By on April 17, 2012

When government, media and industry agree that a trend exists, it’s generally taken as fait accompli. After all, these three institutions wield immense cultural power, and together they are more than capable of making any prophecy self-fulfilling. But there’s always a stumbling block: acceptance by the everyday folk who actually make up our society. And when a trend is taken for granted, the ensuing rush to be seen as being in touch with said trend often generates more heat than light. Such is the case with the trend towards “green cars.” Few would deny that they are “the future,” but at the same time, there’s been precious little examination of how this future is to be realized. And when such examination does take place, it tends to raise more questions than it answers.

Case in point: the Union of Concerned Scientists recently published a report examining just how “green” the “greenest” cars available, namely electric cars, are. By examining the average C02 emissions of the various regional power grids, they are able to show on a roughly apples-to-apples basis how carbon-efficient EVs are in comparison to their gasoline-sipping cousins. And their findings show that in broad swathes of the US, pure-electric cars are little better than hybrids like the Prius in terms of average C02 emissions.

This ACS report is something of a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes an important point about EVs: that they are only as environmentally-friendly as the grid from which they draw their power. This fact has long been ignored by policymakers who take the “greenness” of EVs for granted and create uniform national EV stimulus, as if EVs were uniformly “green.” On the other hand, the ACS clearly has a pro-EV agenda, and its report concludes that

There are no areas of the country where electric vehicles have higher global warming emissions than the average new gasoline vehicle.

Given that EV offerings are currently limited to the Compact and Subcompact segments, this is hardly a fair comparison. And since the EPA includes cars like the Bentley Continental GTC as a “subcompact,” a fair comparison would take some real work. To be fair though, the UCS is correct when it points out that 45% of Americans live in the coastal regions where relatively clean grids offer strong environmental incentives for EV use. More importantly, those areas which have dirtier grids tend to be the same regions (the South and Midwest) where geography and development patterns create more practical disincentives for EV use. For this reason, the somewhat disappointing results of the study are unlikely to dramatically hurt the nascent EV market.

Still, this geographical distribution has important consequences for public policy. For one thing, it points out the futility of a nationwide EV incentive program, at least as an environmental policy. Luckily, this reality seems to have taken hold in D.C., where EV-only incentives are being broadened to include multiple fuels and encourage local solutions. On the other hand, the fact that EVs are a hot trend means local governments are often more anxious to show off their trend-awareness than craft sensible policy based on local realities.

For example, Colorado has one of the least “green” grids in the country, and yet its state government has been one of the most aggressive in handing out EV tax credits. Prior to 2010, Colorado allowed Tesla buyers to take up to $42,000 in credits. Today EVs get a $6,000 incentive in addition to the $7,500 (soon to be $10k) federal credit, and a local group has received half a million dollars in federal grants to promote EVs in the state. Given that Colorado-based EVs emit equivalent emissions to a 33 MPG combined gasoline car (think: Hyundai Elantra), this is proof that hopping on a PR-driven bandwagon often outweighs the actual benefits of such “environmental” policies.

But, in a profoundly ironic twist, Colorado may well become a leading market for EVs… and not just because of its generous government incentives either. In fact, Colorado’s relatively dirty grid actually makes it one of the cheaper states in which to operate an EV. In its cost analysis of individual cities, the UCS finds that Colorado Springs’ 2.4 cents-per-mile operating cost for a Nissan Leaf is one of the cheapest in the country, especially when compared to cities with the best emissions scores. Though there’s not enough evidence in this study to support a direct link between the cost and cleanliness of electrical grids, it’s no surprise to find that they do trade off with each other to some extent.

This is one of the key takeaways from the report for the simple reason that running cost, rather than pure environmental benefit, is what will drive the EV market beyond its early adopter niche. And as utilities invest in ever-greener powerplants in hopes of improving the environmental performance of EVs, running costs will rise. And as EVs become more popular, increased demand on the grid will further drive up prices. This tradeoff encapsulates the dilemma of all EV stimulus: the hoped-for environmental benefits are dependent on the mainstream economic viability of EVs, which in turn depends on cheaper (rather than cleaner) power and much, much cheaper EVs. The UCS report’s conclusion attempts to square this circle by pushing EV adoption as the overriding concern, noting

Of course, cleaning up the nation’s electricity production won’t deliver large reductions in the transportation sector’s emissions and oil consumption unless electric vehicles become a market success. While they are now coming onto the market in a much bigger way than ever before, EVs still face many hurdles, including higher up-front costs than gasoline vehicles. Lower fueling costs for EVs, however, provide an important incentive for purchasing them, and our cost analysis of 50 cities across the country shows that EV owners can start saving money immediately on fuel costs by using electricity in place of gasoline.

While this is true enough, it fully ignores how the market works. For one thing, the fuel savings touted in the report are in comparison to an “average gasoline compact vehicle,” and therefore fails to account for most of the market segments. Consumers buy cars that fill their needs, and many Americans need cars larger than a compact. Furthermore, though those savings are estimated to be as much as $1,220 per year (for a Nissan Leaf), these savings do not include amortization of the EV’s up-front cost premium. Consumers will see “immediate savings” on fuel costs, but will be far behind on total ownership cost for years.

Currently the EV market is truly a “green” market, as potential EV consumers are currently motivated by the desire to reduce their carbon emissions. But EVs simply won’t have much of an impact on national emissions until they offer the kind of “green” that actually motivates consumers: money, in the form of real savings. As long as federal and state governments focus, as the UCS has, on carbon emissions, EVs simply won’t find much of a market. If, as the UCS claims, reductions in transportation-sector C02 emissions require mass EV adoption as a prerequisite, the carbon question is currently little more than a distraction. Environmental benefits must give way to economic reality, lest all of the possible “green” benefits of EVs remain a permanent mirage.

