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You Can’t Get There from Here

People don’t want to believe it.  Young people think if more people rode bikes, or we had mass transit or if we just used electric cars everything would be fine.

But that’s just not true.

Robert Lyman, an energy economist with 37 years experience, did the math for us and…it’s not pretty.

Even if we all rode bikes all the time and everywhere, it would be nothing in the big GHG scope of things.

Here’s what he has to say.

You Cant get there from here Robert Lyman FINAL REV Nov 09 2015


  1. We electrify as much of the utility as possible. Heat pumps for home heating, hot water. Electrify transportation as much as possible. The cars themselves become storage for the utilities for when natural renewable energy is low. Studies have already shown with costs included that renewable energy will run the economy better than fossil fuels. See for your self.

    • Just looking at Wyoming in your link and it is not clear where power would come from when wind does not blow and sun does not shine? We have a wind/hydro national grid assessment on our blog and our expert review found this type of arrangement infeasible, but we’d have to make a more detailed review of the Standford docs. We’d also have big question marks about the claims of health costs avoided. People lived until about 50 years of age in Alberta in the 1920’s – with the proliferation of coal-fired power plants in Alberta, people’s life expediencies improved to over 80 – and people can have many complex medical treatments today – transplants, joint replacements, etc all of which rely on affordable power. In places like Ontario, wind power in close proximity to people’s houses has created numerous health issues. We suspect that a proliferation of EV would crash the grid. Perhaps in the future if different storage is created. We’re not convinced at present, especially as it get to minus 40 C/F here in winter.

      • The grid can be managed with electric cars. I charge daily in the Chicago area and the grid has not failed once because of me.

        On the other side of the coin, electric cars will stabilize the grid by becoming storage backup for peak power, low RE supply, grid frequency correction, grid voltage stabilization.

        If you have been paying attention, you will notice batteries are improving in quality and becoming cheaper in price. The industry that gets the cheaper quality battery first wins the grand bananza of wealth to help transform the grid into a more stable modern power supply..

        Sacrifice zones are the areas of the country that we sacrifice for the sake of our modern lives. People who live in the sacrifice zones get asthma and other illnesses due to the more intense pollution for instance in a coal plant zone. This is well documented.

        Energy does make our lives better and now we do not have to have pollution sacrifice zones anymore.
        Farming takes place easily around wind turbines while the farmer gets paid a nice fee for each turbine on his or her land. Texas farmers call this mailbox money since they don’t really have to work for it.

        Up in Canada you also bring your lead acid batteries in at night to keep them warm to try to start your engines in the extreme cold. Ford’s electric cars have battery heaters in them to compensate for the cold winters that Canada has.


        Every coal ash location in the world is a sacrifice zone.

        The tar sands in Alberta is a sacrifice zone. The largest earthen dam in the world is in Alberta holding back toxics is a sacrifice zone. Canada has sacrificed the health of the native population nearby in the strip mining area for the sake of Americans to burn the bitumen out of the area.

        When plugged into the utility for EV’s the battery bank will be kept at a proper temperature inside its insulated container. That is not even a problem as you would suggest. Batteries will continue to drop in price. The gigafactory by Tesla will conservatively drop their battery prices by 30% by 2017 with the rest of the world working hard to do so also. This will happen. Cheaper solar energy and cheaper better performing batteries aren’t that far away. China already is manufacturing solar panels at less than a dollar a watt and are expected to reach 35cents a watt by the end of the decade. Technology disruption is on its way.

        • We find this view to be extreme. What about your own house? Do you have a 40 year decommissioning and reclamation plan in place? Humans of course interact with their environment and every day we improve our ability to manage our environmental interaction. The tar sands/oil sands have always been an integral part of the river. There is no singular dam in Alberta around the settling ponds; they are designed to be an integral part of the reclaimed landscape and being earthen they are more secure than a fixed or concrete dam would be on such maleable earth. Likewise, the Royal Society of Canada’s review found that downstream water quality was well within Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines, which you can consume at 1.7 liters a day for 70 years. Health issues downstream were also found to be more related to genetics, socio-economic conditions of an isolated ‘fly-in’ community and nutritional/behavioral issues.
          You make the arguments that the price of renewables is dropping but really the issue is, what of the power density and output? This performance parameter does not seem to be substantially improving. This is the problem in our view.

      • Canada has a leading example to the world that carbon pricing and the economy do not hurt each other. They coexist excellently. When dealing with American doubters, I have pointed to British Columbia many times. It would be wise to follow their example.

