Man Bites EV: Will EV Bite Back?

[An expanded treatment of some of this material appears in Appendix section D.3 of the Energy and Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet (free) textbook.]


Electric Car: They Might Be Giants

Some time ago, the Chevy Volt attracted my attention. I think the plug-in hybrid concept hits the sweet spot for American drivers, and the Volt’s 35–40 mile electric-only range seemed to be the perfect number. A pure electric vehicle (EV) would not permit my wife’s periodic work-related jaunt to Pasadena, so any battery-powered solution for us must be of the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) variety. The problem, ultimately, was the high price tag (and the hump in the middle of the back seat occupied by the battery). Although I don’t self-identify as being in the “upper class,” our income edges us into the top quintile in the U.S. So for us to decide that the Volt costs too much—despite genuine enthusiasm—seemed to spell trouble (indeed, the average income of Volt owners was claimed to be $175,000). My conclusion was that electric/plug-in cars are out of reach, and could well remain so.

In April of this year, I became aware of the Ford plug-in, called the C-Max Energi (yes, with an “i” at the end!). The C-Max Energi has a 21 mile electric-only range, and gets an EPA rating of 43 miles per gallon (2.3 gal/100 mi; or 5.4 L/100 km). The price tag is approximately $6k cheaper than the Volt, and the back seat passed my wife’s approval. Nonetheless, after carefully considering the C-Max Energi as a replacement for our increasingly ailing car, we decided against springing for one: still too expensive. I was all set to write a Do the Math post to the tune of “Almost bit on a PHEV again.”

But the fact remained that our 11-year old 28 MPG car (bought used) has been costing us a fair bit in maintenance, its reliability increasingly dubious. Replacement loomed. Motivated by an upcoming long-haul road trip, we explored options again, looking at hybrids and the C-Max Energi. In the end—aided by a federal tax credit, a California rebate, and an unfathomably good offer that together knocked $9k off the MSRP—we drove an Energi off the lot under battery power.

It turns out that:

  • the lifetime cost for the PHEV is still higher than other options we considered, but not prohibitively so given credits, rebates, and discounts;
  • the CO2 emissions are cut in half in electric mode (considering upstream electricity production in our region);
  • batteries still stink compared to liquid fuel, and likely always will.

EV Pro or Con? Decide, Dammit!

I remain skeptical that EVs or PHEVs will capture a large fraction of the U.S. market share. Yet I just voted with my own dollars to get one. Does this make me a hypocrite? A double-talking, contrarian, dirty hippy? Not in my view, naturally. I’m a very unusual consumer: hyper energy-conscious, generally frugal despite a relatively high-income, but all the same prone to take on energy-related hobbies that may not be a win in the strict financial sense. In this case, $3750 of federal tax credit, $1500 from California, and $4000 off the MSRP (corresponding to a shocking $2000 below invoice price) conspired to make the choice attractive and affordable. But these three discounts do not speak to the steady state fate of EV cars. The first two will expire at some point, and the deep price drop likely signals a panic from Ford responding to disappointing sales numbers that could portend doom and lost investment for the C-Max Energi line. These cars won’t be sold indefinitely at a loss. So I bought the car under highly unsustainable pretenses. Optimistically, maybe the incentives provide a necessary kick start while EVs become cheaper. Time will tell.

So far I am very pleased with the car: no cut corners, as far as I can judge. Around town, we basically have a pure electric car, but also have executed a very enjoyable 3,000 mile roadtrip. I’m swimming in interesting data, and appreciating transportation through new eyes.

But the fact that I now own a PHEV is not enough to transform me into an unabashed supporter, as often happens to early adopters. EVs are not the cheapest option: even just on the fuel front. With $4/gal gasoline and $0.15/kWh electricity, a half-and-half electricity/gasoline mix is neck and neck with a Toyota Prius getting 50 MPG. Add the initial battery cost and we more than wipe out the marginal savings in the cost of propulsion. I came under serious fire from Volt owners for once suggesting that the financial savings were a wash, or even—heaven forbid—negative. I get it: the emotional investment is large, and it’s hard to remain objective after spending $40,000. I will personally strive to steer clear of the attachment bias, and remain objective about the merits of electric cars.

I should also point out that making estimates of propulsion costs over the next 10–15 years is very difficult, because it is not clear whether gasoline costs increase or decrease over that timeline. Long term, they are almost certain to rise. But a spurt of fracking-produced oil—even if a limited-time offer—may hold prices down for a while. Meanwhile, slowly transitioning our electricity infrastructure to less carbon-intense forms, which I am all for, may drive electricity costs up.

Still, as I often find, applying a strict dollars-and-cents assessment imposes a terribly narrow window on the world. There are plenty of other reasons that I was attracted to a plug-in, even if it winds up costing me more money in the long term. Why do I have an off-grid photovoltaic system (with expensive, disappointing batteries)? Or a whole-house energy monitor? Or a 600 gallon (2300 L) rain catchment system? Or three chickens in the backyard? None of these choices are primarily financial in nature. The enjoyment I get out of quietly tooling around town, logging charge and mileage data like a madman, and developing the capability to self-charge off my own roof (even if the grid is down) offer recompense. Part hobby; part practical; part hedge against an uncertain future.

We’ll get back to some basic EV math in a bit. First, we’ll take a detour into environmental factors.

CO2 Emissions

While climate change is not a primary motivator for me (resource depletion, growth reliance, and fossil-fuel dependence in general are my main concerns), I do take it seriously. If I’m unjustified in worrying about a resource crunch on a shorter timescale, and we therefore continue profligate consumption of fossil fuels, then climate change is there to make sure we get bitten either way.

So on that count, I am happy to report that driving the C-Max on electricity (in California) produces less than half the CO2 that driving the same vehicle in hybrid (gasoline) mode. In fact, California analyzed different fuel sources for light-duty vehicles, finding that gasoline produces 96 units of CO2 to the electricity mix value of 41.

From California Transportation Study

From California Transportation Study. Don’t expect many cars to run on forest waste or landfill gas: electric drive is the best scalable option on the graph.

If I use the window sticker values for the C-Max, driving 100 miles consumes 2.3 gallons of gas, or 34 kWh of electricity (from the wall outlet). Gasoline—including refinement costs—produces 12.6 kg of CO2per gallon (96 g/MJ), while the California mix of electricity comes in at 0.446 kg/kWh of delivered energy (about a pound per kWh: numbers from here). So 100 miles of driving the C-Max on gasoline emits 2.3×12.6, or 29 kg of CO2, while the electric option yields 34×0.446, or 15 kg.

Another triangulation comes from a handy EPA site that lets you determine your local electricity mix (by zip code), along with a figure for carbon intensity. The national average electricity is 44.5% coal, 23.3% natural gas, 20.2% nuclear, 6.8% hydro, 3.6% non-hydro renewables, and 1.1% oil. That amounts to about 70% from fossil fuels. For California, it’s 7.3% coal, 53% natural gas, 14.9% nuclear, 12.7% hydro, 10.1% non-hydro renewables, and 1.4% oil, totaling 61.7% fossil fuel (dominated by less carbon-intense natural gas).

San Diego electricity sources compared to national average (EPA site).

San Diego electricity sources compared to national average (EPA site).

San Diego's electricity cost in emissions, compared to national average (EPA site).

San Diego’s electricity cost in emissions, compared to national average (EPA site).

The site puts the CO2 intensity at 1216 pounds/MWh nationally, and 659 lb/MWh in California. I was also interested to see that despite a 46.5% hydroelectric contribution, Washington State has a CO2 intensity of 819 lb/MWh: larger than California, owing to a 30% coal dependency.

At the EPA rating of 34 kWh/100 mi, 1 MWh would propel the C-Max Energi 2940 miles. The same car gets 43 MPG on gasoline, so that this trek would require 68 gallons of gas, producing 860 kg of CO2 by our previous conversion, or 1900 pounds. This suggests the amount of CO2 produced by gasoline is 2.9 times higher than by electricity in the same car. The disparity between the two estimates stems from the fact that the California government puts the CO2 intensity of its electricity at 124 g/MJ, translating to 980 lb/MWh—50% higher than the EPA number.

In either case, it is clear that driving a car on electric propulsion can offer a net savings in CO2 emissions—especially in California. Picking on my home state of Tennessee, obtaining 59% of its electricity from coal (and only 9% from hydro, despite the Tennessee Valley Authority system of dams) puts its carbon intensity at a little more than double that of California. In such places, it’s questionable whether electric drive produces a net CO2 benefit. In places like Wyoming, Kansas, and Missouri, it is decidedly worse to tool around in an EV powered by utility electricity, from a carbon standpoint. The national average carbon intensity is 1.84 times the California value, according to the EPA. Here, too, the question of net benefit becomes mushy. One lesson is that it may be wiser to drive toward low-carbon sources before driving the country on electric cars.

Other Pollutants

While power plants do nothing to capture CO2 emissions at present, they do tend to be proficient at scrubbing other pollutants, like nitrous oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) from the exhaust stream. Catalytic converters in cars achieve some reductions (on NOx), but we can’t expect a compact, lightweight, mobile device to perform as well as a giant piece of fixed infrastructure. The EPA site also presents intensities of these two pollutants stemming from regional electricity production (in graph above). Here, California shines again: for NOx, the national average is 1.12 pounds per MWh, while San Diego gets 0.42 pounds per MWh. For SO2, it’s even better: 0.18 lbs/MWh in California vs. a national average of 3.08.

On the flip side, the manufacture of EVs and PHEVs incur greater energy costs than do conventional cars, and also employ rare earth elements in the motors and involve caustic chemicals in battery production. A recent article in IEEE Spectrum surveys studies that put the net environmental impact of EVs slightly worse than that of conventional cars—despite achieving CO2 reductions in propelling the vehicles. I have not personally delved into the numbers and analysis, but the result is credible. Assuming the conclusion applies to the national average electricity mix, the fact that California undercuts the national average CO2 emissions by nearly a factor of two (and even better on other pollutants) means that EVs in California are very likely still a net environmental win—although not dramatically so. This again illustrates the importance of switching our electricity supply before (or at least in tandem with) large scale adoption of electric transportation.

