The above chart leaves out the Tesla Model 3 (base price ranges are about $40,000 to $57,000 plus additional options) with a range of up to about 300 miles. Also, some 2019/2020 cars have increased their range – the Nissan Leaf Plus now has a range of 228 miles and the newest Chevy Bolt is rated at 258 miles; both sell for less than $40,000.
When viewed in terms of typical family incomes – where families cannot afford to purchase even the typical gas powered cars – these price tags are unaffordable for typical consumers. (The reality is that manufacturers price their mix of cars at a level to optimize total revenue and profits. Prices are determined by the market -not their build cost. Manufacturers have identified that consumers are willing to pay more, by taking on debt, and have priced their gas and EVs at what is, in their position, the optimal price.)
From here, we can see prices organized as a column chart and compared to some gas powered vehicles:
EV enthusiasts say that EVs are more expensive to buy but less expensive over time due to expected lower maintenance costs and lower “fuel” costs. Many EVs come with an 8-10 year battery warranty as well, although battery failures beyond that can be an expensive replacement option.
Because battery technology is presently expensive, manufacturers are focused primarily on the luxury vehicle segment. This means less well off people are subsidizing EV tax credits used by wealthy people to buy EVs. (Subsidies are not free and are paid for by other taxpayers.) Driving an EV is also about virtue signaling, say about 75% of EV drivers, according to a survey by Volvo. while paradoxically “helps them to feel better about making less environmentally conscious decisions in “other areas of life.”‘ Hmmmm….
Plug-in hybrids, which operate as an EV for short range in town driving, appear to reduce GHGs at an attractive price point as shown by this chart (source):
Many think the year 2020 will see the introduction of more affordable EVs, lower priced EVs with longer range, and higher priced EVs with much longer ranges. We will see.
Call me an EV Realist
Note – in spite of what I write on these pages, I am bullish on EVs and would like, at some point, to have one myself. But I am trying to be realistic about their affordability to ordinary people, range issues that impact those who live in cold climates and/or drive cross country, and that they do not – yet – significantly reduce GHG emissions for many drivers depending on where they live. In at least half a dozen US states, nearly 100% of electricity is generated by burning coal, for example, and remains high as a percent of electricity generation in many more states. Electric utilities have sharply reduced their GHGs – down by a surprising -40% since 2005 – by (almost entirely) switching from coal to natural gas, which reduces GHG emission by more than half. There is no indication that EVs are worse than gas cars, and are generally better, but not nearly as much better as some proclaim (such as “zero emission vehicle” stickers on the backs of some EVs).
One third of all charging stations in the entire U.S. – are located in California which limits the usefulness for longer distance travel in outlying areas, off the Interstates.
For many years, electricity demand has been dropping (another surprise) but EV charging demand is expected to increase the need for more power (in fact, this is a major reason electric utilities support EVs – duh!). As demand increases relatively to future “clean” supply costs, charging EVs may become more expensive. On the other hand, some think that EVs could mostly large during the overnight hours when there is already excess production capacity. This would help utilities to get more use (and sales) out of their capital investment. But some think that to make this work, utilities will have to go to time-of-day pricing rather than a fixed rate. Whereas you might pay 10-15 cents/KWH to recharge today, you might be paying 30 or more cents//KWH when charging during peak daylight times – when people are traveling.
Many people believe EVs are zero emission vehicles. As explained here, they are not zero emission when considering their lifetime energy use. In many instances, EVs yield a smaller reduction in GHGs than one would expect. This is because much of the vehicle’s lifetime energy consumption is during the vehicle’s manufacture, and in many scenarios, the electricity for charging the vehicles is produced by coal or other fossil fuel based generation.
Electric utilities need to create growth opportunities as, surprisingly, there has been a decline in retail sales of electricity. Not surprisingly, electric utilities want to see widespread adoption of electric vehicles to kick start demand for electricity.
Between 2007 and 2013, retail sales of electricity in the United States across all sectors dropped 2%. In addition, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s energy in-frastructure a D+ grade in their 2013 report card and estimated a 3.6 trillion dollar investment needed by 2020.
