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Winning the "Coal burning electric plants" vs "Burning gas at the tailpipe" Argument

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geppert · · 7 years ago

I all too often hear people try to make the argument that electric cars are no better for the environment than regular cars because most of the electricity comes from coal-fired power plants.

What would be great is to find out how much carbon is released when creating the electricity for moving a car 1 mile. Then compare how much carbon is released when burning gas to move an equivalent car 1 mile.

There are many counter-arguments to this idea of coal vs gas. For example, at least coal is produced locally - your money isn't going to 3rd world dictators. Or at least there is the potential to add improved pollution control to the power plants, whereas changing everyone's tailpipe is impossible.

But it would be great if the argument could be won on the same grounds that it was made - carbon output.


· · 7 years ago

Ok - I did a little more research and it's a bit surprising.

Let's start by figuring out how much carbon is output by burning coal. According to Energy Information Administration (EIA) research, emissions range from 2,791 lbs per short ton for lignite coal to 5,685 lbs per short ton for anthracite coal. However, the coefficients for the coals that are primarily used in electricity production, bituminous and sub-bituminous are 4,931 and 3,716 respectively. Let's take the high-end = 4,931 lbs of CO2 per ton (2000 lbs of coal).

That works out to 2.47 lbs of CO2 per lb of coal.

How much electricity does a pound of coal make? According to numerous sources, 966 lbs of coal produces 876 kwh (kilowatt-hours). So 1.1 lbs of coal per kwh.

Using the Nissan Leaf as our average electric car, the EPA quotes it as using 34 kwh to move 100 miles. Or 34 kwh x (1.1 lbs of coal/kwh) = 37.4 lbs of coal are required to move 100 miles. Or .374 lbs of coal per mile. So .374 lbs of coal x 2.47 lbs of CO2 per lb of coal = .924 lbs of CO2 are emitted to move the Leaf one mile.

Hows does that compare to a dino-juice-burning automobile? The EPA says that a gallon of regular gas (not diesel) produces 19.4 lbs of CO2. Take a typical car that gets 20 MPG and that is equal to .970 lbs of CO2 per mile.

Winner? Electric car. Granted, you could get a super-efficient gas-mobile but the people using this argument are typically driving an SUV.

Also consider that most electric utilities are trying desperately to get away from coal, so the chances that your electrons were produced using pure coal are quite slim.

· CogWheeler (not verified) · 7 years ago

I agree on ~20lb carbon = 1 gallon gas, but heard that coal results in about .6-1 ton of of CO2 per MWH of power generation. That doesn't jive with your 1,100 lbs of coal X 2.47 lbs CO@ per coal lb number. I would be interested to know your source on that. Mine was EIA's net carbon released for MWH produced by coal in the United States. I forget the big numbers, but the ratio was something closer to .8 ton of CO2 per MWH. Your figure would be closer to 1.36 ton CO2 per MWH. Another thing to note is I believe the .8 is an average of .6 and 1.0. The older coal plants are less efficient, with waste heat and produce more carbon per mwh as a result.

Any way you look at it, the Volt/Leaf go only a few miles before coal-fired CO2 blows away what a gas car would produce. That's not worth fighting. Coal is!

· CogWheeler (not verified) · 7 years ago

I would add that because 70% of US power, again per EIA, is fossil fuel based, we never generally get low-carbon electricity in most places across the country.

First, we need to agree on a carbon emission per kwh, or mwh, when using coal. It's bad stuff and the EV's only tend to win in places like the Hydro Pacific Northwest, or high nuclear areas. My own calcs show just under 4 miles on coal, or 8 miles on the average US power mix, before a 2.8 mile per kwh EV emits as much carbon as your choice of gas-burner going through 1 gallon of gas. Not good.

· · 7 years ago

If you're assuming a 2.8 M/kWh EV emits about the same amount of carbon as a gasoline ICE then, to me, the EV is still the winner.
The grid can be cleaned up and doesn't require all of the other junk that comes from oil dependency including wars, oil spills, etc. Carbon isn't the only evil of oil.
We shouldn't wait for a perfect grid to move our transportation to electricity. We need to end our oil dependency as soon as possible.
Also your 70% fossil fuel is misleading since much of that fossil fuel is natural gas which emits far less CO2 than coal.

· CommonSense (not verified) · 6 years ago

It's rather misleading to compare the Nissan Leaf to a conventional vehicle that gets 20mpg. Instead, it is much more appropriate to compare the Leaf to an equivalent small car, say the Nissan Versa. The Versa is rated at 34mpg highway, changing the calculated carbon output figure (I am assuming the previous calculations are without error) from .970 to .571lbs/mi, demonstrating that the equivalent gasoline powered vehicle is substantially more environmentally friendly. It should also be noted that it is $10K cheaper, and doesn't have a large battery pack, production of which are typically not environmentally friendly.

