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Gas vs electric cars: evidence for which is better?  RSS feed

 
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Hello everyone and thanks in advance for taking the time to consider this question.

So the title sort of says it all.  Can anyone provide me actual evidence that (if?) electric cars are actually better than gas cars?

I realize on the surface this sounds preposterous.  I mean an electrical car has no emissions by itself whereas a gas car obviously does.  However, electric cars have to be charged and most electricity in the United States is created by burning coal (I really need to find exactly what portion this is, but I know it is more than half).  Burning the very best coal with no pollutants produces only CO2.  Gasoline is a bit more challenging for the purpose of measuring exhaust chemistry as gasoline is not a single hydrocarbon, but a blend of hydrocarbons (and extra chemicals, but let’s just stick to the hydrocarbons for the moment). If cars burned pure methane (natural gas) then the exhaust would be two molecules of water for every molecule of CO2.  As we deal with longer hydrocarbons, the ratio of CO2 to H2O gets closer to 1:1.  So even if we go with a ratio of 1:1 and coal burning only releases CO2, this would mean that burning gasoline would yield 1/2 the carbon emissions as burning coal.

Since electric cars get their charge by burning coal, does this mean that electric cars in fact release twice as much CO2 as electric cars?  All of the above refers to battery only electric cars, not hybrids.  It also assumes that there are no losses from inefficiencies each time energy is converted from one form to another.  In the case of coal, there are efficiency losses at each of the following points at LEAST:  chemical to steam, steam to mechanically turning a turbine (actually a rather large drop here—well over 50 percent at the very best and closer to 75%, losses in transmitting the electricity over power lines, losses at each point where it changes voltage (such at transformer stations), and finally losses at charging the battery in the car itself.  My list is by no means complete and anyone who has ever felt a recently charged battery will have experienced this—the battery is quite warm and the charger keeps it from overheating by blowing air across from an on-board fan.

So in the end, just how much better can a battery electric car be?  Even if there were no efficiency losses, coal still produces 100% CO2 whereas gasoline yields approximately 50%CO2 and 50%H2O.  Combined with the inevitable inefficiencies (and to be clear I know right off that gasoline engines have a host of their own inefficiencies, their tank-to-tire efficiency is something like 10%), how can an electric car have fewer carbon emissions than a gasoline car?

Please don’t get the wrong idea—I very much want an alternative to carbon polluting gasoline engines.  I actually think Diesel engines are better and quite a bit more efficient based on personal experience with diesel tractors.  But I really love the idea of having zero emissions car, but only as long as it does not shift emissions back to the coal fired power plant.

All of the above is based on a comparison to coal because that is the major source of electricity in the United States.  So my final question to this long post is “are electric powered cars actually less carbon polluting than gasoline cars?”  I want them to be so, and feel free to correct any mistakes I have made, but at present I cannot connect the dots that way.  

Am I wrong or am I missing something?  I once again thank you in advance for your input.

Eric
 
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Most of the people I know with electric cars are charging them with their own solar panels.
 
Eric Hanson
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Burra,

Certainly, if one charges with a solar panel, windmill or micro hydro would avoid any carbon emissions.  This also applies to cases where local power is provided by hydro or nuclear (though many people have reservations about this sort of power).  


I may not have been specific and I apologize for any lack of clarity.  I was trying to refer to instances where the source of electricity is from coal—which is quite often.

Commonly one encounters the phenomenon where people seem to think that electricity simply comes from a wall outlet.  In this situation, people are tempted to buy an electric car thinking they are in fact reducing carbon emissions.  The heart of my question is if this is even possible and if so then how if the electricity comes from coal.

Thanks for your contribution Burra, and I praise those who really take the effort to garner all their energy from non-polluting sources.

Eric
 
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You need a metric for assessing what you're asking about.

But I will blow it all out of the water anyways, if you don't mind.

Electric vehicles are set to cause headaches for the whole vehicle service industry, as electric vehicles require much less maintenance than internal combustion engines over their lifetimes. It's like the benefits of solid-state technology. The fewer moving parts, the fewer failure points.

The other part of it is, it doesn't matter which is better now. We are slowly sliding away from petroleum, no matter how vested interests whine and claw back against the inevitable. What's important about electric cars nowadays is what was important about the first decade of air cargo transport; extended proof of concept. It is proof that it isn't necessary to give up the elements of car culture that Canadian and american society are unwilling to give up, those elements that have directly shaped how we plan our urban areas and service delivery.

Electric cars prove that we no longer need the petroleum industry for daily life. It's better because it gets the consumer off of an expensive teat, socially and environmentally. It allows private individuals to own the infrastructure that powers their transportation in toto. The technology might have a ways to go, but I would wager that there are more people that could do that with an electric vehicle than could with an internal combustion engine.

