Peter Terren’s corner of rural, western Australia doesn’t have much of a problem with car theft. But that hasn’t stopped him from building a deterrent that packs a real wallop. Visually, at least. Terren welded a long aluminum tube to a home-built 5-kilowatt tesla coil, combined it with an old aircraft control motor, and mounted the whole thing atop a Hyundai. Sparks jump from the tip of the tube to the ground as it swings around the car about once every 10 seconds. (This photograph is a long exposure showing more than one rotation.)

Terren is a physician, but like a moth to a flame he is as attracted to lasers and anything having to do with high voltage. ”Flame” is the operative word here. The following parts of this tesla coil have caught fire at one time or another: the tape supporting the rotating rod, the rod’s wooden counterweight, and the nickel-cadmium battery pack driving the motor that swings the rod.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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