Do Electric Cars Really Make Sense?

Electric cars have been an interesting topic and subject of debate for at least a couple of decades now.  When, where, and how does an electric car make sense?  How much energy is really saved?  Are they really helpful in the long run? 

The answers we propose are mixed – basically, it just depends on the circumstances and how the electric car would be used.  In short summary, we propose that the use of simple, light weight, electric motive designs could reduce the overall energy consumption of a person when used for basic transportation and commute. 

But the idea that we could all be driving around in full sized electric vehicles, with all the comforts of our current autos, and that everybody could be doing so at the present moment – this just doesn’t make sense.  The fact is, we don’t have enough Power Plants to do this.  The electricity has to come from somewhere, and if everybody were suddenly plugging in their vehicles, then one could imagine the burden placed on the electrical grid.  We already use enough electricity as it is, and everybody plugging in their vehicles would make the situation worse.  Many more power plants would have to be constructed to support this, which would take upwards of 10+ years and significant large scale investments. 

One could argue that most people would plug in their cars at night, when power plant loads are typically reduced anyways.  So some additional power plant capacity already exists – yes, this is true.  However, we must think of other details, the matter is never so simple.  Such as the increase in fuel consumed by the plants (and their source of fuel), the increase in power plant maintenance, and whether all of our existing plants are using up to date combustion technology and emissions controls and should be brought back for full time operation. 

Summarizing some of the biggest issues forseen with mass use of electrical cars:

  1. Increased burden on Power Plant infrastructure.  More Power Plants would have to be built, and older Power Plants would have to be modernized or replaced to ensure they are operating at low emissions levels and high fuel efficiencies.  Alternately, more capacity could be added to the system if more people resorted to self-generation or micro-generation.
  2. Increased burden on fuel sources. Most power plants run on coal, natural gas, enriched uranium, and a small portion wind.  Most automotives run on gasoline or diesel.  We would actually be decreasing the diversity in how we consume energy, by increasing our reliance on the existing power plant infrastructure.  More coal and natural gas would be consumed, and mining and processing output would have to be increased.  As long as diesel and gasoline fuels are there, and the technology is good, we should continue to use them.  The modern combustion engine technology we use in our Autos is really quite good.
  3. Pollution.  Do we really gain anything when it comes to carbon footprint?  Efficiencies of automotive combustion engines are in the 30 to 35% range and emissions levels are typically low.  The efficiency of a modern coal fired power plant might approach 38% (less electrical transmission losses across vast distances).  The efficiency of a modern natural gas combined cycle plant is in the neighborhood of 50%.  The answer would be yes, then, if we resorted to the most modern, most efficient power plant designs, and included more nuclear generators in the mix (nuclear plants have no exhaust emissions, but do generate solid radioactive waste). 

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