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63 Comments on “Blind Spot: It Ain’t Easy Being Green...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Much food for thought…

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    For one thing, the fuel savings touted in the report are in comparison to an “average gasoline compact vehicle,”

    Have they used the national MPG average or even better, state MPG averages to compare… nah.

    • 0 avatar
      Icanseeformiles

      One thing I haven’t seen in this report is a consideration of whether charging a EV overnight is effectively using electricity that’s going to waste anyway. As I understand it you don’t switch a coal plant off at night because of the costs and difficulty of stopping and restarting the furnace. So essentially a coal plant produces electricity 24/7 irrespective of whether it’s needed or not. Perhaps that’s the sweet spot for charging EVs.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Well, the way this works is that coal-fired (and nuke) plants carry the “base load” so they run 24-7 and their capacity is fully utilized. The peak loads are met either by buying power from someone with “extra” or by using gas-turbine powered generators which can be started instantly and shut down equally quickly. Of course, turbines use more fuel per kwh than other types of generators.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Base load power is not usually fully utilized overnight. Industrial customers get lower rates for “off-peak” times and higher rates for “peak”, i.e. daytime, for this reason. Residential customers generally don’t have variable pricing like this, although this might change in the future.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        Electricity isn’t going to waste, but capacity for the generation of that electricity is. They can turn down a boiler at night and reduce the input of coal accordingly when the demand is reduced. It’s like your engine running at less than full power. Not as efficient, but not that bad. It’s not like they have massive resistors outside the plant to dissipate waste power.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    I think I’d rather see that tax money go to fixing roads, planting trees (heck, why not genetically engineered trees that mature faster and consume more carbon???), or something other than vehicles that only a fraction of people are interested in owning.

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      Pipe down there you’re talking to much sense/

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      There are rainforest trees that grow 20′ a year. Got to be competitive to get some sunshine in that density! It would be tough to find a place to plant enough of those to compensate for the ones being cut down though, and you’d need the right climate to support such growth.

  • avatar
    tonykaz

    Hello Mr. Editor in Oregon ,
    I just saw Season 18 of Top Gear , that British TV thing . Those 3 guys ( and the BBC ) are supposed to be the most successful auto Journalism outlet in the Business . I am surprised at how horrible Season 18 is , in fact I’ve seen all the previous Series , in years past , but didn’t remember these lads to be quite so awful . I started relying on TTAC about two years ago and I got spoiled . If these Top Gear people are the most successful , then the TTAC lads should’ve been wining a Pulitzer !
    Thanks for all your work ,
    Hammer Time is brilliant ,
    Tony Kazmierski

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    The “greenest” car you can buy now (in terms of overall impact to the environment) is a used compact car (made in the past 20 years) kept in top running condition. You’re keeping that car out of the landfill/scrap metal pile, and keeping a new one from being made (which has a tremendous negative environmental impact any way that you slice it, despite Subaru’s claims to the contrary). You’ll be getting 30+ mpg. And auto emissions levels for the last 20 years have been very low.

    This works great for those of us not in the rust belt.

    A friend of mine already has almost 20K gasoline-free miles on his Nissan Leaf in less than a year. But he paid around $35K for it. I have a total of about $6K into my 1997 Civic. I’d love to have a new Leaf/Volt/Prius, but I can’t afford to.

    There are many ways to be “green” without spending a lot of it!

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    I have a friend who has solar panels at home. He generates more than enough electricity to power his Nissan Leaf. His carbon footprint is essentially zero, as is his fuel cost.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Solar panels to power my whole house would cost at least $30k. Here in western PA, I pay about $100 per month for electricity for a 2000 sq.ft. house filled with 6-7 people. At that consumption rate, I’d wait 25 years to break even, and then my panels would need replacing.

      Or is your friend only powering the Leaf charger? Either way, it’s a pretty steep up-front cost just to save a little carbon.

      • 0 avatar

        I should note that the UCS’s carbon numbers are regional, and mixes as well as generation options can vary within each region. For example, here in Portland we can choose a 100% renewable plan for just one cent more per kw/h thanks to abundant hydro and wind power in the Columbia Gorge. For such a low additional price, even I switched to carbon-free electricity… although this just goes to show that the EV market is even more regionalized than the UCS map indicates.

        Thanks all for the kind words!

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Regardless of the plan you pick from your electric provider, the power that is supplied is the power supplied, e.g., if no one buys the 100% carbon-free plan, they don’t ‘turn off’ the wind turbines or hydro-electric dams.

        Solar PV typically lasts at least 30 yrs. That’s a good figure to use, but I wouldn’t count on them lasting longer than that, even if they probably will. The fact that they have a break-even point less than that means they are viable.

        The large entry cost certainly is a problem; however, it is flawed to think that you have to replace your entire consumption. If a person can afford a $10k system and wants to reduce fuel consumption, then he can, even if it only drops a portion of his consumption.

        The fact that PV is competitive over their life (break-even under 30 yrs), they can serve other purposes. Like investing, maximizing ROI is not the only consideration. PV systems can be installed to reduce dependence on the grid (in places where power interuption is expected), reduce pollution (for the value of the satisfaction, not just the $$$), or to hedge against future price increases.

      • 0 avatar
        Morea

        @redav: Can you give a reference to the 30 year life span for photovoltaics? Any data on the decrease in efficiency over the life span?

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Here’s one:
        http://homepower.com/article/?file=HP118_pg12_AskTheExperts_1

        “PV warranties typically allow for 20 percent output degradation over the module’s 20- to 25-year warranty life. But measurements of many modules put into service in the 1980s show that it’s unusual to see even half that much degradation. Many of those earliest modules still perform to their original specifications. It is safe to say that modules carrying warranties of 20 years or more have a high probability of working well 30 years from now.”