“America relies on an aging electrical grid and pipeline distribution systems, some of which originated in the 1880s. Investment in power transmission has increased since 2005, but ongoing permitting issues, weather events, and limited maintenance have contributed to an increasing number of failures and power interruptions.”
Stagnant growth, rising costs, and a need for even greater infrastructure investment represent major challenges to the utility industry. To maintain our critical energy infrastructure while investing for the future, today’s electric utilities need a new source of load growth—one that fits within the political, economic and social environment. Electrification of the transportation sector is a potential “quadruple win” for electric utilities and society, and will enable companies to support environmental goals, build customer satisfaction, reduce operating costs and assure the future value of existing assets.
It’s not just about power generation. A fast charger requires a 480-volt, high capacity distribution line to be brought in to the charging station. Apartments and condo complexes, which may have dozens to hundreds of units will require massive power distribution upgrades to deliver the necessary power to charge all those vehicles when workers come home for the night.
The linked paper does not say much about how existing fossil-fuel based electric generation will be removed, or what type of new generation will be used to provide this electricity. They estimate that over the next 16 years (by 2035), an additional 112 terawatt hours of generation capacity will be required by the transportation sector.
EVs are seen as a conduit to growth in the electric utility industry.
The bottom line is that the electric utility industry needs the electrification of the transportation sector to remain viable and sustainable in the long term. While the market has started moving in this direction and the technology has been proven, there is still more to be done. Without active engagement, we may not realize the many benefits that could be derived from widespread electric-based transportation. We must continue to innovate, invest and work closely with regulators, automakers, and other partners to develop policies and best practices that will allow electric transportation to flourish. Electrifying our own fleets is an important first step in moving the industry forward. The Edison Electric Institute in partnership with and on behalf of its member companies is requesting each member utility to dedicate 5% of its annual fleet purchase plan to plug-in vehicles. In many applications, this choice already makes economic sense. The 5% ask is a starting point. It is an investment in the future of our business. We must lead by example—showing our customers the benefits and possibilities of making the switch.
Some models for handling increased electrical demand include having customers pay for the new generation by installing customer owned solar PV. This outsources the utilities capital costs to the customer. The utility then buys electricity from the customers, albeit, often at price points that may not generate a fair return on investment to the customer.
Second, they propose smart vehicle charging systems whereby vehicle batteries are turned into grid storage systems. At certain times of the day, power flows into batteries and at other times, power is drawn out of the batteries back into the grid. Again, the utility outsources these costs to the customer. Battery chemistry can only be discharged/charged some number of times before the battery needs to be replaced. Replacement costs are high (up to about $25,000 or more) and the customer will find that letting the utility use their batteries will require a more frequent replacement, at the expense of the customer. While this make financial sense for consumers?
It looks like, at least for now, the electric utilities have found a way to outsource their costs to the customers while growing their business and profits – while reducing greenhouse gases some what.
Tesla drivers in Canada, in -10 to -20 deg C (14 to -4 deg F) temperatures, find their range drops up to 35% and as low as 55-56% of normal during cold weather.
Also, Superchargers are unable to initially rapid charge batteries when they are so cold. Tesla incorporates battery heaters that can heat the pack in preparation for taking a larger charging current but this lengthens the overall recharge time.
Many drivers leave their vehicles plugged in, in a garage, overnight, so they can be pre-heated (both battery and cabin) in the morning before driving to work. This works for driving to work but for the return trip at the end of the day, the vehicle is generally not pre-heated. Some heat their garage to keep their EV warm but this may produce more CO2-emissions if your heat comes from burning fossil fuels, or your electric heater is powered by a distant coal- or natural gas fired power plant.
EV owners say the range degradation doesn’t matter – because they are only driving short local trips. That suggests if you need to make long trips in winter, then you may want a gas-fueled vehicle. Gas engines also operate at less efficiency in extreme cold; however, vehicle range remains longer and “re-charging” by fueling up is vastly faster than plugging into a charging station.
They recommend if you live in cold winter climate areas (which is most of the landmass of North America), then you should opt to spend more on the optional larger battery available for some EVs. Of course, battery packs gradually lose capacity, over time. In that case, your range during winter would be cut quite a bit. (Note – Actual battery life varies considerably depending the manufacturer, how it is used, how it is charged, the age of the battery – some real world Tesla batteries have gone much further than 100,000 miles without significant capacity loss. Battery pack replacement costs vary depending on the vehicle and seem to run from about US$5000 for the smallest packs to about $25,000 for large packs.)
