# The Pros of Driving An Electric Car

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Gold Member
Hybrids could be better than they are if their software wasn't so dumb. I get 5 to 10 MPG less in the winter because the software keeps starting the engine to heat up the catalytic converter whenever it cools down.

Mentor
Cool map; too much hype and bad analysis with it though:
Credit the increase to the country's shift away from coal, which in 2009 made half the nation's electricity, and now makes about a third, and toward renewables, which now account for 10 percent of electricity generation.
Uh, 50-33=17, so if renewables were nothing in 2009 they'd account for 60% of that shift away from coal. But were they? According to EIA data, if you include hydro, "renewables" in 2017 accounted for about 15% and in 2009 about 10% of our generation (not sure where Wired's numbers came from...). So at best, you can say 5% of that 17% came from "renewables". The rest? Almost all of it (about 11%) came from [fracked] natural gas.

And, the first sentence of the first full page, which was all hype:
EVERYONE’S SAYING IT: The future of driving is electric.
Not everyone. There are a decent number of analysts pointing out that Tesla relied on hype and unsustainable promises (some already cancelled) to get where it is today and that from both an economic and global warming standpoint, the emphasis on electric cars doesn't make a lot of sense. Hybrids make a lot more sense...and tackling the power grid before even thinking about cars makes even more sense.

They're telling the story they want heard, not the story the data tells.

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Bystander, jedishrfu and nsaspook
Mentor
Gold Member
There are a decent number of analysts pointing out that Tesla relied on hype and unsustainable promises (some already cancelled) to get where it is today and that from both an economic and global warming standpoint, the emphasis on electric cars doesn't make a lot of sense. Hybrids make a lot more sense...and tackling the power grid before even thinking about cars makes even more sense.

They're telling the story they want heard, not the story the data tells.

Electric cars (as well as the powerplants the fuel them) are still more efficient than internal combustion engines. Gasoline-powered cars average 28 mpg while the articles claims the average electric car produces the equivalent emissions as a car that gets 80 mpg.

While tacking power generation is obviously important, electric cars can still have an impact.

Mentor
Electric cars (as well as the powerplants the fuel them) are still more efficient than internal combustion engines. Gasoline-powered cars average 28 mpg while the articles claims the average electric car produces the equivalent emissions as a car that gets 80 mpg.

While tacking power generation is obviously important, electric cars can still have an impact.
Yes, that's all true. It's just in terms of bang for your carbon reducing buck, it's expensive and limited. But it is also personal and I recognize that options are limited for what you can do yourself that have significant impact.

Since we're talking here about what technologies would most have a major impact on carbon reduction, have any of you read the book by the late British physicist David Mackay about this? It is available free online.

https://www.withouthotair.com/

The website has broken the book down into several chapters which are hyperlinked. Here is the section specifically about electric cars:

https://www.withouthotair.com/c20/page_131.shtml

Mentor
Since we're talking here about what technologies would most have a major impact on carbon reduction, have any of you read the book by the late British physicist David Mackay about this? It is available free online.

https://www.withouthotair.com/

The website has broken the book down into several chapters which are hyperlinked. Here is the section specifically about electric cars:

https://www.withouthotair.com/c20/page_131.shtml
Section I is titled "Numbers, not Adjectives".

I'm in. I'll report back...

Staff Emeritus

His statement "If the air-conditioning is needed, the sun must surely be shining" is wrong. Maybe it's true in the UK, but there are plenty of places where it can be hot and humid at night. There are also places where you really want to dehumidify the cabin air to prevent condensation on the glass, often when it is raining or snowing.

Before starting, I should say that mpg is a very bad way to understand things. Going from 20-25 MPG is a much bigger change than from 40 to 45. The inverse, gpm (or l/100 km) is better.

I own a PHEV. About 90% of the driving is on the electric side. Since electric motors are ~3x as efficient as ICEs, 2/3 of the reductions I will ever get, I already have. Any discussion of extended range, or how green the electricity source is, etc. is attacking the small piece.

