Are We Ready for Electric Cars?

Electric cars are coming.  Right now, the electrics that you’d want to drive cost too much.  But those prices will come down.  Are we ready to switch from gasoline to electric?

To answer the question, let’s look how States generate their electricity.  The Energy Information Administration has a nice summary table.

On average, ~50% of America’s electricity is generated from coal.  California’s largest source of electric power is natural gas, and generates only ~1.5% of its power from coal.  But, if you buy your electric car in Indiana, you’ll be trading your gasoline for electric power which is more than 90% generated from coal.

Now, I’m just doing fuzzy math, making simple assumptions based on some published statistics.  My numbers could be wrong (perhaps electric cars are charged at night, and the profile of energy sources at night is different than what is consumed today).  Maybe someone smart can correct me on that.

But on the surface, it doesn’t seem to me that switching from gas to electric will make our skies cleaner.  Why do many states and governments offer rebates to switch?

Others have noticed this problem too

4 thoughts on “Are We Ready for Electric Cars?

  • November 26, 2009 at 2:54 am
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    Yes, just switching to electric cars will not solve the problem. You are just moving the problem from car owners to the electricity grid. The pollution continues in another form.
    The advantage there is that it becomes a more centralized problem. No longer thousands of individuals producing waste, but only a handful power stations. If we can get these cleaner we can reduce the problem. I think that is possible.
    Also add to that the possibility for car owners to produce their own electricity through solar or wind power there is chance of making a double change in their impact on the environment: less to no pollution whilst driving and reduction in pollution whilst charging the car.

    I do see a bright future for electric cars in a indirect way.

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  • November 26, 2009 at 11:21 pm
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    I’ve read the article on USATODAY and it’s a bit biased. I’ve got the impression to read a ad paid by the lobby of petroleum.

    Yes, you might produce your electriciy based on COAL but the efficiency of today electrical plant with COAL is WAY better than the efficiency of any today’s car. The efficiency of the elctrical car is also better. The only drawback is the waste made with the transport of electricity on the wire.

    We, in europe, at at least in my country, produce electricity out of nuclear plant. They produce toxic waste but very little CO2 emmission. We have about 60to 70% out of this energy. New techniques have been found to reduce these toxi waste to a minimum. It’s not perfect but better (ecological footprint) than the current usage of oil. In all cases, we cannot continue like this (having car with gas), something must be changed.

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  • November 28, 2009 at 11:15 am
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    I have friends who’ve driven electrics for decades. I referred to their “zero-emissions” vehicles as “displaced-emissions.” But they made two good points:

    1. The charge-at-night profile is significant. Power plants generate surplus capacity at night when demand drops way off. It’s too difficult to cut track the falling demand and still have the ability to ramp up in the morning when demand soars again. So shifting (or creating) demand to night time to some degree takes advantage of energy that’s already being produced (and polluting).

    2. In the short term, moving the pollution to the power plant isn’t necessarily a pollution benefit. But in the long term, it’s a lot easier to reduce emissions at a small number of large power plants than it is to further reduce the emissions of tens of millions of tiny mobile power plants.

    And for the record, one of my friends’ electric cars is truly zero-emissions now, as they charge it directly from solar panels on the garage.

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  • November 28, 2009 at 1:27 pm
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    The centralized system is a good point. Now we just have to have a plan, any plan, to get off of coal. :-)

    I’m still skeptical that charging at night vs day has any effect on the use of Coal; Indiana, for instance, generates more than 90% of its electricity from burning coal. It seems that even at night (today) you’ll be trading burning gas for burning coal.

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