In 3-5 years, newer battery technologies may reduce the cold weather problem.
Recently, someone said to me that cars are the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. They are not, but it is easy to see how many people believe that they are the greatest source. For example, take this quote from MIT Technology Review
The implication, as often interpreted, is that personal cars are the greatest source. That comment comes from this EPA chart showing the Transportation segment at 29%, just barely surpassing electricity generation (transportation passed electricity in 2017):
59% of the Transportation segment (29% overall) is due to light duty vehicles used for personal transportation and for business and government.
59% of 29% is 17.11% is due to all light vehicle use including business and government. The remaining 12% is a combination of medium duty trucks (like UPS vans), large semi trucks, aircraft, rail, ships and boats, and “other”.
I was not able to find an exact figure for the percent of light duty vehicles used for personal use versus business and government. A reasonable estimate (based on some numbers I found) is that 20-25% are for business and government and 75-80% are for personal use. Some personal use vehicles are used for business and some business vehicles are used for personal, non-business use. We would also need to know how many miles are driven, and the mileage estimates for each vehicle. As you can see, there is no exact number – just broad estimates.
Using those best guesses (75% figure), personally owned vehicles account for about 13% (less than 17%) of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and are not the dominant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Looking back at the top chart, you can see that industry (22%) and electricity (28%) are, combined, the largest segment, at 50%. A large part of the industry segment is private electricity generation – or thermal generation for processing steel, chemicals and so on – from natural gas, fuel oil and even coal – consequently, electricity/industrial generation is the dominant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Switching the vehicle fleet from gas to electric, all else being equal, shifts the production of greenhouse gases from the vehicle segment to the electricity segment.
For example, if I were to replace my Honda Fit with an EV, on the surface it would appear to reduce my own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation to zero. But, my electric utility generates 56% of its electricity from burning coal and 14% from natural gas (total 70%). Thus, I would be outsourcing my greenhouse gas emissions to their coal and gas plants. The vehicle transportation segment would reduce its GHGs – and I could feel very virtuous – but in reality I would have shifted a large portion of my GHGs across the GHG ledger to the electrical power plants side. (It is possible that due to where I live within the utilities coverage area that more of my electricity comes from hydropower than coal/gas but I have no way of knowing – all we know is the percentage for the utility as a whole.)
In general, this should not be interpreted as saying EVs are worse for the environment. To the contrary, EVs are generally better, but be sure to understand the trade offs.
There are some locations including India, China and even some U.S. states, where EVs may be worse according to the MIT Technology Review article:
In parts of India and China with particularly dirty electricity systems, EVs may even generate more emissions than gas-fueled vehicles, says Emre Gencer, a research scientist who worked on the study.
U.S. utilities are rapidly decreasing their use of coal, almost entirely by converting to natural gas, which cuts GHGs in half (but still remaining high at about 1,000 pounds per MWH). Perhaps more significantly”. Compared to Q2 of 2018, total U.S. power generation fell by 4% in Q2 of 2019″. The reason for this drop is not specified but is presumably due to widespread energy efficiency measures. The combination of converting coal to natural gas and reduced demand for electricity has caused GHG production from electricity generation to drop by -40% since 2005. Some states such as Utah, Indiana, Delaware, Kentucky, New Mexico, Wisconsin and West Virginia, have almost all of their electricity produced by burning coal.
Currently, US carbon emissions per mile for a battery electric vehicle are on average only about 45% less than those from a gas-fueled vehicle of comparable size. That’s because fossil fuels still generate the dominant share of electricity in most markets, and the manufacturing process for EVs generates considerably higher emissions, mainly related to the battery production.
Compare that “45% less” to the use of hybrid vehicle versus EVs. The 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid boasts a rumored estimate of perhaps 42 mpg which is about 70% more than the 25 mpg of the vehicle it replaces. Official EPA mpg is not yet available. (The 45% figure includes lifetime vehicle manufacturing energy use and the 70% does not include that.)
