What if they told us the truth about electric cars?

What if everything ran on gas? I’ve got news for you, everything DOES!

Maybe you saw the Nissan commercial with the appliances powered by dirty, smoky gasoline engines. If not, here it is:

The presumption is that if those are so nasty, and are better because they run off of electricity in reality, then a car that runs off electricity should be nicer too. They are pushing hybrid and full electric cars, with the governments support, on the public, leading them to believe they are cleaner, better and cheaper. But it’s not that simple.

Here’s some facts.

The automobile didn’t come to be run off a gasoline engine by accident. Gasoline has the best energy density of any practical fuel. That is, anything that has more energy density is either too heavy, too big, too expensive or too dangerous to be practical. Gasoline won out as the practical choice back when steam cars went out of style. Diesel is a close second and preferred for large vehicles.

Switching to an electric car might be practical with modern advances in battery, motor and regenerative braking advances, and it might be cheap to plug in to an outlet in your garage, but what happens when everyone is doing it?

Electric production in the US is already in short supply at certain times. Just ask anyone whose experienced a brownout, rolling blackout, or been told to turn off their air conditioner to save electricity. Are you also going to skip plugging in your electric vehicle then?

And what about electric rates? Right now they are what they are, but as more and more people start using electricity to power their vehicles, what is going to happen to the cost of electricity? Will supply and demand drive it up? Will it be manipulated the same way gasoline prices have been for profit? If that happens, we will all pay more, whether we use it to drive or to heat our home.

According to answers.com, “About 49% of electricity is generated from coal, 21% from natural gas, and 1% from petroleum. Adding those together, you get about 71%.”

Even if electricity was in plentiful supply, look where it is coming from. That 1% from petroleum is deceptive too. Petroleum is the most expensive way to produce electricity and usually consists of fuel-oil – or diesel-fueled turbine – generators. They are used in peak periods when the grid is in danger of coming up short. Their expensive power is used as a last ditch effort to keep things running and are found mostly near power-hungry major metropolitan areas. They may account for only 1% of the supply, but they account for a much larger percentage of the cost of electricity. Not only are they expensive, they are the highest in pollutants.

So adding electric car use to an already maxed-out grid will only increase the use of the diesel generators driving up the cost of electric production and using more petroleum.

The fact is, no matter whether you drive a gasoline powered car or an electric one, or a hybrid, at least 71% of your power is coming from fossil fuels. The losses in conversion and transmission of electricity, plus the losses in storage in a battery and it’s charging probably make that a wash too. Batteries aren’t lossless, either. The general rule of thumb is you need to put about 140% in during charging to get 100% capacity out. They might shave a few percentage points off that with new battery technology and fancy intelligent chargers, but you still loose a significant amount of energy through heat and chemical reactions just while charging.

Then there is the “clean” issue of electric cars. Even if they are lower in emissions, you are just shifting the combustion byproducts to another place, the generating plant. Plus there is the issue down the road of disposing of the used batteries. They are full of lead, lithium, cadmium and other exotic metals, depending on their composition. Are they going to be safely disposed of?

I love technology and welcome alternatives, but let’s take off the rose-colored glasses and see what the costs really are of them. We all want to believe in a magic bullet that will solve our dependance on foreign oil, but if it were so simple, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. Just because some auto manufacturer makes a cute commercial doesn’t make it so. Don’t forget they are getting all kinds of pressure from the US Government to sell these alternative fuel cars and stand to profit by pushing them on the public, whether it makes sense, or not.

So, yeah, it makes sense to convert fossil fuels into electricity and power the electric grid, our microwaves, computers and hairdryers, but until a higher percentage of our electric production comes from solar, hydro, wind and nuclear sources, and capacity is built up to support significant vehicle consumption, electric/hybrid cars don’t really make sense.

Posted in Rants, Tech Stuff, TV

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