Piercing the Electric Car Fantasy

Steven F. Hayward24 Jul, 2022 4 Min Read
Would that i'twere so simple.

Electric cars are having a big moment right now, with the supercilious wonderboy of the Biden administration Pete Buttigieg proclaiming last week that we could escape the pain at the gas pump if more people could “access” electric cars (EVs). Very telling that he chose to say “access” rather than “afford” electric cars, because without the $7,500 tax credit, very few middle-class people can afford to buy an electric car. And very few middle-class people do: the lion’s share of “clean energy” subsidies are captured by high-income households.

But press beyond the typical economic illiteracy of leftists like Buttigieg who think having the government pay billions in subsidies makes something “cheaper,” and note that electrons aren’t printed out of thin air by the Federal Reserve like our fast-depreciating currency. With electricity rates rising fastest in those places that have overemphasized “renewable” energy such as California or Germany, it's not clear that consumers will save much by driving a more expensive electric car and paying higher utility rates. And that’s if you can still fill it up with electrons whenever you want to. During recent power crunches, which are threatening to become endemic in the U.S. under the current policies of the Biden apparatchiks, grid operators have asked EV owners not to charge their vehicles in the evening, when power demand is highest and the time of day when most working people will want to charge their cars.

The truth hurts.

Right now, electric vehicles make up about 1 percent of America’s car fleet. If they pose challenges for the electric grid already, what will the challenges look like if the EV fleet reaches 50 percent of the auto fleet as Biden proposes? No wonder Elon Musk says we’ll need to expand electric power generation by 30 percent or more to meet the demand of a larger EV fleet on the road. And yet it is supremely uncouth to point out that electrons for EV batteries are generated mostly from fossil fuels right now, and thus EVs may not deliver a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when a proper life-cycle analysis is done.

Economist Mark Perry notes that nearly two-thirds of current U.S. electricity is generated by coal and natural gas, and the figure rises to 86 percent if you include nuclear power, which environmentalists irrationally hate and are trying to eliminate. When you raise this problem, you are met with a hail of green indignation about how we’re starting on an “incredible transition” to a carbon-free energy future (a phrase Biden and energy secretary Jennifer Granholm have both used repeatedly with the unsettling grin of the chiliastic fanatic). “EVs are just an early step toward the carbon-free nirvana, which is just a few hundred thousand more windmills and square miles of solar power away!”

A recent little-noticed report from Volvo punctures this green myth, even though the very green Volvovians try very hard to obscure this conclusion. The report notes what a number of neutral analysts have pointed out for some time now: EVs are more material-intensive than old-fashioned gasoline-powered cars, requiring more steel, aluminum, copper, and other rare earth minerals and specialty products like magnets that must be mined (which environmentalists oppose) and require an energy-intensive process to manufacture into shiny EVs. And that’s before you get to the huge quantity of lithium needed for the batteries.

Where "clean energy" comes from: lithium mining in Zimbabwe.

Thus it is eye-popping when Volvo admits that the carbon footprint for the manufacturing of its C40 Recharge electric car is 70 percent higher than its comparable internal combustion version of the car (the XC40). But not to worry, says Volvo: you’ll make up the higher manufacturing emissions when you drive the emission-free EV far enough.

How far? Kudos to Volvo for calculating that: at the world’s average electricity sourcing today, a C40 driver would need to drive his car 68,000 miles to reach a break-even carbon footprint with a gasoline-powered model. The average American drives about 14,000 miles a year, and thus would need to drive his Volvo EV almost five years before reaching a lower carbon footprint. What if we had a grid that was 100 percent wind- or solar-powered? Volvo calculates that an EV driver would still need to drive 30,000 miles before reaching a carbon-footprint breakeven point with a gasoline car.

It is all a ruse anyway. If electric vehicles drop in price and effectiveness, which may be possible with enough brute-force engineering, you can expect environmentalists to turn against them, by noting the huge environmental footprint to make them and the human-rights problems of child labor in Africa mining all the cobalt EVs need. They did it before with natural gas, which environmentalists embraced back in the aughts (2000-2010) as a “bridge fuel” when they thought they could bash coal with gas, and turned on a dime when natural gas became cheap and plentiful. They’ll do the same with electric cars someday.

