Tom Evslin: In practice, electric cars are natural gas cars

Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development

We electric ratepayers and taxpayers subsidize not only electric cars but also the generation of electricity from solar and wind. In order for an electric car to reduce emissions, we have to subsidize enough renewable energy to power the car. That means that the cost of using electric cars to reduce emissions is much higher than even the outrageous subsidies they already receive.

This commentary is by Tom Evslin of Stowe, an entrepreneur, author and former Douglas administration official. It is republished from the Fractals of Change blog.

Electricity is not an energy source; it’s just a way to move energy from place to place! Obviously, before electricity can move a car, the electricity must be generated somehow.

According to the US Energy Administration Agency, in 2020 40% of US electricity was produced by burning natural gas, 19% from coal, 20% from nuclear, 13% from wind and solar, 7% from hydro, and 1% from petroleum. When we plug in our electric cars, we create a new demand. In the short-term, that new demand will almost always be met by burning more natural gas since you can’t tell the sun to shine brighter or the wind to blow harder. Coal and nuke plants don’t spool up quickly and there is only so much water available behind the dam. In practice electric cars are natural gas cars except not quite as efficient because of electrical transmission losses.

Tom Evslin

“Yeah, but…” say the proponents of subsidies for electric cars, “more solar and wind is being built so eventually those cars will be running on renewable energy.” Trouble is that by the time we get to eventually, this generation of electric cars and their lithium batteries will be somewhere in the waste stream. “Yeah, but…”, say the subsidy proponents, “at least 20% of the energy for these cars is coming from renewables.” But a new electric car doesn’t create a greater supply of renewable energy. If it happens to use electrons which came from a solar panel, something else won’t be able to use those electrons and they will almost certainly be replaced by more electricity generated from natural gas.

We electric ratepayers and taxpayers subsidize not only electric cars but also the generation of electricity from solar and wind. In order for an electric car to reduce emissions, we have to subsidize enough renewable energy to power the car. That means that the cost of using electric cars to reduce emissions is much higher than even the outrageous subsidies they already receive.  Looked at another way, these cars don’t reduce emissions at all because any renewable energy they use must be replaced by non-renewable energy. It’s double counting to add the emissions saved by replacing gasoline cars to the emissions saved by generating more renewable energy if that new energy is going into the cars. Yet subsides for electric cars remain one of the most popular proposals for reducing greenhouse gasses. They have long been part of Vermont’s plans for reducing greenhouse gasses.

I have both solar panels and a plug-in hybrid. I received subsidies for both; but I’m only reducing emissions once. If my “clean” electricity goes to power my car, then I’m not reducing the overall load on the grid. If my solar-generated electricity goes into the grid, then my car is running on non-solar electricity. Neither subsidy actually influenced my decision, which may be the case with many early adopters.

Electric cars are going to happen even without subsidies. From an engineering point of view the development of electronic controls means that electric cars increasingly have capabilities that combustion engines can’t match. There will be very little fossil fuel used to generate electricity if we regain our sanity with respect to nuclear energy. If we really build back better, we’ll also have an electric grid which is safely decentralized, efficient, and hardened so that we can afford to rely on it for much of our energy needs.

Our security and the grid will be endangered if electric car adoption outstrips the energy available to power them and the ability of the grid to transport that energy. We want to prepare for more electric cars by building a better grid and adding new supply including nuclear. But we don’t want to subsidize electric cars or force their premature adoption.

Image courtesy of Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development

14 thoughts on “Tom Evslin: In practice, electric cars are natural gas cars

  1. We must get our heads out in the sunshine – and create nuclear power.

    Nuclear power is Cheap, safe, reliable, and ” it aint no bomb!! ”

    Electric rocks, for everything –
    if we can be allowed to generate all that we need.

  2. Now just one more teeny step — calculate the coal and other energy, and the chemcial pollutants, generated during the MANUFACTURE of solar panels and EV cars. The math quickly reveals more energy, and FAR MORE POLLUTION< is generated by BOTH than is saved. In other words, these boondoggles allow people to "feel" they have done something they have not done. Tom's car and solar panels still pollute. Maybe more in China than the U.S., but there is only one biosphere.

    Why can't we include the manufacturing costs of these products when assessing them? Is it just a game? Because the planet is being destroyed FASTER using accelerated manufacturing efforts for short-term gain by a few.

  3. Tom,

    Electricity travels as electro-magnetic waves at near the speed of light on the NE grid, I.e., from northern Maine to Southern Florida in about one hundredth of a second!

    No one should be talking about Vermont electricity or Maine electricity because that, physically, does not exist.

    Folks who have PV systems on their roofs, and feed the output directly into their EVs can claim low gram CO2/kWh.

    All utilities draw almost their entire supply from the NE

    ISO-NE has the grid data to calculate the GRID CO2/kWh

    Everyone in New England should use the ISO-NE value, as a NE-wide standard, instead of each state concocting its own “we-know-best CO2 value

    • follow the renewable energy credits!

      electron by electron, the energy from your rooftop pv panels isn’t available to charge your car or power your house. it is sold out of state at a considerable profit margin to your power company. the pv power is only truly yours if you cut ties to the local power company and supply your own back up power.