Amusing fact one: My electricity used to be >90% nuclear, so essentially carbon-free. Due in part to environmental protests, it's now half coal.
Amusing fact two: I was once breated for not having a 100% electric car - by an SUV driver!

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russ_watters
NTL2009
Section I is titled "Numbers, not Adjectives".

I'm in. I'll report back...

I read that paper a few years back. Some great stuff. Among them...

We are inundated with a flood of crazy innumerate codswallop. The BBC doles out
advice on how we can do our bit to save the planet – for example “switch
off your mobile phone charger when it’s not in use;” if anyone objects that
mobile phone chargers are not actually our number one form of energy
consumption, the mantra “every little helps” is wheeled out. Every little (bit)
helps? A more realistic mantra is:

if everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little
.

I wish every so-called "journalist" would grasp some of what he says.

NTL2009
Cool map; too much hype and bad analysis with it though:
...
They're telling the story they want heard, not the story the data tells.

Yes. And all these studies, including the one from "The Union of Concerned Scientists" use the wrong number for electrical generation - they keep touting the "greening of the grid" in terms of average generation, but that is almost 100% irrelevant. When you use an EV versus a gasoline car, you are creating added marginal demand on the electrical grid. That added marginal demand demand is met with fossil fuel on most grids. So an EV is running almost 100% on fossil fuel.

(More discussion here): energyathaas.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/marginal-vs-average-generation-the-case-of-the-electric-car/

In their earlier report, the Union of Concerned Scientists even acknowledge this, but then ignore it, and use averages instead (!) (see page 6):

https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/clean_vehicles/electric-car-global-warming-emissions-report.pdf

"the marginal generation mix for electric vehicles is needed for evaluating the implications of a large-scale EV market"
and then go on to say:

average generation mix is adequate for providing information to consumers regarding vehicle purchase and use

I fail to see the difference between large scale use and an individual EV. Either one will require added marginal generation. And regarding an individual EV, recall the above that every little bit only helps a little bit. So who cares?

This info from the NAS is enlightening:

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/52/18490

They provide the externalities cost of gasoline, hybrid, diesel and EV on various grids. Note that an EV on NG is better than a hybrid at the time of publication, but look at an EV on a coal grid. So it only takes a small % of coal generation to power EVs for the average externality damages to exceed those of a hybrid.

So the only time an EV is really going to be charged by renewables, is on those occasional nights were there is an actual excess of wind, and occasionally if we have an excess of solar on a grid. But we won't be able to regularly match intermittent excess supply to regular demand, therefore much of the energy to charge EVs will still be coming from fossil. And from what I've learned about grid operations, if EVs were regularly and predictably requiring NG turbines to kick in, the grid operators would keep the coal plants running at a bit higher level to reduce costs, especially on low wind nights.

For all their benefits, I just don't see where EVs are any "slam dunk" in terms of an improved environment, and may actually be worse overall than a modern hybrid. And hybrids keep improving, whereas EVs are near theoretical efficiencies - it's all about the power source .

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Bystander and russ_watters
Staff Emeritus
It's not always easy to get a handle on marginal costs. At work, the charging stations are solar-powered, sort of. The panels put power on the grid and the cars charge off the grid. Is the marginal use solar or gas from a peaker plant? And does it matter that if the chargers weren't there, the solar panels wouldn't be there either?

And as if that weren't complicated enough, I try to charge between 2 and 4 AM, when the cost of electricity is sometimes negative. :)

Gold Member
Since we're talking here about what technologies would most have a major impact on carbon reduction, have any of you read the book by the late British physicist David Mackay about this? It is available free online.

https://www.withouthotair.com/

The website has broken the book down into several chapters which are hyperlinked. Here is the section specifically about electric cars:

https://www.withouthotair.com/c20/page_131.shtml

I've tried twice to get through it. [2009][2017][and a shout out to Marcus]
That guy was WAY too smart, IMHO.

I've spent days analyzing just a single page of his text.
Probably why I'll never finish the book.