-CK
 
Eric Hanson
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CK,  

Interesting point:  do you actually have numbers showing that charging a car is cheaper than fueling them?  Or possibly you mean that an electric car will have a cheaper cost of ownership than gasoline car because of the solid-state benefits?

Either way, interesting points, but it still does not address the issue of which car is less carbon polluting.  I am very curious about that figure.  And one can probably tell that I mean from the standpoint of coal fired electricity from the American average.

Thanks for the reply,

Eric
 
Chris Kott
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Again, we lack a metric.

How do we find out things like the number of electric cars, the number getting coal-fired electricity versus natural gas-generated electricity versus electricity from any other renewable source?

As coal is your interest, how many different coal power plants are there, and how do they each differ? Is each state adhering to the same emissions standards, and does each plant do what it's legally supposed to do?

Also, what component of the coal-fired power plants' exhaust comprise particulates and pollutants that aren't CO2, and how does that impact your determination?

I could generate numbers. They would be theoretical, and would be a range, not a fixed value, because I am one of many whose energy comes from multiple generation sources. This only gets more complicated if we're discussing someone who generates their own electricity by whatever means, but draws off the grid when necessary.

The only way that gas cars make sense is if you restrict your system to include only them, from point of fuel purchase to the cost of operating the vehicle itself. The moment the social and economic costs of the petroleum industry are included in the calculations, internal combustion engines go deep in the red.

-CK
 
Eric Hanson
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CK,

In case I was unclear in my last post, you hit the nail on the head—I am looking for the proper metric for comparison and wondering if anyone either knows of one or is familiar enough to possibly derive one.

Thanks for your patience,

Eric
 
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your chemistry and physics aren't quite right. neither are your numbers for coal's share of electricity in the US (it's roughly 30% and declining). but you are absolutely correct that electric cars are far from a panacea and that electrification generally isn't all that great.

let's start with gasoline. chemists often call it BTEX. that's benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes. none of those really resemble methane except for the basic building blocks (hydrogen and carbon). they're all aromatic hydrocarbons, which have a ratio of carbon to hydrogen that's closer to 1:1 (1:1, 7:8, 4:5, 4:5, respectively) than the 1:4 of methane. I don't know much about the chemistry of coal, but it does have higher ratios of carbon to other elements. coal's energy density is also greater than BTEX, which complicates comparisons.

internal combustion engines are very inefficient. they're heat engines: the heat produced by oxidizing fuel does pressure volume work as it pushes a piston to turn a crankshaft (unless it's a rotary engine, which are pretty rare, or a turbine engine, which are even rarer). a large majority of the heat produced, however, is wasted. some of it through the tailpipe, some of it through the radiator, some of it through the walls of the motor.

electrical power plants are much more efficient. a far greater portion of the heat energy is used to pressurize the working fluid and turn turbines. friction losses in modern turbines are minuscule compared to the inefficiencies of an ICE, as are the inevitable inefficiency of transforming chemical energy to kinetic then electrical energy. transmission losses are also certainly an issue. again, all of these losses are dwarfed by the inefficiencies of an ICE.

instead of fossil fuel, let's say the electricity came from hydro-electric generation. there are a few notable exceptions, but dams generally involve what amounts to the wholesale destruction of otherwise hugely complex and productive ecosystems, not to mention that they cause substantial releases of methane gas from sediment in reservoirs. methane is shorter-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but very much more potent as a greenhouse gas.

there are other sources of electricity, but honestly, I think the bigger issue is the ubiquity of automobiles generally, our habit of arranging our entire built environment around them for the last hundred years or so, and the un-examined assumptions that we can't do without them and that there must be some way to keep using them everywhere but without the negative consequences (I'm speaking primarily about the US. other countries aren't necessarily blameless here, either, but the US is the worst I've experienced). once the need for and consequences of so many automobiles are honestly considered, it becomes obvious that their overuse is incredibly damaging in so many ways. that isn't to say they aren't a very useful tool. they most certainly are. but they are overused to an absurd degree. if we collectively decided to only use automobiles when they were actually the best tool for the job (and designed them better for how they're actually used), I don't think it would matter so much how they were fueled, so long as care was taken to avoid toxic pollutants.

which brings me to diesel. compression-ignition engines are, as you suggest, more energy efficient than spark-ignition engines. they also last a hell of a lot longer. a huge drawback, however, is that increasing efficiency comes with increasing air pollution in the form of nitrogen oxides. it's obviously more complicated than this, but increasing efficiency in a diesel engine involves increasing temperatures. that, in turn, leads to more creation of nitrogen oxides which have very negative impacts on air quality. there are urea injection systems in many modern diesels that address this, but it's still a problem. and it's why many European cities are enacting laws that will phase out and eventually ban diesel engines.