Batteries Stink

I have warned before that electric vehicles are not obviously going to provide a viable large-scale path away from fossil fuels. In a connected vein, I have also expressed disappointment in batteries in general. Have I softened my stance on batteries? Am I endorsing EVs as the “right” way to mitigate our future challenges? Mostly, my answer is “no.”

I don’t hold out tremendous hope that electrified transport can smoothly replace our fossil fuel dependence. The energy density of batteries remains disappointing; most people are priced out (incentives help, but are temporary); recharging is slow and often inconvenient. What follows is some basic EV math exposing some of the hurdles.

EV Math

To illustrate some of the challenges facing electric cars, let’s consider parameters that most Americans would find to be acceptable as an equivalent trade. We’ll imagine a car that can drive a range of 300 miles (480 km): comparable to typical gasoline car ranges. Impatient Americans would like to recharge in five minutes or less. Let’s impose some hardship and say it’ll take a whole ten minutes to charge and then evaluate some of the fallout from these choices.

Charge Power and Thermal Limitations

Firstly, a person filling a gasoline tank at a rate of 0.1 gal/sec (topping off a typical tank in about two minutes) is delivering energy to the car at a rate of about 13 MW. Think about this. That’s 2,000 homes running air conditioners. Two people filling up at a gas station reaches parity with the UCSD campus’ electrical power demand. Right away you see the problem with transferring electrical energy to a car at similar rates.

But let’s get back to numbers more relevant to EVs. A 300 mile range will require approximately 80 kWh of on-board battery storage. This is based on typical EV performance demanding about 33 kWh from the wall to propel the car 100 miles (characteristic of Tesla, Leaf, Volt, C-Max, Prius; see table below, and post on EV energy efficiency), so that 300 miles demands 100 kWh from the wall outlet. At 80% charge efficiency, the battery holds onto (has a capacity of) 80 kWh. Delivering 100 kWh in 10 minutes (one sixth of an hour) demands a charge rate of 600 kW. That’s serious. We’re talking about a 2500 amp breaker at 240 VAC. Not in my house! Upscale neighborhoods beware of Tesla-induced brownouts…

Model Type kWh/100 mi kWh to charge range (mi)
Tesla Roadster EV 30 75 245
Nissan Leaf EV 34 25 73
Chevy Volt PHEV 35 13 38
Ford C-Max Energi PHEV 34 7 21
Toyota Prius Plug-in PHEV 29 3.2 11

But the charging problem is also bad on the thermal front. At an 80% charge efficiency, 20% is lost as heat. For reference I measure my C-Max to consistently get just 70% efficiency at 11.5 amps and 120 VAC; and 80% at 14.5 amps and 240 VAC. A 20% heat loss for our dream battery becomes 120 kW nightmare of waste heat to dissipate. Distributed over a 6 m² area (picture a cube 1 m on a side, or a flatter package fitting under the car), this is 20,000 W/m². Aggressive ventilation may achieve a convection coefficient of around 50 W/m²/°C, but this still leaves a 400 °C surface temperature above ambient. Wowzers. We have ourselves a thermal problem, folks. Partial charges at a lower state of charge may manage to be more efficient, but that’s not a full solution to the problem.

Energy Density and Mass

From Tesla site.

From Tesla site.  All these batteries are pretty similar in energy density.

Modern EV batteries achieve energy densities from 0.08 kWh/kg (Nissan Leaf) to 0.12 kWh/kg (Tesla Roadster: $$). Gasoline, by contrast, packs 36.6 kWh into each gallon, with a mass of 2.77 kg, or 13.2 kWh/kg—over 100 times better than batteries. Better conversion efficiency reduces the factor of 100 down to 20–30, but still, our 80 kWh battery will be in the ballpark of 1000 kg, which is a lot to haul around.


How about the economics? Typical real costs of EV batteries today run about $500/kWh. So our 80 kWh battery costs $40,000. Actually, EV batteries only provide access to part of the capacity, lest extreme discharges ruin the battery. So our example really demands > 100 kWh of battery, pushing the cost above $50,000. And that doesn’t yet count the cost of the car. I think it becomes clear why the Tesla cars (longest range EVs) are so darned pricy. It’s more than the sleek looks and status.

Driving 100 miles in the C-Max Energi takes either 34 kWh from the outlet or 2.3 gallons of gas. At prices of $0.15/kWh and $4.00/gal (California), the propulsion cost is $5.10 vs. $9.20 to drive on electric vs. gasoline. Saving about $4 per 100 miles driven translates to $5,000 of propulsion savings over a 125,000 mile presumed lifetime (battery longevity). But we paid a price for the battery ($40,000 in the 300-mile-range case). If we want to break even, we need the battery cost to be below $5,000—meaning less than 10 kWh of on-board battery. Most EV batteries only let you use about 70–80% of the full capacity, which is almost perfectly offset by the charging efficiency. The net effect is that a 10 kWh battery (allowing use of 8 kWh, say) will demand 10 kWh from the wall to recharge, and this gets you 30 miles down the road—using our EV-constant of 33 kWh/100 mi. 30 miles (48 km) is a bit short for an electric-only car. So electric-only cars are at present not likely to break even financially.

Maximum range of EV or PHEV battery before cost of battery offsets savings in propulsion cost, using California prices and national average prices for electricity and gasoline.

Maximum range of EV or PHEV battery before cost of battery offsets savings in propulsion cost, using California prices ($0.15/kWh, $3.95/gal) and national average prices ($0.12/kWh, $3.61/gal) for electricity and gasoline.

From past experience, I expect to be attacked by vested EV owners on this point. Let me first say that there are good and valid reasons to own an EV beyond the narrow dollars and cents perspective. Bravo. But also, incentives and marketing ploys can distort the true “here and now” costs. For example, Chevy lists a replacement battery (16 kWh) at a price somewhere around $2,000—far short of the estimated $8,000 cost. An auto industry executive/scientist once told me when probed on this point: “We never discuss cost; only price.” The point is that fears of premature battery failure and high replacement cost can damage sales, and therefore place investment in the product line at risk. The industry is smart to low-ball battery prices to keep sales moving, knowing that very few replacements will be needed in the near term. If you want to experience the difference first hand, try to get a $2,000 price guarantee 10 years into the future from Chevrolet. Ford quoted me a $4,400 price to replace the 7.5 kWh C-Max Energi battery—in line with the “expected” cost of batteries.

Since pure EVs have trouble breaking even on propulsion cost, what about PHEVs, which can tolerate shorter electric ranges? As soon as a portion of the miles are driven in gasoline mode, the propulsion savings erodes, translating into a diminished break-even battery size. A vicious cycle begins, wherein each battery/range reduction translates to greater gasoline reliance and therefore further-diminished savings. Maybe the battery lifetime increases as well with lighter use. But this depends on driving profiles, number of cycles, etc. It isn’t clear that there is a pure financial win on the PHEV side, either (plus the PHEVs are more complex than EVs, driving up the non-battery portion of the cost).

My Take-Away

Despite “buying in,” I remain unconvinced of the degree to which EVs will revolutionize transportation. Don’t get me wrong: I am very satisfied with our PHEV. We went 1304 miles on our first tank of gas, lasting 58 days (697 of 700 around-town miles were on pure electric; gasoline was used for 220 miles of a round trip to Pasadena, plus the first 380 miles of road trip). I now have a car that I can charge from my off-grid PV system even if long gas lines coincide with a power outage. I love the freedom and versatility. And the car is (for me) a leap into futuristic technology that is very nice, albeit causing me some discomfort as someone who prefers simplicity (e.g., still got the flip phone) over pizzazz.

First fill-up on maiden roadtrip, 380 miles out of town after 600 miles on gasoline, 700 on battery.

First fill-up on maiden roadtrip, 380 miles out of town after 600 miles on gasoline, 700 on battery.  The guy filling up his beast truck next to us was awed, and wanted to shake my hand.

But this luxury car is just that: a luxury. It’s a novelty; a toy. Sure, it serves a purpose, and brings pleasure/independence. What works for us, though, does not mean our car-crazed civilization is ripe for an EV revolution. Limitations on charging times, range, cost, materials, and battery life may not permit a business-as-usual substitution of gasoline cars with EVs. We may not find the prosperity to pull it off.  We may one day look on the car era as a carefree anomaly.

Owning an efficient, data-rich PHEV has changed my outlook on transportation and also my driving habits. Slow, complete stops give me quantitative brake-coach feedback. Modest accelerations and cruise speeds let me stretch the miles. Careful route planning and consolidation reduce the number of trips and optimize charge schedules. I do not take mobility for granted to the extent that I did. Just like in my off-grid PV system, the energy becomes more personal and precious. And that’s a good shift. We could all use more of that, in my opinion.

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90 thoughts on “Man Bites EV: Will EV Bite Back?

  1. Found your final comment about how it changed that way you drive, and think about mobility especially interesting. The same has been shown to be true for people who buy PV systems or other at-home RE. This may, in fact, be the most significant impact. Feedback systems, and simply being exposed to the technology brings it to the forefront of daily consciousness, which can help incentivise conservation and other types of pro-environmental (or financial) behavior in other aspects of daily life. To see this impact even in you, an over-educated hyper conscious physicist, is encouraging. The impact in “normal” people could be dramatic.

    • I agree in that. You experience this even more when you live without a car. That gives you a VERY different perspective on mobility, planning purchases, experiencing the true labour involved in transportation (by going by bicycle) etc. Ultimately the automobile transport complex will be very hard to maintain in the future, regardless of which technology that is used to power it.

    • I wonder if you could gamify conventional transport the way people gamify their jogging on their mobile phone. Then you’d have the awareness benefits, even without an EV. Except, of course, the goal would be to reduce your score by making fewer trips (like golf) rather than increasing your score by running the most miles.

      • A counter next to the odometer that showed a cumulative cost of driving might help. People know driving costs gas and maintenance but don’t really think about it. If you *saw* that driving two miles set you back a dollar, it might change behavior.