Although prof. Mackay said we should make up our own minds, he did conclude 3 of his answers to some questions with the following statements:

"So I conclude that switching to electric cars is already a good idea, even before we green our electricity supply."
"I guess I’m optimistic that, as we switch to electric vehicles, battery technology is going to improve."
"I think the electric car is a goer!"

Gold Member
https://www.wired.com/story/even-more-evidence-that-electric-cars-could-save-the-planet/

There's a cool map showing mpg for electrics by state in the US based on how the electricity is being generated.

I got into a very brief argument with someone on the internet a few weeks ago, who claimed electric cars were nearly all powered by coal.
I eventually found out that he was from Illinois, and after some googling, his "the world is powered by coal!" argument made more sense to me.

Code:
coal production  (1e12 BTU)
United States    17,931
Wyoming           6,538
West Virginia     2,447
Kentucky          1,486
Pennsylvania      1,278
Illinois          1,253
...
Omville           0

I wasn't even aware that Illinois had a source of power.
Anyways... I guess I find "coal" kind of incomprehensible as a power source, just like my adversary thinks the opposite.

Oregon energy production: 99.8% renewable [ref]​

And although I've claimed I've never seen it before, I do believe I found some, that washed up on my local beach one day:

Is that half burned coal?

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Staff Emeritus
I wasn't even aware that Illinois had a source of power.

Illinois produces about 5% of the nation's coal. Much of it is the high sulfur acid rain producing variety.

NTL2009
It's not always easy to get a handle on marginal costs. At work, the charging stations are solar-powered, sort of. The panels put power on the grid and the cars charge off the grid. Is the marginal use solar or gas from a peaker plant? ...

I think it must be from the gas peaker plant. Here is how I see it - say that one day no one charged an EV at work, so the solar panels would have fed the grid and a peaker plant would have run a bit less. The next day, some EVs use as much as the panels produce, so the the peakers need to kick into make up for the solar power that was diverted to the EVs. So the EVs result in the peakers running, so I have to say the EVs are running on peaker power (Natural Gas most likely), even if it 'appears' they are running on solar. I don't see any way around that.

And does it matter that if the chargers weren't there, the solar panels wouldn't be there either? ...

I'd say they are two separate things, though I admit there might be sometimes be some emotional tie between them (EVs and chargers 'motivated' the installation of solar panels?). But in the big picture, I think those panels would have been installed somewhere else, and would feed the grid, and I think the cases where the two are tied emotionally make up a pretty small percent of total solar power, so not something that is really significant. A big solar farm goes in with the plan to produce renewable energy - the EV is a separate issue, at least that's how I see it.

... And as if that weren't complicated enough, I try to charge between 2 and 4 AM, when the cost of electricity is sometimes negative. :)

I think I've learned that these negative costs are due to production subsidies that wind producers get. So if they can receive, say a 1/2 cent per KWh in subsidies, they can sell it for a negative 1/4 cent and make something even when there is no actual demand for their product. I imagine that at some point, that will be flattened out. But charging at night is good from the standpoint that it isn't stressing grid capacity, as night time demand is lower.

NTL2009
...

I wasn't even aware that Illinois had a source of power.
Anyways... I guess I find "coal" kind of incomprehensible as a power source, just like my adversary thinks the opposite.

Oregon energy production: 99.8% renewable [ref]​
...

Well, an EV in Oregon is going to get its juice from the Oregon grid, and according to this site ( http://www.oregon.gov/energy/energy-oregon/pages/electricity-mix-in-oregon.aspx ), the Oregon grid gets ~ 33% of its energy from coal. Maybe your ref is just saying they don't produce/mine any coal in Oregon? Not sure that is relevant to an EV driver who is thinking about the environment.

