Attacking EVs: New Book Says Electric Cars Aren't Clean

By · July 11, 2012

Ozzie Zehner

Ozzie Zehner says green energy, and EVs, are based on false assumptions.

It’s silly season again. We’ve had a number of books and studies debunking the value of electric and hybrid cars. One that comes to mind is CNW Marketing Research’s conclusion—subsequently thoroughly debunked—that hybrids use more lifetime energy than many SUVs, including the Hummer.

And then there’s Robert Bryce’s 2010 book Power Hungry, which took aim at electric vehicles. Bryce, who I’ve hosted in radio debates, recently wrote in National Review Online, “[T]he Obama administration made a huge mistake in backing the electric vehicle industry. The administration has handed out $2.4 billion in grants to the electric-vehicle sector, as well as nearly $2.6 billion in loans. And it did so despite the EV sector’s dismal history, which is a century of failure tailgating failure.”

No Green Benefits for EVs?

That mirrors the current Romney narrative, which has fingered Fisker Automotive as one of the likely next Obama-funded dominoes to fall. But this story is about Ozzie Zehner, a visiting scholar at Berkeley, whose new book, Green Illusions (University of Nebraska Press) charges that electric cars offer no benefits because the toxic pollution associated with building them makes them no cleaner than gasoline vehicles.

In an interview, Zehner cited a 2010 National Academies of Science (NAS) report entitled “The Hidden Costs of Energy” and concluded, “The environmental damage from grid-dependent vehicles is about the same or a little worse than that of traditional gasoline cars. It’s partly the battery, but also the construction costs of building an electric vehicle—they use a lot of minerals and metal not required for gas cars, and that has to be factored in as well as the batteries.”

Charging a Leaf

What's the point in folks like Skip Kurtz here plugging in, asks Ozzie Zehner's new book. It's not even green. (NC DOT Communications/Flickr photo)

It seems to me that Zehner puts a lot of weight on one study, which was published before modern EVs were even on the road. The NAS study does indeed conclude that manufacturing electric cars produces 20 percent higher energy use and emissions than a conventional vehicle. It admits that a number of factors are likely to change in the electric car’s favor, but, “The total life-cycle damages of the electric-vehicle technology are still estimated to be slightly greater than those of the conventional gasoline vehicle.”

Dueling Studies: They Are Green

That’s only one study, though. Many others come to the opposite conclusion. For instance, a newer Swiss Federal Laboratories study (2011) looked at the same lifecycle issues and concluded that an electric car charged from a coal plant has the environmental profile of a gas car getting 45 mpg. On a typical European grid mix (including renewable and nukes), the gas car would need to get 58 to 79 mpg to be competitive. And if the grid is all-renewable (admittedly a rarity) then the gas car would need fuel efficiency of 117 mpg.

Zehner says the Swiss study was limited in scope, assessing the battery pack lifecycle and not the entire vehicle. But according to accounts I read, it included vehicle production, the in-use phase, end-use disposal, and fuel production and delivery processes. In other words, the whole lifecycle.

Another 2011 report, by Ricardo and the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, said that a typical mid-sized family car would create 24 tons of carbon dioxide in its lifetime, versus 18 tons for a plug-in electric. Nearly half of the EV’s lifetime emissions are created in the manufacturing process, the report said.

The Right Conclusion?

I could go on, but Zehner’s book is out to reach a conclusion—green energy is bad—and he found a respectable study that backs that concept for electric vehicles.

Environment America released a study this week that sees significant green benefits for electric cars. “People can plug in, power up and protect the planet,” the group’s John Cross told me. Its study cites Center for Automotive Research (CAR) data indicating that 469,000 Americans could purchase a plug-in car over the next three years (a big leap from the 30,000 now on the road), and if they did it would result in a 629,000 metric-ton reduction in annual carbon dioxide load. It would also reduce annual oil consumption by 2.6 million barrels.

Obviously, any reduction in CO2 or oil imports is going to depend on significant sales and. CAR aside, we have no guarantee how the market will shape up. Of course, that’s also true of the lifecycle analysis of EVs—it’s dependent on a lot of quickly moving variables.

But this, from Environment America’s report, is hard to argue with: “Electric vehicles have arrived and will provide extensive environmental benefits,” the report said. “Increasing the number of [EVs] on the road will yield even greater cuts in pollution and oil use.”

Comments

· TD (not verified) · 2 years ago

Books like these are preaching to the choir. The only people who will read the book are those who already agree with him.

· Spec (not verified) · 2 years ago

All this proves is that there is always a market for information that says what you want to hear even if it is not the truth. You can find tons of books on astrology, homeopathy, and a zillion conflicting religions. Just because someone wrote a book about it, that doesn't mean it is true.

· Objective (not verified) · 2 years ago

Right, and just because somebody sets up a blog, and another person pens a story railing against another person's conclusions, and a few observers comment supporting one side or the other... that doesn't prove that either side is true.

· · 2 years ago

Thanks for advancing this on Plug In Cars, Jim. I became aware of Ozzie Zehner about a month ago and I've been reading everything I can find about him online ever since. I even found his email address on one site and wrote him a cordial rebuttal of his ideas that I had seen presented. He was nice enough to write back. We agree to disagree, obviously, but I found his arguments interesting.

Before gorr is ready adopt Mr. Zehner as his latest role model, it should be noted that he is equally critical of hydrogen as he is of lithium battery EVs. For that matter, he thinks solar PV is bad, due to chemicals involved with manufacturing. There is very little in the way of green energy technology, for that matter, that he has anything nice to say about. I'm reminded of the young child actor of the 1970s era TV commercials for Life Cereal, "Mikey" . . . he hates everything.

Ozzie Zehner's approach, as best I've been able to determine (I'm not going to pay for the book, but will invariably borrow a copy from the local public library,) is that a small percentage of cars with out-of-tolerance emissions control equipment account for most of the current automobile-generated pollution. With the same sort of camera technology used to prosecute red-light-runners at busy intersections, he believes that this is a far more cost effective way to address the problem than introducing any sort of alternative energy personal transportation. He's also very much wanting legislators to introduce a variety of consumption taxes.

He's upset that federal funding for bicycle lanes and public transportation are overlooked in favor of EV charging infrastructure and contends that pedestrian-friendly housing and urban planning in high density population centers should be a much higher priority as well, but not necessarily utilizing LEED certification or similar architecture philosophies. Hence, he's driving some rather interesting wedges between advocates who might believe all of the above could be viable solutions.

It took me a while to find verification of his association with the auto or petroleum industry, but it's now known that Mr. Zehner spent 5 years GM's European Opel division. Hmmm . . .

· · 2 years ago

Thanks, Jim (and Benjamin), for providing some context...an article in Wired included critiques by journalists Nick Chambers and John Voelcker: http://www.wired.com/autopia/2012/07/green-illusion .

Ron Gremban, my colleague at CalCars.org, has discussed the NAS study, saying:
This statement, from the heavily-debunked (I believe) NAS study*, flies in the face of highly accepted GREET data, which suggests that for ordinary vehicles, manufacturing energy expenditures (including real-life proportions of raw material recycling) amount to 10-15% of life-cycle energy consumption. However, I have talked about how the energy of manufacture for EVs, while only somewhat higher* than that for ICEs, does approach 50% of life-cycle energy consumption because of EV's extreme fuel efficiency (5-6x that of ICEs and 2-3x that of HEVs) -- an argument, not against the efficiency of EVs but for conversions of existing vehicles where feasible vs. "scrap and rebuild".

*Is this the study that included all the R&D energy costs of HEVs, amortized against the then-very-few sales, as a huge part of the manufacturing energy cost of each vehicle?

**If memory serves me right, GREET data, based on extensive, detailed raw material studies, indicates something like a 10% higher energy cost per pound of battery than for average automotive components. Of course, an EV weighs more than an equivalent ICE vehicle, too, culminating in a 20-30% higher energy cost of manufacture, equivalent to less than 10% of an EV's lifetime fuel consumption savings over that of an ICEV.

And on the use of resources, especially rare materials, Ron says,
The specific types of motors used for EVs have, like the batteries, not yet been highly cost-optimized. Copper is still very important, but carbon nanotube-filament wire is being developed with higher conductivity. More and more aluminum is being used in non-EV chassis, too. And induction motors, such as propel Tesla EVs, don't contain rare earth magnets at all.

· · 2 years ago

All of this focus on the environment ignores the other great benefit of EVs. Electricity can be produced in many ways, you are not tied to a single source, your sources will change over time. This provides a significant economic advantage. Even those that don't acknowledge peak oil, go on to say the easy oil is gone. What follows is the price of energy, running a car on electricity is not only cheaper than gasoline, it hasn't been doubling every 7 years. ($1 in the late 90s). Any price comparison should consider that the price of gas could easily double in 7 years.

· · 2 years ago

First, he's simply using one of the oldest promotional tricks ever created. You find popular topic, product, idea, etc. and simply take the opposite view. You'll always get noticed, talked about, published, interviewed, etc., even if you're completely full of crap. Why? Well because you're thinking out of the box, so you must be brilliant! So, let's see, here's an example as to how this trick works. Turns out fresh organic fruit is actually extremely harmful to humans. This is because by not using pesticides there'll be more insects and more insects leads to the spread of deadly human diseases. I don't need to prove it, I'm a commentator not a reporter or scientist. I'm pushing an agenda and probably subsidized by the pesticide lobby.

Second, the political right keeps pushing the message that EVs are a complete failure in the marketplace. So, if that's the case, then we don't need to worry about all that supposed harmful "green energy" right? We shouldn't need any. Move along.... nothing to see here.