there again, though, if diesel motors were used far more sparingly, impacts to air quality wouldn't disappear, but the impacts to environmental quality and public health would be far more acceptable.

in the end, using a 1000-lb contraption to move a couple of 200-lb humans around is more than a little ridiculous, regardless of how that contraption is powered. using a similar 1000-lb contraption to move 5000 lbs of cargo is rather less ridiculous. and I'm being generous here. in reality, many (if not most) private automobiles are much larger than 1000-lbs and are only moving one human.

I've gotten fairly far afield from your question, so I apologize. the answer to that question is that, yes, powering cars with electricity is better in many ways than powering them with internal combustion engines, especially if you're primarily concerned with carbon emissions. but in many other ways, they're essentially the same. in a few ways, they're worse (mining of lithium and other elements for batteries).
 
Eric Hanson
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Tel,

Ok, I will stand corrected regarding my statement about coal being more than 1/2 of electricity generation.  I had old data.  The real kicker is that I study the history of energy and did not have an up to date figure.  Even worse, I know full well that thanks to shale, natural gas is replacing coal writ large.  My mistake.

And thanks for the chemical information.  I started with methane as it is the simplest hydrocarbon and gives the most energy with least CO2 of any hydrocarbon.  But I think you extrapolated my question from there.  Again, thanks for the clarification.

I am aware of the levels of efficiency of the ICE vs. commercial power plant.  But again, thanks for putting a finer point on things.

I totally agree with your thoughts on habitat loss from hydro.  At least in the US, that last hydro ship sailed back in the 70s, but elsewhere these plants are still going up.  Further, hydro power is sort of but not really emissions free.  A real conundrum now that we actually have them.

Thanks for both answering and challenging my question.  I might try to ask again in a refined version.

Interesting though, that with all the corrections you made to my initial thesis statement, you still come to the conclusion that electric cars are no panacea.  I still like diesel though and will deal with that separately.

Thanks,

Eric
 
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There are SO many variables! One that comes to mind is related to Paul Wheaton's incandescent bulbs vs. CFL & LED, where the inefficiency of ICE is a benefit in a cold climate, when an EV has to "waste" range to create comfort for passengers, defrosting for safety/vision.

I think gas vs. electric isn't the question or the answer, less polluting requires less polluting.

My boss got a Tesla model S, he drives maybe 8K miles per year. I don't think he's making any difference at all, other than "adding a straw to petroleum industry's back" by adopting EV.
I drive ~24K miles per year in my pickup. Together, we might make a difference if we traded vehicles (yeah, right...as if!).

In reality, I'd make a bigger difference by moving back to Mom's house and reducing my commute by 70%. Probably a bigger difference than my boss buying the Tesla did in our current situation.


 
tel jetson
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Eric Hanson wrote:I totally agree with your thoughts on habitat loss from hydro.  At least in the US, that last hydro ship sailed back in the 70s, but elsewhere these plants are still going up.  Further, hydro power is sort of but not really emissions free.  A real conundrum now that we actually have them.



dams are still being built and augmented in the US. for electricity, flood control, irrigation, drinking water, and--in a few cases--providing better spawning conditions for anadromous fish (releasing cool water into streams at critical times). dams are also being removed, which I find very encouraging. it is impressive how quickly river ecosystems recover after dam removal, from upstream spawning habitat and nutrient cycles to sediment transport and estuary function.

regarding reservoir emissions: sediment diagenesis creates the most methane where there is a lot of organic matter in sediments and warm conditions. this is most common in tropical reservoirs. unfortunately, dam-building is becoming fashionable in several tropical regions. if a dam is built for some reason other than electricity generation, I guess it might as well have generation capacity, too, since turbines don't add a whole lot of additional problems.


anyway, I appreciate your initial question. it's worth exploring the reality of these things that are sold to us as unmitigated good, especially as huge amounts of public resources are used to promote and develop them. to me, electrification of our transportation system is a bit of a red herring. is it an improvement? probably. but I think it's an improvement in the same way that using a tablespoon is an improvement over using a teaspoon for emptying the ocean. it's three times as effective, but still...
 
Eric Hanson
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Tel,

I guess I should have clarified further regarding hydro.  I was referring to the mega dam hydro projects like Hoover Dam.  Again, correct me if I am wrong but I believe that the Grand Teton dam pretty much ended major dam construction.

By the time of the Grand Teton dam, the most optimal spot s had been taken.  The Grand Teton was manifestly not in an optimal location for a number of reasons.

