Electric Cars – Worth It?

I do not subscribe to the mainstream mantra of electric cars for everyone. It is a technical impossibility in the time frames legislators are demanding. The state of Virginia just joined California in a ban of the sale of all gas vehicles by the year 2035. This means only electric vehicles can be sold after this arbitrary legislative line in the sand. I have added to my collection of vehicles a fully electric car and an electric motorcycle in the last five years. But these vehicles are far from a universal panacea.

Electric vehicles are technically interesting machines, making instant power and torque and functioning with exciting performance envelopes. But unfortunately they are still in comparatively early development and nowhere near ready for prime time. We are still years away from any capacity for mainstream electric vehicles. There are four main reasons for this. And politicians who believe they are scoring environmental points by pushing a mandatory electric vehicle agenda sorely miss the current deficits to this transportation model.

The first argument against electrics revolves around the lack of convenience, including limited range and recharging infrastructure. My little eight year old electric car only has a maximum range of about sixty miles. Good for a day of commute but little else. On the highway it would be threatened with battery extinction trying to make it to a nearby downtown area and back. Currently there are electric cars that can go two hundred plus miles, but range anxiety is not the primary concern.

The second argument involves operational energy costs needed to charge electric vehicles. A standard 20 mile per gallon car costs between twenty and thirty cents per mile in fuel depending on varying gas prices. In the era of Biden-nomics, you should not count on affordable energy anywhere in the near future. The equivalent electric bill is spiraling with rising fossil fuel costs. What was once around seven to ten cents per mile based on a thirteen kilowatt battery going sixty miles just a year ago is now rising quickly, possibly tripling that and approaching or exceeding our usurious gas prices. In Europe, governments are paying citizens not to use electricity during peak hours, not discounting the fact per kilowatt hours have risen from fifteen cents to over $1.00 per kilowatt hour just in the last few months. Can US energy prices be far behind? The economic argument of going electric is fading fast.

Plus we must include the cost of creating Lithium Ion batteries in terms of impact to the environment. Ever seen what a lithium mining operation looks like? The environmental impact of making the batteries for these vehicles is catastrophic. Do your own research. It is staggering. This should give reason for pause, as well as the specter of mid-life battery replacement. Lithium Ion batteries have a limited life and only so many charging cycles before they deteriorate. Replacing them often costs more than the value of the entire car. And then there is the down-the-road question of what to do with all of the batteries when they finally do expire. They are not exactly landfill friendly.

The third, and perhaps the most difficult problem, is the current state of our power grid. Our electric infrastructure is dated and barely sufficient for current industrial and residential loads. Just ask the many California residents that experience rolling brownouts on a regular basis. If only fifty million drivers across the country suddenly converted to battery powered cars, the stress on our electric grid would be overwhelming.

The typical mid-sized suburban home averages a usage of thirty kilowatt hours per day. An electric vehicle recharging every night would add a minimum ten to fifteen kilowatt hours daily. That is a 30 – 50% increase in consumption. Multiply that by half to two thirds of the households in the area and you have a grid melting scenario. The costs to beef up our power infrastructure to accommodate such loads would be significant, literally approaching trillions of dollars. And that would include not just a massive upgrade in transmission lines, but all of the charging stations that would have to become as common as a corner convenience store.

And of course we would have to find a way to generate all of that extra electrical power. Solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources on a mass production basis are a ways off, and nowhere near as cost effective to this point as coal and natural gas. So to run zero emissions cars we are faced with the prospect of adding numerous fossil fuel power plants. We would need to nearly double the number of coal burning power plants. Not a good trade-off in the estimation of the environmentally sensitive.

The final issue is the aforementioned battery technology and its impact on overall vehicle cost. The lithium and cobalt used in modern batteries are costly and somewhat rare, making large capacity batteries in cars quite pricey. Most provident consumers would find it mandatory to lease a new electric car (at stiff monthly rates despite tax incentives). And, since it often costs more than the car is worth to replace a defective battery, electric cars tend to depreciate rapidly and have limited resale value after about three years. The price of new cars with batteries of moderate range remain significantly higher than their gas engine equivalents, with mid-range electrics like the Ford Mach-E exceeding sixty thousand dollars, and top performing luxury cars like Tesla or the Mercedes EQ well into the six figures. Not exactly budget friendly for the average soccer mom and family.

These real world issues are rarely addressed in any political discussions. The emotional appeal for a cleaner environment often overshadows these more practical and analytical considerations. These are real word technical and logistical limitations. And they are limitations that will take years and a perhaps a few additional technological breakthroughs to move into the realm of practicality.

For the time being, electric vehicles are a fun novelty, not an antidote for environmental transportation worries. In actuality, the little electric in my stable is used to extend the service life of its larger, more well-appointed gas powered brothers. Electric vehicles are intriguing and it would be splendid to see practical solutions to make them a more viable option. But for now, in order for business and society to move forward we must luxuriate in the sound of good old fashioned internal combustion power, until more viable technology becomes available and such innovation will be practical for everyone.

By Zach Wagner

The Christian Statesman

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