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Gold Member
Well, an EV in Oregon is going to get its juice from the Oregon grid, and according to this site ( http://www.oregon.gov/energy/energy-oregon/pages/electricity-mix-in-oregon.aspx ), the Oregon grid gets ~ 33% of its energy from coal. Maybe your ref is just saying they don't produce/mine any coal in Oregon? Not sure that is relevant to an EV driver who is thinking about the environment.
...
I actually saw that graph, but decided not to comment about it, as I decided it would open a can of worms.
Primarily based on my knowledge that our region supplies roughly half of the peak electrical needs of Los Angeles. [ref]
According to some calculations* I just did, the hydroelectric power generating capacity of the Columbia river and tributaries is over 5 times our domestic needs.
If you add in Washington and Idaho, it still has excess capacity. Which is probably why we ship it to California.
So the fact that our grid gets 33% of its energy from coal, is kind of odd. True, but odd.

*references:
https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=16891
Power generation
Columbia river and tributary
29e9 watts capacity
29e9*24hr/day*365days/year = 2.53e14 wh capacity/year

http://www.ipsr.ku.edu/ksdata/ksah/energy/18ener7.pdf
Electricity Consumption by State, 2015
Oregon watt hours
4.72e13 wh

2.53e14/4.72e13 = 5.4 times the power used by Oregon

Just to provide some additional info to all of you in the US:

The province of Ontario in Canada (where I live) had phased out all coal-fired electricity generation (the first North American jurisdiction to do so, with considerable controversy at the time, I might add), a process that began in 2001 and was completed by 2014. In fact, coal had consisted of 25% of Ontario's supply mix to 0% by 2014.

Here is the current Ontario energy mix (as you can see, nuclear power is the largest single source, followed by natural gas, hydroelectric power, and wind generation):

http://www.ieso.ca/learn/ontario-supply-mix/ontario-energy-capacity

The province of Quebec next door produces abundant relatively inexpensive hydroelectric power, some of which is exported to neighbouring US states like Vermont or New York.

My own take is that electric cars more widely deployed in Ontario and Quebec would make great sense in terms of further reducing the carbon footprint (to the extent that electric vehicles can handle the demands of long cold winters).

OmCheeto
NTL2009
...
According to some calculations* I just did, the hydroelectric power generating capacity of the Columbia river and tributaries is over 5 times our domestic needs.
If you add in Washington and Idaho, it still has excess capacity. Which is probably why we ship it to California.

So the fact that our grid gets 33% of its energy from coal, is kind of odd. True, but odd.

...

Not odd at all. Hydro is very "valuable" power as it is very flexible - it can be ramped up/down quickly to supply variation in demand. So they 'reserve' it for that use, and use coal for some of their baseline, so they can sell that valuable/flexible hydro power to other users.

And big-picture wise, if Oregon decided to use their hydro to replace baseline coal, then California would just need to burn more fossil fuel to replace the hydro they lost.

Just to provide some additional info to all of you in the US:

The province of Ontario in Canada (where I live) had phased out all coal-fired electricity generation (the first North American jurisdiction to do so, with considerable controversy at the time, I might add), a process that began in 2001 and was completed by 2014. In fact, coal had consisted of 25% of Ontario's supply mix to 0% by 2014. ...

The province of Quebec next door produces abundant relatively inexpensive hydroelectric power, some of which is exported to neighbouring US states like Vermont or New York.

My own take is that electric cars more widely deployed in Ontario and Quebec would make great sense in terms of further reducing the carbon footprint (to the extent that electric vehicles can handle the demands of long cold winters).

Ontario has a very impressive mix of nukes and renewables (mostly hydro), and is likely a good source for an EV, but it still comes down to that marginal generation issue. What would they use to supply added demand from an EV fleet?

Similar to Oregon, if Ontario used their hydro to charge EVs, then what would Vermont and New York do to replace that power? If it is NG for peaks, and added coal to provide what would likely be a pretty predictable increase in baseline power over-night, then those EVs are running mostly on fossil fuel, despite the make up of the local grid. Appearances can be deceiving, the onion needs to be peeled back a layer or two to see the interactions/action/reaction.

There are others on this forum with a better knowledge than me and actual experience in power grid management, so maybe they can chime in and confirm/deny some of this, or enlighten us on anything I'm missing. But I'm pretty confident I got this mostly right, based on the reading I've done. It seems to make sense, just looking at how the power needs to be balanced, and come from somewhere.