        This explanation matches well with the info I’ve gotten from various PV vendors.

      • 0 avatar
        afuller

        We looked into powering our home with solar in cooperation with the local power company in AZ a few years ago.

        Our portion of the cost of the system would have been $7k. I didn’t consider this a bad price at all however the power company did not have the ability to “reverse” the meter so that we could sell our excess power back to them.

        The point is, costs for solar power vary.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “His carbon footprint is essentially zero, as is his fuel cost.”

      Other than the big initial investment in the energy and resources to get that equipment. But if this saves money in the long run, he’s done good.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Ed, that was an excellent writeup.

    I still want a Leaf, but trading a perfectly reliable 30 mpg car for one doesn’t make sense.

    Another problem with tax incentives for EVs is they are only fully realized by people whose income is high enough to also be paying lots in taxes – they are not for the ‘little guy’.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      This arguement is pretty much a non-starter.

      If you are making enough money to be considering buying a $30K+ new car, you more than likely are paying far more than $7500 in Federal Income Tax – especially in two-income households. I am by no means wealthy and I paid more than double that amount last year. Little guys pay lots in taxes too.

      Yes, supposedly half of all American households pay no income tax at all, but those people are not in the market for any new car, nevermind $30K+ cars of limited utility.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I see plenty of people in the proverbial ‘hood who don’t make enough to pay that much in taxes that are driving expensive & heavily modded cars (well over $30k). The sad fact is lots of people buy stuff they can’t afford. Of course, that doesn’t change the arguments of whether the subsidy is fair/proper or whether we should promote buying what you can’t afford.

        IMO, it almost never makes sense to dump a car & buy a new one to reduce operating expenses, unless the ‘new’ one is used and cost about what you could get for your car. However, when your car wears out & needs replacing anyway, that’s the time to get spiffy, high-tech one.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    I think how EVs are doing in the market despite all the unfair advantages heaped into it compared to regular gasoline vehicles just show how uncompetitive they were. And don’t tell me ICE has had more time to develop. Electric cars too, they were invented not long after its ICE competitor. They were just not successful. If any sold today it’s because of the “green movement” and all the “for the environment” messages the media pushed so hard for. The concerted effort by our “betters” to pressure us to be more environmentally friendly, and thus move into EVs are immense (while they themselves mostly travel by stretch limousines, private planes, helicopters and other wasteful methods, of course). If EVs still cannot succeed under those conditions, I don’t think they ever will. At least not until there’s a breakthrough that brought their competitiveness on par with regular ICE cars.

    This article also illustrates how much of a sham these green cars were. If they suddenly becomes commonplace, and people are switching into them en masse, the electric industry would have to scramble to built more power plants. And the easiest, quickest way to do it tend to be the dirtiest (coal, etc.) I think the benefits of those green cars for the environment is still dubious today. Now if we had found a way to produce cheap, abundant, clean electricity, say if Fusion reactor has finally become reality, only then it might make sense to switch to EVs en masse.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    A very good writeup there Ed,

    I like how this article looks at all sides of the debate and while driving electric cars can be more green, however, it’s the grid it gets plugged into that can nullify its green cred to some extent and it is of no surprise that the states with the highest concentration of EV’s are the coastal states, which tend to have the cleanest electricity producing plants and this article points that out.

    I think one thing that will help with the EV acceptance, irrespective of politics and it being touted as the “only” solution is the build up of either battery exchange stations or quick charging stations that can charge one’s battery in a very short time period so it can be used on long cross country trips if one wants to (especially if the EV ends up being one’s only vehicle).

    I like how you pulled away from the politics of this subject, only to note that the article itself avoids the obvious, that they avoided how the market works and I like how it was noted in your comments on the article by pointing out the futility of the EV program as an environmental policy, but rather, it should be marketed as a cost program, IE, how much it costs to operate and it is interesting that they noted that isn’t really a huge difference in carbon emissions (gas vehicles, direct production of CO2, EV’s indirect through many power plants), but the costs to own, and how long it takes to payback the upfront costs of purchasing such a vehicle.

    Well done and even handed in looking at this from all sides (as the article you discussed itself mostly does too).

  • avatar
    TW4

    These types of analyses have already been performed, with much more depth as well. My favorite is dust-to-dust ratings by CNW Research. Smart was the most green car on the market when the study was conducted (2008), which is unsurprising b/c it was built with dust to dust in mind, hence the crude mechanical systems and electronics. The interesting numbers were those belonging to crude SUVs. Though vehicles like Wrangler, Ranger, and Tacoma do not make good fuel economy, they simplicity of their manufacturing process is enough to reduce overall costs over the life of the vehicle.

    Studies like the one above lack perspective, imo, which makes them a bit dangerous. If green is what really matters, then use real green ratings. If green isn’t terribly important, emphasize the benefits of reducing our trade deficit for oil and focus on high technology growth and efficiency.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      I think my 05 xB was ‘greenest’ when it was made, although I didn’t know it at the time. Ironically, it is not an EPA ‘SmartWay’ car, so I can’t park as close to the office as some of my coworkers whose cars qualify for them to do so.

      Your last statement hints at an important feature of these ‘green’ studies. I’m not particularly ‘green’, but I don’t fancy waste and I do like saving money. Others are swayed by environmental arguments, even some I find specious. However, I really think the right ‘green’ solutions will satisfy both camps.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        The foundation of the study is not solid. If it were, they would not have concluded that every Prius on the road is somehow being subsidized through some mystery donor by about $250,000 over its lifespan.