  2. Warning: you’re going to get criticized for using data for Tesla Roadster instead of Tesla Model S, given that it’s the Model S that’s on the market and Roadster should be considered an outdated trial run for the Model S.

  3. Congratulations on the 54% PHEV utility factor! I love how a relatively small battery can eliminate > 1/2 gasoline consumption without any range anxiety issues.

  4. Tom, you calculations assume that the price of gasoline will remain a constant $3.95/gallon for the entire life of your car. I’m certain that you know better than that. Gasoline prices will inevitably rise significantly thus making EVs more and more cost-effective over time.

    • I have a brief paragraph on this point. Long term, I agree that gasoline prices (and electricity?) will go up. In the shorter term (10 years) things are less clear. Enough uncertainty keeps me from making any definitive predictions on this timescale.

        • Mike,

          The energy decline theory you cite, is based upon a long series of mathematical and logical errors. The errors are SUBTLE, and are very difficult to detect for people who don’t have the specific training required. Even though the errors are subtle, they are SEVERE and totally invalidate the conclusions which energy decline adherents are drawing.

          The video you posted, commits all of the errors of energy decline theory. It’s practically a compendium of those errors. In my opinion, the conclusions drawn in that video are incorrect.

          (I’ll admit that I skipped through parts of the video; it was 45+ minutes and I’ve seen all those claims before. I watched about 20 minutes).

          It would take a long time for me to point out all of the errors of energy decline theory (at least 15 pages). I’m writing a longer essay now in which I’ll do just that.

          For the time being, however, we should not accept energy decline theory as an established scientific fact. The energy decline theory is a FRINGE theory. We must ask why the several million other professionals in the mining and fossil fuel extraction industries are not saying the same thing as that guy. I’m not saying that a consensus of experts is always correct. However, if a consensus of experts is against you, you should try to find out why they think that way.

          “Then tell me how long you think we’ll be driving cars, of ANY kind…”

          I’d guess there will be cars continuously for centuries into the future, unless there is some UNPREDICTABLE disaster like nuclear war, asteroid strike, and so on, which ruins civilization.

          -Tom S

          • [edited out mildly personal barb about economists’ views]

            BTW, peak Oil is not a theory. And ‘the theory’, as you call it, is not 15 years old, M King Hubbert first came up with the idea in 1954 (almost 60 years ago…), accurately predicting the USA would peak in 1971, which it’s done, and it will never reach those heights ever again.

          • What you are saying is that there are many reasons for the view you oppose being wrong, but you are not telling us even a single one, instead saying you are writing more elsewhere, without providing a link or anything. Not a strong argument if you ask me.

  5. “Firstly, a person filling a gasoline tank at a rate of 0.1 gal/sec (topping off a typical tank in about two minutes) is delivering energy to the car at a rate of about 13 MW. Think about this. That’s 2,000 homes running air conditioners. Two people filling up at a gas station reaches parity with the UCSD campus’ electrical power demand. Right away you see the problem with transferring electrical energy to a car at similar rates.”

    Point taken, but are you taking into account the fact that you don’t need the same amount of energy in “fuel” to travel the same distance using gas vs. electricity? The internal combustion motor is much less efficient than the electric motor, requiring more fuel energy as input than the electric motor.

    The internal combustion motor is roughtly around 20% efficient. The electric motor is around 90% efficient. A quick calc reveals that you would need around 2.9MW input to an electric car vs 13MW for a gas car to fill it up in the same amount of time.

    That still means around 9 electric cars would demand the equivalent of UCSD’s power grid. Which is why your point is still taken.

    • Yes. Just after that bit, I do the “real” numbers and come up with 600 kW for a ten-minute charge (would become 3 MW for gasoline equivalent 2-minute fill, so in line with your numbers :-)).

  6. Tom, I am a bit troubled by this discussion about the CO2 production from your electricity. I thought states (or rather utilities) were buying or selling electricity between then. I live in Sweden and we are interconnected with Denmark, Finland, Norway and Germany and it is doubtful if you can claim that the “electricity mix” is any different when the lines are all connected? Also, if you switch the transport sector to electricity, you will substantially increase electricity demand, and therefore also its CO2 contribution. In the end you might end up with more coal powered (or fracked gas powered) stations to produce that electricity, as hydro is all done, nuclear is on decline etc.

    • That’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure how much it applies to the US. A couple of maps shows the US as having three unconnected grids: East, West, and Texas. Then there’s regions within the non-Texas ones, meaning I don’t know what exactly. I’d think that even if the entire Western US is connected, transmission costs would mean trying to get power from more local sources when possible.

      Increased power depends on how it’s met. Natural gas should be flat out cleaner than gasoline. Coal’s inherently dirtier, though efficiency of big power plant vs. small car engine might balance that out. On the flip side gasoline is burned only as needed, while a grid probably has redundancy losses. Nuclear and renewables of course have pretty much no carbon emissions, though gas is the preferred new plant these days, followed distantly by solar and wind. There’s actually a new nuclear plant lined up to be built. Not all of us are Germany or Sweden, running from nuclear into the arms of coal.

  7. It would seem to me that the only practical “refueling” option for a pure electric vehicle on a looooong road trip is a system in which rather than trying to refill the on-board battery with energy, the battery itself is swapped out for a fully charged one, and the drained unit goes into the charging hopper. If I remember right, such a system began testing in Israel maybe 5 years ago – I have not heard any results.

  8. What, no discussion of the Chevy Spark EV? (Too recent? )

    The ~80mile range on a 21kwh battery and the sub-$20K (after Federal subsidy- even cheaper after CA taxpayers chip-in) price tag would seem to be closing in on revolutionary status as a commuter-car.

    The charging time issue is really a non-issue for a commuting duty cycle, especially if there is an adequate charging infrastructure at work. It takes 17 hours to fully charge a Spark on a 120V circuit, 7 on a 240V circuit. Even with a 50 mile commute with a 120V charger on each end this is a fully tractable problem!

    The grid infrastructure upgrade requirement for supporting commuter EVs is turning out to be pretty minor, but could be make even smaller with only slightly better grid smarts, as outlined in this recent bit o’ bloggery:

  9. I agree with you that EV’s may not be viable in their current form, however if people would alter there expectation about ‘what a automobile should be’ then electric vehicles may have a bright future. Given that most trips are solo-occupant short-distant commutes, would it not make sense for people to drive vehicles more akin to velomobiles but powered by small electric motors? If we adopted this type of vehicle (minimal, light, aerodynamic) and all chose to drive ‘a little slower’ then I don’t see why we couldn’t maintain a good degree of personal mobility.

    I wonder when (or if) we will start to see companies moving in this direction eventually (granted energy is still cheap so probably not for some time). One problem is that most people will cling to the classic form of automobile for as long as possible: 1-2 tonnes, fast and with a long-range. God forbid if people couldn’t drive their 3 tonne SUV to the mall!

  10. Of course you are also opting out of contributing to the upkeep of the road and highway network by being able to dodge gas tax. This is another way that the subsidies on these machines are unsustainable. If widely adopted they would have to attract specific taxes not subsidies, or some other way of funding this infrastructure will have to be found. And at exactly the moment that much of the mid 20th century structures need replacing AND just when we are trying to invest in the missing Transit and Active systems that we didn’t build in the oil boom years. Conundrum.

  11. Personally looking at a hybrid, possibly plugin. Reason is that city traffic rules here (northern Italy) are granting free pass to EVs, whereas ICs get shut out of town.
    But even more so: when the temperatures start soaring into heatwave territory and the sun is relentlessly beating down, levels of airborne nitrogen also soar, which has some very nasty and unpleasant side effects (to me it feels like suffocating!).
    So at the end of the day my investment will probably be “emotional” and non-utilitarian; I am aware that producing the car also creates pollution, and so does the disposal of the batteries. But in this case I believe that they will be disposed of through some kind of specialized facility that will do its utmost to avoid any unnecessary pollution or land contamination.

    • I encourage you to get something that plugs in. If you purchase a gas-only car (which includes non-plug in hybrids), you are putting a piece of infrastructure on the roads that has a 20-year lifespan or so. That helps maintain petroleum as a required substance for those 20 years, at least. Going with a plug-in vehicle (hybrid or all electric) helps nudge the infrastructure in the right direction.

      Also, your points about ground level air pollution are right on. When I previously lived in a city, my apartment was constantly being coated with a tar-like scum coming in the windows. The source was vehicle exhaust — primarily the diesel buses (I lived along a busy bus route). Happily for my lungs, I have since moved to greener pastures. In urban environments, at least, we should encourage transportation that allows for cleaner air.

      On the economics of electric propulsion, this is yet another example of why a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program would be helpful. Assuming well designed (a big assumption!), a policy that prices carbon does the heavy lifting in terms of shaking out what kind of transportation is cost effective. If the policy is akin to that proposed in the Cantwell-Collins CLEAR Act, then those with lower incomes, on average, come out ahead — and so just a little better able to afford higher cost vehicles, for what that’s worth.

  12. Hi Tom, I’ve enjoyed your work for some time now and find it to be among the best informed and most useful anywhere while still being readable and useful to a well informed layman.

    I don’t have anything to add to the electric numbers, not being in a spot to do the research, but I have spent plenty of time observing the behavior of people and the way they react to novel situations.

    That old non linear monkey wrench in the gearbox is the key to understanding what the future holds;Old Man BAU’s day’s are numbered, although I hope and expect he will limp and stagger along for another couple of decades given a littler luck.

    If wer assume that current trends continue, gasoline will be considerably more expensive, and batteries considerably cheaper within five years or so. I will hazard a guess that gasoline will cost at least five dollars in , and probably six or more , per gallon, well before a decade has passed. Rust and depletion never sleep!

    Now as to how fast battery prices may fall, I haven’t a clue, personally, but others who supposedly know something about engineering and business think they may cost only half as much well within a decade.

    It a seems reasonable- for speculative purposes, considering rising fuel costs and falling ev costs, – to assume that people with some disposable income – meaning a huge part of the working population in particular in the US- will give serious consideration to selecting ONE car to be used almost exclusively for local travel.

    Consider this math:

    If you own a new car , you can expect it to last without truly serious reliability and wear and tear issues for five to fifteen years of every day use, depending on your driving habits .

