If we, Western Civilization, had started out with electric cars, and a century later someone came along with the idea of exploding little dollops of gasoline mixed with air to propel them, that person would be thought insane.

Depending on price, the cost of energy to propel an electric car a given distance can be about 5% of the cost to propel a gas-explosion style car. The electricity to power the electric car can be produced in any number of ways, some icky some cleaner, but much more efficiently. Some of that energy can be generated where the car is parked, at home or work, under a Photoage, a structure with photo cells that serves as a garage. Since most cars just sit there for much of the day, this can be a significant amount. Meanwhile, the car’s batteries can be part of the smart grid, the top 15% or so being used by the grid to store/use electricity keeping supply and demand closer.

I used to think the inefficiency of making all the volts in big giant plants and sending it out over wires obviated all of this but experts tell me this is not true. Also, as the grid becomes more and more localized, and it becomes more and more normal to fit homes or other buildings with solar and use batteries, etc., the source becomes closer to supply. But really, it may be the difference between generating a magnetic field from available electric potential vs. causing a series of explosions inside a big heavy metal thing that matters most.

(This brief comment was prompted by Don Prothero‘s post of the image at the top of the post on Facebook.)

Comments

  1. #1 Christian Heckmann Engelbrecht
    Sverige
    March 24, 2014

    Even if we wanna keep up with the exploding metalbox, we could transfer the entire car park of the world to E100 right now. That stuff we can grow from agricultural crops.

    But what with human dominance behavior and Machiavelli’s observations, that’s not gonna happen untill the earth’s crust is emptied of fossililized hydrocarbons. And paradise islands flooded by sea water and yada, yada …

    “You can’t change human nature.”
    – Robert McNamara

  2. #2 Truthspew
    Providence, RI
    March 24, 2014

    Hell – I don’t mind an all electric future. But we’re gonna need a fuel source to produce the electricity. I say we send robotic mining gear to Europa and haul back megatons of methane compounds. Then run the cheap ass methane through fuel cells – and you get electricity out one end, water out the other.

  3. #3 Alphagamma
    Cambridge
    March 24, 2014

    We did start out with electric cars, if not before IC, then certainly around the same time- they were very popular in the early 20th century. Two things killed them. The first was AC winning the current wars before rectifiers became widely available, which led to a period of a few decades when it was very difficult to charge batteries at home. The second was the invention of the electric starter motor, which removed the main advantage of electric cars. Previously they had been marketed to women who often didn’t have the upper body strength to hand-crank a car engine.

    Of course, there was also the main advantage of gasoline over EVs, which is power density- a much bigger advantage back then when all they had was lead-acid batteries.

  4. #4 Flakmeister
    http://flakmeister.blogspot.com/
    March 24, 2014

    Hey CHE,
    biofuels like E100 are only available only through the massive use of fossil fuel hydrocarbons… As far as net energy, you more than likely wouldn’t even get out what you put in….

    Truthspew, if you think that hydrocarbons from Europa (sic) is gonna save our ass, you are either a fool or trying to Poe us…

  5. #5 Omega Centauri
    March 24, 2014

    Five percent of the cost? I think its more like a quarter to a third *, and that doesn’t include the cost of eventual battery replacement. You also save on wear and tear, upkeep is less in electric powered vehicles, and most braking is regenerative so brake replacements are a lot less too. But the juice still isn’t free, although some places offer free car charge stations.

    I have a half-electric car (plugin with a not very big battery).

    *Maybe in Norway, where high gas tax means gas is $9 to $10 per gallon? Norway has the greatest percentage of electric cars.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2014

    Omega, it can be, but it can also be 5%. A friend of mine has a Tesla. He charges it up during the periods when electricity is cheap. He can do math. He compared his older 25mph or so car to the tesla and came up with 1/20. But, in fact, if you travel around with a Tesla, depending, you can actually get a charge from their charging stations for free, so it can be even less. He went to Chicago last Xmas season and I think it cost him just a few bucks total.