        Want realistic numbers to determine total energy and resource consumption? Look at total cost. That includes everything; even the drinks the CEO of the exploration company – that determined the mine site for some raw materials used to manufacture the electronics that assembled some components of the vehicle – had during a flight in his private company jet.

        Edit: this should be a couple of posts down.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      The dust-to-dust study by CNW was crap. They started with distorting assumptions about vehicle lifespan and went downhill from there.

      • 0 avatar
        TW4

        It is true that the study’s underlying weakness is vehicle life, which cannot be easily estimated for vehicles with new components (hybrids particularly), but the study isn’t complete crap. Many green vehicle studies didn’t bother to take manufacturing or recycling into account. The CNW numbers have issues regarding hybrids, imo, but overall the numbers appear quite good. Crude is green according to the study (logical). Sophisticated, low-volume are not green (also logical).

        The foundation of the study is solid. Hybrid rankings might lack a bit of sophistication.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    The people so concerned with being green should plant a tree, or two, or three.

    Our society, our economy, our lives are all built upon oil, coal and natgas. Other sources of energy are fine but don’t amount to a hill of beans.

    The sun doesn’t shine 24/7, and neither does the wind blow 24/7. In several areas windfarms are paid by the government to shut them off. That’s a fine how-do-you-do!

    Our national electrical grid cannot support a mass increase in plug-in EVs and currently their range is abysmal. Then there is the added cost of the exotic batteries. No wonder they don’t sell worth diddly.

    EVs may be the wave of the future but not until we have exhausted all our sources of oil, coal and natgas. Until then, the Hybrids are a viable alternative.

    Until we run out of oil, coal and natgas those natural resources remain our best bet for our future, our economy and our nation.

    You’re right. It ain’t easy being green, even if you wanted to be green.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Our world economy is built upon refining energy sources, essentially. Setting aside nuclear fission for a moment, the amount of energy we have to work with is the amount of energy that the Earth receives from the Sun. That’s what we have, either directly through photovoltaic cells or indirectly through wind, hydroelectric, indirect solar, etc.

      Fossil fuels like coal and oil represent, essentially, a saved-up store of solar energy — solar energy stored in high-energy chemical bonds by plants and then compressed into coal or petroleum or the like over the course of millions of years of geologic activity. It’s like a capacitor in a circuit, and our world energy needs, i.e. our world economy, is draining this capacitor far more quickly than it is being recharged.

      As we continue to use up fossil fuel resources, it requires more and more energy input to extract the fuel in the first place. This isn’t too surprising, really. Eventually we’ll surpass a break-even point, and energy from fossil fuels will no longer fuel increased economic growth.

      Now, if our worldwide economic system is based on energy, and we draw our energy from a diminishing resource, what does it say abut the future of our worldwide economic system?

      If we can wait until after we exhaust all our sources of fossil fuels before attempting to move towards alternatives, how well will we handle the switchover? In your experience, how well does our economic system deal with sudden disruptions like that? Hell, it could barely handle the idea that real estate values might go down instead of forever upward without suddenly imploding worldwide. You think it can deal with an energy crisis? A localized energy crisis is what led to Japan bombing Pearl Harbor. A global one would be, well, quite bad.

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        You raise some wise points. I particularly liked this one: how “well does our economic system deal with sudden disruptions like that? Hell, it could barely handle the idea that real estate values might go down”

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        aristurtle, during the early ’80s I bought into that whole solar water heater thing and even made a special structure on top of my house for it when I was building my house from scratch.

        At the time my state had a $5K immediate tax credit, and a $5K deferred tax credit over 5 years. Since I was on active duty at that time I didn’t even come close to being able to claim all those tax credits. I didn’t make enough money and my wife was going to school full-time to get her real-estate broker license.

        And as far as those solar panels were concerned? They became worthless relics in less than five years as the maintenance on them was economically prohibitive.

        The concept worked great. Heated my water and heated my 20K gallon in-ground pool to spa temps.

        But the execution sucked big time. The panels sprang leaks or otherwise deteriorated too quickly. IOW, they failed miserably, just like all this hype about being green is failing miserably now.

        Like Noisewater I am against wasteful living, but as I learned from my solar panel experience, there is no substitute for a 50-gallon natgas-fired water heater, or a natgas-fired diatomaceous-earth filter/heater system.

        In fact, they work so well I have two 50-gallon natgas-fired water heaters at my house, one at each end of the house, one for the kitchen and laundry room, the other for the bathrooms and showers.

        And so it is with EVs and other ‘green things’. There is no substitute for internal combustion engines at this time and there won’t be until we run out of oil, coal and natgas.

        Coal-fired electricity-generating plants still provide the majority of power generation and everything else (solar, wind, wave, and nuclear) is just a drop in the bucket. Those are the facts.

        That doesn’t mean that I am against the whole green thing. I think it should be available for those who want to participate, like I think that plug-in EVs should be available for anyone who wants to buy one.

        However, I do not believe that those green things should be subsidized by the rest of us tax paying members of society since most of us derive absolutely no benefit from them.

        That, of course, is at the heart of the green debate. And the way the populace votes is with their wallets. The alarmist green-weenies are in the minority, in spite of Obama’s economic and energy policies. The majority just isn’t buying into the green thing, and won’t until we run out of oil, coal and natgas.

        And that won’t be for hundreds of years yet. The whole green thing is ahead of its time by at least two centuries.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Yeah, I don’t really give a crap about being “green” (other than my general distaste for wastefulness), but I DO give a crap about sending $$ overseas to nasty despotic regimes, and subsidies to them in the form of American military protection. When my Volt is on electricity (which is nearly 90% of the time), from whatever source derived, I know at least that the sources providing that fuel are most likely American, or possibly Canadian or Mexican.

