plenty capacity in the grid for overnight charging of a large number of EVs.

    Not that I’m against modernizing the grid. I would like to see, for instance, better and cheaper ways for households and businesses to CONTRIBUTE to the grid, rather than just draw from it. Higher capacity, better load balancing, and more robust failure-proofing are tops on my wish-list for the grid. I also happen to think that McCain is just grandstanding here. But all of that said, the current grid can handle a very significant switchover to EVs, as long as those vehicles are recharged during off-peak hours.

  12. But all of that said, the current grid can handle a very significant switchover to EVs, as long as those vehicles are recharged during off-peak hours.

    In other words, stick your car recharging where the sun don’t shine.

    Now about that massive switchover to solar power…

  13. Pottsy wrote, “Not only is McCain a blathering idiot for thinking that inventors aren’t already working on vastly more efficient tech, he’s an even bigger fool for tying the prize to a single automotive component.”

    The properties of batteries used for EVs — capacity, useful life, energy-to-weight ratio, and cost, being key — are indeed the most critical issue for that type of transportation right now, so I think it is proper for McCain to be focused on it. If there were a 500 lb. module that would hold 100kWh or so, could be purchased for $1000-2000, and would last for at least 1000 recharges, that would be enough sufficiently inexpensive energy storage, for example, to let me convert my 2004 Ford Taurus to EV and get good range and excellent performance out of it for the next 10-15 years, even without optimizing body weight, tires, and several other factors. An optimied EV sedan, such as proposed by Tesla and others for near-future production, would be able to travel much farther and hold more passengers and cargo, using the same battery pack. But today, we typically have energy storage units that can store only 50kWh or less. They weigh-in at 900 lbs., or more. Their energy capacities are enough to propel the highly weight- and- friction-optimized, 2-seat Tesla roadster at highway speeds for a little over 200 miles per charge. The purchase/replacement cost for these energy storage units is daunting: it’s been estimated at $10,000 or more, which the motorist will be guaranteed to spend after every 100,000 miles or so (that is to say, the battery pack alone costs 10 cents per mile, apart from the cost of the electricity, which depends on your price per kWh — on average the Tesla travels 4-5 kWh for every kilowatt-hour of energy consumed).

    Lacking an inexpensive, lightweight, long-lived, hardy, high-capacity battery, EV designers have to be clever (in many cases, miserly) with weight, rolling friction, aerodynamic drag, heat dissipation, etc. This necessity drives design and production costs way up, and precludes many ICE-to-EV conversion efforts (my Taurus, for example, which would require an infeasibly large and heavy battery pack to get around the vehicle’s inherent level of friction, aerodynamic drag, and weight).

    Maybe it is unwise to pay attention only to one vehicle component. But if you can/will only pay attention to one, I think the battery must be it. The people who are putting words in McCain’s mouth are right about this one, I think.

  14. # MikeP | July 24, 2008, 5:56pm | #

    # In other words, stick your car recharging
    # where the sun don’t shine.

    Cute. But EV owners have several realistic options today:

    1. Install solar or other renewable energy generation systems on their own property and recharge their vehicles directly and exclusively from those facilities.

    2. Use the grid as a giant storage battery, recharging their vehicles mostly at night from the grid, and feeding the grid by day from the solar/renewable generation systems mentioned in #1. In case of solar, this is especially helpful to utilities, because the greatest demand for kWh occurs typically during peak solar generation hours.

    3. Recharge at night (off peak) without contributing to the grid, but helping to balance overall grid load between day and night, and paying lower rates per kilowatt-hour. Again, the grid can support a LOT of nighttime-charging.

    This is all very doable, and many EV owners are already pursuing one or more strategies similar to those mentioned above.

  15. So, John McCain may as well cut a check to Tesla Motors and be done with it.

    And what if someone were to develop an electric car that used, say, super efficient ultra capacitors instead of batteries? Would those companies still be eligible for his prize?

    FWIW, the X-Prize people are at it again, offering a prize for development of a super-efficient car.

    The Republicans are so fucking out of touch on the energy issue, it makes my head spin.

    The Democrats aren’t much better, though.

  16. 1. Install solar or other renewable energy generation systems on their own property and recharge their vehicles directly and exclusively from those facilities.

    Martin Eberhard, one of the founders of Tesla Motors is already doing this.

  17. Stupid idea. But, if the government is going to spend $300 million, better to spend it on “cash prizes” than this. (Are Bob Barker’s beauties part of the awards ceremony?)

    Bridge to Nowhere

  18. We’re going to have energy problems until we recognize that the solution to our energy problems is exploiting harder to extract fossil fuels. Neither candidate is willing to admit this. Thus we will have energy problems. This is a train-wreck in the making… I hate to see it, but I can’t look away.

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