    Now speaking as a gear head, I would rather buy a used car with 150,000 miles on the odometer , which has been used for a long freeway commute for 125,000 of those miles , than an identical car with only 75,000 miles on it , with sixty thousand of those miles being from short local trips.

    Short trips are and cold starts are truly durability internal combustion engine and transmission killers and the ultimate source of most breakdowns. A pizza delivery driver may start his engine twenty five times in a hundred miles, and open and close his doors as many times, etc.A long haul commuter can expect his starter motor to last a million miles, a pizza guy for maybe 50,000 if he is very lucky .


    If you are a member of a typical multicar household, and you buy a buy a plug in car , and use it to the maximum practical extent, an existing or newly purchased conventional car used occasionally for longer trips and the occasional social event can be expected to last until you are thoroughly sick of it, or until it is a treasured member of the family. Furthermore,it will not need routine maintenance even in direct in proportion to the miles driven since maintenance costs fall with the elimination of short trips.

    Now well designed and well built car engines typically last 150,000 to 300,000 or more miles these days if well maintained .Considering that the engine in a Volt for instance will NOT be subjected to thousands of short cold start trips, it may very well be expected to last twice as long as usual- and there will be no need for 3000 dollar transmission rebuilds !

    Batteries and electric motors and non existent transmissions do not suffer from cold starts and short trips!

    Factor in the savings to be had from no longer necessary, or far fewer oil changes, brake jobs, and other routine maintanence, and an electric or plug in looks like a lot better option , especially for a second car, than your analysis suggests.

    And one last point: a plug in hybrid or pure electric will still have some useful pure electric driving range left even with what is considered to be a worn out battery.There are millions of people who could get by very nicely with a Leaf for instance as their only car or second car even when the range falls of to fifty miles or less.

    A ” worn out battery” could still enable the owner of a plug in hybrid to eventually avoid spending several thousand bucks on gasoline. A Volt that will go only twenty miles on the battery would still run a hundred miles a week commuting on zero gasoline, and run another twenty gas free miles on both Saturday and Sunday, resulting in a considerable cash savings for the owner.

    This is not to find any fault with your excellent work, but simply add to it.

    • “If we assume that current trends continue, gasoline will be considerably more expensive, and batteries considerably cheaper within five years or so.”

      How so? When you consider that all batteries are manufactured using fossil fuels, surely their cost will go up as the cost of FFs go up, especially considering that all the resources needed to make the batteries are being mined using less and less economical ore grades as time goes by….

      • “When you consider that all batteries are manufactured using fossil fuels, surely their cost will go up as the cost of FFs go up”

        No, because the cost of fossil fuels is not the only cost in constructing batteries. As a result, prices of batteries could drop even if FF costs go up considerably.

        For example, suppose the following things: FF costs make up 5% of the cost of a battery, the costs of fossil fuels doubles, and the other 95% of battery costs fall by half. In that case, the cost of batteries drops by 42.5% (0.05*2 + 0.95*0.5 = 0.575), despite a doubling of FF costs.

        This has already happened. Batteries for EVs have dropped in price by 50% since the GM EV1, while oil prices have tripled.

        -Tom S

        • Your point is good overall, but the last bit has an error: US electricity basically doesn’t come from oil, so oil prices are irrelevant to manufacturing. Coal, methane, + nuclear or hydro electricity are where it’s at, and those have been roughly constant or declining (gas boom).

          • Damien,

            The example given was meant to show that the price of something can decline even if some component price increases.

            Oil definitely is required to manufacture EVs right now, because manufacturing EVs indirectly requires oil for both mining, and transportation of iron ore, lithium, etc, that’s needed to construct the car. Nevertheless, EV prices have declined a lot, while oil prices tripled. That’s what I meant. The exact proportion of energy costs devoted to various kinds of energy is not essential to the example.

            -Tom S

  13. A colleague of mine bought the same as your car (we are in MD) when it was just introduced in the market. I have ridden in it. Most of his miles are electric (short commute) and he has subscribed to 100 % wind elec source (the rates these days are competitive with non-solar/wind sources. Myself is subscribed to 100 % wind elec from a company called Ethical Electric which tends to source wind from closer locations).

    He mentioned he recently got 26 miles out of the battery by driving in certain ways (less breaking helps even though regenerative breaking is efficient, there is still loss, the increase is not because of overall gravity effects). Like you, he likes to measure and he has done measurements related to AC usage, temp effects etc (I don’t know all the details, he bombards me with way too much data).

    There has been a recent recall regarding some safety feature and there is a solution so you will probably need to take yours to the shop (if not already fixed).

    Ford also has software upgrades from time to time and sometimes they do some tweaks to improve efficiency so keep an eye on that. There are also online forums where users of the car post problems or experiences and measurements on their cars, I am sure with your obcession about measurements, you can provide valuable data there.

  14. The basic question is that most all of us need transportation. It is my feeling that the majority of the population in the US is slowly being priced out of car ownership and the EV (as a copy of the internal combustion vehicle) is not helping. Government subsidies (which are a redistribution of $) cannot shore up the adoption of EV’s as we just don’t have the money and I believe that the price will not come down far enough, as a result of mass adoption, to make EV’s viable in future.

    If EV’s can be made part of an integrated transportation system where the EV that you own can get you to the local store and the local light rail station, then a short range battery only vehicle may suit (fancy golf cart).

    It would be interesting to see what the total operating cost of your vehicle over a realistic life is.

  15. I am missing a mention of the Renault Zoe in your post, is it not available in the US?
    It is in my opinion the first usable and affordable pure EV in Europe, mostly due to it’s fast charging capabilities. It can recharge to 80% in 15-20minutes at a 43KW 3-Phase outlet. While those are still fairly rare, 22KW chargers can be found in most cities here in Germany now if you (or the builtin GPS) know where to look. This gives you a half-hour recharge to 80% for about 100km of range realistically. While this is still some ways off from your 10 minute requirement for a 300mile refill, I would argue that most stops at a gas station take more like 15 to 20 minutes anyway (you still need to pay and possibly pee). I could live with that if it gave me about twice the range. That would still make the once-a-year roadtrip rather annoying, but would be sufficient for just about everything else.
    So in my opinion batteries and charging technologies are at least not an order of magnitude off the mark, but closer to a factor of 2-3 instead. That is still a lot as only incremental improvements are to be expected at this point, but at least there is hope.
    Also: European Houses typically have 3-phase 360V power somewhere, at least for the electric kitchen stove, even if it is not installed as a wall-outlet anywhere else, and they rarely burn down. So it is not as much of a hazard as you seem to think, and means a 22KW home charger can be installed in most homes without major problems or cost.
    And Renault makes the investment in the battery and then leases it to the car owners, which lowers the sticker price and takes away a large portion of the risk for early adopters.

    • BMW in Europe will offer you gasoline retal car for free for a few days each year when you buy in their new i3 EV car.
      So the roadtrip once a year is all-inclusive.

  16. Good to have you back doing some math!
    What worries me most is that early adoption in new cars does not seem to be a good bet. Do you think this is mature technology?

  17. Can you double-check your calculations on CO2? I’m wondering if they include all the relevant energy losses. Are the losses of the grid counted? What about battery losses?

    • The CO2 intensity I used was per MWh delivered to the customer, so includes transmission loss. For California, the average transmission loss is 8%. On the EV side, the figure I use is the energy delivered to the car from the wall outlet, not what actually makes it into the battery (which is 70–80%). So as far as I can tell, I didn’t let any energy leak out of the computation. All the same, I am trusting the EPA numbers to have been constructed correctly.

  18. Tom,

    I think your analysis of the future of EVs, is far too pessimistic. You say that EV batteries are far too expensive, which is true, but you assume those prices will remain high indefinitely. However, EV prices are dropping. The prices of EV batteries are dropping by 8% per year, and have been for several years. The price of the Nissan Leaf declined from $35k to $29 this year. This trend has a long way to go. EV prices will continue to drop in the future.

    If EV battery prices continue to drop at their current rate for another 5 years (which they are expected to do), and if EVs were mass-manufactured on the same scale as (say) the toyota corrolla, then I think an EV like the Nissan Leaf (with a 100mi range) would cost around $22,000 (in y2013 inflation-adjusted USD). That’s slightly cheaper than the equivalent Nissan Versa Hatchback, when you consider total cost of ownership.

    It may take awhile for prices to drop that far–probably more than 10 years. However, I think that EVs will eventually be cost-competitive with gasoline cars.

    Remember that gasoline cars are already a highly mature technology and are not dropping in price at all.

    Personally, I think EVs will “take off” at some point, and become popular. Not right away, but at some point during the next 20 years. At some point, EVs will drop in price enough, and gasoline will be expensive enough ($5/gal?) that it will be much cheaper to own an EV. At that point, people will start buying EVs in mass. Of course it will take at least another 15 years, after EVs start selling in large volumes, for most of the auto fleet to turn over and be converted to EVs.

    There are other drawbacks to EVs, aside from price, which you pointed out. However, those drawbacks are not deal-killers. Granted, we can’t quick-charge all EVs every day. As a result, most people will need to plug in their cars at night. Granted, we can’t afford 300mi batteries. As a result, people won’t be able to take uninterrupted long-range road trips unless they buy PHEVs which will cost several thousand more. Those are acceptable trade-offs.

    -Tom S

  19. Tom, you said:

    “But this luxury car is just that: a luxury. It’s a novelty; a toy. Sure, it serves a purpose, and brings pleasure/independence.”

    Early in the 20th century, all cars were luxuries. Most people couldn’t afford them. But then, prices came down, because of mass-manufacture. There is every reason to expect the same thing will happen with EVs.

    “Limitations on charging times, range, …, materials, and battery life may not permit a business-as-usual substitution of gasoline cars with EVs. We may not find the prosperity to pull it off. We may one day look on the car era as a carefree anomaly.”

