FROM OUR PRINTED FEB. 2020 EDITION:
There are Cars and Then There are Electric Cars
by Ted Tripp
Sr. Political Reporter
Late last year MIT published a 220-page report, “Insights Into Future Mobility” (https://tinyurl.com/MITFutureMobility), to explore the “major factors that affect the evolution of personal mobility from 2020 to 2050.” This three-year study by MIT faculty, researchers and students was conducted within the Mobility Systems Center, an MIT Energy Initiative Low-Carbon Energy Center. Consortium members include a number of energy companies and automobile manufacturers.
The study seems to focus on the potential impact of Climate Change policies on types of cars, fuel consumption, fuel prices, the economy, and infrastructure. Much of the emphasis is on electric cars and their technology.
Once you get over the opening Summary statement that “… carbon dioxide emissions per year, accounting for almost 40% of total transportation sector emissions” and “Cars and other personal transport vehicles also remained a major source of airborne pollutant emissions that contribute to poor air quality and substantial public health damages … ,” you realize the direction of the study.
In its study of electric cars (or light duty vehicles – LDVs – as MIT likes to call them), MIT freely admits that an electric car costs about $10,000 more than a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle today. And that’s for an electric vehicle with a range of 200+ miles between charges. Note that a gasoline powered vehicle with a 35 mpg rating and a 15 gallon tank will take you 525 miles between fill-ups. Big difference there!
MIT also adds that it expects the price on an electric car to remain at least $5000 more expensive than a comparable gasoline vehicle through 2030 or beyond. Future costs depend a lot on battery costs and raw materials to make the batteries, much of them coming from other countries. Then, of course, there is always the unknown of new technology to increase the efficiency or lifetime of lithium batteries or even replace them with something better or less expensive.
MIT also explores hybrids which use electricity and a gasoline engine as a backup, but these seem to be out of political favor now as fossil fuels are still involved. Further out, MIT looks at fuel cells using hydrogen as a non-carbon fuel, but there are many technical and public-perception problems to be solved before hydrogen can be routinely used.
The MIT report does not get into the cost or reconstruction estimates of the electrical grid to service widespread adoption of electric vehicles.
Aside from the Climate Change narrative to do something, one of the main reasons government has been pushing for electric cars is to save energy. Roughly speaking, a gasoline-fueled car has an efficiency of about 20%; that is, it only converts about 20% of the energy in the gasoline to useful work moving the car. On the other hand, an electric car has an overall efficiency of about 60%.
These are the numbers that politicians and the Greenies like AOC and Ed Markey (Mr. Frosty) like to hammer home in their push for the Green New Deal.
Like many complicated technology issues, there is more to the story. The electricity used to charge your electric car typically comes from an electric power plant at some fairly remote location. That electrical power has to be generated and then travel over wires to get to your home electrical outlet or some public charging station. And according to Malcolm Metcalfe of the Enbala Power Networks Ltd, the “generation and delivery of electric power consumes almost 2/3 of the primary energy delivered to the grid, leaving less than 40% of the primary energy to be converted to useful work” (https://tinyurl.com/MetcalfeElectricCars). Thus, he concludes that the actual efficiency of electric cars is 40% x 80% = 32%, or not that far off from fossil-fuel cars.
Metcalfe goes on to point out, however, that using local wind or solar generated power can bring this electric car efficiency up significantly. Of course, you have to charge your 200+ range electric car when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. When neither of these is happening, converting such alternative power to storage such as in batteries or water containment entails significant losses which must be factored in later and can be as high as 25%. And we know through engineering studies that converting to 100% wind/solar energy is a pipe dream only politicians and environmental extremists believe is possible or practical.
What about the ingenuity of our civilization and advances in new technology making some of this conversion to electric cars unnecessary? Just about a year ago Automotive News reported (https://tinyurl.com/MazdaSkyactiv-3) that Mazda was working on a new gasoline engine, the Skyactiv-3, which the auto maker says will be as clean as an electric vehicle. Mazda’s powertrain chief Mitsuo Hitomi told a tech forum in Tokyo that the goal of the Skyactiv-3 engine is to increase its thermal efficiency to roughly 56%. If achieved, that would make this Mazda engine the first gasoline piston engine to convert more than 50% of its fuel’s energy into useful power.
If Mazda can accomplish this, it has to be possible for other auto manufacturers to do the same down the road. All they need are the right incentives.
Isn’t technology a wonderful thing!
Too bad we can’t say the same about government and our politicians. ♦