        “We were told it would destroy the economy and we’d never get elected again, but we’ve won two elections since (our carbon tax) was enacted… It’s the revenue neutrality that really makes it work. We collected C$1.2 billion last year and a little bit more was returned.”
        –Mary Polak, British Columbia’s Minister of Environment, 20th conference of parties to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, The New York Times, December 12, 2014

        • The BC Carbon tax is no success story.

          The BC Carbon tax has been part of some shocking financial abuse of public funds:
          “Yet with these gains have come significant costs to the B.C. public service that provided the initial captive market. In 2010 the public sector paid $18.2 million for carbon offsets. School districts were among the hardest hit, including Surrey ($496,892), Vancouver ($406,094) and Richmond ($182,387).

          In the case of the Darkwoods project, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives conducted its own research and concluded that the Pacific Carbon Trust acquired the offsets for about $5.70 a tonne and charged the public service – that are legally bound to buy them – $25 a tonne. The trust will not reveal specific figures, citing competitive and contractual restrictions, but says these numbers are incorrect and adds that it returns any surplus to the public sector to support energy efficiency.

          MLA Bob Simpson reserves much of his ire for companies such as EnCana Corp., which sold 84,000 tonnes of carbon offsets to the Pacific Carbon Trust in May 2011 from a northeast B.C. offset project that reduced emissions from routine gas flaring. If B.C. were serious about fighting climate change, says Simpson, it would not focus on emissions from the public sector, which comprise less than one per cent of B.C.’s total emissions: “The emissions that are the problem are in the government’s industrial strategy.””

          Can’t say this is accomplishing any useful objective for the environment or the public purse.


        With enough electric cars, they provide a service to the grid, that the utility can pay you for. The utility does not have to make the investment, and provides compensation to EV owners fro their battery banks.

        This is a win win win. The EV owners win, the utility wins, life on earth wins from clean energy rather than polluting fossil fuels.

      • You may feel safe drinking this water, but according to this information I have, I don’t. Better check your sources on this.

        Since the beginning of the oil sands development, there have been several leaks into the Athabasca River polluting it with oil and tailing pond water. The close proximity of the tailing ponds to the river drastically increases the likelihood of contamination due to ground water leakages. In 1997, Suncor admitted that their tailing ponds had been leaking 1,600 cubic meters of toxic water into the river a day. This water contains naphthenic acid, trace metals such as mercury and other pollutants. The Athabasca River is the largest freshwater delta in the world but with Suncor and Syncrude leaking tail ponds the amount of polluted water will exceed 1 billion cubic meters by 2020.[110]

        Natural toxicants derived from bitumen in Northern Alberta pose potential ecological and human health risks to northerners living in the area. Oil sands development contributes arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel other metal elements toxic at low concentrations to the tributaries and rivers of the Athabasca.[111]

        • Recommend you read this book – free online: From Chapter 9: “We were now traversing perhaps the most interesting region in all the North. In the neighbourhood of McMurray there are several tar-wells, so called, and there, if a hole is scraped in the bank, it slowly fills in with tar mingled with sand. This is separated by boiling, and is used, in its native state, for gumming canoes and boats. Farther up are immense towering banks, the tar oozing at every pore, and underlaid by great overlapping dykes of disintegrated limestone, alternating with lofty clay exposures, crowned with poplar, spruce and pine. On the 15th we were still following the right bank, and, anon, past giant clay escarpments along it, everywhere streaked with oozing tar, and smelling like an old ship.

          These tar cliffs are here hundreds of feet high, of a bold and impressive grandeur, and crowned with firs which seem dwarfed to the passer-by. The impregnated clay appears to be constantly falling off the almost sheer face of the slate-brown cliffs, in great sheets, which plunge into the river’s edge in broken masses. The opposite river bank is much more depressed, and is clothed with dense forest.

          The tar, whatever it may be otherwise, is a fuel, and burned in our camp-fires like coal. That this region is stored with a substance of great economic value is beyond all doubt, and, when the hour of development comes, it will, I believe, prove to be one of the wonders of Northern Canada. We were all deeply impressed by this scene of Nature’s chemistry, and realized what a vast storehouse of not only hidden but exposed resources we possess in this enormous country. What is unseen can only be conjectured; but what is seen would make any region famous.”
          So in the 1800’s we have evidence that tar was part of the river at all times. People touched it with their bare hands, washed in the river, drank from it… if you check out any major urban center you fill find the spring run-offs from the cars and other polluting factors are far greater than those associated with well-managed and highly monitored facilities in the oil sands. There are hundreds of surface and groundwater monitors around the facilities. These facilities are designed and built by highly skilled engineers and geotechnical people. Most of the activists against energy development do not have skills in those areas; just opinions.