Eric
 
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As Tel pointed out, the conversion efficiencies in electric generation are such that an EV powered by fossil fuel-generated juice will still have a lower carbon footprint than an internal combustion car. This even (just barely) includes lignite, the dirty, low-grade brown coal, if burned in a modern high-efficiency plant. There are plenty of good reasons to switch away from coal and the economic reality is that it's well underway now, so it's becoming kind of a moot point.

Here in NZ, we pay a lot for electricity (long story, but a lot of it comes down to a restructuring of our generating and retailing sector twenty years ago drawn up by an utter tool named Max Bradford). The good news is that our generation mix is over 80% renewables: hydro, geothermal and wind plus a little bit of solar creeping in from the edges. This means electric cars have a really low carbon footprint here.

My house is on a low user plan and our rate is complicated -- it varies by season and time of day, and the line charges are separated out and fixed on a per-day basis -- but on average we pay 30c/kWh for daytime and 18c/kWh between 2300-0700, plus 30c per day in line charges. We charge our EV at night as part of our routine, but on days we need to make an extra trip we might plug it in during the day or use a fast charger in the city. Over the past year, our running costs on the car have worked out to an equivalent of paying 30c per liter of petrol, while the actual cost of the stuff is just under $2.
 
tel jetson
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you mean Teton Dam in the Snake River Basin?

I mean, you're right that there aren't really any Hoover Dams left to build. but there are still a few undammed reaches of river left in the US. and dams are being considered for many of them. I'm working on a project right now modeling the water quality impacts of a proposed flood control dam in Washington State. there are dams in the river basin in question, but none on the entire main stem. so while there might not be any more dams with the immense destruction of the Colorado River or Columbia River Basin dams, there's plenty of damage left to do (and plenty of work to do tearing existing dams down).
 
Eric Hanson
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Tel,

Yes, I was referring to the dam that failed spectacularly while filling the basin in the 70s.  Public funding for huge dams like that largely dried up (no pun) after that.  

I do not remember the name for it, but it was around that same time that an engineering firm concocted the plan to dam up a the Mackenzie River and several others that drain into the arctic, dig a canal the length of which the world has never before seen, and make that water flow south into the United States, eventually flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.  The plan was ridiculous for a long list of very serious reasons.  Every now and then I see it mentioned but fortunately never with any serious traction.

Eric
 
Phil Stevens
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Eric - You're referring to NAWAPA (North American Water and Power Alliance), I think. Talk about the ultimate in engineering hubris. It's mentioned in the last chapter of Marc Reisner's superb Cadillac Desert, which remains one of the best ever cautionary tales of relying on technology to "overcome" nature.
 
Eric Hanson
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Phil,

YES, NAWAPA is correct!  Thanks for reminding me!  And yes, it was geo-engineering hubris on a grand scale.

Eric
 
tel jetson
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the Soviet Union considered a similar idea for rivers that drain into the arctic from that continent. talked to an oceanographer about it who figured it could have drastically disrupted global thermo-haline circulation and therefore weather patterns worldwide.
 
Eric Hanson
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Actually I have heard of that as well but in the context of reviving the Aral Sea.  In my personal opinion, the destruction of the Aral Sea is the single greatest environmental crime ever.

Eric
 
tel jetson
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Eric Hanson wrote:Actually I have heard of that as well but in the context of reviving the Aral Sea.  In my personal opinion, the destruction of the Aral Sea is the single greatest environmental crime ever.



as an engineering problem, it wouldn't be terribly difficult to reverse that destruction, at least the hydrologic part of it: tear out all the water diversions on the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. that would still leave a whole lot of pollution to deal with. of course, the actual issue isn't engineering. it's politics.
 
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Reasons why for me electric is not better.
The biggest one, I can't charge it, this house has two fuses each 10A. charging a car at 3000W takes one fuse, nothing else can run of that circuit, We have to juggle loads on the fuses as it is.
The second reason, they are too expensive (or I am too poor) I will almost certainly never in my life buy a new car, the present one is 15 years old and "new" to me.
I would need two cars, as maybe once or twice a year we do a long drive, it takes long enough to drive to the UK from here as it is, I cannot imagine having to stop and charge every 200 odd miles. approx 1000mile journey (and renting a car to use in 4 countries is hard)


Reasons it would be better
car tax is lower
It costs about 2/3 the amount to drive. Assuming 3.5miles per kwh and 34c per kwh  that's 9.7c per mile and my car averaging 40mpg (which is about our average) @$5.9 a gallon that's 14.8c a mile. (If I did a lot of miles diesel would be less than 1cent a mile difference, and a new petrol would also cost about the same, but as I said, out of the price range)


I am not convinced on the environmental savings, I feel it's just moving pollution around. The better way would be to stop the "globalisation" of everything, we never used to have to travel 50miles one way for work, why do we now?