· grumpy (not verified) · 2 years ago

While I don't know the exact environmental cost of battery production or making a solar panel, but it seems physically impossible that you could drill and recover oil from half way around the world, then transport, refine, and distribute gasoline with anywhere near the overall efficiency of my solar system. Photons hit the panels on my roof and travel 30 feet to my Volt. To be honest, I doubt the environmental cost of all EV and solar production would match the mess made by the Deep Water Horizon.

· · 2 years ago

That Wired article is an excellent point-by-point debunking of Ozzie's Zehner's arguments, Felix, and I think Nick Chambers and John Voelcker are among the most qualified to do it. Thanks for posting that link.

You might find it interesting, Jose, that O.Z. further advances that he doesn't think EVs offer any additional energy security from foreign oil volatility than current gas cars do. See the Wired link in Felix's post to read more about it and the well written rebuttals.

While O.Z. may be be stating the diametric opposite view simply to gain attention, Indyflick, I think we have something a bit different here than the typically simplistic "drill, baby, drill" sort of EV critic we're all familiar with. That sort of individual makes no bones about being disdainful of the environmentally conscious or concerned with human-induced climate change and the like. They think the whole thing isn't worth their time and that most of us who do are simply over-reacting liberal worrywarts who want to spoil their fun.

O.Z., although quietly a creature of the automotive manufacturing establishment and gasoline consuming culture there, is placing himself to the left, if you will, of today's environmental status quo. He's doing this by stating that any sort of green technological solution is doing more harm than good. While suggesting the scrapping of an EV in every garage, not installing PV panels on all our rooftops and the dismantlement windmill farms on the edge of every hamlet, he also espouses more conventional energy conservation, bike paths and more pedestrian-friendly urban planning, Indeed, his Green Illusions book also makes a compelling argument for advancing the economic status of women and providing universal health care. Libertarians won't find much comfort in his ideas of consumption taxes or camera monitoring of potentially polluting cars at the stoplights. He certainly isn't cast from the typical reactionary Fox News commentator mold!

But, in some ways, he's a bit more of an insidious sort of messenger than the prototypical brutish Rush Limbaugh figure we often associate with being anti-EV. The young mother who would find the political views of a Glenn Beck repulsive, who wishes to see her child be able to travel safely to school by bicycle and finds additional solace in O.Z.'s endorsement of other progressive social agenda dear to her heart, is now being told that the Prius, Volt or Leaf she might have previously considered buying as a responsible purchase is now, if anything, a move that is contrarian and, indeed, even hostile to her other larger interests.

The fear I have is the O.Z. and his followers will spread a curious sort of disinformation that will unduly influence many to not adopt technology that will make the Earth more livable in the long run. It's a wake up call to the rest of us to be able to intelligently debunk what is being advanced there with the same sort of sophistication that is now emanating from this rather unlikely source.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

Ozzie Zehner?... and you are.....?

· Montreal EV fan (not verified) · 2 years ago

When I see articles like this, I’m reminded of one thing:

It' the classic “either/or” problem.

Either we have green energy with electric vehicles or we have good public transport with good urban planning.

Why not both?

It seems typical of North American thought to dichotomize everything. Either you are Democrat or Republican, either you are left or right wing, either you are pro-rail or pro-airline, either pro-car or pro-bike.

In Europe it is different. France, for example, is a leader in both high-speed rail (SNCF), and aerospace (Airbus). The Germans are leaders in road design (Autobahn) and bike paths and rail networks (ICE, S-Bahn).

In Canada and the US we need to get away this either/or mentality. It may make good publicity, but it is highly damaging to advancement and problem solving.

The solution is in electric vehicles and better urban planning and better public transport and better cycling network and green energy generation and conservation of energy, all working togrther for a sustainable future. These solutions are not in competition but synergistic.

· · 2 years ago

Hear, hear, Montreal EV fan!

· · 2 years ago

@Montreal EV fan -

Indeed I believe you have hit the nail on the head. Why must everything be black or white? How often have we heard that EVs are no good unless all of their energy comes from renewables? How many times have we heard that EVs are not perfect because there are still some upstream emissions?

Why must everything be perfect before we start heading in that direction? Why must we choose cleaner public transportation over cleaner private transportation? We need it all - warts and all. We need to start the process and incrementally improve it. We've never started with a new technology that's been perfect from birth - why do we keep expecting it now??

So yeah... I'm thrilled with OZ's ideas of catching and cleaning up the mass polluters. Of emphasizing cycling and walking. Of emphasizing conservation in general. But why does he need to bash renewable energy and EVs using information based on ignorance to put forth his agenda?

· · 2 years ago

I'm fairly certain that they are not accounting for the electricity and natural gas and other resources used to find oil and to make and transport the gasoline. The best estimate I have seen is that it takes about 7.5kWh of electricity to make each gallon of gasoline. So, if electricity is so dirty, then it has to be added to the gasoline burning car, too.

In fact, a Leaf could drive at least 22 miles on that electricity -- so it saves the entire gallon of gasoline. You need to add in the natural gas used throughout the oil-to-gasoline process, too.

Another non-trivial point is the regular maintenance required by gasoline burning cars: the engine oil and filter and all the other items that get used up every 5,000 miles. The cost of this maintenance is about 25% as much as the cost of the gasoline; so it is significant.

This book is trolling. You can pay some people to say anything. They can print it, but that doesn't make it true -- it is wishful thinking at best, or biased speculation, or out and out lies, at worst.

Neil

· · 2 years ago

If Ozzie was truly green, he wouldn't have printed his book on paper...but published it in e-book format only.

Shame on you Ozzy.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

"Its study cites Center for Automotive Research (CAR) data indicating that 469,000 Americans could purchase a plug-in car over the next three years (a big leap from the 30,000 now on the road), and if they did it would result in a 629,000 metric-ton reduction in annual carbon dioxide load. It would also reduce annual oil consumption by 2.6 million barrels."

hmmm...

I always like info thrown around carelessly without context...2.6 Million Barrels sounds like an awful LOT of OIL...except when you realize that the US uses over 19 Million Barrels of oil EVERY DAY. (source: CIA World Fact Book)

BTW - I'm still looking for a reasonable estimate of the life cycle cost of the highly touted CFL bulb. Lots of info on how much energy it "saves", but how much E did it cost to make, and how much E to dispose (and cost of hazmat redux)? Never can get the Greens too interested in that one...

· · 2 years ago

Well, anonymous (one of many here with that name, so I guess you're a new arrival,) while we're carelessly slinging numbers around, let's please consider that only 43% of that 19 million barrels daily (mbd) - or 7.3mbd - accounts for vehicular transportation needs . . .

http://www.sustainabilityinstitute.org/dhm_archive/index.php?display_art...

I assume this number also includes large trucks because, given that there are 246 million cars on the US roads . . .

http://statspotting.com/2011/04/total-number-of-cars-in-the-us-246-million/

. . . that would work out to approximately 33.7 barrels of crude per day, per car, which seems extremely high.

Can someone - anyone - find an accurate statistic of how many barrels of crude, on average, a single auto in the U.S.uses in a single day? We'll start the number crunching from there.

· Allen (not verified) · 2 years ago

I remember one of the first studies that concluded that a Prius was "dirtier" than a Hummer. They guy charged off the entire lithium industry production to the Prius, as if those minerals were not to be used anywhere else. I didn't get any farther in the article, that start was enough for me. It just didn't pass my smell test.

· · 2 years ago

>> Never can get the Greens too interested in that one... <<

Does this imply that YOU are not "Green?" Does it imply that you don't care for the environment? It is clear that you don't care much for the big picture, but I'm always amazed when people take pride in not being "green."

· · 2 years ago

"I'm always amazed when people take pride in not being "green.""

I'm so embarrassed to be associated with the mindless "green" herd that I avoid even using my real name in public forums like these. I'm not saying that people who do "green" things are stupid but the bulk of the herd that identifies themselves as being green, especially those who wear it on their sleeve, are definitely dangerously out of touch with reality and likely to do more harm than good to our planet.

· · 2 years ago

And right there is what I don't understand. To the Angry and Frustrated, "Green" and "Environmentalist" seems to translate to:

"Crazy, over the edge, fringe, shoot-yourself-in-the-foot, hypocritical, money-wasting, the-sky-is-falling idiots."

So what *should* the people call themselves who are educated, who care, and try like hell to do the right thing? Or better question - what is it that you folks call people like that, Ex? What do you call yourself? We're looking for an easy identifier here. Like "EV driver." What do we call somebody who walks the talk and puts effort into being part of the solution?

When did "green" mean "mindless green heard" as you call us (and by us I'm including you, me, and most folks on the forum)?

Why insist on attaching the lunatic fringe to everything that is by definition "good?"

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

Hi Benjamin Nead,

There's something about your posts that I just can't put my finger on and I'm hoping you can explain. You seem to be implying something nefarious about Zehner's motives with the following comments:

"O.Z., although quietly a creature of the automotive manufacturing establishment and gasoline consuming culture there, is placing himself to the left, if you will, of today's environmental status quo."

and

"It took me a while to find verification of his association with the auto or petroleum industry, but it's now known that Mr. Zehner spent 5 years GM's European Opel division. Hmmm . . ."

But why should Zehner's prior employment with GM raise your eyebrows? You seem to be suggesting that Zehner has some ulterior motive because of his prior employment with GM. But GM is, after all, promoting electric cars like the Volt. Either Zehner is on board with GM, in which case, he wouldn't be critiquing a car they are heavily marketing, or he isn't, in which case, why should his critique render him "suspicious"? Besides, his argument is that electric cars do nothing to offset fossil fuel use, hardly an argument IN FAVOR of the automotive industry.