      Plus, it was unfortunately quite easy to claim the entire $7500 subsidy for me, as so much of my income gets seized by the Feds in the first place to fund all sorts of other subsidies, such as those for homeborrowers, the aforementioned despots and the military-industrial complex that protects and supports them, the poor and their kids, political junkets and secret service hookers, etc..

      • 0 avatar
        400 N

        I’m sitting here at work (electric utility), looking at the current generating numbers for Ontario:

        nuclear – 9198 MW
        Coal – 17 MW
        Gas – 1130 MW
        Hydro – 2707 MW
        Wind – 451 MW

        Total – 13560 MW

        To say that coal can’t be replaced is just out and out silly.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Thank you for a great article, Ed. I see from the number of respondents that this is a hot issue.

    I’ve been suspicious of that technology for years now, and see no point in EV’s at all.

    There are MANY (fifteen) very significant problems with electric cars in America that will likely inhibit their being common, general purpose vehicles:
    1) Heating occupants, seats, and windshields in Winter (> large battery drain);
    2) Cooling occupants in Summer (> VERY large battery drain);
    3) Huge battery-pack replacement cost after 8-10 years, limiting vehicle lifetime and forcing lease-acquistion instead of purchase;
    4) Large-scale recycling difficulties of battery returns/replacements;
    5) Dangerous, limited, and “strangle hold” foreign supply of rare-earth elements for batteries and motors;
    6) Limited range for travel, currently between 50-150 miles (“range anxiety”);
    7) Without gearing, large (unexpected and dangerous) torque delivery off-the-line at zero RPM (just great for teenage girls on cellphones!);
    8) The power grid is not designed to handle the load of large-scale electric transportation;
    9) Charging stations at destinations and households are about $2K each, and are not in place generally;
    10) “Refueling” times are 24 to 4 hours (depending on use of 110 volts, 220 volts, or 440 volts);
    11) Pollution problems are transferred to coal-fired power plants (comprising 75% of power-genertion in the US), worse CO2 polluters than clean diesel;
    12) Stray electric-current safety issues in accidents, impeding recovery of occupants by emergency personnel;
    13) Large added weight and poor weight distribution deter good vehicle driving performance, braking, and accident-avoidance.;
    14) Added electronic / mechanical complexity (e.g., hybridization, KERS*, etc) means poorer long-term reliability and endurance;
    15) Disproportionately high purchase prices and depreciation rates for the level of utility otherwise obtainable with ICE** vehicles;

    Why in the world would anyone suggest such a thing?

    We now have VERY clean diesels, such as the new VW Passat TDI that can get 43 mpg on the highway, and upcoming ultra-efficient gasoline engines with turbocharging, variable valves, and direct injection. There are also new developments in variable displacement engines, and multiple piston-per-cylinder designs.

    In the short term, carbon-neutral fuels like biodiesel (e.g., soybean oil) could be pushed for diesel engines; and bio-butanol could be fermented from switchgrass to give a direct “gasoline equivalent” for current ICE-gasoline engines (i.e., no engine changes required).

    If the automobile industry wanted to take a serious plunge into the future, it would sponsor shoreline nuclear and/or wind energy for the sole purpose of hydrolyzing sea water to get hydrogen for automotive fuel cells or direct-hydrogen combustion. That would be a pure “green” and genuinely zero emissions approach, while preserving traditional car performance, range, cost-effectiveness, convenience, longevity, and reliability.

    —————-
    * Kinetic Energy Recovery System, which turn the electric motor(s) into a generator to put amps back into the battery upon braking.
    ** Internal Combustion Engine.
    —————-

    • 0 avatar
      dhanson865

      Clear Fallacies in the list:

      2) Cooling occupants in Summer (> VERY large battery drain); False, Heating is a bigger drain, cooling with modern AC in a car is a minor issue to fuel efficiency in EV or Hybrid.

      3) Huge battery-pack replacement cost after 8-10 years, FALSE, battery packs don’t have to be replaced in 90% or more of the vehicles. The ones that do need them can’t get recovered packs from cars “totaled” in minor accidents.

      9) Charging stations at destinations and households are about $2K each, and are not in place generally; False, you can get a L2 EVSE for less than half that cost if you don’t let someone rip you off.

      12) Stray electric-current safety issues in accidents, impeding recovery of occupants by emergency personnel; False, wiring for drive systems is kept below the occupants, is clearly marked, and hasn’t been an issue.

      13) Large added weight and poor weight distribution deter good vehicle driving performance, braking, and accident-avoidance.; The added weight is often in the lower and rear portions of the car improving front / rear weight distribution and reducing body roll. In most cases it’s a win / win to handling.

      14) Added electronic / mechanical complexity (e.g., hybridization, KERS*, etc) means poorer long-term reliability and endurance; FALSE, Prius has added electronic complexity but reduced mechanical complexity. Leaf has even less moving parts. Both will be more reliable than a traditional ICE vehicle.

      Note I’m only dismissing about half your list, some of those issues are significant but there is no reason to spread useless FUD based on totally inaccurate concepts.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        2) A battery pack replacement has a similar cost as a transmission. Potato – Potahto.
        7) You can’t complain about excess weight AND sudden lurching off the line. It’s either one or the other. Also, accelerator mapping is an easy solution to prevent it if it was a problem, but we can’t say that it is since there haven’t been complaints about it yet (at least, not more than ICE Toyotas).
        11) Isn’t that what this report+article is all about? Did you even read it?
        13) Reviews of existing EVs have typically noted their handling & drivability is pretty decent because of the exceptionally low CG. It’s possible that adding batteries to the back may improve the front-rear distribution, but that’s just a guess.
        ** Defining ICE on a car website? Really? Was this list just a cut & paste?