While it is important to advance technology, we must always keep things in perspective- often the new technologies are just a stepping stone to real improvement, and should be treated as such.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

Gotta say that I think this whole line of thought is totally bogus. Yes electricity comes from coal now but the real point is that electricity can come exclusively from renewables gas cannot. People having this argument need to shift the paradigm to one where electric cars are being charged by wind or solar. This argument only serves to cloud the larger picture. Electric cars can run totally clean if we have the vision and the will while ICE cars will never be clean.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

People are forgetting that actually getting the coal requires all sorts of fossil fuels to be burned as well. I'm not saying oil is any better, but in these scenario's you have to really look at as much of the big picture as possible.

So, oil is drilled somewhere (2 parts Canada, 1 part Mexico, 1 part Saudi Arabia) and imported via some method (pipeline, truck, tanker). Then the oil is refined to diesel or heavy oil and used to power the tanker and the truck to ship the refined oil somewhere where there is coal. The fuel is used by machinery to dig out the coal from the ground. Then it's put in trucks which bring it to trains, which bring it to trucks, which deposit it at power plants. Phew! We just burned a lot of oil to move that coal.

If it's just the oil, it get's refined, put on a truck and transported once or twice until it reaches a gas station, where you fill 'er up.

I find it difficult to believe coal burning power plants, when you compare the entire process to get them lit and producing electricity, are better for the environment, via electric vehicles, than gasoline powered vehicles.

Coal is a great source of electricity because it's produced with consistency, has large reserves, and is more price predictable than oil or natural gas (depending on the region - Appalachia is more volatile).

· · 6 years ago

Anonymous: You are certainly right in that both fossil fuels are interdependent. How about the fact that it takes about kWh of electricity to refine every gallon of gas. That 6kWh can propel an EV 20 to 25 miles alone.
You must also consider that there are many ways to produce electricity and many are clean and renewable, you can never say that about gasoline. In fact, every year the grid gets cleaner and will continue to do so, while every year the opposite can be said about the supply chain of gasoline, as it is actually getting dirtier as we need to dig deeper and explore more and more in deep offshore waters just to find the stuff to keep the future supply stable.

I produce my own electricity for my EV with my home solar array. I can control my energy supply and know my future costs will be stable. Try doing that with gasoline.

· · 6 years ago

I did a blog post on this.

Here is the basic idea. Don't fall into their trap of starting to compute mile by mile. There are too many variables & scenarios.

"Let us look at this from the point of view of CO2 emissions. We have two big sources of emissions.

- Transportation
- Power generation

To reduce emissions we need to cut down emissions from both these sources, as well as from other sources. It will take decades to actually do this transition from fossil fueled cars to electric cars and from coal power to nuclear/renewable even if we start the transition in earnest today. That is why we need to start both the transitions now."

· RaphaelR (not verified) · 6 years ago

The environmental consequences of coal-powered electric cars are a very interesting and challenging question. Are we actually building a more sustainable planet? We all want the answer to be yes, and it can be very exciting to assume electric cars will be the perfect answer. But as with most matters in energy, the devil is in the details, and the details are often complex! The environmental company, Carbon Lighthouse, actually conducted an in-depth quantitative analysis on this exact topic:

· · 6 years ago

Interesting analysis. One thing you do appear to be missing is the amount of energy used to produce gasoline. Your 19.4 lbs of CO2 per gallon of gasoline assumes that suddenly a gallon of gasoline appears. Don't miss the long trip from the bottom of a well to the pump at your local gas station.
Many others before you have performed this same comparison and all tend to determine that the best gas cars (Prius) produce about the same amount of CO2 as the EVs from the worst source (coal).
To me this means we're ahead with EVs from the very start and, as the our grid cleans up, we will only get better over time.
"Getting better over time" is a trend that our society needs to embrace if it is going to survive.

· · 6 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver, If you look at some of the info on Darell's site, it suggests that the amount of electricity and natural gas — which could be used to generate electricity — used to refine gasoline would power more miles in an EV than the gasoline would in an ICE car. If true (the actual numbers are difficult to pin down) why not just skip the oil step entirely?

To my mind, that makes an EV way, way better than any ICE car, including a Prius, even if it uses all coal for the electricity.

Darell's links:
(Click on the "Gasoline/Oil" tab at the top; the electricity for gasoline refining numbers are toward the bottom of the page.)
Actually pinning down some of these numbers might make a nice research project for a student interested in this subject. To me, the idea that it takes a lot of electricity to produce and refine oil to gasoline came as a total revelation.

· · 6 years ago

Thanks for that link. I'm just suggesting that Raphael look into his own figures as well. Not that I don't trust Darell but if Raphael is going to do his own computations, he should be thorough.

· · 6 years ago

There is another factor to this argument. EV's will primarily take advantage of off-peak energy from the grid. The grid for the most part doesn't store energy. All of the fossil fuel used to power an EV car would have been burned just for availability sake.

So unless EVERYONE agreed to cut the main circuit in their house when going to bed. The coal still burns. EV's actually tap into the concept of energy storage on a large scale and that is the real game changer here.

