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First of all, our venerable Muskegon Critic wrote a great diary showing that, even if the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) took off even more rapidly than the most optimistic estimates, the electric grid could handle them without a problem.  It's a good read, but as I started drafting a comment on the article to add in my own research, it started growing into a diary in its own right.

The electric grid will be able to handle millions of EVs no problem, but all those plug-in cars will provide immense benefits to the grid and many other areas of society as well.  Beyond the orange squiggle lies some of the benefits I've uncovered.  

First of all, we must realize that every choice is a competition among alternatives and that the relative merits of each alternative must be compared as thoroughly as possible to make the best decision.  This is true in all aspects of life, but in discussing the merits of EVs, it is absolutely crucial.

With that established, let's look at the transportation options one should consider when buying a car.  Now, if someone is thinking of buying a car, I would hope they would have considered whether they even need a car in the first place, or if a combination of walking, biking and public transit could meet most of their transportation needs instead.  Sadly, there are too many places in the USA where one, two or even all three of these options are either extremely difficult or totally unworkable.  We should work to change this and we would reap the benefits of better health through more physical activity and lower air pollution along with lower traffic.

If a car is necessary given someone's situation, a plug-in vehicle is a great option, for the buyer, for the country, or even the planet as a whole.  There are plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt and Plug-In Prius that can go several miles on electric power from the grid before a gasoline engine kicks in.  These make a great primary car that can take care of daily commuting and some errands around town using mostly electrons and then kick on a gasoline engine for longer trips.  100% electric vehicles like he Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model S and the Ford Focus Electric are great for daily commuting and errands, although it takes a few hours to charge them up from normal grid power, so they're not recommended for long-distance trips and very long commutes right now.  However, Tesla is trying to make these constraints disappear with their battery swap and their supercharger network, although the way they're inserting proprietary technology in hopes of setting industry standards themselves is a little sketchy.

Regardless, one of the benefits that EVs provide is that they lower demand for oil exploration, drilling, transport and refining.  Oil consumption in the developed world has led to geopolitical nightmares in the Middle East, human rights violations and environmental catastrophe wherever the resource curse strikes.  I can write a whole other diary about how bad the Tar Sands and the Keystone crackpipe we would use to smoke it are, but it's easier just to say that, by the time crude oil gets to a refinery, a lot of damage has already been done.  

Refining the oil has its own set of drawbacks, one of them being electricity consumption!  If you click that link, you'll see that the USA used over 48 BILLION kWh in electricity refining oil.  With that amount of electricity, you could power 16 million Nissan LEAFs each driving the US average of 12,000 miles a year!  Oil refineries also use a lot of natural gas, both to provide process heat and to "upgrade" the hydrocarbons in crude oil with extra hydrogen atoms.  In 2005, oil refineries used 741,444 Terajoules!!! (almost 1.21 Jiggawatts!!!)  That amounts to 205.9 BILLION kWh of natural gas, or about 100 BILLION kWh when turned into electricity at the power plant.  This could power ANOTHER 32 million LEAFs for a grand total of 48 million EVs that could be powered by the electricity and natural gas that the oil refining industry uses alone.  As electric vehicle use increases, the demand for electricity and natural gas at oil refineries will decrease, cancelling out a large portion (perhaps 1/4 to 1/3) of the energy demand from electric vehicles.  And since oil refineries emit nasty pollution in their own right, we will achieve better environmental and health outcomes along the way.

Speaking of environmental and health outcomes, vehicles that run on gasoline and diesel fuel release pollution in close proximity to people, with urban air pollution from vehicle exhaust being the worst form of the problem.  Air pollution has been linked to all sorts of problems, contributing to Alzheimer’s and Autism cases while hurting our economy, jacking up our healthcare costs and killing people.  Even if an electric vehicle is powered by a coal plant, that pollution is much more dispersed (generally) than vehicle exhaust by the time people tend to breathe it in and it is much easier to clean up one big source of pollution than millions of small, mobile sources of pollution like cars.  And, while a gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle is forever tethered to an ever-dirtier fuel supply chain as the easy, cheap and more efficiently-extracted fossil fuels are depleted, an EV can get cleaner over time as low, and no-carbon energy gets hooked up to the grid.  