        Another big problem is the assumption that every car will be electric. Most US households have multiple cars. It is perfectly reasonable that the ideal market penetration of EVs is replacing one of those cars. Need a truck? Buy a truck. Need a commuter? Buy an EV.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        dhansom865…

        Well, let’s un-dismiss them a little bit:
        2) Common physics: It’s much more thermally efficient to heat something than to cool something;

        3) Nissan estimates that its $15K Leaf batteries will lose 20% of their capacity 5 years, and at that point the leased vehicle will need replacement. if you made the mistake of buying one, shell out $15K. (Ref: Bergstrom Auto, Appleton, WI);

        9) The car industry quote for purchase and professional installation of a 220-volt residential charging station is $2K;

        12) EMT responders have already voiced reservations about using the “Jaws of LIfe” in mangled electric vehicles because of unknown high-voltage situations within that crashed EV;

        13) Nope. Sorry. Hight-torque from an electric motor compensates off the line; high weight from the batteries makes cornering, accident avoidance, and braking an unmitigated disaster;

        14) I have no idea where you got this. No one is saying that any electric vehicle will have the same longevity as ICE vehicles. The average lifetime of an ICE car in America is 10.5 years; and the from the info above, the “planned obsolescence” of an EV (here, Leaf) is 5 years.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        “2) Common physics: It’s much more thermally efficient to heat something than to cool something;”

        Thermodynamics is the term you’re looking for there. Are you trying to tell me that the coefficient of performance of a heat pump is always higher than that of a refrigeration cycle?

        “13) Nope. Sorry. Hight-torque from an electric motor compensates off the line; high weight from the batteries makes cornering, accident avoidance, and braking an unmitigated disaster;”

        I was wondering why the performance numbers on the M5 and CTS-V were so terrible. That explains it.

  • avatar
    Adamatari

    It should be remembered that one major advantage of being tied to the grid is that the grid itself can be made greener, while a gasoline car is always going to need gasoline. Of course, this depends on the grid actually getting greener… Which is not the case in many places.

    As for the money issue, I suspect they will look better and better as time goes on. The only way gas will get significantly cheaper is if the economy crashes. The oil sands and tight oil that are now being produced haven’t done squat and depend on high prices to be economic. Soon, gas-to-liquids plants will be built in Louisiana… This is the last go-round for relatively cheap fossil fuels. Any smart carmaker recognizes this.

    The million dollar question is really, “as gas keeps getting more expensive, will people move to EVs, or will the economy crash first and destroy the market for them?”

    Ultimately, the green choice is to live close to work, bike, walk, or take public transport.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Glad someone brought up GTL. The question to ask is whether it is better to convert methane to distillates (fuel oil, diesel, jet), or to use it directly in power plants, or compressed or liquefied as a substitute for gasoline or diesel. For airplanes, there is no choice, but there is for surface transportation.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Adamatari …..

      “It should be remembered that one major advantage of being tied to the grid is that the grid itself can be made greener, while a gasoline car is always going to need gasoline.”

      Not quite. Gasoline engines can be made to run on bio-butanol as a virtual equivalent with no change in design.

      See: http://www.examiner.com/will-county-libertarian-in-chicago/butanol-could-be-a-new-moter-fuel, and http://profmaster.blogspot.com/2007/07/butanol-vs-ethanol-vs-future.html

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    An interesting article, Ed.

    It would seem that a fair and accurate analysis of how green Ev’s are vs. ICE’s would also need to include the emissions produced in both the extraction, production, refining, and transportation of the base materials in each case. Thus, a comprehensive analysis should include the emissions produced by extracting crude oil and in the production, refining, and transportation of gasoline(e.g., from the oil well in the Middle East to your local service station in Ohio–refining emissions, oil tankers, tanker trucks, etc.). It should also do the same for electricity generating stations, calculating the emissions cost in the extraction, production, processing and shipping of base materials used in the production of electricity. I’m not sure if these kinds of things are included in this analysis (and honestly don’t have time to read the entire report right now).

    Ed, Maybe I’m missing something, but while it may well be that the viability of EV’s may vary by region (and state), I don’t see how this “points out the futility of a nationwide EV incentive program, at least as an environmental policy.” After all, wouldn’t regional differences be taken care of by the market in this case (more people will buy EV’s where they are more viable, while still allowing those who really want an EV in less viable regions–for whatever reason–to have access to the same program as those in more viable states)?

    As for those who cite history as evidence that ICE’s are ‘better’ than EV’s (as a kind of survival of the fittest or ‘best’ automobile option), this is a highly questionable claim. ‘Best’ and ‘better’ are relative terms that are highly dependent on the metric one adopts to contextualize those notions. A large part of the reason ICE’s ended up being developed was not because they were ‘better’ in terms of overall emissions or other measures, but because oil was such a cheap and widely available material. But being cheap and widely available doesn’t necessarily make oil the ‘best’ option against other metrics (after all, just because something is cheap and widely available doesn’t entail that it and the practices surrounding it are ‘best’ in any absolute sense, e.g., asbestos, chlorofluorocarbons, and so on come immediately to mind).

  • avatar
    redav

    From the article: This fact has long been ignored by policymakers who take the “greenness” of EVs for granted and create uniform national EV stimulus, as if EVs were uniformly “green.”

    This statement assumes the grid is a fixed, stagnant thing. However, it is not (as acknowledge later in the article). The accusation is negated by the fact that govt also pushes the ‘greening’ of the nation’s power supply. Thus, the conclusion that the “futility” of EV policy is unjustified.

