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Friday, 01 February 2008 08:12

FOSS to electric cars: not such a big leap

Richard Keech was an early adopter of Linux on the desktop back in the 1990s. One could well say that he has a habit of looking at something and getting into it if he thinks it's going to be a future trend, one that could be useful and sensible.

Keech, who works for Red Hat as principal consultant, and has been with the company for eight years - he was earlier with CyberSource, one of Melbourne's premier open source companies - now has a new target.

That is an electric car - and he's careful to point out that his involvement in any environmental activity has nothing whatsoever to do with his employer.

His migration (a nice programming word, that) to the environmentally sensible way began after he saw Al Gore's seminal film on climate change last April.

It was enough to  convince him - as it has thousands of others - about the dangers of climate change and that the way of future does not lie with a finite resource like petroleum.

It may sound somewhat strange to be talking about peak oil at Australia's national Linux conference - but Keech could find a parallel between a change from proprietary to FOSS software and moving away from petrol.

"Look at it this way: it's just that once again the status quo is not good enough for me. I was prepared to be a little different in choosing to use free and open source software and now I'm once again prepared to be different by using an electric car."

Keech is not an effusive sort; when he is convinced that something is good, he does plenty of research and then chooses a way by which he can incorporate it into his private life. Later, he does what he can for society.

His first act has been to sell one of his two cars - a six-cylinder - and bought a turbo-diesel one instead. "It uses half the fuel and is much better in terms of efficiency, he says.

And he is in the process of getting his second vehicle converted to use electric power.

On the public front, Keech will be making a presentation at the Sustainable Living Festival which will be held at Melbourne's Federation Square on February 17. His topic will be the consumer perspective on buying an electric car.

He says the biggest challenge that manufacturers of electric vehicles face is the battery. "In the early days of the automobile, there were many electric vehicles so electric motors are mature in terms of development," he said.

Asked about the EV1, the electric car that failed to gain traction in the United States in the early 1990s, he said it was a question of bad timing.

Oil prices went up during the Gulf war (that was waged to reverse Iraq's invasion of Kuwait), but then remained quite low for most of the rest of the decade; hence there was no real economic incentive to mass produce electric vehicles.

"The experience of EV1 has put a lot of people off. The technology is there," he said.

He said there was a general inertia among the public when it came to the issue of peak oil.

"People aren't interested in paying 10 per cent more for a car that gives them much more in terms of both sustainability and efficiency.

"Australia has a good supply of electricity and prices do not fluctuate that much; we can also pick and choose our suppliers now. As you know, nothing could be more unstable than petrol prices."

He likened his decision to switch from petrol-powered vehicles to a tradeoff for security - something which security guru Bruce Schneier dealt with at length during his keynote at the formal opening of the LCA.

"You spend $50,000 on a car that can only do 120 kilometres between charges - that's a risk I'm willing to take. I don';t want to be stuck when people are queueing up for petrol during the next oil shock."

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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