    Very few people without direct exposure to this that I’ve spoken to believe it. It is one of those things. But really, he pays 5% of the gas based fuel cost he formerly paid with a normal typical not-too-bad-mialage car.

    Of course it will depend on the comparison one makes. We have a Prius, so going from the Prius to a Tesla would be 10%. Also, someone may have to charge at higher rates.

    Yes, brakes in the Tesla, I think, don’t require any maintanance, and there is only one fluid: Windshield washing.

    Is your car a Volt?

    We can count the cost of eventual battery replacement if we want, but that is making the electric car dance backwards and in high heels. We had to ditch an otherwise perfectly good (but older) Subaru because of the “eventual engine replacement” problem.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2014

    Christian, I’m not sure if bio-juice is that much more efficient or ready at that level of use.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2014

    Truth Spew: “Then run the cheap ass methane through fuel cells – and you get electricity out one end, water out the other.” And CO2, if chemistry applies. Also, there’s plenty of methane on earth to do this with. But you’d get all that CO2.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2014

    Alphagamma: “We did start out with electric cars, if not before IC, then certainly around the same time” Yes, we did indeed! And coal powered steam cars too. I guess I’m thinking those early things don’t count as much because car design and engineering was all over the map.

  10. #10 Smarter Than Your Average Bear
    March 24, 2014

    #8 Greg – true you get CO2 but if you are grabbing the methane on Earth before it goes into the atmosphere then that is not as bad as allowing that methane to escape given that it is about 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2 is. – we’re in for a real ass kicking in the environment when the permafrost finishes melting and all those gigatons of methane that have been locked in it since the last ice age are set free.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2014

    The thing is, getting energy from methane does not avoid CO2 release. It is just another fossil fuel, with its own advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is that our use of methane so far (which is extensive) has involved a LOT of it leaking and turning out that 20X greenhouse gas that later converts to run of the mill but still bad greenhouse gas, without even getting any energy from it.

    You can’t capture permafrost methane on its way out to the atmosphere.

  12. #12 Shawn Otto
    Minnesota
    March 24, 2014

    In my experience owning a Tesla, the savings are not 95% but are still substantial. I used to spend $450 per month on gas to drive a Lexus hybrid that got 25 mpg avg. I now spend $40 to do an equivalent amount of driving. Over 10 years I’ll save $50k. I charge at night off peak at 5.5 cents/khw or the $40 would be higher. The performance of electric is also a major, major jump over gas, with 100% torque available at zero rpms, so the Model S is one of the fastest street-legal cars on the road, doing zero-60 in 4.2 secs. And it can take off like a fighter jet from any speed, ramming you into you seat with its g-force. On the energy source question: we have a wind generator for part of our power, and we buy wind electric for the balance. But even if we did not the advantage is huge just because electric is so very much more efficient and more powerful that you save even on coal-fired electricity. The decoupling of cars from one particular energy source gets us off foreign oil, improves national security and the environment, fights climate change, and yes when enough batteries are deployed they can act as power-storage for variable power generation like wind. There is also a growing market for home energy storage using battery packs from crashed EVs, which are big enough to power a house for many days. Finally, decoupling transportation from oil/gas allows us to have a separate conversation about how to generate and distribute power, and that puts us back in the driver’s seat – so to speak.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2014

    So, over time, as those old cars continue to pile up out in the yard, we can start using them for something other than chicken coops!

  14. #14 daedalus2u
    March 25, 2014

    The big advantage hydrocarbon based fuels have over batteries is energy density, both in terms of kwhr per mass and per volume.

    IC engines are pretty efficient, and they don’t lose that much efficiency as they are moved down in size. The reason for this is because they are heat engines, and the combustion occurs very rapidly so it reaches a high temperature and the work is extracted at that high temperature, so there is good Carnot efficiency.

    Also, IC technology is pretty mature, the cost of an engine is mostly the cost of the raw materials.

    Battery technology has no where close to the same level of maturity. There are many more degrees of freedom in choice of chemistry for batteries than there are for choice of materials for IC engines.