Otherwise, your comments seem fair, but I'm quite confused by this point.

· · 2 years ago

@darelldd,
Actually, what I dislike most about most "Greens" is that they only seem to understand how to get things done the same way medieval robber barons did: force everyone to do things their way by removing individual rights.
The EV community's insistence on subsidies forced to be paid by those who don't wish to is the best example of this. I know you'll be tempted to point out how oil is subsidized. I see that as clear example of modern robber barons at work -- but it doesn't make it right either.
I much appreciate your efforts to highlight the oil subsidies but don't appreciate how you imply they justify EV subsidies.
2 wrongs don't make a right, they just escalate a fight.

· · 2 years ago

I'll attempt to clarify Aaron. GM, like any other corporation of its size, is not going to be composed of individuals or small groups of individuals within that larger group all seeking the same goals. It's no secret that there were many at GM who never wanted to see the EV1 succeed and, indeed, they ended up winning. The photos of crushed electric vehicles in the Arizona desert is proof of that. Rent or buy a DVD of "Who Killed The Electric Car?" for further details.

Likewise, the Volt isn't a slam-dunk just yet either. It took much effort by way of Bob Lutz (who had been very critical of EVs for most of his long career in the industry) to see it through. Having been spurned into action by the buzz surrounding the Tesla Roadster, he would have liked to have seen the Volt introduced as a pure EV. But he had to compromise and have it exist as one with a gasoline range extender engine. See the more recent movie "Revenge Of The Electric Car" for a recap of that story.

This decision to make the Volt into a ranger extender EV is, for the moment, doing well for GM. Because there is no so-called range anxiety associated with the car, it's outselling any pure electric right now. But, largely due to its high purchase cost, it is being swamped in sales by high mileage conventional all-gasoline-powered cars in their line, such as Chevy's Cruz.

Are there many - perhaps a majority in GM's corporate culture ( and almost any other major auto manufacturer, for that matter) - who would like to see EVs and range extender EVs resigned to the scrap heap and just get on with the business of selling cars that run on gasoline? Of course there are. It's going take consumer pressure to convince them that there is a market for electric cars. It's fairly obvious they're not going to be motivated to doing it entirely on their own or for other altruistic reasons.

Bringing this back to Ozzie Zehner, he was associated with GM's European Opel division at just about the same time those EV-1s were being taken back from leasees on the west coast of the U.S. and being destroyed. Although I'm fairly sure he probably wasn't placed high enough within GM corporate culture to have any influence on that decision one way or another, he certainly wasn't coming to the defense of electric cars then, nor certainly is he now. In, fact, he's currently one of the EV's most vehement critics and the one getting the most press at the moment.

Perhaps what I find so interesting about O.Z.'s tenure at GM is that it's something that isn't even mentioned in his public resume . . .

http://berkeley.academia.edu/OzzieZehner/

So, I do think there's something just a bit disingenuous about an environmentalist who worked half a decade for the world's largest auto manufacturer, who isn't mentioning that fact publicly and is currently hawking a book that excoriates just about any alternative energy technology and, most pointedly, the electric car? Yes, I do.

· · 2 years ago

@EX-EV1

I like to let the folks with blinders on (shall we call them the stupid, ignorant "Browns" who are dooming us all to hell?) that EVs are not the only thing enjoying public money infusion. What you infer from my comments I have no control over. I often follow up my "subsidy for oil" comments with the suggestion that we take THOSE subsidies away either before or at the same time we take the EV ones away. But like all of us, I get tired of saying the same thing over and over, and end up lazily just pointing out that we spend more on oil subsidies than we do on EV subsidies. I see no reason to apologize for simply pointing out reality to those who don't see it. I don't believe I've ever made a claim about the right or wrongness of subsidies. I have clearly stated many times that we need a level playing field, and that taking away EV subsidies while we leave the oil subsidies in place does not get us closer to that ideal.

IF (big if) we are going to subsidize something, should it not be the thing that kills us slower?

Your view seems to only make room for two types of people:
1. Those who don't give a damn about the environment and are ticked off by *anybody* who does give a damn. They're usually also ticked off by anybody implying that THEY might give a damn.
2. Those who profess to be concerned with the environment, but who either ignorantly or with malicious intention insist on going about everything wrong and making it worse for everybody.

So... what do we call people who ARE doing their best to make things better for everybody? Are there only a handful of them in the world? Who are they? What do you call yourself? It is becoming apparent that you've put in me in the #2 group.

Personally, I don't care so much if somebody is green or brown. We all have our reasons. I only care (insist, really) that they pay attention. That they see the big picture. Ignorance is what leads us to self destruction. I much prefer wrong-headedness to ignorance. Which is why I enjoy debating you so much! (oooh. That was a pretty good one. I'm gonna pull something patting myself on the back)

(heading out of town... spotty connection, so don't get upset if I can't annoy you with my typically fast and brilliant comebacks)

· · 2 years ago

Great work, Benjamin.

· · 2 years ago

Thanks, Darell. Let's hope our friend (he is that, isn't he?) ex-EV1 gets a bit more comfortable, figuratively speaking, hanging out with us again. I would think he'd have an easier time interacting with most so-called "greens" than many who tend to be hostile toward them.

I'll go on record here again to say that I find no significant faults with Ozzie Zehner's ideas on more comprehensive energy conservation, additional support (which includes tax-based funding) of public transportation, as well as the promotion of better bicycle pathways and more pedestrian-friendly urban planning. The progressive social agenda he also touches on (which may or may not have a direct correlation to our future energy needs,) such as more comprehensive woman's rights and universal health care, is another thing I can find common ground with.

But I do - as I think many others here do as well - take exception to the large wet blanket he lays on top of just about any or all sort of alternative/renewable energy sources and the concept of EVs eventually replacing ICE cars. I'll reiterate that he should also be a bit more up front publicly citing his former employment with the auto industry.

To be fair, I plan to borrow a copy of Green Illusions from the library and give it an honest read. If there is gross negligence in regards to having green products manufactured in an environmentally irresponsible way, that should be addressed front and center and we may be able to thank him some day for exposing some of this. But to influence political leaders and the general public to completely dismiss, out of hand, the benefits of solar PV, solar thermal, wind and EVs (and, yes, even hydrogen, which MAY develop into something positive some day) would be unfortunate, to say the least.

· · 2 years ago

Definitely a friend!

· · 2 years ago

I like to [note that] ... EVs are not the only thing enjoying public money infusion. What you infer from my comments I have no control over. I often follow up my "subsidy for oil" comments with the suggestion that we take THOSE subsidies away either before or at the same time we take the EV ones away.

It's also worth pointing out that the EV tax "subsidy" takes the form of (non-refundable) tax credits. This means that you can only take the $7500 if you're already forking over at least $7500 in taxes. You get to claim the $7500 as being "already paid". If you (through whatever means, including the various legal dodges available only to millionaires) manage to pay nothing in taxes, you get no benefit from this tax credit either.

In the end, it works out pretty much the same, but usually those who are outraged (outraged they tell you) about this also think that tax credits are not subsidies, why, none of those tax credits they're taking are subsidies at all!

In the end, of course, it comes out the same, at least in terms of budgeting: "tax expenditures" (the budget wonk name for these kinds of subsidies) have the same effect on the Federal budget as direct subsidies. They have somewhat different motivational effects on those receiving them, though. In any case, "free market" is really a theoretical thing, like "perfect circle", that one never actually finds in nature. Free markets require seven impossible conditions. Externalities—like trillion dollar defense budgets that benefit giant oil companies—abound. Some subsidies make things worse and some make things better. You have to look carefully at everthing.

· · 2 years ago

Well said, Chris. You bring up some interesting angles that I hadn't considered. I'm always amazed when folks talk about "letting the free market decide" as if we've ever had a free market!

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 2 years ago

Thanks Jim for this article.
This is really amazing.. In the first place, Lithium is not super rare, nor super toxic. Compare Lithium with Dupleted Uranium or Plutonium. Japan's current escapade with Nuclear Energy may end up decimating Tokyo (there's talk of evacuating all children due to ongoing Fukushimi Daichi troubles).
I'm old enough to remember when CO2 was considered plant food, and a Building-Block of Life.
Suffice it to say, the only polution from both electric cars I own is the rubber being left to run off the road, which can be cured by planting more trees (trees, incidentally are amazing: the leaves filter the air - also remove CO2 for those brainwashed into thinking its a 'pollutant', - and the root system basically absorbs the rubber from the tires. I was watching a program the other night that basically said LA could reduce its smog problem if they would have planted many more trees.
Seeing as LA got rid of its 'clean' transportation system once long ago (electric street cars), a wide scale purchase of electric vehicles there would go a long way to cleaning up their environment. And for those who still insist CO2 is a problem, Solar Cell Arrays are getting more common, as are Wind Turbines. So, unless you're a bird you have no problem with windmills, and provided you have no great problem with Silver Mines you shouldn't have too much of a problem with Solar. I'd seriously de-emphasize Nuclear. If Southern Californians want to shudder, investigate the currently shutdown San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations.
In summary, Electric Cars are a very big part of a solution to environmental polution, just avoid Nuclear.

· · 2 years ago

The role of CO2 is sometimes misunderstood, Bill. It is, as you allude to, what plants breath in and, conveniently, what we exhale. Massive amounts of naturally occurring CO2 is a necessary component for life on Earth as we know it. I'll leave it someone far more qualified in the biological sciences and in evolutionary history than I am to explain exactly how much and for how long. But it's one of those impressive billion/trillion tonnage numbers with an equally impressively large number of zeros following on, and it's been going on well into the hundreds of millions of years, I'm sure.

