Electricity is an energy carrier, not an energy source. We can create and store electricity a number of ways. The big problem is that we can’t store enough electricity to move untethered vehicles decent distances at decent speeds at decent costs.
The striking exception to that generalization are electric public transit and freight systems; trains, subways, some buses in big cities. Thing is they run on rails or specified tracks with a wire or third rail to provide electricity. They don’t store any electricity on board.
The American vehicle that’s getting a lot of attention right now is the GM Chrevolet Volt. This is new design from GM that builds a small vehicle around a very large, and expensive, lithium ion battery. Lithium is the light-weight metal that is the basis of the smallest, lightest batteries we can build. They’re still huge for the amount of energy they store. Lithium metal will catch fire if exposed to air; some battery designs have failed in spectacular fashion. And the stuff is only found in decent, extractable quantities in a few places, and most of those places aren’t in the U.S. Other than that, lithium is a magical element 🙂
Seth Fletcher has written a good book on Lithium, including the gensis of the Volt, Bottled Lightning. He comes close to realizing that we’re up against the wall on conventional petroleum, but slips past the issue. Here’s a Volt being tested in Death Valley. The driver said he liked the car.
Here, courtesy of GM, is a transparent view of the drivetrain.
Big expensive ($8,000-10,000) battery in a $42,000 car. The claimed range on pure battery is 40 miles. After that it uses a combination of the gasoline engine and battery to spin the electric motor generators much like my Prius, except worse worse mileage (37 versus 48-52).
We’ll undoubtedly do more with electric personal vehicles, but there are many issues of cost and complexity. And don’t expect manufacturers to magically ramp up production of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and pure electric vehicles fast enough to help most of us. It’s more likely we’ll be caught short, very short, then see manufacturers attempt to play catch up, at least the ones still in business.