  4. The United States has been increasingly wired for electricity for a century and a half. The day before yesterday my power went out about four in the afternoon, was still out when I went to sleep near midnight. No storms, no bad weather, no high wind. Not even much below freezing. A few years ago it was out for a week and six hours. Let’s get that working reliably first. I’ll bet the AGW promoting millionaires who fly private jets to exotic locations where they discus screwing the rest of us have stand by generators at their vast mansions, too. Now, Biden & company (broke though they (o.k., we) are, they want to subsidize nationwide charging stations. Entrepreneurs saw they could profit from a demand for gasoline and put their own money into building stations nationwide, installing pumps and tanks. What’s wrong with doing it that way, Joe? On top of all that, a study by German scientists find electric vehicles are responsible over the ten year expected battery life of adding 11% to 28% more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than their Diesel counterparts when energy requirements including battery production are considered. Yeah, we’ve got the vehicle technology – but, as Mr. Eslin points out, we’re going – for a long time into the future – to generate the additional electricity the old fashioned way. And we haven’t yet the safe, efficient way to store enough of it. As we have seen – “Don’t park it in the garage” “don’t park within fifty feet (in a city?) of another vehicle” – that amount of stored potential can create a lot of excitement in a very short time. And you can’t put it out.

  5. in vermont we get alot electricity from burning our forests, and from rivers im sure you can find a accurate stats with google.. but in short we would be running our cars in vermont on a grid that could not handle the change on the fact we would be burring down our forests..
    then add on they want us to all switch to electric heat without the proper infra structure.
    they want us on a switch they can throw anytime they want

    • Where in Vermont besides Burlington is wood being burned to make electricity? Additionally it should be noted that burning anything containing carbon releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

  6. Tom, usually I want to scream at every sentence you write. However you and I are in agreement for most of the article with the exception of “Build Back Better”.

    Personally I think we should keep adopting the newer technology that we have developed over the decades of research that we have put into engines and cars themselves. Look at this new engine, 33 lbs and 160 hp and efficiency gains of 1000%. No new electric grid needed, it reduces emissions again, retains our freedom, and isn’t full of software bugs.

    • we have supply chain problems with tech its all done by slave labor in boats offshore by china
      and we keep saying we need to lower emission when its the exact opposite the co2 cycle is the cycle of life and everone is tricked into killing the planet when what need to be addressed is industrial pollution of things other than co2

      • I think it’s the subsidies that are causing all the problems. If the technology would be adopted naturally all of those problems would work themselves out, and the best solutions would come to the top. That solution may not be a completely electric vehicle. It might be that motor I posted and using much smaller battery packs with a combination of gas but using electric motors to drive the car because they’re more efficient and they give a better ride.

        The problem is we may never know because people gravitate towards the cheapest solution and when you subsidize it it’s the cheapest to the end user but it costs the most to society.

        I agree with you that CO2 is not the issue they make of it.

    • Brian,
      France has committed to 24 new nuclear plants
      Brussel stated nuclear and gas are the GO TO fuels of the future, not wind and solar, because if they become larger percentages on the grid, THEY WOULD REQUIRE GRID-SCALE STORAGE




      Solar electricity is mainly a midday event, which means storage capacity, MWh, is required, because solar is zero at night.

      Assume one month of storage. That number keeps appearing in various studies

      US average monthly consumption is 4000/12 = 333.33 TWh.

      During periods of strong winds and good sunshine, any electricity generated in excess of US demand would be stored.
      During periods of weaker winds and poorer sunshine, any electricity generated short of US demand would be withdrawn from storage.

      The battery must be operated between 15% full and 80% full, for long 15-y life, i.e., available battery capacity is 65%.

      Turnkey Capital Costs of Site-specific, Custom-designed, Utility-grade, Grid-scale Battery Systems would be (333.33 billion kWh/0.65, available capacity) x $500/kWh, plus 25% aging at 1.5%/y, plus 10% contingency to cover scheduled and unscheduled outages = $353 TRILLION, most of it would be a recurring expense EVERY 15 YEARS

      NOTE: Similar calculations for New England storage would be as shown in table 2. See Note

      NOTE: Even if future storage costs would decrease to a Holy-Grail-low of $100/kWh, the capital cost would still be off-the-charts unaffordable

      NOTE: Most “analysts”, including folks enthusiastically writing for trade magazines and newspapers, do not include 1) battery system aging, 2) battery operating losses, and 3) lifetime basis; lifetime means accounting for energy and CO2 emissions from mines/wells to disposal.

        • Brian,

          New England would need to build a dam, at least 200 ft tall, in the Connecticut River, to create a large reservoir upstream of the dam to have enough storage.

          That would flood at least 1000 square miles.
          The center of Hanover, NH, would not be flooded

          The people living on flooded land would be moved to new communities bordering on the very large recreational reservoir, a la China.

          Wind and solar would provide electricity to pump water from the river up into the reservoir.

          Water would flow from the reservoir through about 30,000 MW of hydro-turbines, to generate electricity for New England

          The alternative would be several hundred small reservoir hydro plants all over New England.

          • I mean I haven’t done the calculations, but that seems extreme. Also it doesn’t have to be water any kind of potential energy can be used here. You can literally haul rocks up a hill or you can have a weighted system. also I wouldn’t want one large application of it I definitely would want many small applications of , at the very least for redundancy.

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