Electric vehicles can also help with this transition by being the key enabler for Vehicle-to-Grid arrangements.  As they sit plugged in for 8, 10, 12 or even up to 23 hours a day, they can stabilize the grid and store surplus renewable energy.  

While EVs might be a little expensive up-front and might not be the perfect car for everybody right now, they have manifold benefits for their owners and society as a whole.  Owners can save 60% or even much more in fueling costs while the maintenance on EVs is practically nothing compared to all the wear-and-tear items on internal combustion-powered vehicles.  Society has to deal with less geopolitical headaches, health problems / spending and premature deaths as more electric vehicles get on the roads.  Oh yeah, and climate change is a real big problem too, but EVs can be a big part of the solution.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Very Interesting Data. Very Interesting (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Larsstephens, kevinpdx

    But I will come back to your comment about do you really need a car? I have a nice German sedan but didn't drive it for an entire year, just to see if I could.

    Now I am lucky cause I work out of my house and don't have to get to work. Plus my former Congresscritter was famous for being the "King of Pork" and even though I live in a pretty rural area, I have great public transportation (bus and rail).

    My thing is the price point with many EV cars. They are not inexpensive.

    •  We currently live in Chicago... (4+ / 0-)

      ...so our options are quite varied. Within a year, however, we hope to be living on our farm in Stephenson County, IL, which means we lose public transportation (none), walking (no sidewalks and 1.5 miles outside of Orangeville), and biking (no bikes currently, no paved shoulders, and see previous). We currently have two cars, one that is about 1 year old, and one that is 12 years old. We will need a larger vehicle to pull trailers, for buying bulk supplies, hauling away trash, and taking the cow to the vet.

      There's a company in Iowa that is working on farm-oriented EV's, see here, that seem to have the desired range. In fact, if their range claims are true, and if we had a place to charge overnight when visiting Calamity Jean's father in the northwest suburbs, we could comfortably drive one of these from the farm and back. The lack of charging stations at the senior community where may father-in-law lives, however, would tend to put a damper on that.

      Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

      by JeffW on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 12:27:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  EVs have lower fueling and maintenance costs (7+ / 0-)

      though.  The only big wear-and-tear item on an EV is the battery, and LEAF batteries, at least, can be made almost like new by replacing a few problematic cells that tend to drag down battery performance after 5 - 10 years.  Think of all the oil changes, filter replacements, fluid flushes, transmission maintenance, brake pads (EVs save wear on pads / rotors due to regenerative breaking), smog checks, hoses, belts, etc. you'll go through in that time with a gas-powered vehicle.  

      The EV tax credit should be larger as well and fully-refundable so that more middle class people can benefit from it too

    •  I Often Mention This Here When Talking Cars (4+ / 0-)

      I am a huge fan of the BBC show Top Gear. Generally speaking they review "super cars." But more then a few times they will review a compact. They often cost under $20,000 and get 60+ MPG. Usually Diesel.

      When I hear pols debate CAFE standards here they seem to say Ford and GM can't make cars that get 60 MPG. That was why I was CONFUSED that these cars Top Gear reviews are often made by Ford and GM. They are making these cars right NOW. We just can't buy them here.

      Something I will NEVER understand.

      •  partly, Britain uses imperial gallons (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        aaraujo

        So, 60 MPG in Britain is 50 MPG in the U.S.

        But it's true that there are cars sold in Europe that we can't buy over here.

        Better Know Your Voting System with the Verifier!

        by HudsonValleyMark on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 12:44:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Really? I thought they had switched (0+ / 0-)

          to the metric system!

          I suspect that the 60 mpg must be converted from liters/100 km (or whatever the exact way they measure fuel economy over there) so as to avoid hopelessly confusing an American Audience (so it probably really is 60 mpg).

