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PLUG-IN ELECTRIC CARS – DO THEY MERIT THE HYPE?

Contributed by Robert Lyman @2016

Many western governments, having embraced the thesis that humans are responsible for catastrophic global warming, have sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transportation by subsidizing the sale of partially electric (i.e. hybrid) vehicles and all-electric (plug-in) vehicles and by embracing ambitious targets for the market penetration of these vehicles. In the United States, for example, President Barack Obama introduced programs that provided billions of dollars in subsidies for the manufacturers of the vehicles and the electric storage batteries that power them and offered consumer subsidies of $7500 per vehicle to those who would buy them. The Administration’s goal was to have one million electric vehicles (hybrids and plug-ins) on U.S. roads by the end of 2015. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel similarly offered large industry and consumer subsidies and declared a goal of having one million electric vehicles on German roads by 2020. While Canadian governments have not published such lofty goals, buyers of all-electric vehicles qualify for taxpayer subsidies of Cdn $8500 each.

 

Along with these well-publicized commitments by governments, the manufacturers of electric vehicles have made many announcements of technological advances and of new research initiatives (almost always partially or totally funded by taxpayers) that they confidently predicted would lead to increased sales and consumer acceptance. Perhaps the most widely publicized claims have been made by Tesla and its charismatic Present, Elon Musk. Tesla has produced a number of high-performance expensive luxury cars that are powered entirely by electricity. Famously, Tesla has claimed that it is on track to produce a U.S. $35,000 to $40,000 all-electric car with a range of roughly 200 miles by 2017. Many young people accept Tesla’s prediction that, with the introduction of a mid-priced all-electric vehicle, the days of the internal combustion engine are soon coming to an end.

 

The reality of the marketplace is strongly at odds with these perceptions.

 

In a December, 2015 program entitled “Electric Cars Running on E”, U.S investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson delved into this subject. The program can be viewed here:

 http://fullmeasure.news/news/politics/electric-cars-12-04-2015

 

She found the U.S. electric vehicle program’s achievements are actually way behind its targets, and that the goal of putting 1 million electric cars on the road by the end of 2015 had fallen woefully short. Only about one-third that many electric cars, heavily subsidized with tax incentives, have been sold. Further, six of the 11 main manufacturers have gone belly up or stopped manufacturing.

 

Tesla Motors got half a billion dollars to make the Model 2 electric vehicle. It was one of the few success stories. The Model 2 went from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds, and strong sales helped it pay back its $10 million government loan early. Others, like the Volkswagen E Golf, and the Chevy Volt, have not been so successful.

 

One of the most serious problems concerns the limitations of current battery technology. In the 1990s, GM used cheaper lead-acid batteries for its electric EV-1; each battery weighed a bulky 600 kilograms and delivered only 55 to 95 miles before it had to be recharged. When Tesla Motors introduced one of the first lithium-ion-powered electric cars in 2008, it could go 250 miles on a charge, roughly three times farther than the EV-1. But the vehicle cost over $100,000, in large part because the batteries were so expensive. To cut costs, the lithium-ion-powered electric cars made today by companies such as Nissan and GM use small battery packs with a range of less than 100 miles.

 

While countless breakthroughs have been announced over the last decade, time and again these advances failed to translate into commercial batteries. One difficult thing about developing better batteries is that the technology is still poorly understood. Changing one part of a battery—say, by introducing a new electrode—can produce unforeseen problems, some of which can’t be detected without years of testing.

 

Yet for electric cars to account for a significant portion of the roughly 60 million cars sold each year around the world, batteries will probably need to get considerably better. After all, 200 miles is far short of the 350-plus miles people are used to driving on a tank of gasoline, and $35,000 is still quite a bit more than the $15,000 price of many small gas-powered cars.

 

So what has been the actual experience of electric vehicle sales in North America? What has billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies achieved?

 

In the United States, by the end of 2015 there were about 320,000 electric vehicles on the roads, less than a third of Obama’s goal. In 2015, total electric drive vehicle sales were 498,000, of which plug-ins constituted 114, 000, or 23%. By comparison, total light duty vehicle sales in the United States in 2015 were almost 17,400,000. Electric vehicles represent only 2.87% of total light duty vehicle sales. Worse, electric vehicle sales in 2015 were actually down from the 571,000 (119,000 plug-ins) achieved in 2014.