· · 6 years ago

Be a bit careful using the off-peak argument. While there is truth to it, it isn't as solid as you suggest.
The issue is that powerplants that use steam (nuclear, coal, some natural gas) efficiently, cannot be turned on and off quickly. It can take up to 12 hours to turn a plant off because it must cool down slowly. It can then take another 12 hours to turn back on again because it must heat up slowly too. This is because uneven cooling or heating can cause warping and other ill affects to the plumbing.
This means that they must leave the plants running all night, even though the load is down. For this reason, night-time electricity is cheap since the plants are already there but under-utilized. They do throttle down the plants though so the fuel consumption is much less and the CO2 output is less at night. There is, perhaps some fuel wasted generating electricity that isn't used but not too much.
A lot of night-time EV charging will cause them to have to throttle up the plants, even at night so the CO2 production will likely still be there.
Night-time EV charging is more of an economic benefit than an ecological one.

· · 6 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver. Once again you are correct, under current conditions. The things that will change are the fact that the charging infrastructure will be developed people may or not charge at home as often. Also as batteries are improved most people with EV's will only top off their batteries during the week if they don't do so already. Also the smart grid will load balance quickly most likely reducing the need to power up those plants during off peak times.

Anyway, I think long term as the car battery application is developed the whole house battery will comes next within the price point of more home owners. That will be a huge benefit for solar, wind, and the grid.

· · 6 years ago

I agree that as the electrical grid moves from predominantly steam plants to renewable sources with energy storage and, perhaps load control, the dynamics and economics will change.
It's going to be another interesting period of Human progress.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

The amount of fossil fuels v. renewable fuels is about 84% from what I've seen, and about 9% of that is nuclear. In addition not all of this energy is used to create electricity, some is used for heat or other various processes.

· Ping (not verified) · 6 years ago

Some thoughts about things said here already:
The system of coal fired plants we have now was developed for a different time. It provided a use for an infrastructure that seemed to be going to waste. I refer to the railroads which were built in synergy with the coal producing regions because of their need for the product in the steam engines of that time.Later, In parts of the west the idea changed to shipping the electricity via transmission lines from coal fired plants at the source. This only made sense when the demand was steady and certain industries( now in decline or offshore) ran 24/7, as they did during WWII. Generating plants close to cities could benefit from the rail shipped coal in that they could stockpile it until it was needed locally. All this came about because of the limits of the technology at that time to respond to demand.

Throttling back at night and for low demand has a cost in the efficiency of a steam plant of any sort. This was why the interties in transmission systems were developed to help keep those plants at peak efficiency. But those centralized systems are not adequate for todays market. Improved storage of electricity generated at best efficiency and distribution will be one of the electric cars' main contributions to a more efficient and up-to date economy.

· jim1961 (not verified) · 6 years ago

I posted the following comment in another thread and I'm recycling it here. (recycling is good for the environment, right?) Argonne National Laboratories has something called the GREET model. (Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation) I downloaded the so-called GREET model but it turned out to be quite complicated. Then I found what they call their "mini-tool" which gives a summary of various vehicle/fuel technologies. You can find it here: Click where it says "here" to download the Excel spreadsheet. After you open the spreadsheet go to the bottom and click on the "per_mi" tab.

These greenhouse gas calculations are well-to-wheels. In other words, ALL energy expenditures are included such as drilling, transporting of crude, refining, and transportation to the pump, etc, etc. The units are grams of CO2 equivalent per mile. I picked out some of the most common vehicles and fuels.

Conventional ICE gasoline......451
HEV gasoline........................323
FFV corn ethanol E85............371
FFV switchgrass E85............119
CNG ICE..............................391
Diesel ICE............................386
Renewable diesel-soybean......92
Electricity EV U.S. Mix..........333
Electricity EV CA Mix............172
Electricity EV Coal................579
Electric EV NGCC.................243

The CO2 emissions of EVs depends upon where you live. The following website shows the energy mix for individual U.S. states.
My retarded home state of Missouri has a regrettably dirty energy mix. I think EVs are interesting technology. I would not be a fan of this website if I was interested in EVs but I will not be jumping on the EV bandwagon right away. I hope EVs will be very popular in non-retarded states.

· · 6 years ago

Even though your state uses mainly coal to produce its electricity, this study still shows that you would still be helping the planet by driving an EV.
Here's why:
1) The main barrier to EV acceptance by the general population today is price, mainly tied up in manufacturing startup cost, particularly in batteries. It seems quite clear then that if those who understand the benefit of EVs over other transportation methods support EVs, even in states where the net CO2 benefit may not be as convincingly an improvement, will bring up the sales volumes and reduce the costs. As the costs go down, EV proliferation improves and, as the GREET study shows, we'll win overall.
2) EV's flexible charging needs (for well-designed EVs), mean that they can be used to balance the grid's dynamic needs. This ability to balance the demand makes intermittent renewables such as wind and solar more economically viable and hence more viable as alternatives to your state's coal base.

I'm not completely certain about the GREET studies but agree that they aren't too far off, even if there are some inaccuracies that favor oil over electricity.