    IC engines never had to contend with whole mature business sectors trying to crush them the way fossil fuel producers are trying to crush renewable energy. Also, the electric utilities are trying to crush local electricity supply by charging outrageous hook-up fees.

    Electric utilities are regulated monopolies. The regulators need to simply tell the utilities to accept it.

  15. #15 BeardedBeard
    Eastside
    March 25, 2014

    I think this thread slipped into an episode of cartalk.

    People with EV in Minnesota or other cool places. How well does the car work on those really mind numbingly cold days in the winter? I hope to have a garage to park in overnight soon but have to park outside during the day for work. If I go the EV/plug-in Hybrid route will the darn thing get me home at night?

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    March 25, 2014

    Good question. First, I can tell you that we bought our new Prius just as the Polar Vortex was setting in. Now, having compared mileage between daily highs well below zero for weeks vs normal chilly cold (hardly ever above freezing but generally above zero) I can say that there was about a 2 mpg gallon loss during the really cold days, which may be from a lot of factors (ALL cars, no matter what the fuel, seem to lose a couple MPG when it is super cold, so we should avoid making electric DBIH by ignoring that) .

    Having said that we were not able to buy a plugin because they don’t bother to sell Prius plugin (which is a new model) in the north because they (Toyota) does not like the cold.

    The thing is, these are all engineering problems that have been solved. If the batteries like to be warm, heat them up, using a bit of energy to bring efficiency to nomral. For the Prius, exess engine heat is stored in a thermos bottle deep inside the car, and that stays hot for days. That is used to warm the parts that need to be warm very efficiently.

  17. #17 Eric Lund
    March 25, 2014

    Having said that we were not able to buy a plugin because they don’t bother to sell Prius plugin (which is a new model) in the north because they (Toyota) does not like the cold.

    Wait, what? I would expect places with very cold climates (like northern Minnesota or interior Alaska) to be favorable for introducing electric cars, because they already have a big piece of the infrastructure in place. That’s because, if you drive an internal combustion vehicle up there, you need to plug in an electric engine block heater so that the engine will be warm enough to start. When I was in Fairbanks, it was standard practice in winter to plug in your (IC) car, and radio announcers would remind listeners that plugging in was recommended whenever temperatures were below +20 F (for comparison, average January temperatures in Fairbanks are about -10 F, but anything within the -50 to +30 range is not unusual). So switching to electric in those places is easy: you plug your electric car into the socket you would have used for the engine block heater on your IC car.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    March 25, 2014

    The days of the engine block heater in Minnesota are long gone. The only people I know who use them drive diesel trucks. I think there are several reasons. The most important two reasons are 1) it is not as cold (global warming) and 2) cars are designed to start in the cold better. But even over this winter, when it was VERY cold, most cars usually mostly started. Well, OK, I had to replace my battery, but it was old anyway.

  19. #19 Davebspot
    ak
    March 25, 2014

    There are a lot of Prius’ s (prii?) here in alaska including my ’06 that have no winter mechanical issues. Good snow tires drop a couple mpg and operating in the cold requires the engine to run more to provide cabin heat etc….another couple mpg. Block heaters should be used on cars parked outside in the cold to reduce startup emmisions (until the cat converter has warmed). With tge right oil the engine has to get really really cold before startup lubrication is much of an issue.

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  21. #21 Gingerbaker
    March 27, 2014

    I want more than an electric car.

    I want an electric road. Inductive charging on the fly can work says Stanford experts. Say good bye to multiple millions of large, heavy, expensive short-lived batteries and replace them with an electric road.

    I want a new 100% renewable energy Federal Electric Utility. I want us all to share in the up-front infrastructure costs and all share in getting all our energy needs satisfied by virtually free electricity. Too expensive you say? It would cost no more than about 5-7 years worth of what we squander paying fossil fuel companies.

    And that is based on 2011 figures ($1.2 Trillion a year). A Federal Electric Utility should save Americans about $3000 for every person in their household. Every year. In your pocket. Think voters might go for that? Oh, yeah – that would pretty much end CO2 emissions as well.

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