All those carbon-rich plants that died when dinosaurs roamed the Earth? The CO2 from those dead plants oozes out into the atmosphere more or less gradually (well, billions/trillions tons of the stuff annually) and naturally from below the Earth's crust . . . and that's fine. That's been going on, as I mentioned, for a lot longer than humans have been around. We need that CO2 to sustain life on Earth as we know it.

But when humans began to accelerate the process of releasing more of this CO2 on a comparatively massive scale and within a massively accelerated time frame, as they have for the past couple of hundred years in the form of burning coal and crude oil, that's where the trouble with CO2 starts.

Or so says 90% or more of scientists who keep track of all of this, who - again - can explain it in far greater detail and with greater accuracy than I possibly can. As these scientists further contend, this grossly accelerated release of CO2 over (geologically speaking) a disturbingly short time frame is abruptly altering the Earth's climate.

I tend to trust the empirical wisdom of these learned scientific authorities more so than the much smaller minority who flatly denies that 200 years of human-induced byproducts of the Industrial Revolution has had absolutely no effect on the Earth's ecosystem whatsoever. Many of that latter group of deniers is often composed of those who have little or no scientific training and who also have a political agenda that motivates them more than anything else (ie: the Rush Limbaughs among us.)

I think the idea of planting lots of trees to offset this industrial/human-produced CO2 has been seriously considered. But the consensus, apparently, is that it would be too little and too late at this point. Nothing wrong with more plants, mind you. But humans are ultimately going to have to figure out how to produce the energy needed to sustain something resembling an economically productive lifestyle without murdering ourselves in the process. The rest of what you have written above shows me that you understand this.

Perhaps the key thing to remember is that everything humans craft or naturally extract in order to produce energy is going to have at least some negative impact on the environment. The manufacturing of automobiles - including electric ones - is particularly energy intensive.
The good news - and this is where most of us here part company with Ozzie Zehner - is that the harm an EV does over its projected lifespan is far less than what we would expect with a car powered by gasoline.

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

Hi Benjamin,

Thanks for your clarification. I do encourage you to read the book (from your library). Though perhaps he should list his time at GM on his public profile if only to avoid the kind of claims you are making, I think you'll see that Zehner has no interest in seeing the electric car fail because he finds ICE vehicles to be a better alternative or because he has any interest whatsoever in maintaining the status quo vis-a-vis fossil fuel. His argument is that alternative technologies such as the EV, hybrids, photovoltaics (though NOT solar thermal), etc, are distractions for the environmental movement. They are part of the same trends of thinking that have gotten us into this mess because they promise that we can simply continue to consume (and ever-increase our consumption), while they do next to nothing to offset fossil fuel use. THAT (to contradict many other people who have commented on this site) is not black and white thinking at all. That is precisely the opposite of the kind of thinking that is so prominent today in environmental circles. Please do read his book (don't pay for it for Christ's sake) and consider his arguments before insinuating that he has some nefarious motivations other than what appears to me to be an admirable interest in directing our attention toward some of the difficulties that these technologies face (at great expense that could be directed toward more promising alternatives).

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

Hi Benjamin,

Thanks for your clarification. I do encourage you to read the book (from your library). Though perhaps he should list his time at GM on his public profile if only to avoid the kind of claims you are making, I think you'll see that Zehner has no interest in seeing the electric car fail because he finds ICE vehicles to be a better alternative or because he has any interest whatsoever in maintaining the status quo vis-a-vis fossil fuel. His argument is that alternative technologies such as the EV, hybrids, photovoltaics (though NOT solar thermal), etc, are distractions for the environmental movement. They are part of the same trends of thinking that have gotten us into this mess because they promise that we can simply continue to consume (and ever-increase our consumption), while they do next to nothing to offset fossil fuel use. THAT (to contradict many other people who have commented on this site) is not black and white thinking at all. That is precisely the opposite of the kind of thinking that is so prominent today in environmental circles. Please do read his book (don't pay for it for Christ's sake) and consider his arguments before insinuating that he has some nefarious motivations other than what appears to me to be an admirable interest in directing our attention toward some of the difficulties that these technologies face (at great expense that could be directed toward more promising alternatives).

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

Hi again, Benjamin,

One other question. And I do appreciate your thoughtful engagement with these topics. I would like to know on what you base the following statement because it conflicts directly with the report from the national academy of sciences (entitled "The Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use") on which Zehner largely bases his argument against EVs: "The good news - and this is where most of us here part company with Ozzie Zehner - is that the harm an EV does over its projected lifespan is far less than what we would expect with a car powered by gasoline."

The NAS report is arguably the most nuanced and comprehensive that I've seen because it at least attempts to do a comparison of not just the fuel phase but the manufacturing phase of various vehicle types (EV, hybrid, ICE) and concludes that indeed, the FUEL PHASE of EVs is several times better than that of ICE in terms of energy savings given current and projected energy sources in the grid, but that the manufacturing phase is so far worse for EVs and hybrids that it offsets those savings in the fuel cycle.

It would be important to see what your sources are to do a just comparison - perhaps the NAS did not have access to some data that you are referring to? I'm not suggesting that you are necessarily wrong (in fact, I hope you're right), but the NAS report is very comprehensive and makes a compelling and arguably disinterested case (as opposed to many INDUSTRY studies which conveniently neglect certain factors in their analyses). Thanks.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

Hi,
Two Big points, which are not really on topic so ill mention them once without proof.

1). Human CO2 contribution compared to what is going on in the rest of the planet is almost trivial. In any case, you won't believe this, but if anything we have a CO2 shortage. More CO2 is beneficial in every case, there is absolutely nothing negative about it. There is a hidden agenda here, it is to tax a natural process. I'm already paying higher electric rates to pay Carbon Taxes. Since people also exhale CO2, soon there will be taxes on your life itself. Before you laugh, see what the powers that be have in mind for us. In Australia, there already is an $AUD 1.2 million fine there for anyone criticizing the new Carbon Tax Orthodoxy.

2). China, and General Electric, are effectively exempt from carbon taxes, either through government bailouts, or simply ignoring everyone else. Since China will be the most important actor on the world stage, what the rest of us do doesnt really matter anyway.

· · 2 years ago

I've been to Australia several times. There's no such fine. You can buy "carbon offset credits" when you buy a plane ticket, but it's entirely voluntary.

They're much more concerned with water. In Melbourne and Perth, I was "encouraged" to get showers done in 3 minutes (but again there's no actual requirement).

· · 2 years ago

OK, Aaron, I'll give the Zehner book a read later this summer. Jim's article, which we're commenting on here, states that the NAS study was published before modern EVs were prevalent and that other, more recent studies, such as the 2011 Swiss Federal Laboratories one, come to entirely different conclusions.

As for O.Z. having "no interest in seeing the electric car fail," I would offer this quote from Green Illusion that I found online . . .

"Environmentalists generally object to battery-powered devices and for good reason: batteries require mined minerals, employ manufacturing processes that leak toxins into local ecosystems and leave behind an even-worse trail of side effects upon disposal. Though when it comes to the largest mass-produced battery-powered gadget ever created—the electric car—environmentalists cannot jump from their seats fast enough to applaud it."

I'm afraid O.Z. DOES look at things in very much a stark either-or way . . . no middle ground. All batteries are instantly evil in his eyes. He assumes all manufacturers illegally dump their chemicals and that all end users callously do likewise. Sorry, but modern day battery recycling is a bit more sophisticated than . . .

http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/recycling_batteries

As for CO2, Bill, you advanced an idea you heard of planting large swaths of trees to soak up the gas in one of posts as a way to offset L.A. smog . . . presumably because there's too much CO2. But then, in your next post, you claim we actually have a CO2 shortage. Well . . . which is it?

We wouldn't have air scrubbers on spacecraft or submarines if, as you contend, "More CO2 is beneficial in every case, there is absolutely nothing negative about it." If those air scrubbing devices weren't in place, the occupants in those sealed environments would be asphyxiated rather quickly . . .

http://science.howstuffworks.com/transport/engines-equipment/question83.htm

We can breath pure nitrogen or pure oxygen (composing, respectively, about 78% and 21% the Earth's atmosphere) without much ill effect. But attempting to breath pure CO2 would be almost instantly fatal. There's only something like 0.03% of it in the air we breath in and about 4% in what we exhale. In a sealed environment (spacecraft and submarine analogy, above) that difference is enough to cause death to its occupants in a matter of minutes.

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

Thanks Benjamin,

I would point out that Jim Motavelli has staked his career on the promotion of electric cars. I'm not sure we should put his confidence in the Swiss report over O.Z.'s confidence in the NAS report. We need to do a bit more homework on both before accepting the comparison that just because one report is newer, it is necessarily better. But I do appreciate the reference so that I can take a closer look.

As for the quote you offer from Zehner, my point was not that Zehner doesn't want the electric car to fail (period), but that he doesn't want the electric car to fail BECAUSE he is pro-ICE car. There is a big difference. But since you mention it, I don't think he wants the electric car to fail at all. He simply believes based on the NAS report that it is not worthy of the praise of the environmental movement given its substantial limitation and negative environmental impacts. I think he'd be happy to find that electric cars are doing their part to reduce those impacts. From what I've seen, I don't see those benefits either. In fact, I see the unfortunate situation in which people BELIEVE they are helping because they're riding around in an electric car, when the evidence is equivocal on this point.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

Not quite, my statements are consistent: the program was saying that rubber run off which happens with all cars is abated by the root systems of more trees. As far as filtering air goes, I did not state nor mean to imply that one of the polutants tree leaves filter was CO2. Hot Houses would not especially pump in more CO2 if it were a pollutant. Also, I meant to frame the conversation to realistic levels of atmospheric CO2, it is of course possible for babies and small ground animals to die in concentrations thousands of times normal concentrations in the vacinity of exploding volcanos. A flood the size of an ocean is bad, so that means a glass of water is toxic, by that logic.