· jim1961 (not verified) · 6 years ago

ex-EV1 driver,

Those are excellent points to ponder. The Mitsubishi i is on my short list of vehicles that will be my next new car. My next new car purchase is at least one year away so I have plenty of time to think about it.

· · 6 years ago

The EPA Fuel Economy site ( provides a calculator for GHG emissions that pretty well silences these arguments.

I think the intent is for a calculator to be available for each EV, but for the time being only the 2011 Leaf and Volt are shown. For either, you can enter your zip code and CO2 emissions are calculated for you.

North Dakota is the worst state in terms of CO2 per kilowatt. Comparing a Leaf (using the zip code for Fargo, ND (58103)) and a Prius gives 310g/mile for the Leaf and 222g/mile for the Prius. But check the Nissan Juke, (similar in size and shape to the Leaf) and you get 382g/mile. So even in the worst possible location, the Leaf does better than the Juke.

03063 is a Nashua NH zip code. There, the Leaf produces 140 g/Mile CO2, much better than even the Prius, and not much more than 1/3 the CO2 emissions of a Juke.

· jim1961 (not verified) · 6 years ago

Thanks Ken Fry. Good link. The bad news is my state is apparently tied with North Dakota for the worst CO2 emissions.

· · 6 years ago

@Ken Fry, I think that website just averages electricity generation for each state because I get the same figure of 380g/mile for any zip code I try and I know the power mix is different depending on the area and utility in my state.

I've been charging my car during the day on sunny days to use my solar (and that of my neighbors) directly. Midday is off peak here even in summer, because there is no AC use in the mountains, so the local power co-op doesn't have much need for solar electricity.

· Brian B. (not verified) · 6 years ago

I kind of stumbled onto this site but I found every one of these posts to be interesting, intelligent, and informative. And even where people may disagree or wish to make a different point, they do so respectfully. This restores a little of my faith in mankind. Impressive. Thanks to you all.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

For those of you who think we can replace our total energy use with solar and wind, forget it! There simply ain't that much sunshine and wind. It just don't work. The seasonal efficiency change for a typical power plant due simply to the temperature change of the heat sink (i.e. ambient temperature change) is on the order of 15 - 30 windmills per plant, depending on the size of the plant. Typical output from one conventional plant is on the order of 1000 - 2000 windmills. That's assuming the windmills produce rated power 24/7, which they don't - windmills average about 30% utilization, typically producing maximum power at night when demand is low, further compounding the problem. So figure about 3000 - 6000 windmills to replace a single conventional power plant. Also coal plants do not produce more power than the grid can take, They throttle down as far as they can, then you start taking them offline - the cost of starting them back up again shows up in your electric bill.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

Should have added this to the last post (a few minutes ago). If you want to improve the situation, as most of us do, the most effective solution at least in chillier climates is co-generation. Where you produce your own electricity, and maybe some extra - typically from fossil fuels - and use the waste heat to heat your house. The biggest loss with our present generation system is the 50 - 70% of the fuel energy that our power plants dump into the environment as waste heat. Put that heat someplace useful and eliminate the original heating source. Makes far more sense to shift power plant waste heat to where it can be used than to shift vehicle emissions to a power plant. Granted they are separate issues and technologies that should both be part of the solution. But if we're talking about bang for the buck - stop piddling around with nickles and focus on the $10s and $20's.

· · 6 years ago

You're probably right that wind, alone can't replace all fossil fuels but wind, solar, and hydro certainly could.
I agree that co-generation is the most efficient way to use natural gas (its tough with coal) but it still requires non-renewable natural gas so you're going to have to find a solution eventually.
You didn't mention the other challenge with wind and solar in that some form of energy storage is necessary with either of them. This is a place that EVs can actually be very helpful for the grid because an EV normally only needs some amount of charge, sometime during the day and it spends most of its day parked. This means that it could use energy from solar or wind, whenever those sources are producing. Therefore, adding EVs to a renewable grid won't add additional storage requirement to it.
Hydro is a good source to add to wind and solar because it can easily be operated as demand requires, sort of as a naturally stored energy.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

Let's don't drive cars or EVs.
If you are an environmentalist, just ride Bikes.

· · 6 years ago

"If you are an environmentalist, just ride bikes."

That is a great idea, especially considering the health benefits. I have long enjoyed bicycling for transportation purposes as well as for fun and exercise.

I would say that if some combination of walking, bicycling, and public transportation works for you, then do it. If not, then consider an electric bike or electric motorcycle. If that doesn't work for you, then consider an electric car. If not that, then a hybrid car. If you can't afford an electric car or hybrid car, even a used one, then at least get something that's relatively fuel efficient. You get the idea. Just do the best you can in your circumstances, and don't be judgmental if others don't measure up to your personal standards. We all fall short in one area of life or another.

· · 6 years ago

Coal Sucks. EVs don't need to be powered by coal.

The rest is just details, yeah?

