From Whence Comes The Power To Drive The Electric Automobile

by | Mar 26, 2019 |

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Elon Musk recognized early on that there was money to be made in businesses that support environmental causes. He has gained the support of the green movement by broadcasting his vision for a future without fossil fuels, reducing global warming and traveling on battery powered cars. However most people do not think about the source of the energy to charge his batteries. He tells us solar energy can do it all and he owns the company to get the job done (Solar City now part of Tesla motors).

At first glance Musk’s vision for the electric car seems reasonable. It has no tailpipe and no emissions. Government subsidized electric buses and trains have been increasing in recent years. However our entire nation has been ignoring two critical questions that must be answered and and those answers will not come easily.

1 – Where does the electricity required to power electric cars going to come from?
2- What energy sources are capable of meeting the transportation needs of a nation?

To evaluate the true potential for electric cars we must face three unresolvable facts. First constructing batteries requires the burning of a great deal of fossil fuels and their subsequent emissions. Swedish scientist Johan Kristensson writing in New Technology in December of 2017 determined that life cycle quantities of carbon dioxide generated ultimately by an electric car, come very close to that generated in a gasoline powered automobile.

Second it would appear a difficult task for the nation to produce sufficient energy to replace gasoline for all our cars. The Laurence Livermore Laboratory of the Department of Energy states that current electrical generation capacity of America is 11.4 trillion kilowatt hours and that the total energy used for transportation is 8.5 trillion kilowatt-hours. Currently solar and wind generate only .7 trillion Kilowatt hours, which is presently only 6% of what our cars would need if all ran on battery power not charged by fossil fuel power plants, as would be required by the Green New Deal.

This would require the construction of new solar and wind farms having a total electric generating capacity of 16 trillion kilowatt hours, or 22 times the current capacity in operation. It appears that we have neither the economic resources not the land area to come close to meeting this total.

Finally, there currently appears no way our nation could distribute sufficient electricity to replace gasoline. Chris Lo at Power Technology indicates that the current value of the nations grid is just under $900 billion. Nearly all experts agree that the grid is in desperate need of repairs and modernization estimated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars to replace such things as transformers now 40-50 years old.

The International Business Times estimated in 2014 that power outages since 1984 have increased three fold. The largest occurring in New York in 2003. What do proponents of electric cars expect this aging grid to accomplish for them?

At a minimum, new demand associated with converting all transportation from fossil fuels to electric power will require the grid to increase its current capacity by at least 50%. Because general population centers are not where wind and solar energy are best attained, transportation costs for this energy will be unmanageable.

The consequences of government policies to promote renewable energy to replace fossil fuels and increase the numbers of electric cars on the road can be viewed by the experiences of Germany and Spain who undertook such programs years ago.

Germany proclaimed its mission to be the world leader in renewable energy over a decade ago. They pledged to produce 80% of their energy from renewables by 2050 (Orr.L., Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2017, page A13). They initially estimated the cost of the program to be $1.3 trillion over the next 20 years. As of 2016 less than 20% was renewable, and most of the rest was from fossil fuels imported from other countries. They are currently producing 2.1% from wind and 1.2% from solar and have only reduced carbon dioxide emissions by a tenth of one per cent (ibid). Sadly they have seen nearly a 50% increase in their electric bills since 2006 and have increased subsidies to wind and solar ten fold. A very steep price to pay for no real reduction of global warming whether or not one believes that carbon dioxide is a meaningful factor.   

As for Spain, during President Obama’s term in office, he pointed to Spain as the model for what the U.S. should be doing. However a detailed economic analysis at the Rey Juan Carlos University in Spain  showed that serious economic damage was the result of their ambitious plan to convert the nation to wind, solar and electric cars (Alvarez, G.C., Jara, R. M., Julian, J.R/R., and Bielsa,J.J..G., Executive Summary:Lessons from the Spanish Renewables Bubble, Study on the Effects on Employment of Public Aid to Renewable Energy Sources, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, March 2009).

As in the United States, the real cost of renewables was seven times the cost of fossil fuels. It was supplying only one per cent of Spains electricity, at a total cost of $46 billion to that nation. When scaled up to the size of the U.S. economy, that added cost would be $690 billion (ibid). 

Most striking of all is that the Spanish academic economists showed that for every so called green job created by shifting to renewable energy, 2.2 jobs were eliminated in the nations economy due to higher energy costs.

Hopefully we are fortunate to have these two failed efforts by Germany and Spain to guide us away from this mammoth mistake.

The socialist movement paints a picture of a utopian future in which a benevolent government oversees all the energy in the economy. In their desired society of the future, people will only use the energy they really need, decided by their government, creating what they consider to be a “sustainable economy” where there is no energy not considered to be renewable. 

If we think it through, it is surely not a society in which most of us wish to live.

Dr. Jay Lehr

Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

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