 

In Canada, there are about 150,000 hybrid light duty vehicles on the roads. The most recent data on electric vehicles sales are to the end of June, 2015. At that point in time, there were 14,300 plug-in vehicles registered in Canada, half of which were plug-in hydrids and the other half battery powered all-electric vehicles. The sales of plug-ins (all-electric and hybrids) during the first half of 2015 were 2,779. Of the total number on the roads, most were small vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt or the Nissan Leaf; there were only 394 Teslas. As of the end of 2014, plug-in electric vehicles had 0.27 of total vehicle market share in Canada — roughly speaking, one out of every 300 cars sold in Canada is an EV. By comparison, in 2015, total light duty vehicle sales in Canada in 2015 were 1,900,000. Plug-ins barely register.

 

What about the much hyped “affordable” Tesla coming in 2017? The lower price will help, but it will not change the fact that American and Canadian buyers are showing considerable resistance to all-electric vehicles, preferring the more user-friendly hybrids. Factors such as high prices, uncertain resale values, the inconvenience of plugging the vehicle in, the recharge time and limited range are difficult for consumers to ignore.

 

For all the hype, and even assuming that the taxpayer subsidies will continue indefinitely, it seems highly unlikely that electric vehicle sales will rise to even 5% of total light duty vehicle sales for several years. In other words, the internal combustion engine will be the norm for the foreseeable future. We will still need the oil.

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12 Comments

  1. We do need the oil, true. But wouldn’t it be nice to need less and less as we head into the future as a world society. Rapidly dumping fossil fuels wouldn’t really such a bad thing as this site and group likes to profess. As a matter of fact it would be really good for the rest of life on earth. The 1*C warming we have experienced on earth is not from the sun but from ghg’s put there by humanity.

    I just recently purchased an electric car at the end of September. It is small by quite utilitarian. The first month, I put a 1000 miles on it. My other vehicle is a Toyota Tacoma pick up truck which gets 25 miles per gallon. Which might be a hair high estimate. At a 1000 miles that would be about 900 lbs. of co2 emitted in the air. I charge my car with 100% wind energy with the program advanced in Illinois in that we get to choose our own providers. That would be zero co2 footprint for my travel. I can do about 75% or more of the work that I do with the electric car that I have. The front seat folds backwards allowing me to put longer things into the car when necessary.

    I can carry things out the back of the hatch back with out worry of exhaust coming in the back making me possibly sick. I’m safe. That’s not a guarantee with a fuel burning car.

    I no longer smell exhaust as a part of my going in and out of my garage. Now when I smell the exhaust of my truck during cold start up it is starting to become repulsive to me. I know there are some nasties in the exhaust that aren’t good for me.

    Plus the car is nicely quiet. As I hear different vehicles roaring by me, its just odd that you even need noise to travel. I think of how nice it would be to see a society of electric cars going by on a highway and how much quieter that would be.

    Another interesting tidbit is electric cars are way more efficient than ICE vehicles. The ICE is at best 20% average efficiency and if you are lead foot, possibly more like 10%. Electric vehicles use of the energy from the battery is between 80% and 90%. This is part of what makes it possible to run society on 100% renewable energy. The efficiency of the electric motor will only get better while the efficiency of the ICE’s have pretty much hit their peak.

    GM is coming out with the $30,000 car that will go 200 miles on a charge. You can see the writing on the wall for the ICE’s and fossil fuels. It is only the FF struggle to hold on to their market that is delaying this. They will lose. It is time for them to go.

    • Since all manufacturing and mineral mining processes rely on fossil fuels it is unlikely anyone is scared or sees ‘the writing on the wall’ – every electric vehicle is plugged into a coal plant somewhere; your car was delivered to your by a diesel fueled semi. Robert Lyman explains in the article that the costs are very high for low performance, large subsidies are required to support electric vehicle technology and important parts (like batteries) may have problems that show up long-term. Nice that you are happy with your car. How much id your fellow taxpayers pay for it…for you?

      • It was a used leased car 2012 Mitsubishi i-miev. So no tax subsidies. Com Ed in my territory is about 1000 lbs per mega watt hour. Or if you go by another study of Exxelon territory of 81% nuclear, 200lbs. per mega watt hour. But I buy 100% wind power in Illinois at 1.5 cent per kwhr more. So I’m actually 0 lbs. per mwhr of carbon dioxide. It takes about 1 ton more co2 to manufacture a battery bank for an electric car. After that it audios co2.

        By the way the world will be less than 50% co2 emissions of today by 2050.

  2. What this really means is that electric vehicles are scaring the big boys. That also really means that they are going to be more desirable to own than a gasoline vehicle soon. GM’s new Chevy Bolt’s battery pack costs $145/kwhr of storage. By 2022 they are projecting $100/kwhr for batteries. This is in the range of fossil fuel killing market. Public charging stations are way far cheaper than gasoline stations to put in. Wallgreens in the Chicago area has them. All you do is swipe your card across the window of the machine and it is now ready to serve you.

    The fossil fuel market is going to change and shrink in the future and it is about time.