· · 6 years ago

Coal saved trees in Europe. It saved society initially and later enabled the industrial age that had a tremendous, positive affect on the human race that we all enjoy today.
It has, however run its race.
Like everything, it is ok in moderation but has a good and bad side.
Today, however, the bad affects of our dependence on oil are worse than our use of coal so I support the use of American coal (and nuclear) to facilitate our transition to alternatives to oil.
Once we have ended out dependence on oil, the good side of coal will diminish so, as mankind has done for eons, it will be time for society to evolve to something better.
Fortunately, it appears that coal is not actually cheaper than its alternatives, if its producers and users are forced to account for the damage to the land, water, and air that it causes. With basic enforcement of the basic laws of property - that you can't trash your neighbor's property - it will eventually go the way of the dinosaur and be replaced with clean, sustainable energy sources.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

How much of the energy put into batteries do you get back out of batteries? Would hightech windup cars actually work better for around town operation?

· · 6 years ago

@anonymous -

About 80-85% of the energy used to charge the batteries is available to turn the wheels. Note that a "windup" car would require the energy input to do the winding.

· · 6 years ago

@abasile - I like your reply (I'm often the one saying - just ride bikes). In part because I have heard so many EV proponents gush about how much they will save driving an EV, when I just don't see it - and don't think we'll see it for many years (5-10 years), barring some monumental shift in oil prices. But, as you said, we do the best we can do for our personal circumstances and not pass judgement upon others. However, I think we need to always consider our personal bias and that it's always easier to stay independent and make a personal improvement than attempt to make collective changes that would have a much greater "bang for the buck". (The collective changes I'm thinking of is working politically to get more public transport, supporting a carbon tax, supporting bike lanes ... etc.)

Back on Topic: I've done the research on the coal powered EV argument, and it typically comes out better to drive an EV even if your electricity comes from coal. More importantly, as the electric grid cleans up, or if you get solar panels, or a wind turbine, or can purchase that type of renewable energy, an EV gets better. That's a forward thinking position that is hard to argue with.

· · 6 years ago

>> so many EV proponents gush about how much they will save driving an EV, when I just don't see it - and don't think we'll see it for many years (5-10 years) <<

Instead of hearing how much people *will* save, would you like to hear how much I HAVE saved? Past tense?

Ten years ago I bought a brand new car and I pre-paid for the fuel for any car I'll have for the rest of my life. And I paid a total of $40k (for car and solar). We are still driving that car every day today. It has never had a tuneup. It has never had batteries replaced. It has had one set of tires, and one change of brakes. No oil changes. No filter changes. The fuel has been 100% clean and free. And that $40K total even covers 100% of the electricity for my house.

Compare that to a new gasoline car purchased 10 years ago and let me know how it stacks up.

· · 6 years ago

@ darelldd- Are you including depreciation, insurance, and battery replacement costs?

I have a spreadsheet with numbers that includes these plus fuel, taxes, and maintenance, comparing my ICE and various EV options, including my current EV. The most expensive portion is depreciation. For example, I bought a new gas car for $15K in 2003 and sold eight years later (after I got my EV) for $7K, so about $1000/year lost. I don't think a new electric can beat that. Excepting solar or other incentives, a new Rav4 EV in 2001 was about $40K new; a year ago you might have gotten $20K for it ... now you're getting a bit less than that, about $2000/year depreciation.

I don't know what incentives must have been in place in CA in 2001 for you to get a RAV4 + solar for $40K. That's awesome. If you're not exaggerating, then you might have been able to save some driving an EV vs. an ICE especially if you drive a fair amount (10K/year) and gas prices were high there. But still, to invest or "prepay" $40K also "costs" something in lost savings interest (or avoided debt interest on something else). Insurance will also be more, since replacement costs are higher.

I've also purchased solar ($25K) and if I get a Mitsubishi i, I'm looking at probably $50K out of pocket for a similar "deal" that you got, with a car that starts at $10K less than yours did, so my resale will be less on the i. In my situation that extra $20K in cost (as compared to your situation) won't be recouped, even in 20 years ... unless gasoline goes up to $6/gal or more that will for other reasons (like the cost of everything going up) be horrific.

Do you know how much you've saved on the Rav4 EV? Would you still save vs. an ICE if it + solar cost you $60K?

Also, if you choose to hold onto your Rav4 (or I an "i") in the long term you'll need a new pack for $10K, or more at the 10 year mark, roughly. When I've done estimates on my very primitive Lectric Leopard and included about $500/year for a battery costs ($1500/3 years for lead acid) or $700/year for Lithium ($7K/10 years), it doesn't help the equation. It essentially makes my "fuel" costs go from 3 cents to 5 or 7 cents/mile (average 10,000 miles/year). With battery replacement costs included, the main savings costs vs. an ICE is diminished. Yes an ICE might have motor work or exhaust issues or something else; but given my experience with other cars, it's not the motor or drive train or ICE specific parts we've had trouble with at the 10 year mark or longer, it's the brakes, or suspension, the AC, or other accessories - all of which could still be problematic on an EV.