    Why would limitations on range or charging times prevent an eventual substitution to EVs? Wouldn’t people tolerate a 100mi range, and the necessity of plugging in at night, rather than having no car at all? Wouldn’t they tolerate 50mi range, rather than no car at all? Why won’t we have enough prosperity to build cars with 50mi range, when those cars will almost certainly be cheaper in the future than gasoline cars are now? Will industry suddenly become incapable of manufacturing that many cars? How have they managed it so far?

    I just don’t see anything which would force an eventual abandonment of cars altogether. Remember that we have more options than just business-as-usual or total abandonment of all cars. You say that we must have 300mi range to continue business-as-usual. If we can’t manage that, must we abandon cars altogether? Why not 75mi range?

    In my opinion, the main question is how much range consumers will have to give up, in the future, while still affording cars. Right now, my best guess is that cars will have less than 200mi range, after the EV transition has completed, which is more than 30 years from now. We’ll just need to live with that.

    -Tom S

    • Just a quick reply on what I mean by lacking the prosperity to all afford (even cheaper) EVs someday. I view prosperity as being tied tightly to physical resources (more so than ethereal innovation). I see much of the prosperity we enjoy today as being tied to one-time resources that we are spending very quickly. It is not clear to me, nor should it be clear to anyone without clairvoyant powers, that we can continue the present level of prosperity after the prime fossil fuel deposits and ores are depleted, fisheries collapse, forests are lost, agricultural land is rendered useless, aquifers are spent, and climate change causes its share of havoc. Just because we can do something now, and have been able to for the last century or two is not the same as a guarantee that this will continue to be the case. The conditions that made our present prosperity possible will change. The often-encountered extrapolation-based assumptions deserve to be challenged.

      • “I view prosperity as being tied tightly to physical resources (more so than ethereal innovation).”

        I agree with that.

        “I see much of the prosperity we enjoy today as being tied to one-time resources that we are spending very quickly.”

        This is where we disagree. As you know, I regard fossil fuels as just a heat source which was the most convenient option at first. We are no more tied to fossil fuels, than we were to charcoal for steam engines, which is what steam engines originally ran upon. (Of course, FF are necessary for plastics etc too, but those uses also have obvious, easy alternatives).

        As you know, I’ve been saying these things in energy decline circles for the last 5 years or so. There’s no point in revisiting the entire debate now. I should point out, however, that in that brief time during which I’ve been having this debate, electricity generation from renewables in the US went from ~0% to ~5%. At current rates of installation, the USA will generate more than 20% of its power from renewables within 25 years. This is in a country which does not believe in global warming, and where FF for electricity generation are not running out–quite the opposite. In other words, the transition is well underway, by now, despite the fact that energy decline theorists always claimed that such a transition was simply impossible.

        “Just because we can do something now, and have been able to for the last century or two is not the same as a guarantee that this will continue… The often-encountered extrapolation-based assumptions deserve to be challenged.”

        That’s true. Also, just because we haven’t done something in the last century or two, doesn’t make it impossible. That is also an extrapolation from current trends.

        I’m not just extrapolating from the past when I make these arguments. My reasons have nothing to do with extrapolation from past growth in energy extraction. I believe the economy collectively is always figuring things out. It will figure out the transition away from FF. For example, shipping companies stopped ordering steam turbine-powered ships when internal combustion-powered ships became cheaper, in the 1980s. When steam turbine ships are cheaper again, shipping companies will figure it out, and order them again. Those are the kinds of calculations which economic decision-makers in the economy make all the time, every day, routinely. Such calculations are not dependent upon fossil fuels for their execution and do not suddenly stop when gasoline is $4/gal.

        If it’s physically possible to transition, and you can figure out a way to do it, off the top of your head, then the economy will ultimately optimize a solution as good as that or better. For example, who in the energy decline movement even imagined the fracking boom 5 years ago? Nobody, yet it happened. So why can’t we manage a transition which is obvious beforehand? Especially when we have a century or more to pull it off?

        “fisheries collapse, forests are lost … climate change causes its share of havoc.”

        Those things are terrible, and we must try to prevent them, but they do not impose energy decline.

        Anyway, those are my opinions.

        -Tom S

    • “Early in the 20th century, all cars were luxuries. Most people couldn’t afford them. But then, prices came down, because of mass-manufacture. There is every reason to expect the same thing will happen with EVs.”

      Early in the 20th century, we had also only discovered a tiny fraction of the world’s oil deposits, Peak Oil was 80/90/100 years away…….

      Now…… all bets are off.

    • “Why won’t we have enough prosperity to build cars with 50mi range, when those cars will almost certainly be cheaper in the future than gasoline cars are now? Will industry suddenly become incapable of manufacturing that many cars? How have they managed it so far?”

      There are holes in your logic. EVs becoming cheaper than they are not does not imply “almost certainly” being cheaper than gasoline cars are now. Big leap there.

      And yeah, industry will be “capable”, but rising energy prices will affect total costs and prosperity. And a subsidized rise of solar/wind in the 5% range is not the same as a sustainable rise to 25% or beyond. Dealing with intermittency will become a major problem — already is, for Germany. Coping will mean higher costs.

      • Damien,

        “There are holes in your logic. EVs becoming cheaper than they are not does not imply ‘almost certainly’ being cheaper than gasoline cars are now. Big leap there.”

        I wasn’t saying that. I wasn’t saying that one implies the other. Clearly, the fact that EVs are becoming cheaper, doesn’t imply anything about how cheap they ultimately will be.

        I was saying that EVs with short ranges would, in fact, be cheaper to own in the future than gasoline-powered cars are now, for reasons which I can’t elaborate upon fully here. I don’t have enough space in a blog comment to justify that view.

        However, if you look at cost component breakdowns for cars like the Nissan Leaf, and you assume the following: mass manufacture reduces the per-vehicle R&D and tooling costs to low levels, battery costs are reduced by 30% because of short ranges (50mi), and battery costs are reduced by very small amounts (less than is expected); then a short-range EV will be less expensive to operate on a TCO basis than a gasoline-powered car is now.

        I’m not saying that will happen. Perhaps we’ll opt for PHEVs like the Prius plug-in instead. Perhaps battery costs will drop further still than I’ve predicted, over decades, and we’ll all end up driving longer-range EVs. Perhaps more people will opt to live in the city and take the subway.

        I’m saying that short-range EVs would be one option we’d have in the future if everything went horribly, if battery costs did not come down at all, if greater numbers of people in the future insisted on driving, etc. I’m saying that we have options other than the dichotomy between BAU and no cars at all.

        -Tom S

  20. The measure to use for CO2 impact is the marginal generation mix, not the Average mix.
    By using an EV instead of gasoline, you are adding to the grid load. The baseload generation is already being used, so the metric in the short term is what form of generation will get turned on or up to support the extra demand. In the long term it is what kind of power plant will get built next to add more capacity.
    In the US the short term and long term incremental capacity is mostly natural gas. A state with a lot of Nuclear and Hydro will have good average utilization mixes, but will still likely have mostly gas (and possibly coal) as incremental capacity.
    Nuclear is generally run flat out, and Hydro while often time of day dispatch-able is generally fully utilized over the course of months to years.
    If smart grids are implemented in a way that the cars turn the charging on to match the availability of wind/solar, then there would be a much better case for their widespread use. As it stands the variability largely results in other power plants running at low efficiency turn down or idle.

    • Jesse, this is true, however we must remember that baseload power often goes unused because nobody wants it. It would be too expensive to shut down and restart baseload power plants whenever there is a dip in demand. EVs can absorb the energy which otherwise would have gone to waste. The energy stored, in that case, results in no added carbon emissions. Granted, this would be a fairly small fraction of the total energy for EVs if they became common.

      Bear in mind that EVs come with energy storage, which is precisely what renewables lack. To some degree, EVs and renewables can facilitate each other. They are synergistic.

      Right now, wind power is cheaper than coal or any other power source, if you have storage. EVs could help solve that problem to some extent, because EV drivers are already forced to buy storage in order to carry around the energy with them in their cars.

      “If smart grids are implemented in a way that the cars turn the charging on to match the availability of wind/solar, then there would be a much better case for their widespread use.”

      I think demand management is important and should be implemented soon. Demand management could allow greater penetration of renewables into the grid (right now, about 40% would be the maximum fraction of power we could generate from renewables). Demand management could reduce the effects of intermittent sources of energy.

      Demand management is not difficult at all to implement. It’s entirely possible to transmit small amounts of data over the electricity grid by altering the AC frequency slightly. Using this mechanism, we could transmit data of the availability (or even excess) of power at present. It’s easy to write computer programs which will recharge a car at night whenever the wind is blowing, but which guarantee that the car will be recharged by morning.

      A whole bunch of utilities have already rolled out “smart meters” which charge very different prices for peak and off-peak power. In my opinion, this technique needs to be extended.

      -Tom S

  21. Very nice article, thanks.

    All the lights on the dash board are blinking red and we continue to worry about wasteful transportation rather than survival. In 10 years we won’t be marveling at the improvement in EVs. We will be much more focused on finding and affording sufficient food.

    Our capacity for denial is amazing, and apparently genetic.

    • The energy decline movement has predicted this doomsday over and over again, throughout the last 40+ years, and has been wrong every time. They have a 100% failure rate of prediction. What’s more, their predictions are usually drastically wrong, meaning what happened was either the opposite of what they had predicted, or nothing like what they had predicted.

      Not even 5 years ago, many peak oilers were preparing for doomsday (yet again, for most of them) by hoarding food, learning to sew, and moving to remote locations. By now, the doomsdays which they believed in, have all passed. Despite all that, quite a few of them are _still saying_ that civilization is about to collapse, for the same reasons.

      “Our capacity for denial is amazing, and apparently genetic.”

      If denial is genetic, then you too could be in denial. It’s a two-edged sword.

      You referenced:

      If you take that source as factual, then you need to crank up the critical thinking a lot. I’m not meaning to be harsh, and I gather that you’re a smart guy, but you apparently are developing opinions from unserious evidence.

      -Tom S

      • I think we can all agree that humans are pretty bad when it comes to long term predictions.

        That said, while the energy decline movement doesn’t have the power to give an exact date, we have a couple of trends to point to that lead to a disconcerting future.