@Chris T.

Australians Face Huge Fines For Criticizing Unpopular Carbon Tax
source: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/money/dont-serve-carbon-lies/story-e6fr...

· · 2 years ago

@Bill Howland: that's not a fine for "criticizing [the] carbon tax", that's a fine for fraud. If I promised to sell you a chair for $50, and when you arrived I said "oh sorry the price is actually $500, it really was fifty bucks but the local government requires I charge $450 sales tax" (when they don't), and then I got fined or arrested for fraud, would you call that "a fine for criticizing unpopular sales taxes"?

· · 2 years ago

Aaron and Bill . . . I think I've made my points on this conversational thread and, for now, have little more to add to the subject . . . or should I say subjects?

You see, somehow, I've ended up being the person of preferred contact in a couple of coincidentally diverse yet simultaneously occurring debates that seems to have developed here.

In one corner we have Aaron, who, much like Ozzie Zehner, appears to be a staunch environmentalist who isn't sold on the benefits of electric cars and, perhaps, even considers them to be ostentatious trinkets of the rich who are merely greenwashing.

In the other corner we have Bill, who, if I'm reading his posts correctly, owns two electric cars but is convinced that the vast majority of climate scientists are loony, since they all agree that elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is something to be concerned about.

Guys . . . you don't need to continue talking with me. You need to start talking to - or with - EACH OTHER! I'll check back later and see how you all are getting along.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Benjamin Nead
Far be it from me to criticize a fellow electric car owner. In general, I feel that we're some of the most progressive people around. I just 'salt' the conversation a bit, not really intending to change anyone's mind, but maybe, just maybe get them to look at things from a different angle. That's why I made the point and just dropped it. You won't believe things just because I say it. I'm more interested for purposes of plugincars.com talking about electric car specifics, and manufacturer/industry stupidity as can be seen by my other posts on other articles.
No harm intended.

@Chris T.
I suspected you were going to say that, understood. That 'fine' is the 'foot in the door, camel nose under the tent'. Specifically, its a small business fine, but then, I thought those were Australians also.

Once again thanks Mr. Motavalli for printing these articles. It helps keep us informed on what is happening or talked about in an exciting new field.

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Benjamin,

Hilarious! I was talking to you because I sensed you were a reasonable person. Unlike CO2, there's only so much Oxygen available, so I'd prefer not to waste it. Enough said. Thanks for chatting.

· · 2 years ago

@Bill Howland: it's more obvious in the US with sales taxes, and less obvious here with fuel taxes which work like the Australian taxes.

With sales taxes, you get two numbers: the price for the item, and the added tax. With Australia's tax system, you get only the final number. What's happening is that some vendors were jacking up their prices (item that used to be $20 [where $ = Ozzie dollar] is now $25), then claiming that the entire increase is the "carbon tax". However, the "carbon tax" portion is actually $1 (it's $23 per tonne so this assumes that the item in question is assessed at 1/23rd of a tonne).

The Ozzie pricing system (also used in NZ), where one sees only the final price, is way more convenient for us consumers. It's also how petrol is priced here in the US: the sign on the station just says $3.369. If you peer at the pump itself, the state and Federal gasoline tax per gallon is shown there (on a sticker) but most people just use the final price. The cost (as it were) of this convenience is that if the tax changes, and the tax is not itemized in some obvious manner, the vendor can ding you for more than the actual tax, and keep the extra cash for himself.

· I didn't read his book, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn...;) (not verified) · 2 years ago

Hmm, an amusing discussion. As this piece and the misplaced and somewhat misguided responses from readers show, Zehner’s concerns with EVs can be understood and appreciated only if one becomes familiar with the details of his overall critique of current environmental thought that fetishizes alternative technologies as a panacea for our looming environmental crisis. Is Aaron the only one here who read the book and sees Zehner’s points in context?

Benjamin, the manner of your critical responses to Zehner's work reminds me of the way in which many undergraduate students nowadays write their papers: rather than reading and engaging primary sources on their own, they pull out second-rate paraphrases and random quotes from authors from Wikipedia summaries, Cliff notes, online blogs, etc. If you were to actually read Zehner’s book, you’d find your current perceptions of his underlying views hilariously topsy-turvy. Zehner doesn't wish to dispense with alternative energy technologies altogether. In his view, they can and do play an important, if limited role in certain social, economic, political and geographical contexts. I won’t spell out these contexts for you so you won’t use me as a Wiki or Cliff Notes. :) I assume you’ll read the book on your own if you’re genuinely interested in expanding your horizons. Here are a just few sentences from one of the last paragraphs of the last chapter to confound your present sensibilities about his work and motives: “Ultimately, it’s not a question of whether American society possesses the technological prowess to construct an alternative-energy nation. The real question is the reverse. Do we have a society capable of being powered by alternative energy? The answer today is clearly no. But we can change that.”

Also, it seems your Googling needs as much improvement as your work with primary sources. Here’s what I found about Zehner’s background after a two-minute search. "About 20 years ago, CNN showcased an alternative-fuel vehicle that I built with my own hands. I drove back and forth in front of the camera, smiling from behind the wheel of my two-seater electric and natural gas hybrid. I thought it was an especially beneficial solution to our environmental challenges. I was wrong." http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2012/0213/Tesla-SUV-with-win.... Of course, the book says a lot more than that about his relevant work experience.

· · 2 years ago

Well, I thought I was done with this one, but I guess I have to at least attempt to respond to the above post. Yes, "I didn't read . . . ," I fully admitted above that I haven't picked up Green Illusions and digested it. But there's certainly enough out there to draw some basic conclusions. Your link (and it appears you're just as guilty as I am in regards to academically slumming in this manner) is about what I expected: long on criticisms and short on answers when it comes to what Mr. Zehner is trying to advance. Other than the fact that I've learned he built a hybrid of his own in an earlier life, I gained no new insights into his proposed solutions . . . only a slightly more nuanced laundry list of problems.

While I'm very critical of urban sprawl and the concept of 3 ton SUVs with batteries being touted as green, I also don't think it's very realistic to assume we're going to be able to bulldoze most of the cities west of the Mississippi in order to instantly construct these perfectly conceived urban Meccas that O.Z. describes. Unless one is willing to impose nothing short of a 5 Year Plan of Stalinist proportions and displace tens of millions of people in the process, it's simply isn't going to happen. That sort urban renewal will take decades. Perhaps a century.

In the mean time, we'll need cars in most of these places simply to get around. Cars consume energy to build and use. We all know that. But I'm certainly not the only one who has come to the conclusion that electric ones will do this with fewer negative consequences than gasoline ones.

My googling may need improvement, but it's rather apparent that you need to get out of your classroom more often. I assume you live in a very vertically integrated east coast city with an excellent public transportation system and you work daylight hours when that system is fully operational. Not everyone does.

PS: please consider establishing a profile here and using your real name. Those little picture avatars are also a nice touch. Ask one of your more computer literate students to do it for you, if you don't know how :-) All kidding aside, I don't mind people taking issue with my positions. But I take the constructive criticism far more seriously when it's forwarded by those who are confident enough not to have to hide behind clever aliases.

· I didn't read his book, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn...;) (not verified) · 2 years ago

Again, so many words, and virtually all beside the point. Maybe you only understand Cliffs Notes reasoning. Okay, here it is then. Many of your points above slip into ad hominem and straw man fallacies. To avoid the former, you need to work on your Googling (hence the CSM link above for Zehner’s background in GM to disabuse you of the idea that he is “a creature of the automotive manufacturing establishment and gasoline consuming culture”) and to avoid the latter, you need to learn to work with primary sources.

P.S. Don’t assume too much, that is, beyond available evidence. I live exactly on the opposite side of your assumptions. Perhaps, your speculations about Zehner’s work are also off by a few thousand miles, but you wouldn’t know unless you first actually read it. :)

· · 2 years ago

And maybe we should take the tenor of this conversation down a notch or two, eh?. While you're accusing me of slipping into ad hominem, perhaps you're just as guilty in regards to comments directed my way.

As to being beside the point, nothing in your last post is a clear defense of ideas outlined in Green Illusions or a constructive rebuttle of any point I've made regarding it. Nothing particularly on topic . . . just mysterious ramblings as to who you are, or aren't. Feel free to slip back into the ether, Mr. Primary Source. I'll do the same.

PS: the comments following the CSM link are priceless. They go on for 25 pages. If you think I've been rude in regards to the characterization of your hero, you should read what most of these folks have to say!

· khrawm (not verified) · 2 years ago

as per usual, the internet d-bags are here to enter their stupid peon opinions.

battery technology for lithium-ion continues to evolve at universities. thank you HISTORY for giving us universities. No thank you 20th century status quo propagandists for filling the figurative airwaves with "tomorrow looks like today" or "tomorrow looks like 1952" and "nothing ever changes," "people are all the same," and "blame yourself and your working class peers, not the rich/powerful, rules, or infrastructure for anything." repeat, repeat, repeat. defeat, defeat, defeat the future. defeat change. Thank you to non-American governments, culture, values, and companies for existing and pushing the market forward. Thanks, once again, for honest scientific research at universities funded by the federal government with the aim of improving human life. No thanks to fat white men on radio repeating the message of "the future is a fantasy and un-American."