So, what's my point then, you might ask? My point is that I like truth in advertising. I feel like too many EV owners brag about cost savings but are not considering the total cost of ownership (or perhaps that outside of California the cost situation is not as favorable). I think as EV proponents we're better off under promising and over delivering, rather than the opposite. I think we can gush about how great it is to drive "war" free [relatively speaking] or with more efficiency or less carbon or with no tailpipe emissions or more quietly or just how much fun an EV is to drive (even my old clunky Leopard). If you're trying to sell an EV on the cost savings, most people won't even do the long term analysis that I did, they'll just look at the $10-15k premium and say forget it, I can't afford it.

But, that said, I think Tesla has the right idea (I watched the Model X unveiling video last night). If they can convince people that the electric vehicle is BETTER than the ICE, than a certain segment of car buyers who can afford a premium will buy it - and eventually force EV costs down for the cheap people, like me, to really get into the market.

PS - I'd love to share my spreadsheet with you if you want - or if you have something similar you've done on total cost of ownership, I would find it interesting. Just send a message to me directly - Dan (danpatgal at yahoo dot com)

· · 6 years ago

>>If you're not exaggerating... <
While I understand that you might assume that I am exaggerating, I'm only stating the facts of my situation.

>> But still, to invest or "prepay" $40K also "costs" something in lost savings interest (or avoided debt interest on something else). <<
Yes, this is always brought up by the folks who really don't want this to pencil out. But how do you figure in the fact that we started saving money the instant we turned our system on? The monthly nut for the solar loan was a few bucks less than what our average monthly electricity bill for the house was. Then after three years of saving money every month, the loan was paid off and presto... free energy for the rest of my life (possibly minus some maintenance costs that haven't happened yet). How much "cost" did I suffer for that 3-year loan?

>> Insurance will also be more, since replacement costs are higher.<<
Insurance has always been less on our EV than on our Prius. I can't compare to what it might have been for an ICE Rav4.

Yes, when batteries are replaced that will cost more money... but what it also does is give another 100-150k more "free" miles. So the battery replacement cost can't be counted against the first 100k miles. That was already paid for when the car was new.

If we want to compare depreciation, let's look at year 3-5 when the average used price for the RAv4EV was WELL over the new selling price. If the non-mass production status of the car works against us for initial price, we can get that back on the demand side in the used market when they were selling for a handsome profit.

Which brings us to.... why are we comparing the cost of a few hand-built cars with production gasoline cars? We will get to mass production with EVs eventually. Initially they'll be quite expensive - like cell phones, DVD players and on and on.

I'm against over promising and under delivering as much as the next guy. All I have to go on is my personal experience... and my experience is often at odds with assumed expenses.

· · 6 years ago

Darell - I guess we'll have to disagree on the numbers - California must have big EV and solar incentives that I will never see (unless I move there).

But to the question: why compare EVs with ICEs? Why compare a commodity with an hand built product? Because as consumers we always compare ... at what additional price am I willing to pay for something special? For something that gives me better piece of mind? For something that will be better not just for me, but for soceity and the marketplace in general? How does that choice (an EV) compare to other choices (a hybrid or efficient ICE) in achieving those goals? If EV drivers are committed to helping the environment and/or oil independence (most are), why not figure out the most cost effective way, that gives you the same quality of life, to do that? That's why.

I hope, like you, that we see commodity pricing for EVs soon, but for the moment it's still a market, in most of the country, for those willing to pay extra for something special and will command higher prices for that. Most consumers won't consider it. I dearly wish external costs (wars, pollution, carbon ...) would be incorporated in the cost of gasoline - then we'd have a "true" cost of gasoline that would naturally spur EV development (instead of these funny, inefficient, incentives and mandates that our government attempts to apply).

· · 6 years ago

It isn't all about incentives. You asked above if the RAV4EV would save me any money if my solar cost $60k. I don't know if a human could drive an EV enough miles in a year to consume what a $60k (with no incentives even) system would produce, so I'm not sure if an answer to that question helps anything.

But for the record, no. If my solar cost 12x what I paid, it wouldn't pencil out very well. But if we want to discuss it in those terms, let's ask how it pencils out if gasoline cost $48/gallon.

Wait... did I just say 12x? Implying that my solar system only cost $5k? What???

Yup. I'll point out again that the $10k that I paid for my solar covers my car AND my house usage. The car only uses about half of the production from my system, so let's go ahead and cut that down to $5k if it helps you figure out my magic.

I appreciate you remaining calm and civil while I get all defensive. ;)

· · 6 years ago

I think the solar complicates things a little ... and makes things favorable for electric use in general (after I put in solar, I added geothermal heat to replace my propane heat here in PA - and my bottom line this past year is MUCH better).

Regarding the $60K, I was pointing out that you had mentioned at their height, perhaps 2006, a RAV4 EV might have commanded that price. Those people who paid $60K who are looking to get into a new generation EV (LEAF, i, ...), or just retire without driving, are now holding, at most, a vehicle worth $20K. That's $40K in depreciation that can't reasonably be saved by a difference in fuel costs in 5 years. Though YOU definitely made out if you sold your EV at a premium, that person is now selling it at a huge loss and only saved a little bit in running costs compared to an ICE RAV4.