        1) By the nature of it being a finite resource, we know that Peak Oil will occur eventually, though of course no one knows when for certain. However, many reports indicate that it will hard to tell when Peak Oil is close, the effect may be extremely quick.

        2) We need a lot of time to prepare. Many independent reports indicate that a conversion to a non oil based infrastructure is going to take quite a long time…even with good economic resources at our disposal. 20 years is commonly cited as a bare minimum. So if peak oil does occur its easy for us to get caught with our pants down.

      • “The energy decline movement has predicted this doomsday over and over again, throughout the last 40+ years, and has been wrong every time”

        NO it hasn’t…….. it’s actually bang on target and is happening right now right in front of your eyes……..

        Expect PEAK CIVILISATION ~2020.

        And apart from that……. YOU should delve into THIS very site starting just about right here I suggest…

        • [edited out some of the more personally-directed content]

          “NO it hasn’t…….. it’s actually bang on target and is happening right now right in front of your eyes…”

          Mike… Yes, the energy decline movement definitely has predicted doomsday over and over again across the last 40+ years. I am simply astonished that you would deny that. I’m just astonished that you would say it’s “bang on target”.

          Let me refresh your memory. The following predictions were made by the most prominent, most widely-read energy decline authors: 1) all liquid fuels would peak around 2005 and start declining almost immediately thereafter (ASPO, Colin Campbell, many others); 2) gas would peak and then fall off a “natural gas cliff” around 2010 (Simmons); 3) Coal would peak in 2011 (Patzek); 4) Civilization would rapidly collapse (Duncan, Heinberg, Savinar, Orlov, Ruppert, Hansen, and many, many others); 5) We’d undergo permanent electrical blackouts worldwide as industrial civilization self-destructed (Duncan, Heinberg, Savinar, and many, many others); 6) international trade would cease, or be severely curtailed, because there wouldn’t be enough fuel to power the ships and trains (Heinberg, Rubin, many authors at TheOilDrum); 7) there would be a rapid die-off of the human population, down to less than 2 billion people (Jay Hansen, many others); and so on.

          All of those things were supposed to have happened by now. None of them have occurred. Usually, the OPPOSITE has occurred. Therefore, the energy decline predictions aren’t “bang on”, as you claim. Quite the opposite. It would be difficult to imagine anything more drastically wrong, than energy decline predictions.

          Even the most sober, most scientific-sounding, and least doomsday predictions, of the energy decline movement, have still been quite wrong. Here is a graph from ASPO showing that all liquids production was supposed to have declined by more than 25% by now:

          The problem is, every time an energy decline prediction fails, which is often, they just sweep it under the rug. Every time a prediction fails, it’s just swept under the rug, forgotten about, and never discussed again. Then, energy decline adherents just offer a NEW doomsday prediction, with a new date, forgetting all the prior failed predictions.

          “Expect PEAK CIVILISATION ~2020”

          Here we go again…

          You may consider reading this blog entry:

          -Tom S

          • I believe that you are not accounting for economic / financial factors which have distorted the timeline (and to be fair, the doomers didn’t factor those in either). Since Peak oil is a phenomenon resulting from the interplay between physical oil supplies, extraction technologies, and economics, it stands to reason that one cannot make accurate predictions about PO without incorporating finance. This applies to both the doomers from way back when predicting mass catastrophe, and it also seems to apply to what you are saying about plentiful energy.

            The world hit an oil production plateau 8 years ago and has remained there since. The reason we haven’t seen a decline is primarily because of one factor: declining interest rates, and the resultant increase in production from tight oil in the US. Industry insiders point out how profits are marginally thin in those wells (and of course, the huge decline rates and that they will be out of oil soon), and they are basically only possible via financing from Wall Street Ponzi scheme shenanigans. You can be sure that that oil production wouldn’t be happening in a 10%interest rate environment.

            Why have interest rates been going down, and can it last? No it can’t, and interest rates have been going own as a result of the Fed’s and other central banks’ QE policy, which basically means debt monetization (printing $1 trillion a year). It is effectively the last gasp of the US dollar. After this system crashes, oil production will tank, and I predict we’ll be down to rates that were otherwise predicted by the doomers with their peak and decline curves. Essentially, zero % interest rates have brought future oil production back in time. Therefore, PO will be a very pronounced shark fin, not a bell curve.

            When will the financial system (and therefore oil production) crash? When a Ponzi scheme will collapse is very difficult to predict. But when you are looking at the correct data, it’s pretty easy to see when we’re in one, if one is open-minded enough to tune out the hype about how everything is normal. I estimate within a year.

            Unfortunately, this crash won’t bode well for EV’s either, since the world will be short of money and capital to build and buy them. It will be Tom’s Energy Trap coming true.

  22. “batteries still stink compared to liquid fuel, and likely always will.”

    Pretty bold claim. Yes, I’ve read your battery discussion before, though it has been many months so don’t quiz me.

    Guess I need to pull out this quote:

    “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

    Well you aren’t elderly, and you didn’t outright say it was impossible, so everyone is hedged. But to my eyes the capability increases, and the cost of batteries decrease by a few percent (at least) every year. Now it’s certainly possible that we have been plucking the low hanging fruit on these improvements and we are going to hit a wall, ie these micro improvements are going to cease.

    I kind of don’t think so. But like most things, we’ll just have to see.

    If you would be so kind as to perhaps publish a further article, one that says “Batteries Suck, they Suck Now, and will Suck Evermore: It is physically impossible to build a battery that can equal the capabilities of liquid fuels.”

    Well I’d feel kinda comfortable. We can get it out there, and look at it on Son of Wayback Machine in 20 years.

    Incidentally, I’m not keeping my ear to the ground on EV’s, but speaking as a Mechanical Engineer, my opinion is that it should be possible to build EV’s that are much simpler from a systems standpoint than IC engines. Which should theoretically be much more reliable and reduce maintenance costs: No radiator, transmission, IC engine itself, etc.

    Not sure they do it this way, I’ve seen a few things here and there like the “Whisper Wheels” on those buses in Europe. Is this sort of thing figured into your numbers? Personally I’d wager a guess that you could build an electric motor that could run maintenance free in most cases for a usage of 3 or 400,000 miles. Just a guess though.

    I don’t question some of the things you have written, such as the heat problem with growth in energy use.

    But my feeling is that you are wrong on this one. Time will tell however.

    • “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

      …said the science fiction author. It’s snappy, doesn’t mean it’s true. Do you believe in perpetual motion machines and FTL too?

      A lithium-air battery could in theory be competitive with gasoline in energy density. People are working on it and if it works, great. But remember that batteries are an old technology. Electric cars are older than IC cars! And there’s huge demand from the computer and phone industry for better batteries, it’s not just cars. Battery density… still sucks. A big breakthrough was using lithium at all, but that’s the lightest metal, we can’t improve any on that front.

      Worse, it’s not good enough to just have good energy density. You also need safety, rechargeability, fast rechargeability, power density, and cost. Even if someone announced a battery that had competitive energy density it still wouldn’t necessarily be adequate.

      • Thinking that it is eminently possible batteries could effectively duplicate the energy storage capabilities of liquid fuels (say gasoline or diesel for our purposes) in time is the same thing as perpetual motion?

        If you want to pick a metric like straight kilojoules/kg without accounting for the fact that is thermal energy and you have to jump through hoops as it were to make a wheel turn, then batteries have a long way to go.

        Do you really believe it is impossible?

        • Point is, quoting Arthur Clarke is not a valid argument. The links about the chemistry of batteries are infinitely more relevant. So, for that matter, is pointing out that Nissan Leafs don’t have to improve much to be viable if people accept short ranges.

    • Hmm. Is the EPA by-zip-code site unreliable? There certainly does appear to be a disagreement in the numbers.

      Thanks for pointing this out. If anyone has a resolution to the disagreement, please let us know!

      • I believe the zip code site is unreliable. If you put in 98101 (or Seattle) you get Seattle City Light and the 30% coal value. If you go to the Seattle City Light fuelmix website:
        you get a Coal value of 0.8% and that is because there is some coal (from the Centralia Power Plant) that the Bonneville Power Admin (BPA) buys.

        Not sure how the EPA zip-code site generates it numbers, but it is not correct. Most all the major cities in Washington State get their power from hydro.

        Not sure if it changes one of your conclusions, we need to generate more electricity with renewables for EVs to help with CO2 emissions, but it might be worth running another scenario with the Seattle City Light values as its almost all hydro and renewables.

    • Yes, those are really good. He’s got some others as well, talking about the tradeoffs that chemistry forces:

      Short form of all of it: higher voltage gives more energy but shorter life. Higher power means more losses and less energy. Li-ion started at about 25% of ideal, were at 50% in 2010; ideal here is pure electrode, while a real battery is part conductor, electrolyte, and container. Nanostructures can increase power or recharge, are likely more expensive, can reduce life (more surface area for power = more side reactions) and energy (more sensitive to high voltage, also need more conductor to use that high power). How to get more energy? Reduce overhead or change the materials, neither is trivial, especially with constraints of rechargeability and lifetime and safety.

      • As Tom has pointed out in the past, batteries will never come close to gasoline. The real solution is to align our desires with reality. My human/electric hybrid bicycle uses 1 kWh/100 miles @ 20 mph, making this old man as fast as Lance Armstrong in his prime. Surely we can find a compromise between this, and a 33 kWh/mile @ 70 mph automobile, given what is at stake. There are many examples out there. Here is my personal favorite.–fc&feature=c4-overview&list=UUzz4CoEgSgWNs9ZAvRMhW2A

        • Warren,

          “As Tom has pointed out in the past, batteries will never come close to gasoline.”

          Batteries will never come close to gasoline with regard to energy density. But energy density is not as important for short-distance trips. It mostly matters for long-distance uninterrupted road trips.

          Suppose you never take a trip longer than 40mi, and drive a pure EV with a battery similar to that of the Chevy Volt. The battery would weigh about 400 lbs compared to about 14 lbs for an equivalent amount of gasoline, for a difference of 386 lbs. This increases total vehicle weight by about 10%. I’m not saying that doesn’t matter, but it’s not a show-stopper.