    Also unconsidered is the small problem that the alternative to EVs–namely fuel for ICEs–is also not fixed. We may easily see gasoline increase in price at twice the inflation rate over the next couple of decades. Is there any reason to think that increased electricity prices will outpace fuel? If not, the economics swing back in favor of EVs.

    Also not considered is the rise of distributed power generation, such as solar. I expect solar PV to drop in price by 30%+ over the next decade. That would make it equivalent to grid power (the difference being the still-large up-front price). Ford announced that they will sell 2.5 kW systems for $10k to buyers of the eFocus. (Such a system works out to $0.11/kWh.) Again, as more such systems are installed, the advantages of EVs expand.

    For improvements to be made, changes must be made. It is easier to change a few things (such as implementing a few changes with the power supply) as opposed to many changes (such as modifying millions of cars). The state has power to easily & cheaply regulate, maintain, and enforce pollution controls at power plants; it is far more difficult to do so with individual cars. Thus, a pro-EV policy facilitates future policy if that is chosen. For example, suppose a cost-effective scrubber/sequestration technology is developed. This device could be installed at a coal power plant and instantly, an entire swath on the map switches from dark to light, and every EV in that area instantly becomes more ‘green.’ Conversely, to ‘green’ an ICE fleet, each car would need retrofitting, and it is likely that the technology wouldn’t even be implementable on a moving engine.

    The argument about compact cars suffers the logical fallacy of “If you can’t solve the entire problem, don’t do anything.” Current EVs are compacts, and lots of people need (and thus buy) compacts. There is no need or reason for every car on the road to be electric. ICEs will be dominant for several more decades. But if only small commuter cars are replaced with EVs, we’d still see dramatic improvements in smog patterns.

    If the report is clearly for EVs (and I believe it is), then this response is clearly against them. Which then is more accurate?

  • avatar
    Toad

    Most of the argument for EV’s become irrelevant if we use current ICE technology with compressed or liquified natural gas. Natural gas is relatively cheap, is domestically produced and available in large quantities for decades to come, burns relatively clean, uses existing proven and inexpensive technology, and reduces or eliminates range anxiety.

    Combining NG and hybrid technology is a double win: a Prius that runs on CNG would be a hard vehicle to dislike.

    I’m willing to bet we see natural gas vehicles strangle EV’s in the crib. There will be a few outliers driving EV’s, but they will remain a small, probably subsidized, minority.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Electric drivetrains are pretty compelling, I think having a natgas (or multi-hydrocarbon) SOFC combined with electric motors would be an ideal combination, with a battery in place for buffering and preheating the fuel cell (and accepting a grid charge for small trips). Perhaps when battery density revolutions from nanotech actually make it to the market we’ll see 30+ kWh batteries in a 300lb envelope, coupled with an 80%+ efficient SOFC genset..

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Toad…

      Great! You’ve done it! Problem solved. The EV is over. Whew, that was close…for while there I thought we were going to be accosted by mediocre technology….
      But here we go:
      1) For right now, go with the ultra-efficient gasoline and diesel engines;
      2) For 5 years from now, use CNG and LNG, with 1/10th the carbon footprint;
      3) For 10 years from now, use biodiesel and bio-butanol, which are carbon-neutral;
      4) For 15 years from now, use zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cells and hydrogen ICE’s for performance.

      Bingo, we’re done. Now, how do we convince car manufacturers to follow this recipe?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “This is one of the key takeaways from the report for the simple reason that running cost, rather than pure environmental benefit, is what will drive the EV market beyond its early adopter niche”

    If that’s what they’re claiming, then they’re wrong about that.

    The EV advocates wrongly believe that the problem is with cost. The barrier to EV adoption is not cost, but with the deficiencies of the technologies.

    At the moment, I have a car that travel at least a few hundred miles before needing to refuel, and then can be refueled with minimal fuss. (It might not be cheap these days, but it’s otherwise relatively quick and easy.)

    The EV advocates are suggesting that we swap this ease of operation for a car that offers a fraction of the range and an abundance of inconvenience. The late adopters will simply not tolerate those sorts of deficiencies.

    There isn’t a price that is low enough to overcome that problem. The technology needs to be improved so that it’s possible to leave the house with something more than the equivalent of a quarter-tank and that can be easily refueled. EVs have to meet or surpass the benchmarks set by internal combustion vehicles, and they don’t. Make the technology competitive in the real world, and you’ll have the basis for achieving critical mass.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      “The barrier to EV adoption is not cost, but with the deficiencies of the technologies.”

      Which opens a fantastic new opportunity to solve these issues, accelerate photovoltaic science so that EV’s are “off grid” as much as feasible, and to stop drilling the piss out of our backyard just to please the oil and gas barons.

      We need to move into the future, not retreat into the dark ages.

  • avatar
    phlipski

    “Consumers buy cars that fill their needs, and many Americans need cars larger than a compact.”

    Correction – consumers buy cars that fill their *WANTS* not their needs. The low suv sales during the last gas spike in 08 confirm that. Most families of four only NEED a small 4 door sedan. They WANT that Tahoe though, and I’m no exception…

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      To an extent you are right, but I dont think any other nation has child safety seat laws to the extent of the United States. Or, the rest of the developed world only has no more than two children per family. Today’s C-segment cars have pretty much the interior space for four adults and weight of a mid-20th century US Ford-Chevy-Plymouth, just not the six-passenger benches, which today’s big cars, CUVs and SUV’s dont have anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      phlipski….

      “Correction – consumers buy cars that fill their *WANTS* not their needs”

      Could it also be that people actually just adjust their NEEDS downward, and put up with a more restrictive life-style (like most Europeans)?

