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Without Efficiency, Electric Vehicles Are Just Another Huge Appliance

andy mannleThe competition between electric vehicles and hybrids is heating up . But even as consumers are being encouraged to save energy at home, and use energy-saving appliances, the dawn of the electric vehicle age represents a huge increase in home power use.

This year’s LA Auto Show was all about the electric vehicle. More models are coming out in 2010 and 2011, and more companies are getting involved. Some automotive experts predict eco-friendly cars will make up 10% of the total car market within a decade. And the competition is fierce to see which model and even which technology is going to come out on top.

Will it be Toyota’s new hybrid, the Plug-in Prius; or the Chevy Volt, an all-electric with an onboard gas tank that charges the battery? Will it be the affordable Nissan Leaf or the luxury Tesla? Will Ford and Volkswagon enter the fray?

What’s not being asked in all the frenzy to shift vehicles from oil to electricity, is where will all this power come from? While EV enthusiasts are quick to point out that no emissions are coming from the tailpipe, an electric car is not automatically a zero-emission vehicle. Owning an EV requires having a garage to park it in with a plug to charge it. Yet 50% of the electricity in the US is supplied by coal; the most carbon-emitting, water-polluting, inefficient, and environmentally-destructive fuel on the market.

So even though electricity is cheaper at night, and efforts are underway to ramp up wind power production to meet the new demand from EVs, we are still years away from large-scale efficient windpower production linked to a high-voltage energy grid. Yet the number of EV’s and hybrids on the market is increasing by leaps and bounds.

One surefire way to offset the increased electricity demand of this shift, is to increase our efficiency efforts. By pursuing aggressive strategies to reduce home energy consumption, we can go after the cheapest, cleanest, safest, fastest way to shrink home energy bills at the same time that they’re rising as more and more people skip the gas station and plug-in their cars at home. Energy efficiency efforts could save us $70 billion dollars a year, and help to level off rising energy use. The Obama administration is putting more money toward efficiency and green jobs, with the president calling efficiency “sexy” because it saves money.

Efforts are underway to perform energy-efficiency retrofits on a million homes by 2012. Without these efforts, the shift to “eco-friendly” vehicles over the next several years will cause a rise in electricity costs, and increased greenhouse gas emissions from coal. While this may reduce our dependence on foreign oil, it’s certainly not the green future the Prius crowd thinks they’re driving toward.

Andy Mannle is a writer and consultant dedicated to exploring sustainable policy, innovations, and solutions. His clients include New Leaf America, West Coast Green, and the ETHOS fund among others.

Andy Mannle
Andy Mannle is a writer and consultant dedicated to exploring sustainable policy, innovations, and solutions. He is the Education Director for West Coast Green, and an adviser to New Leaf America, UrbanGreen, Adam Capital and others.
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9 thoughts on “Without Efficiency, Electric Vehicles Are Just Another Huge Appliance

  1. Brilliant! Energy conservation is a key component to that Greener future we are driving towards. The next step is for individuals and businesses to see themselves as energy producers or mini-utilities filling up their own cars. The only road block to this vision is finance.

  2. Lucky we are in Quebec, Canada. We produce hydro-electricity, a renewable energy. Only problem is the sub zero temperatures that greatly affect battery performance in winter.

  3. Thanks Andy,
    I appreciate your thoughtful article and agree about the importance of energy conservation and taking a look at the whole picture.

    In that regard, one other element that people don’t discuss about electric vehicles is how much their mileage drops in cold climates. So while they may be great in CA, electric vehicles can have their mileage drop 50% or more in MN and other cold weather states.


  4. Improved consumer and policy-maker education regarding energy sources, conservation and the importance of an efficient energy delivery network must be a priority across this country! As a California driver of a full-sized Toyota RAV4-EV since 2002, I have enjoyed over 110,000 maintenace-free miles, at an average of $0.02/mile of electricity…and no, we don’t buy our off-peak from electricity from “dirty” sources. Many EV-owners like me, strongly support the actions of developing a more efficient delivery network, while simultaneously putting people to work to make our homes and work places more efficient users of the electricity generated every hour. For a competent perspective on EVs and solar energy generation, from an exceptional EV advocate: http://solarchargeddriving.com/news/interviews/269-chelsea-sexton-weighs-in-on-evs-phevs-and-solar.html

  5. I congratulate the author for pointing out that efficiency is the big key in the ignition of electric vehicles. I sell solar for a living and get to see all my customer’s electric bills. It is painfully clear that most American’s waste for kWh than they would use in an EV. This means by just being efficient, you can eliminate all of your gas use while not paying a cent more for your electric bill. Think about that for a minute. An added bonus is that if you have the roof for it, you can buy a solar PV system for about $10K that will generate enough energy to run your car for a good fifty years. This is not an exaggeration, we sell them all the time.

    I’ll take exception to one thing the author wrote. “What’s not being asked in all the frenzy to shift vehicles from oil to electricity, is where will all this power come from?”

    I’m sorry, but I read almost every story that’s written on EVs and PHEVs and can assure you that that question is asked ALL the time. Please just google a few stories and you’ll see. Others have already pointed out that even charging from the national grid, you’re still about 2-3 times cleaner than a Prius, so that’s not really an issue. But consider this, we’re installing about 80-90 megawatts of renewable solar and wind energy on the grid each year, the number is increasing all the time, and given that your typical EV commuter will use about 8-10 kWh per day, we’ll be able to charge millions of EVs just on the additional renewable energy being added to the grid each year for a looong time. It’ll take probably 20 years before the number of EVs being sold each year actually uses more new renewable energy being added to the grid.

    Also consider that we’ll be keeping billions of dollars from leaving our country with much of it going to pay for the bombs and bullets that are killing our soldiers. Just the national security issue alone is worth going electric!

  6. Solar + EV = Clean. Middle class hippie chick, no garage, just a house & a driveway, natch. 12 years & counting. Don’t U wish U had my car? :-p No really, soon we all will be given alternatives other than *cough* gas-o-line.

  7. EVs + Coal = BAD That’s one of the standard argument against EVs. But it ignores a couple basic things. First that gasoline doesn’t arrive at the pump without it’s own energy consumption (e.g. petroleum refinement is a huge consumer of electricity). Secondly, an EV’s energy source may TODAY be 50% coal (however mine isn’t since I have PV on our house) but shifting from gas to electricity opens up to POTENTIAL for improvement in energy efficiency and reduced pollution. And thirdly, the move to electrify our transportation system will preserve our mobility in the age of peak oil.

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