· khrawm (not verified) · 2 years ago

as per usual, the internet d-bags are here to enter their stupid peon opinions.

battery technology for lithium-ion continues to evolve at universities. thank you HISTORY for giving us universities. No thank you 20th century status quo propagandists for filling the figurative airwaves with "tomorrow looks like today" or "tomorrow looks like 1952" and "nothing ever changes," "people are all the same," and "blame yourself and your working class peers, not the rich/powerful, rules, or infrastructure for anything." repeat, repeat, repeat. defeat, defeat, defeat the future. defeat change. Thank you to non-American governments, culture, values, and companies for existing and pushing the market forward. Thanks, once again, for honest scientific research at universities funded by the federal government with the aim of improving human life. No thanks to fat white men on radio repeating the message of "the future is a fantasy and un-American."

· I didn't read his book, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn...;) (not verified) · 2 years ago

Benjamin, maybe this shorter message will work better: before critiquing someone's ideas, first learn what they are. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

· · 2 years ago

@I didn't read his book, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn...;) ,
How about you spend your efforts debugging the root article by Jim Motavalli who allegedly did read the O.Z. book instead of fighting with Benjamin Nead.
I, for one, don't have time to read every single piece of garbage that some opportunist shill writes but appreciate it when others, such as Mr. Motavalli, who have a reputation for being somewhat correct, do and summarize for me.
Since nobody has disputed Mr. Motavalli's assertions about the O.Z. book, I'm tempted to take his assertion that the book is nonsense and skip it.

· · 2 years ago

Thanks, ex-EV1. Perhaps "I didn't read . . ." will take your advise. Given the almost increasing voyeuristic way he tried to engage me in conversation here, I sincerely hope his shorter messages get even shorter, to the point of eventually containing no words at all.

I should also mention to "I didn't read . . . " that I have found Green Illusions unavailable for point-of-contact sale (ie: it has to be special ordered) at the only two large retail booksellers in the metro Tucson area and that a quick online search (dispelling his notion my googling skills are substandard) indicated it's not in stock at any of the 20 local public libraries. So, not having a volume in my hands today and now is not for lack of trying. I'll wait until a nearby library has a copy to lend and, yes, I intend to read it. If I find it a valuable, I'll consider owning it. My horizons are wide enough to own - and read - books with opinions contained within that I don't necessarily agree with completely. This atheistic-leaning non-communist has copies of both The Holy Bible and Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book up on the shelf, after all.

Actually, I don't think O.Z. is a shill for anything. I have no doubt he is a committed environmentalist and, in regards to much of the non-technological solutions he espouses, I have to admit I find quite a bit of common ground. Where I part company, obviously, is his insistence that many of today's technological solutions are inadequate at best or dangerous at worse. I find his former ties to the auto industry interesting (since clarified here by none other than "I didn't read . . . ," ironically enough,) but I don't think I was out of line to question possible motivations that could have on the authoring of his volume. I still think he should make clear mention of it in his public resume.

Perhaps the best way to clear the air on this is to share some private email correspondence I had with him a few weeks back. He mentioned in an interview I read recently that he gets a fair amount of hate email, which I think is unfortunate. Assuming this in advance, I took great pains to make my correspondence with him polite yet to the point. This all occurred on or around June 15th. Here's how it went . . .

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Mr. Zehner . . .

I have not read your newest volume, Green Illusions. I've only recently stumbled across various online reviews and, on one of these, found your email address . Subsequently, your greenillusions-dot-org site appeared on my computer. So, it's unfair to fully criticize what is contained there before I completely digest it. But I think enough has been presented in the form of web teasers that I can see where you are headed with your argument. The gist of what you are trying to convey, if I'm correctly interpreting it, is that the technological solutions being presented to us today - all of them - may actually do more harm than good in regards to cleaning up the environment and that careful urban planning and modifying consumption habits are at the core of your proposed solutions.

Well, good . . . no one who actually cares about these issues would disagree that it would be ideal if we could all bicycle or walk everywhere and live exclusively off of vegetables we grow in our own garden. A surprising number who own electric cars and power them with grid-connected PV panels on their roof (evils in your analysis) actually agree with you on these points and practice them when possible. Even though I live in a town with extensive urban sprawl and a woefully incomplete public transit system, I'm lucky enough to live close enough to my workplace that I can, at times, walk the commute . . . and my health, I'm happy to report, permits me this luxury. My wife and I also harvest a great deal of produce from our community garden.

But, even if urban planning on a massive and unprecedented scale were to commence here, we would still find ourselves using automobiles and buying food at the grocery that had to be trucked in from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Therefore, I think it's rather simplistic to conclude that the universal cures you propose to all our problems will serve the entire population of the planet . . . and that all will be able - or even be able to be convinced - to participate accordingly.

After I'm finished reading Amory Lovins' volume, Reinventing Fire, I'll consider giving your thesis more than a cursory look. The approach presented in the Rocky Mountain Institute's study, though, seems to point to a future where we don't have to throw out the technological baby with the bathwater. While a flawed study at times, it tends to deal with how a clean future could unfold a good deal more effectively than, I think, what you're proposing.

In short: I'm skeptical that, say, solar thermal arrays with grid storage batteries are every bit as bad - or worse - than the coal fired power plants they are designed to replace . . . or that a Nissan Leaf carrying a single occupant 40 miles per hour - where public transportation will never be routed and in weather and/or over a realistic time frame that would render any human-powered locomotion completely impractical - is the equivalent of the same person covering the same distance in a Hummer powered by tar sand petroleum or fracked natural gas.

Do I think nuclear is dangerous folly? Yes. That hydrogen is more fiction than science? Sure. That the spuriously branded phrase "Clean Coal" is deceptive advertising at its worst? Absolutely. That corn ethanol is simply a terribly idea? No argument here. Is much that we see on the marketplace now greenwashed by ad agencies to the point of ridiculousness? Of course it is.

But nothing that we humans create is completely benign. Even the humble bicycle is crafted from metals that are mined, as well as being painted and/or plated and lubricated with chemicals that poison. Don't even get me started on that polyvinyl-clad styrofoam safety helmet with the nylon strap! The practical modern walking shoe, likewise, is also a mostly petrochemical phenomenon. The last time I looked, any sort of practical sidewalk or bike path would have to be constructed from concrete or tar that certainly has negative environmental implications. So, I assume you will insist that bicycle manufacturers fashion frames and rims exclusively from bamboo, that we go barefoot outside and that we travel this way exclusively on packed dirt roads?

I'm being somewhat factitious in the above paragraph, of course, but it isn't all that different from your wide brush criticism of any or all that you are presumably excoriating in Green Illusions. Your online book reviews are causing quite a stir right now and I'm going to guess that this will move a lot of product for you. Unfortunately, most will emphasize only the most alarmist claims you make there in attacking emerging clean technologies. Those who hope to perpetuate the energy status quo - especially as its practiced in the U.S. today - will use only those points to do battle with aspects of emerging clean technology that could possibly do us some good. To paraphrase one of your own catchphrases, The Boomerang Effect, naysayers will take us full circle and back to where we are today - oil, urban sprawl, etc. - and conveniently leave out the joys of commuting to work with modest muscle and skipping that cheeseburger in favor of a salad.

Congratulations. You have just given the Republican nominee for U.S. President and his supporters a powerful new weapon.

Regards . . .

Benjamin Nead

Tucson, Arizona

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Mr. Nead,

Thank you kindly for taking the time to write to me. I really appreciate hearing back from people about Green Illusions, even if from a critical stance such as your own. I do hope you will be able to take a look at the book at some point. I suspect you will find that we actually agree on many points and perhaps disagree on a few others. (I know I agree with a lot of the points you made in your email.)

You’ve identified several of the big-picture challenges we’ll be facing...and I don’t presume to have all of the answers on those fundamental challenges. I do hope to bring some perspective to what’s at stake and convey the experiences of those scientists and engineers most intimately involved with rolling out new energy frameworks. You may also be relieved to know that the book presents a diversity of ways to think about our environmental challenges. Unfortunately, I don’t think those subtleties really come through in the promotional materials for the book, and that’s something we need to work on from our end. Green Illusions is actually the result of collaboration of numerous environmental thinkers and researchers who are all dedicated to finding ways of working toward effective change.

I hope you’ll keep in touch once you’ve had a chance to look at the book. This is my personal email account and you are welcome to email me here any time – or on the book’s email account. Sometimes it takes me a while to get back to emails depending on my schedule, but I will respond!

Thank you again and best wishes,

Ozzie

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks, Ozzie, for taking the time to reply . . .

I look forward to giving Green Illusions a careful reading later this summer and I'm especially interested in what you have to say about electric vehicles (EVs.) My interest in this is that I work with others to promote this form of personal transportation as a realistic and comparatively clean alternative to gasoline autos. As mentioned before, I'm not under the illusion that EVs are going to magically save us or that they are environmentally benign. But I've been lucky enough to discuss the issues at great length with engineers - some who are EV owners themselves - who have a far greater technological understanding of how it all works than I could ever hope to muster.

I've also spent a fair amount of time attempting to play devils advocate to expose any glaring flaws in the "cradle to grave" lifeline of a lithium batteries and related EV components. While far from perfect, I've thus far concluded that EVs are far preferable to so many of the other alternatives I've studied. For EVs to work effectively, though, they'll have to be introduced in conjunction with a modernized and cleaner power grid. A fundamental revamping of public transportation and more pedestrian-friendly urban planning in many of our cities is also key but, as I'm sure you know, this will be easier to implement in some metro areas than it will in others. The large and spread out cities in the southwest U.S. will be particularly tough.

More later and best . . .