    So is this group aiming to get some of that $10,000,000 a year?

    https://ecowatch.com/2016/02/19/koch-brothers-war-on-evs/

    Koch Brothers Plotting Multimillion Dollar War on Electric Vehicles

    Looks like the extremely wealthy and politically influential Koch Brothers are waging a multimillion dollar war against the burgeoning electric vehicle (EV) market, notably frustrating none other than EV titan Elon Musk.

    • Interesting that your cited report is about something that has not happened. Elon Musk’s EV operation is propped up by about a $5 billion/yr taxpayer subsidy. That is certainly unsustainable for taxpayers and business people. Robert Lyman, the author of this commentary, contributed it free of charge. Mr. Lyman has some 37 years experience as an energy economist. The objective of our group is to inform the public, particularly of the context and actual facts about the many wild claims made by very well-funded ENGOs – because ordinary taxpayers are the sole source of subsidies. People should know the pros and cons related to these decisions. We are not impressed by your attempt to smear our reputation.

  3. The sun is clearly not the source of climate change we are experiencing.

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/solar-activity-sunspots-global-warming.htm

    In the last 35 years of global warming, the sun has shown a slight cooling trend. Sun and climate have been going in opposite directions. In the past century, the Sun can explain some of the increase in global temperatures, but a relatively small amount.

    • Skeptical Science is not a reliable source.

      • Tony
        FEBRUARY 8, 2017 AT 1:22 AM
        Skeptical Science is not a reliable source.

        There are several science sources on this. What would you suggest is the valid source of information on the sun.

        Figure 1: Annual global temperature change (thin light red) with 11 year moving average of temperature (thick dark red). Temperature from NASA GISS. Annual Total Solar Irradiance (thin light blue) with 11 year moving average of TSI (thick dark blue). TSI from 1880 to 1978 from Krivova et al 2007 (data). TSI from 1979 to 2015 from PMOD (see the PMOD index page for data updates).

  4. I’m so glad FOS is coming to oil’s aid. But I think it is too late. Billions are being invested by the car companies to leave oil behind.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-24/another-oil-crash-is-coming-and-there-may-be-no-recovery?utm_source=Inside+Climate+News&utm_campaign=bd86771e36-Clean_Economy_Wire12_10_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_29c928ffb5-bd86771e36-326455461

    Another Oil Crash Is Coming, and There May Be No Recovery
    Superior electric cars are on their way, and they could begin to wreck oil markets within a decade.

    It’s time for oil investors to start taking electric cars seriously.

    In the next two years, Tesla and Chevy plan to start selling electric cars with a range of more than 200 miles priced in the $30,000 range. Ford is investing billions, Volkswagen is investing billions, and Nissan and BMW are investing billions. Nearly every major carmaker—as well as Apple and Google—is working on the next generation of plug-in cars.

    This is a problem for oil markets. OPEC still contends that electric vehicles will make up just 1 percent of global car sales in 2040. Exxon’s forecast is similarly dismissive.

    The oil price crash that started in 2014 was caused by a glut of unwanted oil, as producers started cranking out about 2 million barrels a day more than the market supported. Nobody saw it coming, despite the massively expanding oil fields across North America. The question is: How soon could electric vehicles trigger a similar oil glut by reducing demand by the same 2 million barrels?

  5. I have a short range electric car that was $6500 with 22,600 miles on it. I have beat cost of ownership already. This will serve me for most of my driving. I use the pickup truck for longer drives and hauling plywood and drywall. Like I said before, I am keeping 900 lbs co2 per 1000 miles out of the atmosphere while i use my electric car. This should save about 9000 lbs per year co2 or more.

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2016/02/20160225-bnef.html

    The study’s calculations on total cost of ownership show BEVs becoming cheaper on an unsubsidized basis than internal combustion engine cars by the mid-2020s, even if the latter continue to improve their average mileage per gallon by 3.5% per year. It assumes that a BEV with a 60 kWh battery will travel 200 miles between charges. The first generation of these long-range, mid-priced BEVs is set to hit the market in the next 18 months with the launch of the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3.

    In the next few years, the total-cost-of-ownership advantage will continue to lie with conventional cars, and we therefore do not expect EVs to exceed 5% of light duty vehicle sales in most markets—except where subsidies make up the difference. However, that cost comparison is set to change radically in the 2020s.

    • This pretty much tells me the carbon bubble has already burst. The value of carbon reserves has decreased in the short range due to the Saudis and it appears it will also decrease in the medium range due to increase in electric cars. There may be an argument against electric cars, but the auto makers in the world have probably invested 30 to 40 billion dollars already in electrification of autos. They aren’t hearing Dr. Lyman’s argument.

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