In August of 2021, President Biden announced a goal to have 50% electric cars in the US by 2030. In mid-July of 2022, transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg was at a hearing in the House and questioned on this goal and the practical problems. What was stunning in his responses is the absolute lack of any calculations done by his department or the department of energy in terms of what this would mean to the electric grid, where more and more capacity is being removed. He acknowledged that today’s grid can’t handle it, but there was no practical solution for creating the infrastructure to handle it in such a short time. The government is still in the “task force” phase of this, which means we’re probably 30 years away from having anything actually done.
With that as background, I and a small group of friends are extremely involved with alternative methods of energy generation, storage, and transportation. We applaud the idea of reasonable efforts for a clean environment but using things that are truly environmentally friendly, from beginning to end. We all should know how much of an issue lithium mining is for lithium-ion batteries from creation to disposal.
So my friends and I decided to do the math that apparently the departments of energy and transportation couldn’t do. This took on the orders of ones of minutes to gather and compute.
Using data available from the government, which you can see a screenshot of below, we ran some numbers
Here are the raw values since 2010:
Obviously, COVID saw a marked decrease, but you can see the 2022 numbers are already ahead of 2019 and almost up to 2020. So let’s break it down
- Americans average 13,500 miles per year, per car
- 3.22 Trillion miles in 2020
- 966 billion kWh to charge that
- 4.007 trillion kWh produced in 2020
- Car charging would consume 24.6% of the total energy produced in the USA
- The grid would have to add 12.5% of the existing capacity to accommodate 50% electric cars.
- All renewable energy combined is 784 billion kWh
- As of 2017, there were 8,652 facilities with at least 1MW capacity
- Another 2,000 power plants would be required to charge the cars
At today’s gas prices, the cost to charge vs. fuel breaks about even, but that is ignoring the $75,000 cost of an electric car, to begin with. Hopefully, more rational energy policies will start in the next few years and we’ll see gas prices back down at a reasonable level, about half what they are now, which means electric cars won’t be cost-effective.
The grid is mostly natural gas right now, so why not put natural gas in your car and cut out the middleman? What about solar thermal? It’s primitive, robust, and reliable, and beats solar in efficiency, which a peak of about 50% while panels max out at 24% and most home systems are in the low to mid-teens.
There are a lot of issues with the current obsession with electric cars, we haven’t even talked about the problem of their additional weight, which causes more particulate matter to aerosolize from the tires into the atmosphere, which is 400x worse than tailpipe emissions. Quoting from this article:
“Battery electric vehicles tend to be heavier than conventional, fossil fuel-powered cars. Half a tonne of battery weight can result in tyre emissions that are almost 400 times greater than tailpipe emissions. Despite their zero emissions and their importance in decarbonisation, EVs are potentially generating more tyre particle pollution.”
These numbers weren’t hard to run, but barely anyone seems to either be running them or talking about them. Are there things we can do? Absolutely! What makes the most sense is to slow our roll a little bit and create a plan that involves evolving to the next stage instead of shutting everything down before the next stage is ready. I’m a big fan of lots of little energy everywhere that can be done quickly, without huge infrastructure costs, and can have an immediate impact instead of 30 years down the road.