Ben

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

ex-EV1 driver,

Actually, Jim Motavelli does not claim to have read OZ's book anywhere in the above article, so I'm not sure on what you are basing your claim that Motavelli has "allegedly read the O.Z. book". He does not allege this anywhere above at least. And your deference to Motavelli on his thoughts is troubling - do you not take the time to look into the basis of claims for yourself? You would really rather simply accept the opinion of someone else because their view already matches your own? Motavelli actually does not offer much of substance in this article to contradict the points that Zehner makes regarding EVs. The one claim that he makes - that the study he references is better than the one Zehner does - requires further analysis before one can simply accept Motavelli's claims over Zehner's. For example, if you actually read the article on which the press release on which Motavelli bases his claims (mind you, that's a few sources removed on Motavelli's side of the argument), there is good reason to believe that this study does not, in fact, measure up to the National Academies report. For example, the authors of the Swiss study state up-front that they are primarily interested in looking at the impact of the battery. Although they do a Life Cycle Analysis, they make the assumption that the chassis and other components other than the drivetrains (which they swapped out of the ICE) are the same. It's not clear to me that this is a reasonable assumption - there are many components including the chassis of EVs that differ and require other materials or different combinations of materials when comparing the two types of vehicles (with lighter materials overall used in the production of the EVs because the battery is so heavy). The NAS report does not make these assumptions but rather actually DOES the analysis of all of the differences in materials used. I'm not criticizing the Swiss study - the authors state upfront what their focus is and it is simply not a comparable study to that of the NAS in terms of goals of analysis (contrary to Motavelli's gloss).

Another big difference is that the Swiss study does not look at total environmental impacts - it look only at energy use and only on regulated emissions. The NAS report looks at regulated as well as UNREGULATED emissions AND they look at health effects of the mining of the materials in their respective proportions (EV vs. ICE). They state that the production of EVs also introduces substantial environmental damages/impacts in addition comparing energy use, and they conclude that the OVERALL environmental impact of EVs is more deleterious.

I don't pretend to know enough to assess whether one study deserves our deference more than another. I would like to see a response by O.Z. about the Swiss study in particular for my own knowledge. But the notion that one should simply defer to Mr. Motavelli because he read a news article and decided it was the answer to O.Z.'s critique is preposterous. Those who are interested in understanding the nuances of these comparisons might want to think for themselves rather than simply deciding something is "garbage by an opportunist" because somebody tells them to think it.

· · 2 years ago

@Aaron,
Good point. I guess Motavalli doesn't claim to have read the book, only an interview with him.
Unfortunately, I don't have time to hunt down and read every article or publication against EVs either though.

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver,

So on what do you base your decision to defer to one source rather than another - blind faith? I don't have the time to read every article either, but then, I don't make unfounded accusations toward those whose views I may be inclined to be skeptical towards.

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

Dear Ben,

While I agree that perhaps "I didn't read the book..." could communicate his criticism in a nicer way, your email to Zehner does prove his point (to belabor the point). With all due respect to you, it really does strike me as bizarre to begin an email to an author that reads, essentially, "I haven't read your book, but…" and then many paragraphs later end with an accusation that his book works in the service of helping to get another political party into power. What comes in between confirms a narrow conception of the arguments that Zehner lays out in the book and your admonishment at the end suggests that you find the current two-party political machine to be more sacred than constructive critique. Are we really to simply keep our mouths shut when we have something to say that may help us to see the ways in which our current trajectory is unsatisfactory ? Must we be beholden to those Holy interests of the leftist capitalist system that says, "as long as we can label it "green" and it keeps our economy growing, all is fine and good." Zehner's book takes aim at precisely the kind of binary thinking that your closing comment seems to suggest should be somehow off-limits - God forbid the left say anything critical about the policies/strategies of "One of Our Own" even if it has become clear that the policies of "both" parties are, to use that lovely cliche, simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. What we need is precisely what Zehner prescribes (and I'm not referring to his so-called "first steps") -- an approach that requires a bit more reflection that what the "Green Machine" tells us we must believe. While the shiny accoutrements of the latest and greatest alternative technologies and their supporters are busy dazzling us, Zehner shows us how they distract us from more basic fundamentals of our social arrangements that, if left untouched, are likely to render those technologies impotent if our goal is to reduce the destructive impacts of our energy consumption (really, the destructive impacts of economic growth since capital requires massive extraction of natural resources).

· · 2 years ago

I simply don't have time to argue every point you've brought up, Aaron. I just find it rather amazing that you seem to have so much to fear from this so-called "Green Machine" and haven't even brought up the inherent evils of the perpetuation of so-called "Big Oil." Where is the outrage there?

I'll contend that, while EVs aren't perfect in the short term, we will be doing ourselves far more harm in the long term to abandon them and rely on eaking out the last bit of efficiency from today's gasoline vehicles. When that fuel finally runs out, we'll find ourselves needing an alternative. Better to begin to develop that alternative now and get the bugs worked out of it than to ignore it, as we did for the last two decades of the 20th century.

· Danpatgal (not verified) · 2 years ago

I love this thread - thanks Benjamin in particular for all your very well thought out comments and responses. I think some of the same fears of the "Green Machine" are brought up in "The Long Emergency", which is long on criticism and short on ideas to deal with them. Though I too feel the EV is somewhat imperfect and does distract from better changes we could make, EV criticism falls into the category of "The perfect being the enemy of the good". We're much better off doing something and moving in a positive direction instead of griping about the imperfections of those actions and (using those gripes as an excuse for) doing nothing. Oh, and as others, like Darrell have pointed out - we are allowed to multi-task (I ride a bike a LOT and and drive EVs a LOT).

I'll just add one thing that I found appropriate to this discussion that I stumbled across while I was building my electric bicycle (to supplement my regular bicycle and regular EV). The comment is from Grin Technlogies who supplied my electric bicycle kit and made a convincing case that riding an electric bicycle has a lower environmental impact than riding a conventional human powered bicycle. It's a case where Ozzie Zehner has it wrong (if I can assume he'd favor a regular bicycle over an electric one). See the details here:

http://www.ebikes.ca/sustainability/Ebike_Energy.pdf

· · 2 years ago

Well, not to complain about your input, Danpatgal, but I've found keeping up with this particular thread to be rather exhausting these past few days. Thanks, though.

I took a look and you ebike PDF and, while interesting, I can't conclude from this that a lithium pack ebike is going to have less of an energy/environmental impact that a purely human powered one. For my short work commute, I couldn't imagine the food intake I would require displaces the manufacturing and eventually recycling of a lithium battery pack. But, if an ebike works for your particular needs, then who am I to question it? Few would argue that a lithium battery ebike isn't cleaner (not to mention a heck of a lot quieter) that those gasoline motor add-ons we sometimes see on bicycles. Then again, it seems to be a very small slice of environmental activists who perceive all electrified personal transportation to be dirtier than the gasoline status quo.

Which brings us back full circle. Not everyone's situation fits into the neatly compartmentalized criteria of a particular study. And that studies, in general, can be skewed in attempt to prove a particular point.

· · 2 years ago

@Danpatgal -

As Benjamin astutely pointed out, a case can be made to prove any point you'd like to make. You have read the study, I assume. Do you agree with the assumptions and generalizations? I certainly don't! But they do make the case that was intended! You know that there are similar studies that prove that riding a bicycle is more polluting than driving an average gasoline automobile! I believe the underlying assumption was that all extra human consumption calories to power the bicycle came from beef. And they were serious. Just like this study that claims it will take the same amount of energy to move an e-bike as to move a human-powered bike. (Ha! - I'll challenge anybody to accompany me on their e-bike - which they must power only by pedaling and with the battery disconnected) - while I ride my human-powered bike. Every e-bike I've ridden requires significantly more power to move it at the same speed as a pedal-only bike.

And the assumptions never really get back on track. Ignoring the cradle to grave energy cost of the battery pack while calling this a "lifecycle" study is almost comical. And then there are the energy assumptions of food. And finally, the increasing efficiency of human energy conversion as fitness increases is ignored.

Some things really ARE as they seem. And I think this is one of those cases.

I don't mean to discourage e-bike usage. I just don't think we need to stretch so far from reality to find an excuse to use one. I'd far rather see somebody on an e-bike instead of in any car. But in the end, I would also like to see folks riding regular bikes than riding an e-bike... if they're capable.

Just like you mentioned about multi-tasking.... the right tool for the right job makes all the sense in the world. And sometimes an e-bike is definitely the right tool!

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

Thanks, Benjamin,

For a closing point, I'd like to just point out that when I say the "Green Machine," I'm including Big Oil in that outrage, because I don't think, based on what I've read, that the U.S. in particular has the right conditions for those green technologies to actually displace fossil fuel use (instead I think they are simply adding to fossil fuel use or at best, costing a lot of money with little to no effect). To be clear, my argument is not *for* Big Oil. On that, you and I share the same desire to see changes made so that we are using less of it. We can agree to disagree on how best to get there. I appreciate your comments.

Best

· · 2 years ago

@Aaron,
I'm not sure what you mean when you say that you " don't think . . . that the U.S. in particular has the right conditions for those green technologies to actually displace fossil fuel use ".
Every day, I see more PiPs, Leafs, and Volts (as well as other occasionally) on the road and periodically another house in town puts solar PV on its roof. I don't have a lot of hope for any 'machines' doing much but unrestrained human will can be very powerful.