I don't think that it'll be any cheaper maintenance wise for me, the things that have broken on my car.

Fuse box (corroded beyond repair)
Brakes
Suspension, suspension, suspension. constant repairs to the suspension
Power windows
wiring loom to the boot
Nothing to do with the engine at all, other than oil change the engine itself has never caused any problems.
 
Chris Kott
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Yeah, I can't afford one either, nor have I ever been able to buy a new car. The range issue is one for me, too, as I make a 16 hour round-trip about four times a year.

As with most new technologies, not everyone can afford to be an early adopter, nor does the new tech hold up to the more extreme or niche needs of the user.

But I have confidence that the tech will catch up, and that mass production will bring costs down. That's what history has shown in similar cases, at any rate.

-CK
 
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I've lived in N.Y.C. all my 68 years and even though I grew-up in the fifties with coal heat and garbage burning from incinerators I find that internal combustion pollution is the worst for your lungs! After Carter was President for four years the city's air was noticeably cleaner and breathing was easier.There is no good excuse for these engines except for tractors and some trucks!Solar and Electric must finally zing them damn infernal engines.Hydrogen also looks good!
 
tel jetson
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I don't know, Stuart. in a city, especially one that's dense and human-scaled like NYC, I don't think there's any reason the able-bodied shouldn't just walk or ride a bike. I don't think personal automobiles belong in cities no matter how they're powered.
 
Eric Hanson
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I get to these situations where I don’t know what side of a debate I am on.  There are some interesting battery technologies that on the horizon (as opposed to around the corner).  About a decade ago, there was some interesting work being done on a magnesium based batteries.  Magnesium is almost as light as lithium with two electrons to offer up to lithium’s one.  This gives a potential magnesium based battery approaching twice the energy density of the already impressive lithium batteries.  An even more interesting battery is a hypothetical aluminum based battery with three electrons to give and upwards of approaching 3 times the energy density if lithium batteries.

I don’t know how fast or even if these batteries will develop.  The lithium ion battery was developed largely for the power tool industry.  These batteries were s huge improvements over the previous nicad batteries.  Nicads were notoriously heavy and did not have great runtimes.  My old nicad battery packs for my 18 volt ridgid tool set were 2 amp hour batteries and were HEAVY!  The new batteries for the same tools are 4 amp hour batteries (coincidentally the same physical dimensions) and are LIGHT!  But honestly, I can just barely use up a single 4 amp battery even after a day of heavy use.  I was once hammer drilling into cement and driving in Tapcons all day and only used up 1/2 a charge.  4 amp hour batteries are plenty for me, but my tool line now has 6 and 9 amp hour batteries.  

I am not certain what one does with a 6 amp hour battery, let alone a 9 amp hour battery, but the technology is mature, the market big, and the need just about right for lithium batteries.  I am also not certain what force would drive a change in battery chemistry right now, but if it could be done, electric cars could have some real range to them.

On the other I just don’t know environmentally clean electrical cars are.  If electrical cars really do reduce emissions, then these “super batteries” could go a long way.  If electric cars don’t reduce emissions, then they just shift CO2 emissions around.

Either way they are some interesting technology developments with interesting potential.

Eric
 
Stuart Sparber
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I studied architecture and also majored in urban studies in the early 70's. We were in the know about how bad Detroit was but you couldn't convince us it would drag it's feet so long! Oil is "huge"in America and it has it's lobby job even in N.Y.C.    We also were promoting pedestrian plazas and street closings and did make progress.But in the 2008's there were many reopenings of closed streets in Manhattan,like the Nassau St. Mall. Now with Uber and Lyft which should be all electric as well as taxis and with automated smart cars coming within 5 years the streets are clogged,pedestrians are killing each other in the rush and planning is nearly at a zero level by N.Y.C.,N.Y.S. and the tri-state area. To build bigger,higher,denser with new liberalized zoning is the game on nowThe Amazon headquarters proposal in L.I.C. Queens that they withdrew was a Monstrous debacle of dictatorial non-planning that would have made an already over-developed and frighteningly crowded transit area a true nightmare as well as driving up rents in one of the last cheaper mom and pop neighborhoods near the city center. In the 70's we fought for community planning boards that had teeth and our Planning Commissions in the five boroughs introduced world leading innovations and urban designs.Now Mr.Bloomberg has completely defanged and denuded the boards and commissions and DiBlasio and Cuomo have followed suit.
 