          My understanding of the "problem" is that cars cost about 40% more over there than here, so such vehicles would not be cost competitive in the USA and would have only tiny niche markets (similar to the VOLT)

          •  I think hopeless confusion is a given :) (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Roadbed Guy

            It depends on the intended audience, and also on whether the writer understand that! Just as a reference point:

            Back in 1989 – when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, US President Ronald Reagan left the White House in January,  and the fall of the Berlin Wall in November marked the end of the Cold War,  unleaded petrol was around a third of the price today at  38.5p a litre ( £1.75 a gallon) compared to 134.2p a litre  (£6.10 per gallon) today.

            Daily Mail, June 10

            Note that those prices entail 4.54 liters per gallon -- that's the imperial gallon. I don't know if the pumps have all converted to liters by now, but apparently the brains haven't!

            All that said, the ECOnetic apparently does claim 65 mpg US or 78.5 mpg imperial. Here's a reviewer who comments on his driving test:

            Economy? I've been managing a figure well into the sixties and that's with a fair smattering of urban driving and also travelling four-up. Okay, so it's not 78.5mpg but I'm still impressed.
            "Well into the sixties" would be well over 50 U.S., which would be pretty great with a "fair smattering of urban driving."

            Better Know Your Voting System with the Verifier!

            by HudsonValleyMark on Mon Jul 01, 2013 at 01:31:27 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Yes confusion abounds!! (0+ / 0-)

              For example, an imperial quart has 40 ounces, meaning an imperial gallon has 160 ounces (that's all on line!)

              And a US quart has 32 ounces, and a gallon has 128 ounces.

              So, you'd think you could compare an imperial gallon with a US gallon and find out that it is 1.25x larger (exactly) - i.e., 160/128 ounces.

              But if you first convert to liters to do this comparison, the numbers gets screwed up - i.e., 4.54 liters (an imperial gallon) divided by 3.78 liters (a US gallon) means that an imperial gallon is only ~1.201x larger.

              Strange strange stuff!

              Unless you consider that a US ounce is 1.04084x larger than an imperial ounce.  Really who came up with * that * !?!

      •  It's not that hard to understand. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Theoleman, aaraujo

        The US auto industry has a lot of investment in the oil industry, and visa versa. The oil industry just invested billions in equipment and refineries so that they can handle turning sour crude--like that coming from Canadian Tar Sands--into gasoline. In order for these investments to pay off the price of oil must stay high--above $80 a barrel and higher. So demand for gasoline must not go down. Otherwise, the Canadian Tars Sands and all the pipelines and all the equipment are not worth the investment.
        It's sad that so much of the public have been bamboozled my most of the corporate media that projects like KXL are needed to lower the price of gasoline. When the exact opposite would happen. The Tar Sands are a very expensive source of oil.

        -4.38, -7.64 Voyager 1: proof that what goes up never comes down.

        by pat bunny on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 12:45:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  European fuel economy tests are much more (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pat bunny

        forgiving and they have much more lenient emissions requirements.  That being said, diesel is more fuel efficient to some extent than gasoline, though half of those benefits are because diesel is just denser and carries more energy per gallon.  The CO2 emissions benefits of diesel are usually half of the fuel economy benefits because of this.  In addition, Europeans buy smaller cars and fuel efficiency pays off faster due to higher fuel taxes over there, so you see it implemented to a further extent than in the USA.  

        •  I driven diesels in Europe (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Theoleman, Egalitare

          Their real world mileage is very good.

          The last time I was in France our rental was a BMW 320D that got fantastic mileage even running at French highway speeds which are usually well above the 130 kph (80 mph) posted speed limit.

          It was a manual transmission car and I thought I'd stalled it at the first traffic light. Turns out it had a stop-start feature that shut the engine down when stopped. Depressing the clutch would cause it to restart.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 02:31:03 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Me too! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, aaraujo

      I decided to put my money where my mouth is and bought a 2013 at the end of last year. Here in dirty oil and gas heaven, the land is cheap and plentiful. The metro is spread out so the average commute is longer than say other metro areas that are more dense. I sometimes think it is by design so that we burn maximum gas.  A fully electric car would be impractical. (The only public charge stations in all of Oklahoma City that I know of are 2 at Whole Foods) The Volt has given me the best of both worlds. And it's such a dream to drive.