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, and lecturer at Berkeley Law. His most recent book is "M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom." He writes daily at Powerlineblog.com.

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15 comments on “Piercing the Electric Car Fantasy”

  1. No matter what they say or do, we will still need fossil fuels to produce all of the plastic components and tires!

  2. Hi Steve,
    I recently read an article by a mechanic who has training in dealing with EV batteries (which i will detail) and asking you for a comment. He stated he recently had to deal with a battery that had one crook module in the battery was shorting to the case. A secondhand module is able to be fitted, but they need to be in exactly the same condition as the remaining ones (85.2%) or the entire battery fails. So the owner was left with the option of a secondhand battery out of a wreck that has no guarantee at $14,000 or a new battery at $20,000. Then there is the problem of disposing of the old battery or part battery. Nothing is available and No-one willing to transport a damaged battery.
    Specialist transport is available, and the cost to have one module (out of 24) transported to Australia and disposed of is around $5,000.
    On top of all that, the tutor went through some of the legislation around EVs with him.
    So if one is involved in a crash, and people are trapped inside, the fire brigade has to isolate the battery before they cut into the car.
    In some EV's the isolation plug is under a bolted cover on the floor between the front and back seats. Once the cover is removed, the 3 pairs of gloves required by law are to be fitted, cotton, rubber, and leather. Then with hands resembling lamb roasts they can try and disconnect the 3 stage electrical plug. Then they can cut into the car.
    So the problem with crashing any EV is that if you are trapped, you're dead, as it is impossible to remove victims. Also can't put a battery fire out. Water makes lithium burn. They forgot to tell you this part! So Steve is any of this true

  3. Make all those Politicians drive EV and watch what happens when they run out of power and a during Power Failure

  4. Pushing motorists into battery powered vehicles will only further stress an electrical grid straining to meet demand. Consider this. Replacing the energy of the gasoline used daily by US motorists with electricity for charging batteries would require the construction of at least 150 large nuclear power plants the size of those at South Texas (1260 Megawatts). These nuclear units would have to run at 100% capacity 100% of the time (100% capacity factor). There is no way wind turbines or solar panels could supply this amount of energy. An administration that wouldn't approve pipelines would be unlikely to grant construction permits for even a fraction of the required number of nuclear units. Thus, pushing motorists into EV's without first expanding base load power plants (fossil or nuclear) on the grid could be seen as an effort to restrict the mobility of US citizens.

  5. Battery powered electric vehicles served their purpose as a transition between external and internal combustion engines. Mrs Benz had an electric car, the problem was range and charge time. Mr Benz ignored the advice of experts and invented the modern automobile.

  6. Great article, Steve! It would really be nice if more people could be educated about the irrationality and impossibility of pursuing EV's. I imagine, though, that our betters in the tech world will declare this misinformation (or disinformation - I can't keep up with the difference) and censor/block/ban most attempts to publish in the msm, like they have with covid.

  7. I’ve been banned for over a year. Still read the site religiously, though. I’ve asked for no pardon.

  8. EV’s are much heavier than internal combustion engines vehicles. They need new tires at double the rate. Throwing away and manufacturing tires at 2x the rate makes them much worse for the environment both from an energy usage and raw materials extraction stand point.

  9. Correct. EV's are a scam. Green energy is a scam. Climate change is 1% science, 99% political movement.

  10. Good article Steve. How about pardoning me for using a veiled obscenity on Powerline a few years ago. I’ve apologized a couple of time and asked to be unblocked to no avail. I know others have gotten a reprieve. I promise I’ll be good.

  11. Great analysis, Steve.
    You probably already realize this, but are too polite to say it out loud, but the leftist enviromental wackos don't want you to drive anything. Not internal combustion, nor electric battery, nor even steam powered vehicles fit into the mindset of the Gaia worshipers.
    These folks would rather you had never been born, but if you were born to clutter up Mother Earth, then you must live in a rabbit hutch apartment in the middle of the sustainable urban core. And when you need to go anywhere, you must ride a government owned/mandated train or bus. Or better yet, you must ride your bicycle. That's especially virtuous when your city habitat is knee deep in snow and the temperature is below freezing for months at a time.

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