For many consumers (depending on where they live), EVs will produce less GHGs than comparable gas vehicles but may be on par with new plug-in hybrid vehicles. But for most people, EVs are not zero emissions.
For example, suppose you decide to switch to an EV. You either sell your vehicle (so someone else uses it to produce GHGs) or you junk it (throwing away the energy used to manufacture it originally).
Then, you switch to a new EV – which consumes significant energy in its manufacture, mostly fossil-fuel based – and plug it in to the electric utility’s coal or natural gas powered electricity to charge the battery.
Your carbon footprint did not go to zero – not even close to zero. Up to half your vehicle’s lifetime energy consumption is still coming from fossil fuels (used in manufacturing it) and a significant part of your electrical generation is generating GHGs. You are likely producing less than before but you have not gone to zero. The lifetime GHG emissions of your new EV may be (ought to be!) less than the gas vehicle it replaced.
So what should you do?
If you already drive a “fuel efficient” vehicle, your best choice regarding vehicle lifetime GHG emissions is to keep driving it as long as possible. For example, my real world Honda Fit mileage is in the 39 to 42 mpg range. From an environmental standpoint, I should keep driving this car as long as possible, rather than switch to an EV.
If you drive a vehicle that is not fuel efficiency, such as getting 20-25 mpg, it may make sense to upgrade to a newer hybrid vehicle that gets far better gas mileage when you need to replace the vehicle. Revisit the 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid example, above, to see how the hybrid’s high mpg and overall greenhouse gases may, in fact, be less than a pure EV. An EV may be an option depending on how you use this vehicle – if you need to tow a trailer cross country, an EV is likely to make travel more difficult due to charging requirements. If you primarily drive locally, the EV may be a good choice.
Another option is plug-in hybrids. These contain a gas motor and electric motors, plus a small capacity battery good for 20-30+ miles of operation. The battery may be charged by plugging into the electrical mains, or by the on-board motor. When used as a plug-in, this becomes a short range EV, operating entirely as an EV for local trips, but providing the range and convenience of gas vehicles for long distance travel. The hybrid features enable efficient, high mileage performance on the highways too.
My state seems to be headed towards a path to reduce personal vehicle GHG emissions by pushing consumers into electrical vehicles. Another state, California, has enacted a new rule that all new state government vehicles must be electric (except for public safety – why the exemption?). This new rule is poor economics (EVs are expensive relative to gas cars and hybrids), and may not produce much reduction in GHGs, per the analysis above.
What is important is to reduce CO2 emissions – and that can also be done with vehicles that get far greater mpg (such as hybrids) and replacing fossil-fueled based electricity and thermal generation with alternatives.
Practicing factfulness – and digging in to the data – shows us that what we think we know is often not correct. On the surface, EVs seem to be zero emissions – but the reality is a bit different.
I happen to think EVs are cool and would like to have one. However, by the numbers, directly switching to an EV at this time does not yield the results we are led to believe it delivers.
The best bet for most of us is to move towards efficient hybrid and plug-in hybrids – versus EVs. For some of us, depending on our requirements and how our electricity is generated, an EV may be appropriate. However, if we already drive a very fuel efficient vehicle then continuing to drive that vehicle for as many years as possible is likely to produce less overall, vehicle lifetime GHGs than switching to a new vehicle.
Your most effective strategy for reducing energy-related green houses is to
Lead an efficient life, avoiding wasted activities, products and services.
Insulate and seal your home to modern standards
Install solar PV to generate electricity. Depending on where you live (relative to sunshine availability), this can cut your household’s delivered energy by a significant amount. If your utility is fossil-fuel based, then this will have a far bigger impact on GHG reduction that switching to an EV.
Consider an EV for local area transportation especially if your electrical power comes from non-fossil fuel sources. Otherwise, the greenhouse gas reduction by switching to an EV may be little. Installing solar PV to charge your EV is expensive. A typical solar PV installation may produce 20-30 kwh per day to meet household needs. A typical EV battery pack is in the 60 to 100 kwh range, meaning a 50% charge is 30-50 kwh (plus add in more for inefficiency factors). You might have to double the size of your solar PV installation to support recharging the vehicle.
