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Why Electric Vehicle's May Not be Such a Good Choice After All?

By Barry Stevens | Wed, 30 November 2011 23:28 | 2

The conclusions given at the end of this commentary are somewhat radical and show from a life cycle basis of overall efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions that natural gas fueled vehicles are a better choice than EV (electric vehicles).

The Electric Vehicle (EV) Industry has not taken off as anticipated. Range anxiety, high cost, and the lack of a public and private recharging infrastructure have negatively impacted the consumers’ desire to purchase EV. Currently, the only true roadworthy EVs in the U.S. are the Chevrolet’s Volt (plug-in electric hybrid vehicle) and Nissan’s Leaf (battery power electric). Ford and Toyota entries into the EV market have been pushed back.

Recent news releases state:
BYD (China based maker of electric cars), has talked frequently in the past about plans to sell vehicles to consumers in the U.S. But now, it’s put those plans on hold.” USA Today

The U.S. has experienced dismal sales of the Volt and Leaf as well, with only 3,895 of the former and 7,199 of the latter sold through the end of September this year.” National Legal and Policy Center

The plug-in market has not yet reached 10,000 sales, well behind what many observers expected.” Hybrid Cars

Economic and environmental factors are the primary reasons for considering electric-powered alternatives to vehicles that run on conventional fossil-fuels such as gasoline and diesel. By design, EVs claim to have lower emissions and higher efficiency.

While writing my previous discussion “Just Energy Facts – Source, Consumption and Waste!” another important but rarely discussed fact emerged, which for the most part has been left out of the EV hype.

A quick review of The Energy Flow Chart from the previous discussion will set the stage for this discussion. The chart shows sources of energy – fuels (left side), markets that consume energy (right side) and the end-product of that consumed energy in terms of useable or wasted energy (far right). Electricity generation holds a middle grounds being both a source and consumer of energy (upper center).

Electricity is produced from natural gas, coal and nuclear power and used by the industrial, residential and commercial sectors of the U.S. economy.

US Energy Use 2009 

In summary, the chart shows:

• Petroleum (35%), Natural Gas (23%) and Coal (20%) are the primary sources of energy in the U.S.
• Electricity Generation (35%),  the Transportation Industry (27%) and the Industrial Sector (21%) are the primary consumers of fuels in the U.S.
• 55% of all energy consumed in the U.S. becomes rejected, unproductive or wasted energy.
• Only 40% of the energy consumed in the U.S. is used to perform a service or work.

From an efficiency perspective, energy generation in the U.S economy is highly inefficient and lost, most likely, in the form of heat. Not surprisingly:
• 75% of the fuel consumed by the transportation industry ends up wasted, and
• 68% of the fuel consumed by electricity generation ends up wasted.

To the extent that EVs appear to be slightly more efficient (7% increase) than petroleum-fueled vehicles, from a life cycle basis EVs are still grossly inefficient, i.e., 68% of available energy is wasted during the production of electrons used to power the vehicle. Also, this energy loss does not take into account any wasted energy by the EV itself through the thermal behavior of lithium-ion batteries during charge and discharge cycles. Most likely at the end of the day, the overall efficiency of EVs are at least on par with most conventional vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE).

Another chart from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows “Carbon Emissions” as a function of source and consumption. This chart reveals other concerns not readily publicized by EV manufactures. This chart shows the amount of carbon emissions, in millions of metric tons, generated by the consumption of all energy sources. Similar to the previous chart, sources of energy are shown on the left side, markets that consume energy on the right side and the total carbon emissions from all the energy consumed is given on the far right. Again, electricity generation, top center, holds a middle grounds being both a source and consumer of energy.

It is noted that this chart reflects 2008 data. Current emission levels may be somewhat different today. Nevertheless, the overall trends are considered to be in the same ballpark.

By. Dr. Barry Stevens

Dr. Barry Stevens has over 25 years of proven international experience building technology-driven enterprises and bringing superior products and services to market ahead of the competition. He is the founder of TBD America Inc., a technology business development group. In this role, he is responsible for monetizing technologies and leading globally-competitive companies to higher levels of revenue, earnings, and growth. Please visit TBD's website at http://www.tbdamericainc.com and his blog at http://barryonenergy.wordpress.com

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  • gotmyleaf on December 01 2011 said:
    OK, EV's are more efficient than ICE's but some how equal in efficiency because the power plants have inefficiencies. Where do you add in the efficiency of producing gasoline? You compre the total production of EV fuel to the efficiency of an ICE vehicle leaving out the total production of ICE fuel. Why?
  • MyLeafRunsforFree on December 01 2011 said:
    The energy (~5kWh/yr) for my Leaf comes from my 3kW PV system. My ROI for PV systems is ~ 2.5 years if calculated with "gas not used" ($250/mo) or ~4 years with local electricity rates (now at $0.37/kWh) (note- ROI includes tax rebate on PV system, without which ROI period is increased by ~1.5X and I use "net metering"). After 2.5 or 4 yrs (depending how you want to do accounting) I have FREE energy for my Leaf and subsequent EVs. So, if you get an EV+PV combo you can pay the PV off fast, get free energy for the next 15-20+ years, use the $ saved to pay for the EV, and, incidentally, not produce any CO2.

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