The farther west we move on our cross-country odyssey, the greater the distance between towns and service stops grows. In the Eastern states, we would pass some sort of country store or gas station every few miles it seemed, and at the most, might have a 20 mile stretch between services. This changed as we moved into the Great Plains, where we hit 50-mile sections of road in Kansas with nothing but fields and scattered farm buildings.
Southern Wyoming proved to be even more remote, with a 130-mile stretch of high desert country where the only sign of human existence was a lone trading post in the center of the River reservation. These open spaces have created some logistic challenges for our vehicle, as there have been several cases where our battery range was stretched to the max, and a few where we had to go off route and rely on the kindness of strangers to recharge at a barn or remote ranch house.
The more remote the setting, the more hospitable and helpful the people seemed to be. On more than one occasion, we were invited in for a meal, and offered shelter for the night. For those of us accustomed to popping around the corner for bread and milk, or waiting until the gas gauge is approaching E to find a station, it’s difficult to comprehend a lifestyle that requires a 60 mile drive just to obtain gas and groceries, but there still areas of the west where this is the case. Here, the only essential commodity that doesn’t require a long drive or delivery vehicle is electrical power. Thanks to the ubiquity of electric power even in remote areas, we actually had more refueling options than a gas or diesel powered vehicle, which might have to drive for an hour to reach a service station.
A full-sized electric vehicle might require a more robust charging station than our ultra-light cart, which needs only a 300 watt power source, but the principle is the same. As electric vehicles become a more common part of the automotive landscape, developing an energy-delivery network won’t require the same investment in infrastructure as the pipelines and tankers that deliver our oil and gas. Instead, it could be as simple as integrating charging stations into the existing grid, which, as we are discovering, is an extremely ubiquitous distribution system.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.