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Toad…

    Great! You’ve done it! Problem solved. The EV is over. Whew, that was close…for while there I thought we were going to be accosted by mediocre technology….
    But here we go:
    1) For right now, go with the ultra-efficient gasoline and diesel engines;
    2) For 5 years from now, use CNG and LNG, with 1/10th the carbon footprint;
    3) For 10 years from now, use biodiesel and bio-butanol, which are carbon-neutral;
    4) For 15 years from now, use zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cells and hydrogen ICE’s for performance.

    Bingo, we’re done. Now, how do we convince car manufacturers to follow this recipe?

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Well, I’m sure if you foot the bill for a new infrastructure grid every five years, they’ll get right on it. Don’t forget to throw in hydrogen tanks that don’t leak, while you’re at it.

      Meanwhile, in the real world, there are two energy sources that get distributed everywhere in the country on a regular basis, and they’re gasoline and electricity.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    To “redav”…

    You Said: ……
    ——————–
    “2) A battery pack replacement has a similar cost as a transmission. Potato – Potahto.
    7) You can’t complain about excess weight AND sudden lurching off the line. It’s either one or the other. Also, accelerator mapping is an easy solution to prevent it if it was a problem, but we can’t say that it is since there haven’t been complaints about it yet (at least, not more than ICE Toyotas).
    11) Isn’t that what this report+article is all about? Did you even read it?
    13) Reviews of existing EVs have typically noted their handling & drivability is pretty decent because of the exceptionally low CG. It’s possible that adding batteries to the back may improve the front-rear distribution, but that’s just a guess.
    ** Defining ICE on a car website? Really? Was this list just a cut & paste?

    Another big problem is the assumption that every car will be electric. Most US households have multiple cars. It is perfectly reasonable that the ideal market penetration of EVs is replacing one of those cars. Need a truck? Buy a truck. Need a commuter? Buy an EV.”
    ——————–

    2) Nope. A battery pack will cost you $10-15K for an EV, depending on brand and KW rating. A 6-speed automatic transmission (rebuilt or repaired) will cost you $4-5K, again, depending on which one and what car. I own 4 vehicles, all with manual transmissions: they just don’t wear out.

    7) I can complain about both for the reason discussed above: “High-torque from an electric motor compensates for weight off the line; but high weight from the batteries makes cornering, accident avoidance, and braking an unmitigated disaster;”

    11) Yes, I did. And you’ll note that the article does not give an average % Coal-fired electricity production number for the entire USA. This is why driving an EV is largely driving a coal-powered vehicle with a huge carbon footprint, something that EV-ophiles rarely talk about.

    13) Really? The “Road&Track” issue for April 2012 lists the the skidpad reading for the Nissan Leaf as 0.81. For a “real” sedan (not even a sports sedan), that value should be better than 0.85. It runs the R&T slalom at about 65 mph. My God, I’ve seen some pick-up trucks do better. The Leaf’s braking distance from 60 mph is 130 feet. Ordinary balanced sedans do less than 120; sports sedans (and sports cars) often do less than 110. You don’t want to know about creations like the Prius.

    You would be surprised at the number of car folks who do not understand that ICE is a unique acronym for Internal Combustion Engine, any more than they know what ECE stands for. (It is in fact useful to define terms.)

    Need a truck? Get a truck. Need a commuter that will be inexpensive to buy and own; reliable at -20 deg F; and be able to last for 10-12 years? Get a Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, or Honda Fit.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “The “Road&Track” issue for April 2012 lists the the skidpad reading . . .”

      . . . which is almost entirely determined by suspension setup and tire selection . . .

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        To “rpn453″..

        Not quite. Actually, both skidpad readings and slalom performance are largely influenced by:
        1) Suspension setup (as you mentioned);
        2) Choice of tires (Profile height, tread pattern, rubber adhesion (‘Stickiness”), deformability, etc), also as as you mentioned;
        3) Center-of-mass height of the vehicle;
        4) Vehicle weight, and more importantly, F/R % weight distribution (close to 50/50 = better);
        5) Position of the wheels within the chassis (more to corners of vehicle = better);
        6) Drive system layout (e.g, FWD, AWD, RWD)

        ————–

        You also mentioned in a separate response:

        ““2) Common physics: It’s much more thermally efficient to heat something than to cool something;”

        Thermodynamics is the term you’re looking for there. Are you trying to tell me that the coefficient of performance of a heat pump is always higher than that of a refrigeration cycle?

        “13) Nope. Sorry. Hight-torque from an electric motor compensates off the line; high weight from the batteries makes cornering, accident avoidance, and braking an unmitigated disaster;”

        I was wondering why the performance numbers on the M5 and CTS-V were so terrible. That explains it.”

        —————

        With regard to 2), you are right, of course: thermodynamics is the right term. But thermodynamics is a branch of physics or perhaps physical chemistry when applied at the molecular level. In the real world of heating and cooling, look at your house: since heating can be done by combustion (e.g., natural gas), but cooling must be done by electricity, moving your home’s temperature up by 1 degree f F will cost you less than moving it down by 1 degree F. With ICE cars, the heating of the car is a gift by the waste heat from the engine, so a similar concept works here, as with the house analog. Cooling a car will take more energy. This is even more true in the heating/cooling tradeoff in electric vehicles: heating can be done by resistance wires; cooling must be done by a heat pump (“air conditioner”).

        With regard to your comment on 13), one of the inherent traits of electric motors is that they give maximum torque at 0 RPM, and ICE’s give maximum torque somewhere up the RPM curve, depending on engine design. The former seems to be a good thing, but in fact can cause unwanted acceleration or skidding in slippery conditions; and for performance vehicles run at high RPM, there is little “oomph” remaining.


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