          Another issue is refueling time. Batteries will never come close to gasoline with regard to refueling time. However, batteries will allow us to put up little recharging stations almost everywhere, since the electrical grid is ubiquitous, and power outlets are not expensive. As a result, you could allow your car to “refuel” as you’re doing other things. At that point, do you care how long it takes to refuel (within reason)? If there were a gas station in my garage, and also at every major parking lot, and I let the car refuel as I was doing other things, would I care how fast the gas pump was?

          Again, this issue is most important for long-distance road trips.

          -Tom S

          • One fun way to characterize how fast my car gets charged:

            On 120 AC it takes 5 hours to give me 20 miles. That’s a fast walking speed.

            On 240 AC it takes 2 hours, so now we’re up to 10 miles per hour. So with charging stations everywhere and easy to use, would you be happy with a 10 mile per hour average speed? Okay, some cars charge faster than this, but that’s what at least one real car gets right now.

          • tmurphy,

            In your example, the average traveling speed includes the time you were doing other things while your car was recharging. In this case, the average speed refers to your speed _throughout the day_, not your average speed while driving.

            “would you be happy with a 10 mile per hour average speed?”

            Right now, my average speed in a typical day is less than 1 mph, if you include the periods when I’m not driving.

            Let me give an example. Suppose I spend an hour at the mall, eating lunch and buying clothes. During that time, my car is recharging at a public recharger in the parking lot. Then I drive 10 miles (the distance to my home), at 60 mph. My average speed over that hour and ten minutes, was ~9 mph. My average speed would have been the same (~9 mph) using a gasoline-powered car.

            These slow rates of recharging mean that I might need to wait and do other things for 2 hours before driving to the mall, if I’ve already driven 80+ miles today and I haven’t bothered to plug it in again until now. I think that would happen less than once per year for the average driver.

            -Tom S

          • I certainly understand the concept. And yes, a typical car in America registers less than 2 m.p.h. on average. I disagree that the limitation would only present itself less than once per year for the typical driver. Much depends on the battery range, naturally. But going more than 80 miles without imposed two-hour breaks is a pretty common occurrence in this country.

          • Some fascinating data to back me up from a Ford exec based on a study of actual driving habits in the U.S.:


            Slide 11 has the key graph: a 100 mile range EV would pose hardship (limitation) to > 99% of drivers at least one day a year; about 95% of drivers 3 days/yr; 80% of drivers 8 days a year, and 30% of drivers 24 days per year. By the time you increase the range to 250 miles (right edge of plot), 50% of drivers would be inconvenienced at least 1 day/yr, and 8% of drivers would still find this unacceptable at least 8 days/yr.

            The acceptance is even worse, on the next slide. Other fascinating slides accompany these. This exec’s conclusion is that battery cost must come down to < $100/kWh before EVs can take off, grabbing major market share. That's a factor of five below the current level.

          • Tom S,

            I know perfectly well that current EV’s can work as well as current cars for normal use. I have two friends who do all their driving, except long trips, with Leafs charged off PV.

            My point was that this is not nearly good enough. We need to drastically reduce our energy usage for personal transportation. The manufacture of the 3,500 pound cars and enormous panels uses too much resources and energy to be sustainable.

          • “Some fascinating data to back me up from a Ford exec based on a study of actual driving habits in the U.S.:”

            Man those are some badly designed graphs.
            I’m also not sure such surveys are all that meaningful. Are such long journeys something that arises naturally in everyday life, or do they reflect vacation road trips, where different plans might get made? How sensitive is it all to prices (gas, car, alternatives)?

            I definitely agree there’d be resistance to swapping modern cars for Leafs, but as you’ve said elsewhere, the oil’s running out…

  23. Batteries are bad right now because we didn’t have a need for them: we used liquid batteries pumped up from the ground, and filled the tank with a hose. Fossil fuels have been the heavy duty energy carriers of choice ever since the industrial revolution. Electrical batteries were mostly used for toys and gadgets so it’s not miracle they aren’t up to the tasks we now want them to do.

    That doesn’t prove they’re guaranteed to find the perfect battery within a few years of course, nor that it’s possible at all.

  24. Good post, and I agree with most of what you say, with a few quibbles:

    • I don’t think it’s fair to attempt an apples-to-apples comparison of EV battery costs versus gasoline competition when the technology is in its infancy. It doesn’t yet have economy of scale to bring prices down, and they always drop as mass production ramps up. ICE cars are produced in what, the 100 of millions (and for the last 100 years)? EV’s are in the 10’s of thousands. OTOH, I guess one could argue that producing millions of EV’s would cause their price to INcrease due to shortages of specialized metals…

    • The rare earth issue for EV motors is largely moot now: the motor of the Model S (of which I usually see 2 or 3 in Vancouver — AC induction, not permanent magnet) doesn’t use rare earths. If Tesla can do it, I’m sure other manufacturers could do it if needed.

    • I don’t think the comparison of energy density of batteries vs. gasoline is relevant on a practical front. Somehow, despite batteries being 100 x less energy dense, the Model S still manages to provide more interior and storage space than its (similarly priced) BMW and Mercedes competition. EV’s offer space savings on other fronts that mitigate the lower energy density of batteries.

    • Do I think EV’s are a solution? I used to be really gung ho about them, but I now realize that we face much deeper challenges. Should we be riding bikes more? Walking more? Of course! But the fact remains that we can’t maintain 7 billion people without some kind of independent vehicular transport system. You can’t move significant amounts of goods by bike or foot. And you can’t maintain our large populations without moving large amounts of goods around using independent vehicles. Trains can’t and won’t go most places. So what options do we have? Fossil fuels are out. Biofuels are worse than fossil fuels; a reliance on them is the fastest route possible to a Malthusian Collapse. What does that leave us with? Of course, EV’s. I find that people criticizing EV’s tend to be searching for perfect solutions. Well, it isn’t a perfect world, so good luck finding a perfect solution. But there are better choices that lead us in the right direction over time. While it may be true that driving an EV, in certain places, produces just as much carbon as a regular gas powered car, I see the problem as two-fold:

    1. We need to continue to provide energy to society sans fossil fuels (which basically means, absent a miracle in artificial photosynthesis, electricity from solar, wind and possibly nuclear).
    2. Secondly, we need a transportation infrastructure that can operate on that electricity, which it currently can’t.

    I see no reason why we can’t work on number (2) above, even though we haven’t addressed (1) to any significant extent yet. Why wait until we have a perfect electricity generating system before investing in electric transportation? Or why wait until we have millions of EV’s out there before upgrading the electricity infrastructure to non-fossil sources? Why not work on both concurrently?

    • If we want to continue supporting billions of people on the planet into the next century, then we will need EV’s; it’s that simple. There’s a reason the planet didn’t support 7 billion bison and other such animals before people took over; because it isn’t possible using photosynthesis alone, without some sort of energy subsidy beyond what plants can provide; we need transportation. Due to the energy trap, we need to be making this transition now while we still have the fossil fuels to do so, rather than waiting 20 years in the hopes for a perfect solution to magically land on our laps, when we likely won’t be able to. It is likely too late now anyways, but it’s always good to be optimistic.

    OTOH, if you don’t agree that we will be able to support billions of people into the next century, then what difference does it make now? We’re either going to try, or we aren’t. Buy your EV and have fun.

    • The problem with your argument is that the independent transportation we actually need is a small fraction of what we have and are used to. We need trucks for last-mile delivery, tractors to grow the food, emergency vehicles, ships and (arguably) planes. Of US oil use, about 9.5/16 is gasoline, 1.5/16 is jet fuel, and 5/16 is diesel.
      So something like 60% is people zipping around in small cars, rather than walking, biking, or taking trains (whether urban or interurban.) Some of the diesel is replaceable too, intercity trucking could be replaced by more rail. Rail’s more efficient, but more important can be electrified to be entirely non-carbon.

      Biofuels aren’t worse as a class. US corn ethanol is a fiasco, but Brazilian sugarcane works, and cellulosic ethanol or non-food derived biodiesel would too. We can make fuel, more expensive fuel but possibly cheaper than high performance electric vehicles.

      Trains aren’t a great match for US density and settlement patterns, but those can change. Expensively, but so is EV conversion — and denser living is an investment in energy efficiency and lower costs, while committing to EV would (it seems) mean committing to spending even more on cars than we do now.

      • I agree that we do not need anywhere near the amount of independent vehicles we have now, but we do need some minimum amount to get things done. This is where I hope EV’s could fill the void and prevent catastrophe, because it’s not like we’re going to need a 1:1 replacement of every vehicle today with an EV. Even 1/5th replacement would be a great accomplishment. And as you say, they would only really be needed for short haul trips.

        BTW, even with Brazil’s significantly increasing oil “production”, and its supposedly profuse biofuel production, it still remains a net oil importer. Click to Brazil:

        They consume 3 million barrels a day of oil, but google searching reveals that they produce about 300,000 barrels a day of ethanol, oil-equivalent. And Brazil has by far the best ability in the world to produce biofuels. Biofuels are pure fantasy, there is no way they could provide enough energy to run modern society.

        • But Brazil also has lots of personal cars. I’m saying to restructure living (via rational incentives) so that we need far fewer of those.

          EVs aren’t the only option for independent vehicles, post-fossil oil; there’s also synfuel. Which would be mandatory anyway for uses away from the grid, like ships, planes, and sufficiently outback land vehicles or power tools, unless you got gasoline-level batteries.

  25. Tom,

    This is an excellent article, as always. However, I feel you’re being too pessimistic. I grant that EVs aren’t totally competitive right now. However, the question is whether they will become competitive in the future.

    Here’s my take on it. Part of the reason EVs are expensive is because they’re not mass-manufactured at present. For example, the Chevy Volt is estimated to have more than $10,000 per car devoted to design work, tooling, and so on. That figure would be $1,000 per car if they sold 10x as many of them. As a result, costs will come down a lot, as EVs are manufactured in greater numbers. There are HUGE fixed costs to car production. Those costs will come down (per car) as they are mass-manufactured.