      • Life growing on top of the tar sands region in Athabasca is one thing, digging up the ground and disrupt the system is another. You also seem to be ignoring the tailings pond leaking 1 billion liters by 2020 just doesn’t sound peaceful and wonderful. Life in that area doesn’t do well with poisons including the Native Americans. You ignor the down side of tar sands industry at the expense of the lives of the local people. There is your own sacrifice zone right in Canada. I’m ashamed for you and yet you may have no shame at all in this. That is too bad.

        “We can no longer be sacrificed”
        First nations resistance to tar sands development is growing
        JUN 9, 2008 •

        By Lori Waller

        June/July 2008

        Fort Chipewyan, a tiny northern Alberta hamlet perched on the shores of Lake Athabasca, is historically notable as the location of the province’s oldest European settlement, a trading post opened by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1788.

        Mention Fort Chipewyan today, though, and what’s likely to come to mind for most Albertans is not the 18th century fur trade, but cancer.

        The community’s residents, mostly indigenous Cree, Dene (Chipewyan) and Métis, are dying in alarming numbers from a variety of cancers and autoimmune disorders such as lupus and Graves’ disease. The situation was first exposed in 2006 when the town’s doctor, John O’Connor, went public with his findings that in this small community of 1,000, he had diagnosed at least three cases of a rare bile duct cancer that normally afflicts only one out of 100,000 Canadians.

        • Oil sands is not our main area but we do know that there are several discrepancies in this story. Subsequent Alberta Health reports revealed that this was not a cluster of the same rare cancers and the American Red Cross states that this type of cancer (bile duct) is more prevalent in First Nations people. “In the United States, the risk of bile duct cancer is highest among Hispanic Americans and Native Americans. Worldwide, bile duct cancer is much more common in Southeast Asia and China, largely because of the high rate of infection with liver flukes in these areas” (see pg 7). There is an Alberta Health Services study of the region and all the behavioral factors are way off the charts. Many people in the region have worked at regional uranium mines. This is not to dismiss the people’s needs, but rather to point out it is easy to jump to conclusions about cause. No one mentions the upstream pulp and paper mills that have the right to discharge process water in the river; the oil sands has no right to discharge process water. No one mentions the regional uranium tailings, some of which are unfenced and large animals like moose can graze there. Moose are a common ‘country food.’ Just to set some perspective.

    • Mr. Green, there are several problems with your thesis. Due to space limitations here, I will only address one of them. According to an analysis by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, a typical electric car’s lifetime cost is roughly $12,000 higher than a gasoline-powered car. Recent research indicates that electric cars may reach break-even price with hybrids only in 2026, and with conventional cars in 2032, after governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies.
      Costs and subsidies aside, electric cars have so far proved to be incredibly inconvenient. A BBC reporter drove the 484 miles from London to Edinburgh in an electric Mini and had to stop eight times to recharge, often waiting six hours or more. In total, he spent 80 hours waiting or driving, averaging just over six miles an hour—an unenviable pace even before the advent of the steam engine.
      Electric cars also fail to live up to their environmental billing. They are often sold as “zero emissions” vehicles, but that is true only when they are moving.
      The analysis done in Europe is telling. For starters, the manufacturing process that produces electric cars—especially their batteries—requires an enormous amount of energy, most of it generated with fossil fuels. A life-cycle analysis shows that almost half of an electric car’s entire CO2 emissions result from its production, more than double the emissions resulting from the production of a gasoline-powered car.
      Moreover, the electricity required to charge an electric car is overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Yes, it then emits about half the CO2 of a conventional car for every mile driven (using European electricity). But, given its high CO2 emissions at the outset, it needs to be driven a lot to come out ahead.
      Proponents proudly proclaim that if an electric car is driven about 180,000 miles, it will have emitted less than half the CO2 of a gasoline-powered car. But its battery will likely need to be replaced long before it reaches this target, implying many more tons of CO2 emissions.
      In fact, such distances seem implausible, given electric cars’ poor range: The Nissan Leaf, for example, can go only 73 miles on a charge. That is why most people buy an electric car as their second car, for short commutes. If the car is driven less than 32,000 miles on European electricity, it will have emitted more CO2 overall than a conventional car.
      Even if driven much farther, 93,000 miles, an electric car’s CO2 emissions will be only 28 percent less than those of a gasoline-powered car. During the car’s lifetime, this will prevent 11 tons of CO2 emissions, or about 44 euros of climate damage.
      Given the size of the subsidies on offer, this is extremely poor value. Denmark’s subsidies, for example, pay almost 6,000 euros to avoid one ton of CO2 emissions. Purchasing a similar amount in the European Emissions Trading System would cost about 5 euros. For the same money, Denmark could have reduced CO2 emissions more than a thousand-fold.