A nice RAV4 EV with about 80K miles sold recently on eBay for around $16K. It had the original pack, but had some kind of reconditioning done (not sure what that cost). Looking just at the vehicle over 10 years, with the CA incentives at the time (according to your details about the RAV4) and no battery costs or additional insurance, less maintenance and free electricity ... the cost is still 35 cents/mile. If gas is $4/gal or more there's clear savings, at lower prices (gas probably averaged less than $3 in the past ten years in CA), the RAV4 EV is still better. But, if you can get a similar utility with a cheaper more efficient car, 30 mpg or better, the ICE does better - and that's using FREE electricity on your EV ('cause you were smart and installed free solar ;) ).

Not everyone can install solar, unfortunately. So, a lot of people can't have the added synergies that you and I have.

I'm really not trying to beat you down - I think we should agree that we now pay more for EVs because we expect gasoline to go up, we want to support a way of life that is more efficient in general, to pollute less, and be more energy independent. But, saving money is far from the norm; even if you may have had the ability to do so.

· · 6 years ago

". . . we expect gasoline to go up"
Isn't this kind of like expecting that that the sun will come up tomorrow? A good assumption.
The only question is: How fast will it go up?
I'll try not to gloat (at least not in public) when gas prices spike over the next few months when the same people who are lecturing me today about how my EV and solar are more expensive than their gas guzzler, start whining about fuel prices. Regular gas is over $4/gal now around here. I just put a half tank of gas into a rental Suburban at a cost of $65 worth of gasoline this morning after a business trip into the desert. A full tank would cost $130!
I can't imagine having to do that on a daily basis with my own money.
(For you micro-car afficianados: Yes, it was the right tool for the job, it barely held all our gear and people)

· · 6 years ago

Headline: ex_EV1 is pro-Suburban.

Details at 11:00.

· · 6 years ago

And ex-EV1 forgot 1980, when everyone thought prices of $2-3/gal were imminent (but not seen until 20+ years), and 100 mpg cars would be everywhere by the year 2000.

So, we don't know what prices will do or what the future will hold ... but it's that expectation, in part, that frees us to promote EVs.

I too wouldn't want to spend $135 to fill up a tank - but as you say, if you can put 6 or 8 people in it, the per person cost and impact is better than 6 or 8 Priuses (sp?) humming down the road.

· Palma Pandola (not verified) · 5 years ago

I've got to that I had been a little leary with all the different hype taking place around solar. After checking out quite a few programs and purchase options my spouce and i decide to make the leap. We ended up getting solar with no money down and we immediatly started saving money the very first month is was installed. I must say that the potential benefits to solar look like they're real and I am happy that we decide to proceed with it. Palma Pandola

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

Hey Geppert, how on earth do you figure that a 6.1 pound gallon of gasoline is going to EVER produce 19.4 pounds of CO2? Regardless, fewer and fewer people are swallowing the Kool-Aid that CO2 is a harmful greenhouse gas, now that more and more real science is trumping politics.

· · 5 years ago

@ Anonymous -

Wow. So you can recognize "real science" but you can't figure out how a gallon of gasoline can produce more than its weight in CO2 when burned? You think Geppert made that up? The answer can be found *everywhere* you look.

How about this concise bit from the US department of Energy

But feel free to google around yourself to find the answer. You'll soon see that all sources say basically the same thing. And it begs the very important question - if you don't know this, how are you judging what "real science" is?

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

The so called analysis at the start of this thread is laughable.
I guess geppert never heard of power plant losses, transmission losses and distribution losses and charging losses. It takes roughly 100kwh worth of coal to get 34kwh into your battery

· · 5 years ago

Maybe we should take these laughable items one at a time? I'm not sure I have closure with the 19 pounds of CO2 for a gallon of gasoline.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 5 years ago

Carbon Dioxide is not Carbon. If it is then Water is Hydrogen.

So common usage is totally off base right off the bat.

Carbon Dioxide is NOT a pollutant. The most delicate plants flourish under concentrations 30 times current atmospheric concentration.

Carbon Dioxide is one of the building blocks of life.

That said, Coal usage is decreasing everywhere in the US. Thermal Coal is exported to China. (Thermal Coal is used for fuel in power plants).

Coal is not harming polar bears. There were only 5000 of them 50 years ago, now there are 25000, mainly due to hunting regulations.