Note – we are currently installing solar PV at our house. We now live in an area that has good amounts of sunshine, with a south facing roof. This solar PV replaces the electricity generated by the local utility, which is 56% generated from coal-fired power plants (70% from coal or natural gas).We heat with wood pellets from a local source.
Without solar PV in operation (it is not yet hooked up), our home averages 10-14 kwh of electricity per day versus the average of 28 kwh of typical American homes. After solar PV comes online, our annual average should be about 0 kwh from the utility. Our installation uses “net metering”. During much of the year, our array produces more electricity than we need and this is sent back to the grid for use by someone else (thereby avoiding fossil-fuel generation). During a few winter months and especially on cloudy days, the array will produce less than our own demand. Excess power produced is banked as a credit to draw upon in winter when our home supplements the solar array by taking power from the grid. Excess power credits left over after 12 months are donated to charity and low income residents.
We are also upgrading the existing attic insulation. The existing insulation was probably R-19 when installed 50 years ago but over the years settled in to a thinner and less effective layer. The new insulation will meet our state’s code requirement of R-49 minimum and should reduce the energy required to heat the home. As I write this, the outside temperature is 12 degrees F/-11 deg C.
Is Burning Wood Carbon Neutral?
The EPA and the European Union rate wood as “carbon neutral” – although whether it is or not “depends”. When a tree grows, it takes carbon out of the atmosphere. When the tree is cut down and burned (or decomposes), it releases that carbon back into the atmosphere. However, when new trees are planted to replace that tree, the cycle repeats, with new trees removing carbon from the atmosphere. Hence, over time, wood is seen as a renewable, carbon neutral source of heating.
Whether it is carbon neutral “depends” on various factors. The EU reportedly imports up to half of its wood pellets from American forests, where wood is processed into pellets and then shipped across the Atlantic. Another critique is about which trees are cut. Older large trees remove more CO2 than young, small trees. Replanted trees can take years until they are consuming significant amounts of CO2.
Some pellet producers use scrap such as saw mill waste and blown down branches or trimmed parts of trees to make pellets, thereby avoiding cutting down trees specifically for wood pellets.
Our home is heated with a wood pellet stove. The wood pellets are manufactured by a local company that uses saw mill scrap and forestry management scrap (cut or blown down branches, small trees) for its raw material input.
Drawbacks of wood pellet heating include having to move 40-pound pellet bags around, our home is often 50-55 degrees in the morning and it takes a bit of time to warm up. I spend the morning wearing a stocking cap and heavy sweatshirt or a jacket.
After spending billions on eco-friendly, all-electric cars that resulted in lackluster sales, automakers are shifting their target market from earthy environmentalists to gearheads and thrill seekers looking for speed.
I watched EV enthusiasts on Youtube gush over the latest EV offerings from <choose your car marker>. The new Ford mach-E will have a starting price around $44,000, which is not a car for the masses. I read elsewhere that 75% of new EVs coming to market in the next 3 years are forecast to be priced well above US $50,000.
I watched many Youtube videos where enthusiasts drive their EV cross country – and after watching them, I concluded that EVs are not ready for my needs. For enthusiasts, the challenge of finding a suitable charging station along the route – and what to do when its not working as expected – is part of their game whereas the rest of us just want to go from point A to point B.
I watched one EV enthusiast pull into a charging station where none of the chargers worked (all were offline). He ended up pulling into a hotel, staying overnight, and connecting his car to a 110 v AC outlet, enabling only a modest charge. Which got worse when the small town lost all electrical power overnight.
Another pulled into a charging station at 10 mph as that was the fastest the car would drive as it enforced a strict eco-mode as battery power was down to 1%.
Another pulled into a 150 kwh fast charger – only to find that, probably due to cold temperatures and cold battery, it would only charge at about 70 kwh, and when it reached about 60% charge on the battery, dropped down to near 50 kwh. Thus, the charging time was substantially longer than expected.
Another pulled into an EV charging station and went to a nearby restaurant to eat lunch and pick up some coffee. He came back to find charging had automatically suspended – there was a 45 minute maximum charging allowed enforcement. So, an hour and half later he finds that during half of his time waiting for the charge up, the vehicle was getting no charge!
