Opinion: Clearing up misconceptions about electric vehicles
September 12, 2017
As Chair of the Electric Auto Association of Northern Nevada (EAANN), allow me to try to address some misconceptions about electric vehicles, as expressed by Mr. Jim Clark (Sept. 10).
Mr. Clark tosses out $450 million in EV purchase subsidies by California without an appropriate context. Internationally, governments provide at least $775 billion to $1 trillion annually in subsidies. Annual U.S. subsidies range from $10 to $52 billion.
None of these figures include costs related to climate, environmental, or health impacts of the fossil fuel industry. A 2015 study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), determined that the unpaid costs of fossil fuels are upward of $5.3 trillion annually, which works out to $10 million per minute. This beggars the proposed $3 billion in EV subsidies that would ultimately make California's air cleaner.
He also doesn't speak to the 'hidden costs' of a fossil fuel economy borne by taxpayers, including costs related to climate change, environmental impacts, military conflicts and spending, and health impacts. What we pay at the pump is a 'direct cost'. Indirect costs are sometimes difficult to see, such as environmental and health impacts of mining, fracking, unhealthful water impacts, the obvious impacts of offshore drilling disasters, calamities related to the transportation of fossil fuels, the enormous costs related to dealing with coal, oil and fracking wastewater, impacts of 'dirty' air on human health and well-being. These costs are borne by you and me. The taxpayers that the writer is concerned about.
Regarding the real, per-mile costs of driving an EV, Clark seems to be unaware that an EV purchase, for many of us, was the logical next step to installing rooftop solar. Personally, my husband and I not only power our home, but both of our electric cars with clean, renewable sunshine.
Then, Clark claims that EVs can never really "pay for themselves." If the price of gasoline versus the cost per kilowatt of electricity were the only metric to consider, that claim might be true. However, when you consider the costs of routine maintenance and repairs required by fossil fuel cars, EVs come out way ahead, being virtually maintenance free over a much longer lifespan. A good comparison is the LED light bulb (expensive up front, but lasts for years) versus an incandescent (cheap and doesn't last very long). Some products save enough money to more than pay for their price premium.
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When it comes to energy-sapping cold temperatures/use of accessories, comparing EV batteries of today to those of even a few years ago is "apples to oranges." Extreme cold and heat affect both fossil fuel and EV range. About 60 percent of the energy produced by gasoline goes out the tailpipe in the form of emissions, with only about 20 percent actually going to drive the wheels. Newer EV thermal management systems help efficiency, as do "preconditioning" phone apps that can remotely heat the motor and interior cabin before the car is even backed out of the garage, leaving a greater percentage of electrons going to turning the wheels.
As far as the claim that 60 percent of the power needed to "fuel" EVs coming from coal overlooks the massive transition occurring in the United States and the world from coal to renewable generation. Stanford scientists have claimed that the U.S. could be 100 percent renewable by 2050.
Could charging a lot of EVs at the same time cause the grid to "go down?" Perhaps. However, this argument misses the potential of EVs to actually stabilize the grid. Experts are now suggesting that EVs can help mitigate "duck curve" issues with nighttime charging, for example. For this brownout scenario to be significant, EV adoption has to reach a scale far that is still far beyond current numbers of vehicles. And, with more "rooftop" generation, EV owners will be supplying their own electrons, no matter what the rest of the grid is doing. Ultimately, EVs should decrease peak demands on the grid.
Finally, Clark claims that lithium-ion EV batteries pose an environmental hazard. Again, if battery technology were in stasis, this might be true. Battery technology is another place of tremendous and rapid change, and disruption. This claim also ignores the obvious hazards posed by lead-acid batteries right now.
At the end of the day, Clark says that smiling Nevadans will wave as they drive their gas guzzlers to the bank. Not all of us. Some of us are driving EVs and banking a lot more than fossil fuel drivers.