· · 2 years ago

@Benjamin/Darell: @Benjamin / Darell. I thought I was agreeing with you - perhaps you like debating more than agreement? ;)

Maybe the point both of you are making is that essentially because our diets are so flush with calories that making some measure of replacement calories on a bicyle is irrelevant. I kind of agree. But then again, how else can the comparison be made? And yes, an e-bike will take more energy per mile to move, but at maybe 20 lbs extra for a typical setup, I don't think it's unreasonable to leave it out of the calculations. If you're that picky add it in (and your 5-10% more efficient man-motor that you are too). Even with those changes, the main conclusions are still the same. You can even add a disposal cost for lithium, and you're still out ahead. As the study mentions in the conclusion, this is mainly because our food system is so fossil fuel intensive (in the US we use, on average, 11 calories of fuel to make 1 calorie of food - even worse than the 1/7 ratio used in the study).

In light of this study, I'd be surprised to see a study citing human powered cycling as being more energy efficient than battery powered cycling. It would have to show average battery disposal cost greater than the production and several times better food production and pedal efficiency. All of which is totally unrealistic (see the references in the study: Chancellor and Prempero for the latter two). For battery disposal costs, see this article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=lithium-ion-batteries-h...

They talk about a recycler who MAKES money on recycling because the components of the batteries are worth more than the cost to process them. So, it might be that "disposing" of a battery is actually REDUCING the energy inputs for the lithium case.

I didn't want to start another debate (ride my standard bicycle more than my e-bike or my EV), I just referenced the study because I found it compelling, even in light of the assumptions, that the typical assumption that standard cycling should be more efficient may not be so. But, maybe we should just agree to disagree.

· · 2 years ago

Dan -

While I do like a good discussion, I rarely waste my time in arguing for argument's sake. Obviously we both want the same thing. But just like with the studies that show a Hummer is more resource efficient than a Prius, the assumptions of a study MUST be accurate, or there's no reason to waste time on the "study." I can show you two studies right now - one that shows that beer is the worst recovery drink ever, and one that shows it is the best.

I can make my bike-riding-energy case simple in a real-life, non-scientific way. It is only an example of one, but it is all I have. When I wasn't riding, I weighed a solid 180, and ate~ 3,000 cal per day. These days (when I cycle about 8,000 miles per year), I weigh 165, and I eat about 3,000 cal per day. Often quite less.

Is there any way that me building/ charging/ recycling a battery that runs a heavier bike is going to make my transportation more energy efficient no matter where my food comes from? Of course in my specific case (that shouldn't be generalized), I grow much of my own food, and most of the rest is grown organically within 100 miles of my house. I eat little meat.

The study is definitely compelling. And even if accurate, I'm still not a fan of choosing the sedentary transportation over the active transportation - for one of the very reasons that was appropriately and purposefully dismissed in the study because it was too complicated: The benefits of exercise.

One of the complications is the change in eating habits when you become physically fit. But you know all these since you're "one of us."

As with most of these studies (like the ones showing that PV is not a good investment) a static set of variables is usually set. Everything will remain as it is today, but we only change ONE item (pedal versus battery bike in this case). But of course those assumptions are likely never accurate, and in many cases can be extremely misleading.

Interesting stuff for sure.... but concluding that recycling a battery somehow *makes* energy (you called it reducing energy inputs) because it can net a profit is wildly off-base! Of course it takes less energy to recycle than to start with fresh resources. But it still takes energy to recycle... even if it nets money from the materials.

Regardless of all this, we all agree that physical activity is good for us, and that electric power is wonderfully efficient.

· · 2 years ago

@Darell - yes, thanks for the good points. Maybe the surprising conclusion allowed me to gloss over the assumptions. If there was a study claiming beer is good for you except for some simple assumptions, I might not really think about those assumptions and just accept the conclusion that's in accordance with my beliefs and lifestyle. Sincerely - you've helped me (and I think many others in other threads) think a little bit about my own bias.

But, I can't say your personal example really refutes the study. I'm pretty sure if you were a runner (like me) and achieved your max efficiency and lowest weight ... and then started biking too, you'd need to find a way to replace those calories, it's just conservation of energy. I'm eating a lot of local food myself, but even that food has some fossil fuel input, even if I'm eating organic Amish farmed (no synthetic fertilizers and no machinery) food mostly ... because they do use trucks to move it to market from the farm and some small portion of the electricity in my EV to go pick it up comes from coal. But you and I aren't average . The point of the study is to look at the averages.

Also, my point on the recycling was that we normally assume it will COST something to dispose of a battery. But, because there is material invested in that battery from the production (accounted for in the study) some of that initial production costs could be recouped during recycling. Yes it costs something to do that, but less than value (monetary/energy) of materials that come out of it (or they wouldn't do it). This would make battery powered cycling less energy intensive than how the study was done - but the author left it out choosing to just view it as a wash.

And, the point of promoting e-bikes (even at the expense of offending human powered purists) is that more people can use them longer and in more situations. For example, if I didn't have a shower at work, a standard bicycle would leave me too sweaty probably 50% of the time. Most people I know don't have access to a shower at work, so have that same problem. As I age, I know I won't have the energy or stamina I do now, an e-bike would help with that - it's much better than an ICE or even an EV.

I guess e-bikes won't be big in the US (but they are big in Asia and Europe) because of safety, distance, and perception issues - and this is a bit off topic. I think EVs are the way to go for most people to get around, but as you have said, we should be open to all sorts of solutions to meet our transportation needs in the future.

· Aaron (not verified) · 2 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver,

Thanks for your question, but I'm not sure I understand what you are asking. My comment remains unchanged. I agree that human will is an incredible thing. My point remains that the human will to produce technologies can be a good thing, but that if we do not attend to the CONTEXTS in which those technologies are deployed, we risk them not having much of an impact on reducing fossil fuel use.

A study by Richard York at Oregon state university provides an analysis of fossil fuel displacement attributable to solar cells and wind turbines and finds that across many countries, these technologies have had no significant impact on displacing fossil fuel consumption. Obviously, there may be regional differences in WHERE the technologies were deployed, but unfortunately, the study did not do a more fine-grained analysis. However, as Zehner argues using references to the DOE's own data, wind power in the U.S. is unlikely to significantly displace fossil fuel because in a context with growing population and increasing patterns of consumption, energy produced by wind simply adds to supply, thereby decreasing cost, and subsequently increases demand. It's a kind of rebound effect. If we were to have an energy tax in place, then we might expect that wind energy could displace fossil fuel because the increased supply could be prevented from decreasing cost and increasing demand (this is at a macro level of analysis - obviously there will be individuals who do not directly increase their demand even though energy costs are lowered or maintained, but at the macro level, the available data suggests that this is indeed a predictable phenomenon).

The point is not that humans are or aren't willful, creative creatures, but that the the larger context in which that technological genius is deployed can have a powerful impact on whether or not those technologies do what we want them to.

· · 2 years ago

Thanks Dan! The civil discussion is much appreciated!

Now I have to go eat. ;)

· Rodger Lepinsky (not verified) · 2 years ago

Hmm. I ran some numbers recently on the EV vs ICE debate. It was amazing how simple the direct costs were to calculate.

The EV still comes out ahead in energy and CO2 impact. Even in the very worst case scenarios, using 100% coal, and running full time at -30 celcius.

See the analysis and graphs here:

http://rodgerswriting.blogspot.com/2012/06/vehicle-lifetime-cost-of-ener...

http://rodgerswriting.blogspot.com/2012/06/electric-vehicles-vs-internal...

http://rodgerswriting.blogspot.com/2012/06/hummer-versus-prius.html

· Petey (not verified) · 2 years ago

The problem with electic cars is simply the second law: an internal combusion engine has only two energy conversions. First the chemical potential energy is converted to heat, then the heat is converted directly to mechanical energy. The more conversions, the more loss since every conversion entails a loss. For EV's: chemical energy->heat->mechanical energy->electrical energy->cross many km's of power lines->chemical energy->electrical energy->mechanical energy. I count seven conversions, one less if you're using hydro power. There is no doubt in my mind that the problems people are currently trying to solve through EVs and hybrids could be much better solved simply by good design--make cars lighter, more aerodynamic and just overall more efficient.

· · 2 years ago

Petey -

You may have missed a few items on the gasoline side of the chart. I notice you included the transmission of electricity for EVs, for example. How does oil from all over the world end up in your tank? And how does the oil from the ground even *become* the gasoline in your tank? Any conversion losses we should be concerned with there? Any ships or trucking or pumping going on? Any *enormous* energy inputs to convert oil to gasoline?

It turns out that this equation is not so simple, and that EVs really are amazingly efficient machines. Start with EV, and THEN add your lighter, more aero design, and you'll have something.

The neat part about the "problem" with EVs is that the fuel can be made from almost anything. Hydro, as you pointed out. Solar, like I use on my roof. Even coal and gasoline. When I convert free sunshine into electricity, it is hard to imagine how big a problem my EV is in your scenario.

· Patrick S (not verified) · 1 year ago

This is a great thread, I came via the Huffpost review of 'Green Illusions' looking for intelligent critical debate on the book, and have found the level of discussion here useful.

Just to add to the argument advanced by Benjamin Nead etc - by no means are most green advocates who see wind power, electric cars etc as a useful measure "blind" to larger social measures of the sort Zehner puts forward.

E.g. if you read the likes of Lester Brown's Plan B series of books, he'll advocate strongly for both modified cities and transit systems focused on public transport and bikes, but also more use of EVs. (In my 2008 3.0 edition, p196-202 on city transport more broadly, and p243-246 on EVs).

My professional work involves planning for better public transport currently - and whilst I feel there's scope for much more PT use even in Australia and the US, in reality it's not an easy environmental solution that has been simply ignored and/or not given sufficient support. It is actually a very challenging task given our current urban form and car-based lifestyle patterns.

And as Benjamin has pointed out, modifying our cities to be more walkable takes time given the investment in current infrastructure. Even if a rapid transformation were politically possible, there is the embodied energy of current built forms to take into account from an environmental perspective.

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