Are Electric Vehicles an Eco-friendly Replacement for Internal Combustion Engines?


Glenn Doty is a vital part of Doty Windfuels, a company with a terrific future in synthetic fuels made from off-peak wind energy, water, and CO2.

Of course, their industry position makes Glenn and his company a natural competitor to electric vehicles, and thus some may regard the statements he makes on the subject as suspect. Still, as a scientist, I’ve consistently seen that he maintains a total objectivity in his analysis.

In his recent comment, he’s brought up some interesting and important fallacies in the analyses we’ve used in determining the validity of electric transportation as an eco-friendly replacement for internal combustion engines. Having said this, here are a few things to think about:

1) A significant amount of electrical energy from coal is dumped back to ground each night because the rapid ramping of coal plants is not feasible and the off-peak energy is too expensive to store. To that degree, of course, one could say that any of the energy that would go to charging EVs in that scenario would have no carbon content at all.

2) Some of the most EV-friendly parts of the world, e.g., the Pacific Northwest of the US with its massive amounts of hydro, and France with its nuclear, produce electricity 24 hours a day with very little carbon.

3) I look at this whole evolving arena in terms of decades of growth and change. Even the most optimistic among us understands that the adoption of EVs will take decades, during which the levelized cost of energy from several different flavors of renewable sources will continue to come down, which, of course, will drive higher levels of penetration. Simultaneously, aging coal plants will be decommissioned.

4) At the same time we are achieving significant penetration of EVs, I believe that we will be implementing energy storage and smart-grid technology (including V2G) at approximately the same rate, and that these items will mutually re-enforce one another, e.g., more EVs will enable a greater penetration of renewables.

In conclusion, I believe Glenn’s insight is correct, and that the DoE’s concept of applying the current grid-mix to determine the eco-value of EVs is fallacious to a certain extent. But here, I think you have four reasons that this is a bit more complicated and interesting, and that EVs do, in fact, have significant value today – and even more with each passing year.



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One comment on “Are Electric Vehicles an Eco-friendly Replacement for Internal Combustion Engines?

Craig,

These are good points, although I believe you are overestimating the “waste” of coal ramping in most of the country (outside of the wind belt), as the gradual tamp-down/ramp-up cycle that coal power experiences nightly can be effectively balanced by pumped hydrostorage and gate fluctuation in hydropower dams… except in the vast plains state where neither hydrostorage nor hydropower have any viability.

There are some countries in the world that genuinely do have excess (spare) carbon-neutral capacity. But these countries typically share grids with other countries. So France is producing plenty of excess carbon-neutral electricity, but it’s selling that to Germany. If it uses that carbon-neutral electricity to power its vehicles, then Germany must ramp up their fossil power in order to make up for the losses, so the only actual savings on energy are the line losses, and otherwise the effects still largely are a matter of an increase in coal energy generation equal to the energy requirements of the electric vehicles that are plugged in.

The same is true of the Pacific Northwest, if Seattle starts plugging in thousands of EV’s, that reduces the amount of carbon-neutral electricity that can be transmitted to California, which would be forced to make up the deficit by importing more coal power from Nevada and Idaho.

I’m not bringing this up to be a contrarion, I’m stating it because there is a fundamental oversight in the review of the environmental impact of electric cars which has led to policy that is not “green”. An EV would be quite “green” and quite helpful to the grid if it was connected to a smartgrid control with a rapid charge station in the Midwest… but the subsidies are not region specific, nor are the smartgrid controls or rapid-charge capability required in order to receive full funding for the vehicle itself – though without those additional installations the vehicle itself is far more polluting than a similar sized ICE vehicle.

The policy must be more properly informed by actual environmental needs and impacts, or else we’re all just spending money without achieving any benefit… or at least without achieving a cost effective benefit.

I see no reason to fear the impact of EV’s on our business model. There are practical limitations to the scale-up of EV’s, and there are practical limitations to the vehicle size that could be accomodated with EV’s. There should still be sufficient global demand for clean, carbon-neutral liquid fuels to allow our business to grow geometrically for decades even if all small vehicle demand was displaced by EV’s the world over. That is not the point of my concern. I was an environmentalist long before WindFuels were ever dreamed of, and I believe our current policy will cause more environmental damage… not less. This should be addressed by our advocacy.

Thank you for considering my analysis, thank you for recognizing the potential benefit of WindFuels, and thank you again for being a constant advocate for the economic and environmental benefit that may be achieved through smart investment in greentech.

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