  •  Given the rate of photovoltaic panel costs... (4+ / 0-)

    are dropping, it soon will be feasible to charge your car off grid.  Put panels on your garage, charge storage batteries by day, by night transfer power from storage batteries to the car.  Whamo!  Fuck you Saudi Arabia!  Fuck you Exxon!

    "If Jesus had a gun he'd still be alive today." Homer Simpson, 2013

    by quiet in NC on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 12:23:25 PM PDT

  •  On the maintenance bit (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pat bunny, JeffW, Gary Norton

    I've had my Volt since August, put over 22,000 miles on it, and the only service it's needed so far is to have its tires rotated a couple/three times.  In another year or so it might need an oil change...

    When the union's inspiration /Through the workers' blood shall run /There can be no power greater /Anywhere beneath the sun /Solidarity Forever!

    by litho on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 01:05:04 PM PDT

  •  How can you write a diary about people getting (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Gary Norton, KenBee

    plug-in hybrids and not mention the Ford C-Max Energi?  Ford has only sold over 15,000 of the Ford C-Max hybrid and Energi.  Probably 3 times the sales of the Volt and a much better car.  I bought my C-Max Energi in early March and have only filled the tank twice.  On the last fill up I went over 1000 miles and got 84.5 mpg!  My C-Max Energi cost $34,600, but there is at least a $3750 Federal Tax credit and in some states there are additional credits.  I am also saving about $100 a month on gas purchases and because my grocery store gives 10 cents off of a gallon of gas for every $100 of groceries bought I am getting $1 off of the price of gas as these credits add up.  Right now I have 14 fuel credits worth $1.40 off a gallon of gas.

    So the monthly savings with this car are huge.  When I consider the tax credit and the gas savings they add up to more than the car payment each month!

    At speeds of 60 mph I can get around 23-25 miles on all electric.  At speeds of 50 mph and lower I can get 27-28 miles on all electric.  And oh unlike the Prius and the Volt the C-Max has a 2.0 liter gas engine that has acceleration and can easily pass an 18 wheeler.

    •  Agree, but Volt has sold 47,000 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW

      worldwide and 38,000 in the US as of May. :-)

      Further, affiant sayeth not.

      by Gary Norton on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 03:22:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You are talking about sales since 2010. The sales (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KenBee

        this year have slowed as only 1700 were sold in May.  On the other hand over 3700 C-Max's were sold in May.  Also the C-Max has only been on sale since late 2012 and the Energi was not on sale until 2013.  Volt sales average around 1650 per month, C- Max around 3500 per month.  That is probably because the C-Max is lower in price as Ford has a competitive advantage as the Michigan Assembly plant builds the Focus, C-Max hybrid and C-Max Energi.

        http://www.freep.com/...

  •  28,000 miles on 4.6 gallons in my Volt (5+ / 0-)

    I love my Volt.  Best car I ever owned.  Until my tank went stale and I had to burn it off, I was at 6,000 MPG and had gone 13 months and 21,000 miles without using one drop of gas for driving.

    Now, I will admit I am a little extreme in trying to never use gas, but it is a fun game to play and I am enjoying every minute of it.

  •  My Volt goes 40 to 50 miles before the gas (4+ / 0-)

    generator starts, not "a few miles." THe range variation is mostly winter vs summer. As a result I've only burned 26 gallons of gas in 7500 miles. This is a good post but think you might want to edit. The whole point of the Volt's design was to develop a car that would enable batter/electric use for 80% of the trips you take but still have the long distance range of any car.

    Further, affiant sayeth not.

    by Gary Norton on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 03:15:59 PM PDT

  •  Don't you hate it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Calamity Jean

    when you write a great comment and the 'puter eats it?  I was making the point for electric vehicles charging at off-peak hours to keep the more efficient powerplants running and avoiding peaking plants which introduce more problems and higher costs.

    But the 'puter ate it and I just don't have the heart to write it all again. Alas.

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