      • Thanks for those insights, Robert Lyman.

      • This article goes a little deeper than I have posted but shows a very quick pay back time in terms of carbon emissions. 6 months for the Nissan Leaf and 16 months for the Tesla. Mostly based on battery size. My Mitsubishi i-miev would be even sooner. I have an even smaller battery. I am able to keep my pickup truck parked at home most of the time while driving the hatchback car. Since I can choose my provider in Illinois, I buy 100% renewable energy. I have zero pollution. Mitsubishi is online saying that my battery bank will have 80% capacity at 100,000 miles. What is expected is that batteries will improve in the future and this is only the beginning.

        “This compares the total life cycle of an electric and a similar gasoline vehicle,” Nealer said.

        The scientific group based its modeling on the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S — the two bestselling electric cars in the U.S. Each has a different greenhouse gas emissions profile because of their batteries.

        The bigger the battery, the more pollution results from its production. That’s why the smaller Nissan — which also has less than half the range of a Tesla — offsets its excess manufacturing emissions in about 4,900 miles, or six months of driving. The Tesla offset comes within 19,000 miles, or 16 months of operation.

        Nealer expects the emissions profile of electric cars to continue to improve over their gasoline counterparts as technology advances and electricity generation becomes cleaner.

        “It is really impressive how much cleaner electric cars have become in just the last three years,” she said.

        Batteries are going to transform the way the world uses energy. It is going to create quite the shift. They will be pollution free in the manufacturing process in Nevada with falling prices along the way.

        Tesla CEO Elon Musk isn’t just building the biggest battery factory in the world. When construction of his $5 billion Tesla Gigafactory is complete, the facility will be astoundingly clean and energy efficient.

        Tesla’s Gigafactory will produce batteries for both its high-end electric cars as well as for homes, businesses and utilities, with its Powerwall suite of batteries (which have already been sold out through 2016). Solar supplier and sister company SolarCity is also incorporating Tesla batteries for residential solar installations.

        Musk isn’t shy about wanting to wean the world off of fossil fuels through renewable energy and energy storage.

        “Our goal here is to fundamentally change the way the world uses energy,” Musk said. “We’re talking at the terawatt scale. The goal is complete transformation of the entire energy infrastructure of the world.”

      • It seems Union of Concerned Scientists disagrees with Mr Lyman. EV’s are superior to their gasoline counterparts. Plus they operate quite a bit cheaper than the gasoline counterpart does.

        Electric vehicles already result in far less climate pollution than their gas-powered counterparts, and they’re getting cleaner. Optimizing EV production and the disposal or reuse of batteries could further increase their environmental benefits. And as electricity becomes cleaner (which it is), the difference between electric cars and gasoline cars will only grow—cementing the role of electric vehicles in halving U.S. oil use and cutting global warming emissions.

  2. “In the United States, the risk of bile duct cancer is highest among Hispanic Americans and Native Americans

    Those are also the same people that are at most risk of living in a polluted area. You have heard the poor are the ones who suffer the most. Ecological justice applies here also.


    Tesla’s Massive Gigafactory Will Be Net Zero Energy, Powered by 100% Renewables

    My first post talks about 100% renewable energy as studied by Stanford, Tesla will do it on just that. We are on our way to a transformed economy.

  4. Hi Jeffery – All very optimistic – have a look at the number of cubic miles of oil-equivalent energy we used every year. Long way to go.
    Then there’s what the Google engineers had to say:
    Likewise TESLA is very good at raising subsidies…

  5. For some informed comments on electric vehicles see the final page of the November 2015 Car and Driver magazine. Bob Lutz says that Tesla is losing US$4000 per car, and adds “At some point, they’re not going to get any more money.”

    Ian M

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