Electric Vehicles Considered Harmful

Is switching from gasoline power to electric power “like switching from one brand of cigarette to another”? Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK says it is. Slashdot has an excellent and exemplary conversation.

One participant points to a detailed analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Page 11 (of 48) gives at least an approximation of CO2 consumption as measured in equivalent MPG for EVs, depending on what what’s being used to push the electrons to the car in the first place. Coming in first place is geothermal, with an eMPG or 7600, and coal comes in last at 30 eMPG.


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  2. Also and ideally we'd all have a coal-fired steam generating plant in our backyards, one for each home, the same general arrangement as we now enjoy with our automobiles.

    [ +1 -mt ]

  3. I'll comment more extensively later (don't have time now) but I evaluated the CO2 emissions of a Prius (or the Lexus CT200h that I actually drive which has the identical drivetrain and hybrid electrical system) and, for the mix of electrical sources at my home at that time, the Leaf was much worse.

    I haven't even finished the (extensive) reading in the links provided above, but I did read some of it and, unless I find something in the remaining articles, points are being missed. First, there is a huge chicken and egg scenario. It will be difficult for EV sales and usage to become mainstream until there is sufficient charging infrastructure. It will be difficult to financially justify massive investments in charging infrastructure until there are sufficient EVs to support it. Second, any rationally plausible sustainable system for primary energy and personal transportation involves huge amounts of non-CO2 emitting sources of electricity (nuclear, solar - both PV and CST , wind, hydro, geothermal, etc.) to replace the Coal/natural gas dominated generation we presently use. No matter what, EV adoption will take a lot of time.

    I actually took a dilettante run at adoption rate and required added generating capacity as well. But all components must be implemented in a complementary fashion. I don't think very many people envision everyone driving around in cars with internal combustion engines in 2050 (when I'll turn 96 and be looking forward to celebrating my century birthday).

    I'll try to compose a more thorough response over the few days since I'll have a four day weekend. If I find sufficient traction, perhaps I'll write an article.

  4. One thing I see missing from the discussion so far is the symbiosis between electric cars and non-steady energy sources.

    An electric car is a storage battery on wheels. When not in use it can absorb intermittent power from wind turbines and solar installations, and return them as baseload power to the grid at a later date.

    I don't really see the unregulated path to capturing this class of benefit. Perhaps those more enthusiastic about the ability of the unsupervised marketplace to solve any problem could come up with a plausible scenario.

  5. The concept is broadly studied (so-called V2G, vehicle to grid). I doubt that there's a simple, unregulated path but in what world is electricity distribution not regulated? But I suppose that, in principle The City of Anaheim could hold an auction where it needs, say, 800 megawatt hours of storage for regulation purposes. The V2G compatible vehicle owners would submit bids for the sale of their storage subject to the conditions of the tender from the City. The City might then contract with, say, the owners of vehicles totaling 5 gigawatt hours (some vehicles might not be plugged in at any given time of need after all) working up from the lowest bid per kilowatt hour until the tender is fulfilled. This would likely be some 250,000 vehicles. I imagine there would need to be a separate service entrance with purpose built metering, etc.

    But why go through all that? I could already get paid the retail rate for excess power generated on a sunny day for a PV array. Just install the separate service entrance and have a system-wide agreed upon rate for charging and discharging with an amortization for the reduction in value of the batteries due to charge discharge cycles, the cost of auxiliary control electronics, etc.

    I haven't studied it in depth as treatments deeper than a Popular Science type article are often behind paywalls. The best free paper I've found of a technical nature is here and the best paper I've found that addresses some of the economics is here. In summary, V2G seems most suitable for what FERC calls "ancillary services," particularly the "regulation" and "spinning reserves" tiers. Suppliers of these ancillary servies would need to economically recover their loss of battery life, the cost of control electronics, etc.

    I expect this to happen, but it's yet another in the long chain of capabilities that are mutually contingent. Since EVs are here now and are one piece of the puzzle, I feel strongly that evaluating them in terms of CO2 emission per mile and comparing that figure (often unfavorably) to ICE vehicles significantly undervalues EVs' potential positive impact both on our energy and our climate future.

  6. Despite the "Better Place" debacle (my counter points never surfaced at that link)...

    I still regard an EV without swappable batteries (sic: plural) constructionally defect. Large scale electricity storage trading could be mostly a job (and opportunity) for the battery service stations. But you also could keep some extra batteries in the basement at home to store surplus PV.

    I say batteries, for smaller parcels have many advantages. E.g. this German stationary battery for home PV is divided into several smaller ones that can be individually stressed (or replaced) - resulting in longer lifetime.

    As it looks, the EV is still brain dead. Any standardization of swappable modular batteries?

  7. If you compare PV powered EV with "bio"ethanol/diesel powerd ICE things look completely different: The mileage per energy production area (PV area vs. farm field area) is vastly better for PV-EV than for "bio"-ICE. (See picture on page 12 in this German Fraunhofer-Institut publication.)

  8. Or wind, which can (to a significant extent) share agricultural area. I don't envision bio-fuel as a long term, large scale viable solution. "Cellulosic" isn't getting there at all and, barring a miracle catalyst of some sort, it isn't likely to. So biofuel will compete with food. Algae, perhaps. The jury is still out. But I'd argue that the EV is not brain dead. Heck, many use them successfully now.

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