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As far as I can tell the point of electric cars now is that a societal change is expected to take longer than electrical generation change does.

Currently people drive gas powered cars, to refuel requires a 10-15 minute stop at a gas station. Then we continue on our way. Large scale adoption of electrical vehicles will require a lot of changes. Gas stations will no longer have regular business of people stopping to fuel up. They might have to pay to put in charging stations. The sales of gasoline will taper off over several years. People will no longer be stopping quickly, buying a few things and going. Charging stations will become places people stay at for an hour at a time, so will be restaurants, libraries, places for children to play. Most people will charge their cars overnight at home, so this will not be a huge business for anyone. This will be a huge change for society and will take many years to accomplish.

The source of electricity on the other hand is a whole different thing to be changed. This is all about the companies providing electricity. Currently most electricity is sourced from non-renewable energy. While a small portion comes from renewable sources. Relatively few comapnies are in charge of producing electricity for a large number of people. The small number of people in charge of theses businesses can make changes happen much more quickly than is possible to do with our society as a whole.

Currently buying an electrical vehicle and charging from the grid will not cut your personal carbon emmisions by much, if any. But buying and using an electrical vehicle will support the companies who are developing the new technology needed. Driving it around will let businesses know that this is coming and they need to adapt for the future social changes. The mass social change is expected to take much longer than the relatively simple task of changing how electricity is provided.
 
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I don't think your question can be answered generically in a definitive mathematical answer.  There are simply to many variables, many of them applying to specific situations.  How was the power made, how far was it transmitted, how was it stored in the car, how was the car driven, how is the car being used.  And a similar thing on the gas side.

If you need a generic answer instead I am going to ask you to think about the technologies and where they might go in the future.  Gas technology is a really mature technology with very little room for growth.  And unless we come up with a non ag land way to grow fuel or a way to make gasoline with electricity it has limited future potential and current foreseeable improvements will be measured in fractions of a percent to a few percent.   In the end even if we ignore pollution and global warming etc the fuel will run out.  On the other hand we have electric cars which are not a mature technology.  We see a huge number of potential paths for growth many of them showing the potential for gains of 10% or more.  So even if the electric car today is a poorer choice which technology would you choose to support into the future?  Many of the electric car problems we can solve on an immediate basis if needed with future one coming.  For example limited range could be solved by a recharging trailer with an internal combustion engine.  Into the future there are many battery improvements on the way, fuel cells and hydrogen might allow refueling quickly.  As for pollution which is more likely to be cleaned up:  Mobile scrubbing or stationary?  The power plant with its large scale is far more likely to scrub dangerous stuff out.   Then add in that electricity use in the US has been either stagnant or shrinking in most of the US so the complaints of lack of capacity may be over stated.  Then add in some of the other games we can play.  Most peoples cars just sit most of the time.  So what if the grid could use just 10% of the cars battery for storage.  Thru simply smart software and a bidirectional charging station we might be able to solve the storage problem created by solar and wind of intermittent power.
 
Chris Kott
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I would like to see what happens with flow batteries, where the spent electrolyte gets pumped out and replaced with recharged electrolyte.

This has two distinct benefits. First, the spent electrolyte could easily be recharged at former gas stations retrofitted with renewable power arrays, or connected to a greening power grid. Secondly,  this setup wouldn't be so disruptive to the current usage model that gas stations and stops would go out of business, or strand travellers for hours at a time in the middle of nowhere.

Again, any transitional tech that fits current usage patterns will be more readily adopted.

-CK
 
Eric Hanson
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CK,

I like the idea of the flow battery.  A conceptually similar idea that I used to think held great promise was the fuel cell.  Like the flow battery, the fuel cell could be filled like a traditional engine with a 5-10 minute stop and produce electricity like a battery.

Around the year 2000 I was holding out a great deal of hope that the fuel cell would radically change the way we fueled our auto fleet.

My hope was idealistic and naive.  As it turns out there are some pretty serious technological difficulties in creating a true fuel cell car.  I won’t go into all of them right now because the issues are complex, contradictory and barely solved at this point.  I still hold out some hope that this technological hurdles can be surmounted, but I accept that they will not be settled any time soon.

In the meantime, strange as it may sound, I do really like the Diesel engine, perhaps even diesel electric vehicles.  Diesel engines simply get much better mileage and last longer than their gasoline cousins.  I know not all will agree with my conclusions and I accet that, but I see too much promise for the Diesel engine.

