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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Battery life

So what’s the holdup? February 16, 2021 at 4:09 a.m.

The major problem with green energy -- not to mention the Paris Accord, electric cars, and many things needed to wean the world economy off fossil fuels -- is that mankind hasn't invented long-lasting, efficient, easily handled batteries yet.

When the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing, we need to be able to use the energy that was produced yesterday -- when the sun was shining and the wind was blowing. Even today, if you drive an electric car, you're using a lot of fossil fuel -- because it took gas or oil to produce most of the electricity your car uses. When you plug a charger into a wall, you can't guarantee the juice didn't come from a coal-burning plant.

(The most reasonable, safe, efficient, clean energy is nuclear. Unfortunately, the No Nukes concerts and a few celebrities hurt that industry in the early 1980s. But that's another editorial or eight.)

The Joe Biden administration has promised to "jump-start the clean-energy economy," according to the papers. And what Democratic administration hasn't promised that? But the news wasn't promising last week. This from The Washington Post's investigative reporters:

"China dominates battery production today, with 93 'gigafactories' that manufacture lithium-ion battery cells, versus only four in the United States, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a prominent data provider. If current trends continue, China is projected to have 140 factories by 2030, while Europe will have 17 and the United States just 10."

Gigafactories? First time we've seen that word. Red China plans on 140. And the U.S. less than a dozen.

And now we have a battery gap. This might not be a 1960 missile gap, which turned out not to be one, but the modern battery race could have national security implications of its own. The United States military is planning more electric vehicles and other equipment. So having to buy batteries from a . . . perhaps not "hostile" nation, but not an ally, either . . . isn't ideal.

And what about the job boom that's supposed to come from green energy? Does the United States and the rest of the free world really want to entrust, or relinquish, that to the Red Chinese?

As much as some of us would like to see mainland China clean itself up -- it belches enough carbon daily to make up for anything the United States might cut -- we'd like to remain at least competitive when it comes to battery production.

As with most policy, there is more than one path. Should the United States government take over production on these shores, and mandate quotas and factory output, like the ChiComs do? Or should the government in a free market let the market decide -- completely? Or is there a middle path?

You'll remember that the Obama administration, of which Joe Biden was a part, offered federal loan guarantees to clean-energy companies and introduced tax credits for certain electric cars. Government could kick-start production, but then it should let American business do what it does best. ("The business of America is business." -- Calvin Coolidge.)

Americans don't mind using government. But we will resist being used by it. We often find the sweet spot in the middle. And can again.

And if we succeed, we can sing the body electric.

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