An Antiplanner reader writes, what “if all vehicles in USA were powered by electricity?” The reader wasn’t sure, but suspected that it would be “impossible to do with electricity as now generated and distributed.” I was inclined to agree, but when I looked into it, the results surprised me.
First, as I’ve noted before, only about a third of the power used to generate electricity ends up being delivered to the end users; the rest is lost in generation and transmission. This would seem to reduce the apparent efficiency of electric cars.
Counter to that, however, internal combustion engines dissipate most of their energy in the form of heat. On average, only about 21 percent of the energy from burning gasoline or Diesel is used to move vehicles; the rest is lost. Electric motors, however, only lose about 20 percent of their energy as heat. This more than offsets the losses from electrical generation and transmission. Continue reading
The New York Times headline (in its paper edition), “State-by-State Assault on Electric Cars,” presents an image of people smashing windshields, throwing stones, or overturning vehicles. Instead, the article is about the debate over tax breaks to purchasers of electric cars.
According to the Times, electric cars couldn’t exist without tax breaks. Georgia had a $5,000 tax break on electric vehicles and in its last month 1,300 such cars were sold. In the month after it was repealed, sales declined to less than 100. (The paper doesn’t say so, but knowing that the tax break was disappearing probably led more people to buy in the last month.) The article makes it clear that supporters of electric cars, and the Times itself, believe that they are entitled to such tax breaks.
The Antiplanner has encountered similar attitudes during discussions of mileage-based user fees. Oregon, which is experimenting with such fees, says that, “Unlike semi-trucks, the impact on roads created by regular cars and light trucks–from small compacts to large pickups—is practically the same across the board.” (Oregon already has a mileage-based fee for all heavy trucks.) Some people are outraged by this, taking it for granted that cars that get better gas mileage or run off of electricity should get a break.
A new study published in Environmental Science and Technology argues that increased numbers of electric vehicles over the next four decades will not result in a “clear and consistent trend toward lower system-wide emissions.” The reason, of course, is that it takes energy to produce electricity, and much of that energy comes from burning fossil fuels.
Maybe not green enough to be worth the wait.
Of course, we can increase the production of “renewable” electricity. But if we increase the demand for that electricity by driving electric cars, then we’ll still have to burn fossil fuels to supply electricity for other purposes such as light and heat. It might make more sense to use renewable electricity to replace fossil fuels in electrical generation while working to make fossil-fuel-powered cars more energy efficient.