Eric
 
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For those looking at the economics of renewables vs fossil fuels on the electrical grid, Lazard does an detailed analysis every year. It's worth taking a look at to see how renewables and energy storage economics are changing and now out-competing a lot of fossil fuels.
Here's a link to the most recent reports: https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-and-levelized-cost-of-storage-2018/
 
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I worked in the EV industry for a while as a service manager, tech sales, product development and R&D on an electric motor that NASA requested we put in a bid for their Mars Rover.  I also worked on a start-up company where we were trying to integrate fuel cells into EV applications.

I like EVs, in industrial applications, but I don't like where the passenger cars have gone, but that's due to the market more than anything, I'd guess.  The first thing I look at in a comparison between EV and IC vehicles is the energy and materials that go into production.  There really isn't much difference in the manufacturing, so the total, non-renewable energy usage over the lifetime of both kinds isn't a huge difference.  Sure, you can reduce the non-renewable energy for driving, but considering manufacturing energy demand I don't think there's a huge benefit to the environment.  My aunt has a new Tesla to replace her Prius.  She looks down her nose at people who don't drive EVs (she looks down her nose at people anyway...) but I don't think replacing a perfectly good car with a new one is something to be proud of.

I would love to see EVs that aren't built to compete with IC cars in performance, but the market doesn't agree.  

Here in Ontario, though, there is a rationale for EVs over IC because of our electricity situation.  At night, we generate far more electricity than we use, so we ground out a lot of energy that the nukes can't stop making and sometimes we even pay the States to take it.  We looked at using this surplus to crack water for hydrogen.  I know there are a lot of losses going from elec to hydrogen and then back, but the energy is free and the hydrogen can be stored.  15 years ago we had an opportunity to be one of the leaders in fuel cell tech, but the industry got very little help with the exception of Ballard.  

When I was in university I saw an ad on TV for a new Civic.  Honda claimed 73mpg, IIRC, and said they got there by using a foam-cast engine block and reducing as much internal friction as possible.  THAT's the car I want, though that model didn't last long.  I suspect that they may not have been able to get that mileage consistently, but that's just a guess.  Anyone else remember that car/ad?  

I think that EVs can reduce air pollution when charged by solar, wind, hydro or nukes and they can keep the air pollution out of the city with coal plants.  As mentioned, they also require less maintenance.  Other than that, I'm not sure they're a solution to our problem of excess.  Electric industrial vehicles keep exhaust gasses out of buildings, so I think there's a huge benefit there for the workers.

I think a diesel/electric hybrid is probably the best compromise.  All those locomotives can't be wrong.
 
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I have nothing to add on the carbon end. No equations or attempts at conclusions.

Here's what I see from a consumer point of view. My brother's wife does a huge amount of driving. She does it in a Nissan Leaf. She's had the leaf for 5 years. It operates for about 20% of the cost of keeping a similar-sized gasoline car on the road, and he tells me that they have saved enough in fuel and maintenance costs to completely pay for the car. It's still in pretty good condition and appears to have lots of useful life ahead of it.

The electricity in British Columbia is mostly generated by hydropower. My brother pays for some of the electricity and they also charge up at many of the free charging stations provided by shopping malls and government facilities. It's possible to get by without purchasing any of your own electricity, but it only holds a couple of dollars worth, so he sometimes charges it at home.

The batteries are in better shape than they told him they would be at this age and the car has just gone in for a couple of checkups during its entire life. There have been no major repairs.

They may get a second electric vehicle in a couple of years. He's leaning toward Tesla. When comparing the long-term cost of ownership for a Tesla to other luxury vehicles, it's no contest.
 
Eric Hanson
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Timothy,

Good post.  You bring up a lot of issues that surround the EV issue so thanks for chiming in.

On a side note, you referenced trains for their use of diesel electric drives.  Personally I was thinking about diesel electric submarines.  My reason is a little divergent from many opinions here at Permies.

The military does not really care that much about pollution as it does performance.  Although the US Navy does not currently operate diesel electric submarines, it used to and numerous navies around the world still do.  I will focus on s Japanese sub called the Soryu class.  The Soryu class is powered by a combination of Diesel engines while at snorkel dearth, Lithium ion batteries while submerged with a modern Air Independent system for recharging those batteries while still submerged.

Navies use diesel electric because they work.  They run for a short time on the surface where they run their Diesel engines in order to charge batteries to submerge for a long time.  Diesel engines are very efficient, getting a lot of power for the fuel they carry.  They then run most of the time running on lithium ion batteries.  This has proven to be a very good combination.  

Like a locomotive, it it works for a submarine, I think would work for a car.  I would think this could be a very powerful combination from everything from a  compact car up to a minivan.   These  vehicles are supposed to be efficient and I think would have potential as a diesel electric setup.

These are just my thoughts and I would love to hear others.

