Is this Infographic on Electric Vehicles Right?

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Here’s an infographic (see below) from the Union of Concerned Scientists on electric transportation, whose point is that, where only 1% of the cars on roads currently are EVs, 42% “could be” – meaning that their drivers meet all the criteria: dedicated parking, limited range, no towing, no need to transport full soccer teams, etc. The piece goes on to lay out the environmental benefits that would accrue if these other 41% were to make the switch.

There is a problem with the logic, however, that is revealed in the 20-page PDF. The eco-benefits are calculated based on the “well-to-wheels” comparison of both gasoline and electricity in the U.S. (as of 2009). This, as scientists should know, is specious. The question is not the composition of the average grid-mix, but rather the composition of the incremental grid-mix. I.e., we need to ask ourselves: What happens when I add an incremental load to the grid when I charge my car? The answer, sadly, is that in most cases, is that somewhere, more coal (by far the dirtiest of all the power generation resources) is burned.

Having said that, I still stand behind the cause of electric transportation. The goal of replacing 230 million cars and trucks, while removing coal from our grid-mix altogether, is one that will require several decades, but it’s one that will be achieved. And when it is, the entire grid will need to produce only 14% more electricity than it’s doing now, due to the dramatic improvement in efficiency that EVs represent (over 80%, versus about 20% for internal combustion engines). And in the meanwhile, EVs will also act as a repository for off-peak wind, thus actually accelerating the integration of renewable energy.

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

2 Comments

  1. The existing mix is a legitimate concern. However, first we need to focus on getting EVs to a tipping point and we’re not there yet. Large-scale EV uptake would not be powered by new coal plants – just not in the cards. But again, first let’s make sure EVs are really here to stay! http://goo.gl/uG32L4

  2. In addition to the well thought out rebuttal by the writer of this post, except for the pacific coast states in the lower 48 States, you can write off a very good portion most of the Rural Western United States, I know, I live in the extremely rural Trans-Pecos area of Far West Texas. Rural Montana, The Dakotas, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, my home state, and attempting it in Rural Alaska, would be a JOKE.

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