    Also, battery costs for EVs are dropping by about 8-9% per year. This trend is expected to continue until 2020 or so, before levelling off. This implies that batteries for EVs will cost about half what they do now in less than 8 years.

    After EVs are mass-manufactured and battery costs have dropped, I would guess that a car like the Nissan Leaf will cost about $23,000 (in year2013, inflation-adjusted USD). That’s still more expensive than the equivalent Nissan Versa. However, when you consider reduced fuel costs (because electricity is cheaper than gasoline), the price ends up being about the same or only slightly higher.

    Granted, these things won’t happen right away. I’m talking about 10+ years here.

    At some point, though, it will become cheaper to own an EV than a gasoline-powered vehicle. Gasoline prices will continue to creep up in decades ahead, and EV prices will continue to fall. At some point, the two lines will cross. I’m not expecting this to happen in the immediate future, but I think it will happen.

    In the long run, after the transition to EVs is complete (60+ years from now), I’d guess that costs per mile for car transportation will be the same or lower than now (in inflation-adjusted terms).

    -Tom S

  26. Hmm, driving long distances in a regime of 300 miles drive / 5 minutes rest doesn’t sound exactly wise; it’s likely to have safety issues (driver fatigue) as well as potential medical ones (DVT). At some point during a trip one should make sure to have a solid meal and a good night’s sleep.

    Which changes the problem, but doesn’t solve it: charging during meals and overnight poses no problem in principle, but in practice requires a lot of infrastructure (and infrastructure coordination). As charging times increase, so does the number of charging spaces required.

    Such charging stations would probably resemble motels more than petrol stations; indeed, the first ones would probably in fact be existing motels retrofitted with charging (and metering) hardware.

    • Note if you need 20 charging stations vs. 2 fueling stations, that also raises the price of all this. Maybe not significantly, I don’t know, but somewhat.

  27. Wikipedia says Tesla has priced replacement batteries at “The company also released pricing for a replacement battery pack pre-paid option. The price of a 60 kWh pack is US$10,000 and the 85 kWh pack costs US$12,000.”

    Seems low, but perhaps they take bake the old battery to be refreshed or recycled, which would save on expensive materials, at least.

    I was stunned by the $175,000 income of *Volt* buyers. And Tesla — which has outsold the competitors — is almost twice as expensive. Median household income is around $45,000.

    How do all of your other energy savings stack up vs. owning a car at all compared to a walk/bike/transit lifestyle? I.e. lots of household savings + car vs. average urban apartment with no car?

  28. Have you read up on “Cambridge Crude” at all? “…such a system would permit the possibility of simply “refueling” the battery by pumping out the liquid slurry and pumping in a fresh, fully charged replacement” says the MIT press release. Still lab-only, I guess, and you still need a LOT of electricity delivered to “charge” the liquid pre-fueling, but at least you could more evenly spread out that energy delivery over all hours of the day.

    I don’t know if it really holds promise or not, but it sounds interesting.

  29. Greeting fellow C-Max owner!

    I traded in a 2006 Prius for one last February, though I didn’t go with the PHEV – just the hybrid. You can expect a couple of recall notices soon – I’ve gotten two recently, though one’s just for a system software update that will let the car go up to 80 mph on the electric motor alone – that was limited to 62 mph before. I’m amused that the speed limit – according to the car’s manual, imposed to protect the electric motor from overspeed damage – is going to be raised by 33% through a software upgrade, since there’s no change being made to the actual motor.

    The other recall to date is to beef up the padding above the headliner, since it doesn’t meet some spec regarding banging your head in a roll-over.

    I’ve found interior trim quality quite dodgy compared to the Prius and virtually everyone who rides in the thing is amused by the fact that the Microsoft Sync voice recognition system (we call her Siri-lite) has yet to understand a single word – it’s as if she doesn’t understand English. (Or French or Spanish – we keep trying!) Of course, the Microsoft badge on the dash is unsettling by itself – will the car go slower and slower and finally stop on a railroad track as the dashboard displays turn blue while the “Siri-lite” lady sings Daisy, Daisy while to doors auto-lock?)

    The car does have an interesting feature – if you press and hold the “unlock” button on the radio-remote key for five seconds or so, all the windows will go down. Handy for cooling the car down a bit before you have to sit in it on a hot day. But you can do this accidentally, too – in a “pocket-dial” situation – which leaves your stuff in the car available to anyone walking by.

  30. If we consider reducing CO2 emissions “nice”, but avoid putting a price on it, I have come to the conclusion that it’s very hard to beat the cost of driving a used car. And for those at the bottom of the income range mentioned, there are perhaps no other options.

    I was inspired by this article ( that spells out how to drive a car for 100 pounds a month including fuel. Admittedly you have to have some luck in picking the vehicle, but it can be done. In short these are the big costs of car ownership:
    * Depreciation
    * Insurance
    * Fuel
    * Maintenence
    By buying a vehicle that’s already depreciated (or even better the one you already have) you can nail the first and biggest one. Then you go with liability insurance only since it makes no sense to have comprehenive coverage on a $3000 car. Fuel may be controlled by driving less. Additionally it’s possible to chip away at the Maintenence cost by buying a (used) Haynes manual and start learning about your car. Having a friend help you also helps getting started.

    If you need inspiration, how about picking up a used copy of Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford (

    I often get to hear that “it’s probably not worth your time to work on your car”. This is in many ways a function of how good you become at it. And what price to you put on the feeling of replacing your timing belt and water pump in an evening? And there is also a possibility of doing a better job than your dealership does by changing transmission and other fluids more frequently than the manual calls for.

    Of course it’s not fair to compare costs of driving a new vehicle to the cost of driving a used one. But at least it’s clear what’s the easiest on the wallet, so I wasn’t impressed when the Tessla sales rep told me that a charge up was $6.75 for (claimed) 300 miles of driving. You could buy it to be nice to the environment , although the impact of the mining for the lithium is not clear to me, or you could buy it because it just looks and feels awesome. But please don’t buy it to save money and then brag about it because it doesn’t add up.

    Once you starting thinking this way you realize that the biggest problem is to try to stay away from buying a newer car. Comments like: “Are you still driving that old car” (There are other worse versions), are things you have to learn to live with. And at times when it’s really hard I tend to vacuum it out, and maybe even wash it. And so it goes for the frugal, but if done right reliability shouldn’t have to be the price to pay.

    • ABSOLUTELY SPOT ON……… in fact, you can save so much money by not consuming, you can even stop working altogether (if you’re as old as me and have accumulated enough wealth)

      Just think about how much less driving you would do if you didn’t go to work any more….

      I found a pickup (in Australia this is..) that its owner couldn’t be bothered fixing, or maybe used as an excuse to his wife for getting a new vehicle. The ability to fix your own cars was clearly shown in this example….. the whole project cost me $800 on the road with 6 months tax.

      I’ve now been driving it for over a year, and it’s the cheapest motoring I’ve EVER done even though it’s probably the thirstiest car I’ve ever owned. I justify that because it allows me to carry over a ton of firewood or compost or sand or…. whatever it is I need when I start it up. And when I can afford it….. it’s getting converted to an EV!

  31. It all comes back to the cost of the battery pack.

    Both range and battery lifetime concerns are alleviated by increasing the capacity of the battery pack. Increasing the capacity is a cost issue.

    Energy density is already high enough to fit within the envelope of a car with more than reasonable range, and power density is already high enough to drive fast. Recharge times are also not an issue, due to the fact that you are refilling your energy tank at home and not standing there waiting at a gas station. Even ignoring automated battery swap stations which have been demonstrated already, it’s still not an issue.

    Fortunately, battery cost per kWh has been coming down slowly but steadily. And that’s with very small market penetration. It will be interesting to see how far down it can go.

    With the recent price drops, a Nissan LEAF (with subsidies) is already cheaper than my conventional hybrid, in terms of up-front cost. The estimated total cost of ownership over 5 years / 60k miles (the length of the battery warranty AFAIK) becomes cheaper even without subsidies. The trouble it has is range, which can be alleviated by a higher capacity battery pack enabled by cost reductions.

    If the battery pack can come down in cost by 50% per kWh, and as a result the capacity and lifetime are doubled for the same price, then the TCO over 10-15 years would be substantially cheaper than conventional cars – even assuming static gasoline prices and expensive $0.15/kWh electricity.

    We do have to buy batteries for the cost to continue coming down, though. That is the real reason to be an early adopter right now.

  32. It is wonderful to find you «doing the math» again, Dr Murphy! I am glad I stopped by for a look.

    A thought on the various types of electric-powered and electric-assisted automobiles. In times immediately prior to adoption of automobiles, people traveled on land by Shanks mare, by various forms of animal-powered transit, and by steam-powered trains. The latter had already become the only «viable» way to travel long distances, a change which took a good several generations. It then took a good several decades for automobiles (all IC-powered by that time) to become a common means, let alone a preferred means, of overland travel. Electric-powered and electric-assisted automobiles will, for a range of considerations, come into widespread, even dominant use.

    And like the previous changes, the resulting overall systems will be considerably different than the systems replaced. What will the new systems be like? I am of the opinion that the answer, lying on the other side of the approaching cusp in a catastrophe theory modeled future, cannot be predicted or even visualized as any kind of extrapolation of present systems.

    How do we get from the «here» to the «there»? Well, first-off, we have to survive the intervening stage(s). We have suburbs. We have huge commercial complexes that, like the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming or Mt Olga in Australia’s Northern Territory amidst the wide plains, arise from wide-reaching parking lots. And factories like Chrysler’s Belvidere Assembly Plant in Illinois. And Eisenhower’s interstate expressway system, plus Germany’s Autobahn. And so forth. These are massive, interdependent systems that will long be with us (decades, one could surmise.) Dr Murphy’s PHEV and Jesper’s beater, particularly with all the analyses, will both help us cross the cusp.

  33. > A a person filling a gasoline tank … in about two minutes is delivering energy to the car at a rate of about 13 MW.

    Suppose for one moment standardized batteries for EV exist, and at “gas” stations you can swap en empty battery for a full one. If swapping the batteries can be done in two minutes you’re also delivering energy at 10+ MW.

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