Eric
 
Timothy Markus
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I agree, Eric.  The biggest use of energy comes at the start, when a vehicle is starting to move.  Electric motors have the highest torque at stall, so they're perfect to get going.  If you have a nominal 1kW motor, it will pull over 10KW for a fraction of a second and then trail down to 1kW.  All you need then is a generator that produces 1.1kW (ish) and a battery that can store and deliver the starting draw.

That was what we were looking at with fuel cells; we'd use a fuel cell to replace the diesel genny and size it 10-15% larger than the nominal draw.  I had companies lined up to buy the system, but you couldn't buy a fuel cell 15 years ago.  We were working with some FC companies and the gubment, but the fuel cell fund not only didn't give out ANY money for more than 3 years, they still didn't even have an application for funding.  They all got fired, but it all fizzled.
 
Chris Kott
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I think electric systems with small-efficient petroleum power plants are a great transitional technology until batteries catch up. The real savings is that the petroleum component,  be it gasoline, diesel, propane, or natural gas, only operates within its most efficient range, rather than being subject to the whims of starting and stopping. When a recharge is required, the engine can turn on, get to its optimal operational range, and charge the batteries until finished. There is no compromise to efficiency through varying load.

-CK
 
Timothy Markus
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Chris Kott wrote:I think electric systems with small-efficient petroleum power plants are a great transitional technology until batteries catch up.
-CK



I think I've given up on a battery break-through.  We've had them for well over 100 years and they just keep getting incrementally better.  I'd love to see a big jump in the tech, but I'm not holding my breath.  That said, I think that we have the tech now to do better.  When I was in the EV industry there was a push from the mfgs to get a second class of vehicle instated, one that didn't have to meet the standards of current autos.  There was a bit of success with gated communities, but nothing like a city-only, speed capped car.  In the early 90's I saw a little car in Paris that seated two with a back hatch and enough space for 3-4 grocery bags.  It was loud and powered by a 750cc lawn tractor engine.  I was told that they were very popular with rural people as they could use it to run to town when needed, but they didn't cost much or much to run.  I think they'd hit 60km/h on a down slope.  I'd love something like that, or one of the small, Japanese K-car trucks.  Little pick-ups with 3 wheels would probably be fine for 80-90% of my needs.
 
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26 % of US power is coal fired, about 33% natural gas.  Coal is decreasing each year,  Reason is it cost more to ship coal than it does to buy it, put gas in a pipe line and it is a one time cost.
Urban areas are holding steady and in many places growing. Light rail, buses and subway are ok but do not address getting to and from them.  Enter the driver less car.  In 10 to 20 years  many cities will be passenger car free.  Air Quality will improve. Many urban people have never had a car.  Walking, bikes, short term car rental,  day car rental and the bus, subway etc meet their needs at a much lower cost.


I can not find the study  done right now but the biggest  increase in city air quality is to  take out the passenger auto by 98%.
 
Kenneth Elwell
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Eric Hanson wrote:I don’t know how fast or even if these batteries will develop.  The lithium ion battery was developed largely for the power tool industry.  These batteries were s huge improvements over the previous nicad batteries.  Nicads were notoriously heavy and did not have great runtimes.  My old nicad battery packs for my 18 volt ridgid tool set were 2 amp hour batteries and were HEAVY!  The new batteries for the same tools are 4 amp hour batteries (coincidentally the same physical dimensions) and are LIGHT!  But honestly, I can just barely use up a single 4 amp battery even after a day of heavy use.  I was once hammer drilling into cement and driving in Tapcons all day and only used up 1/2 a charge.  4 amp hour batteries are plenty for me, but my tool line now has 6 and 9 amp hour batteries.  

I am not certain what one does with a 6 amp hour battery, let alone a 9 amp hour battery, but the technology is mature, the market big, and the need just about right for lithium batteries.  I am also not certain what force would drive a change in battery chemistry right now, but if it could be done, electric cars could have some real range to them.
Eric



On the power tool battery front.... I recently got the Milwaukee M18 12ah batteries and circular saw, chainsaw, and leaf blower. The circular saw is as powerful (they claim more so) as my corded Skil 77 worm drive and a bit lighter. But the real impact I see is in the chainsaw and leaf blower, where both tools are as capable as gas machines, without the fuel and fumes, and less noise, and NO idling... I still use the gas machines (like the long-range car driver would) for the big jobs, but the battery tools excel at the smaller jobs (yet enough run time for big jobs), tight spaces, and portability. There are tools in these lines that are using multiple batteries for higher voltages to run miter saws and table saws, that would replace the need for portable ICE generators on a construction site. So, a few examples of small power equipment running off battery instead of ICE.
 
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