Undoubtedly these issues will get resolved or at least improved – but after watching many Youtube videos from EV enthusiasts, no less, I concluded these cars do not meet my needs at this time. I am seriously interested in EVs, which is why I’ve been reading and watching reviews. But not yet, I guess.
My ideal EV car would likely be similar to the size and features of a Honda Fit, with a range of 250 to 300 miles minimum. I know we have to de-rate that range by 20% to 30% in the winter, and I need to cross a high mountain pass to get to a destination 160 to 175 miles away. One pass has no charging opportunities for 2 and 1/2 hours of driving (130+ miles); the other has a couple of charging stations (each with just two chargers) on the far side – but charging means a good 1-2 hour delay. I wouldn’t mind driving the whole route and charging at the destination but only a few EVs available today are likely to do this, in all weather (Tesla, Bolt, maybe the Kona).
An obvious oddity of government subsidies for solar PV on homes and electric vehicles is that nearly all of the value goes to higher income residents, and is ultimately funded by taxes on everyone. Meaning its a transfer of wealth for general taxpayers, including those with limited income, to higher income taxpayers.
Starting in December, those looking to buy electric vehicles with a price tag of more than $60,000 won’t qualify for rebates — nor will plug-in hybrids with less than 35 miles of all-electric range.
State rebates no longer available on EVs costing more than $60,000 (with a note that many new EVs coming in the next few years are targeted at a higher price than this). Obvious theory is that only wealthy/high income buy these vehicles.
Lower and moderate income buyers (where income level is not specified) will get a larger rebate.
Hybrid vehicles that combine gas and electric capabilities will not qualify for rebates unless, in EV mode, they have a range of more than 35 miles.
The Federal rebate, which is as high as $7,000 per vehicles, decreases as more of each model is built. As of January 2020, the rebate for buying a Tesla is zero $, and as of March, the rebate for buying a Chevy Bolt is zero $.
Heh – a comment to the story pretty much says what needed to be said
I suggest that the unshaven, three day old bearded, sport coat, jeans, loafer, no socks, Rayban Aviator wearing stereotypical portrayal of the squint eyed, slightly graying modern 40/50 something entrepreneur pilot ready to launch his uber-IFR equipped single from the country club style FBO, into the flight levels…is proving to be a very small market. GA has got to do better to survive.
Oregon increases registration fees for electric vehicles to double and nearly triple that of gas-powered vehicles, because they do not pay gas taxes. Also increases registration fees for vehicles having an EPA rating of 40 or more miles per gallon.
OReGO is a new system that charges license fees “by the mile”. For EVs not in OReGO, the first 4 year fee is $612 versus a typical gas car paying $264. For the next years, the EV pays $306 versus $132, or nearly triple the price.
The 2020 Honda Fit will be available in a hybrid model that features two motors. Honda says this supports “vehicles driven mostly with an electric motor”. If true, this may be similar to the 2020 Ford Escape, where local driving can be done as an EV, and on the highway use can switch to a gas motor or combined gas/EV operation.
I currently drive a Honda Fit and love it, with typical gas mileage of all-in-city driving of about 38 mpg and combined mileage of about 42 mpg. This is my 2nd Honda Fit, having upgraded an older edition with 5-speed manual transmission to a newer 2015 edition with CVT. The 2020 Fit is thought to be available in the spring of 2020, but some have said it might not be sold in the U.S. Apparently the typical U.S. consumer wants expensive and large SUVs with huge engine power. 2020 Honda Fit mpg estimates have not yet been released.
The MPGe rating is really only useful for comparing the relative energy consumption of gasoline (or hybrid) cars with that of electric cars. The Focus EV uses the energy equivalent of 1 gallon of gasoline for each 105 miles of travel, compared to a hybrid Prius, which would use roughly 2 gallons of gasoline for every 100 miles it travels.
What might be more useful would be a comparison between CO2-equivalent outputs.
For example, where I live, 56% of the power generation comes from coal-fired power plants which produce “greenhouse” gases.
Switching from a gas powered vehicle to an EV outsource one’s personal gas-produced CO2 output to the coal plant and may not have as large an impact on GHG emissions as you might think.
Business, Tech, Energy, Transporation, Thinking
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