The basic problem as I see it with LA's smog problem is too much concrete and not enough trees. If everyone in LA drove Electric Cars, and they trippled the number of trees they have, they'd have much less of a smog problem. LA used to have a great electic street car system (until killed essentially by GM), and smog was less of a problem. Electric transportation is not bad for the environment, as long as you don't use Nuclear plants.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 5 years ago

Seeing as no one is going to believe my last post, maybe this interesting fluroride documentary will be both entertaining, informative, and cast a different light on things.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

Here's another way to look at this coal issue: *If* your region is using coal to move electrons, it is moving electrons at night that are not in demand and have to go somewhere. They go into the ground, wasted forever. Now you plug your car in and previously wasted electrons flow to your battery to be moved again during the day to make your car move, offsetting the gasoline you would have used in a traditional IE engine. So, voilà, your car is moving with no additional greenhouse emissions relative to what would have been discharged if you walked to work. (Now in the real world, yes, we have to allow for plants that might have been able to shut down more completely but for the nighttime load, and the daytime load peak that might be higher if people charge their cars at the office during the day so they have enough charge to get to work. But If that's you, put an extra kW of panels on your house and that should just about cover it. 2 kW if you want to offset most of the fuel that will be burned to move those electrons.) One more thing: when we talk about "carbon" in the context of climate change, we really mean "carbon-containing compounds" expressed in some unit of weight or mass. So yes, the 6.1 lbs of gasoline, which is a mix of hydrocarbons, turns into 19.4 pounds of carbon dioxide, because you're adding the mass of the oxygen to the mass of the carbon (and losing the mass of the hydrogen, but that's relative small). That's what combustion is. Most utilities can tell you the average amount of CO2-equivalent gases produced for a KWh of electricity at the plug, and your automaker can tell you how many miles you can drive on a KWh. Just know that if you're plugging in at night, you are likely getting a better incremental ratio of CO2 to KWh, because the carbon-cost of nighttime energy production that is usually wasted has been already been factored into the average daytime usage rates.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

Sorry, in the last post, I meant to say that the daytime peak load may be higher if people plug in at work during the day in order to make sure they can get home in the evening. There will be a carbon cost associated with that, and it may be substantial--but that can be offset with some extra solar PV capacity on the order of 1-2 KW per car.

· · 5 years ago

The use of night-time energy definitely is a plus for EVs, however, the carbon issue is not as strong as you state. While coal plants can't actually be shut down at night, they can be throttled down so they don't actually waste too much power. There is a little waste and certainly a few EVs charging can reduce this waste to zero.
If a lot of EVs start charging at night, however, they'll have to keep those plants throttled up at night to provide the electricity for the cars.
The biggest benefit to night time energy use is economic which has a significant secondary benefit that can be used to reduce CO2 production. Having all of those expensive power generation resources throttled down at night, is wasting money. EVs charging at night will allow the power companies to keep those power plants running at capacity during the night, making more use of the money invested to build the power plant.
This doesn't help the CO2 production directly but, by making the coal or nuclear produced electricity cheaper, it frees up more money for the power companies to build out new, sustainable energy systems such as wind and solar and the energy storage capability to handle their intermittent nature.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

This is assuming you have an "average" US vehicle which includes all heavy work trucks and semi's compared to an extremely efficient car.

Compare a car that is similar to the leaf but an ICE and the results should be much different.

I got my car used for 6,000 and i get 35 MPH and it has 3 catalytic converters.
thats almost twice as efficient than the one in the model you used, which was only ever so marginally less efficient.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

The problem with comparing EVs to conventional cars is the EPA sticker only measures CO2 emissions from the tailpipe. As discussed, coal produces CO2 emissions at the power utility. There's also electricity fueled by natural gas which is emission-free at both the utility and the car but releases substantial amounts of Methane into the atmosphere. Methane is not only released from active wells but also leak into the atmosphere for a long time from the same wells after they've become shut. The last consideration is the use of rare earth minterals in EVs which also release greenhouse gases 1000s times more potent than CO2.

· · 5 years ago

Please elaborate on what greenhouse gasses are released by rare earth minerals? Also, please explain how?
Also, do you mean rare earth metals, not minerals?
Additionally, EVs don't necessarily use rare earth metals anyway. Only those with permanent magnetic motors.
I agree that natural gas extraction does leak some methane into the air, however, it pales in comparison with the emissions from gasoline extraction and EVs use a whole lot less natural gas than directly burning it in an ICE.

· · 5 years ago

@ Anonymous -

I'm thrilled that you're thinking "upstream" for pollution sources. But I'm a bit concerned that you seem to ONLY be thinking of them as they pertain to EVs. You aren't implying that gasoline has no upstream emissions, are you? Or that gasoline has no other emissions besides CO2? You've found all kinds of really bad things for EV use... Now let's compare them to gas car usage. No transportation runs on rainbows and the laughter of children. Everything pollutes at some level. Our challenge is to find the least harmful - not just to point out what we already know : That everything pollutes.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

Fracking may often release as much gas into the atmosphere over time as is captured for use. No way to quantify for sure, and not considering the underground water pollution, We won't know that for some time. What puzzels me is why, when we have the tec to go electric with cars, are we continuing to embrace the old killer ways so desparately. We also know how to make electricity without as much pollution as with burn-tec methods. You who argue "facts" may need to realize your argument falls on deaf ears who have other reasons for their closed opinions that will not be changed by reasonable explainations. Also, the machine's politicians need money too. Lots of it, because they want to live far better than most of you, (their minions). I see the masses moving to electric cars when they assume their lower cost placement in the sales markets, as they should because they are much simpler and easier to build. The battery cost is a temporary barrier.

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