With the government pressing full steam ahead on electric cars, some naysayers question if the cars are good for the environment or even good for protecting “energy independence.”
Tim Carney* at the DC Examiner is one such naysayer, and he brings it up in a column today. We disagree with his two points of debate, but consider them worth addressing because they’re common attacks.
His first point of contention:
The Department Energy estimates that coal provides half our electricity. A recent Government Accountability Office study reported that a plug-in compact car, if it is recharged at an outlet drawing its juice from coal, provides a carbon dioxide savings of only 4 to 5 per cent. A plug-in sport utility vehicle provides a CO2 savings of 19 to 23 per cent. If the cleaner and cheaper fuel of a plug-in causes someone to drive even a bit more, it’s a break-even on CO2.
Sure, we get lots of energy from coal today, but tomorrow will be different. Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers admitted that new coal plants in this country will become increasingly rare. The government will pass a renewable portfolio standards that will incorporate more clean energy sources.
If CO2 is really a worry, a driver can buy some solar panels for their roof and power their plug-in that way.
If your power comes from natural gas the GAO estimates that a plug-in compact car reduces CO2 by 54%, for an SUV, it’s 63%. From clean energy sources like nuclear plants, solar or wind the CO2 reductions are 85%-100% for both SUVs and compacts.
Carney’s second point of contention:
Those more concerned with energy independence than green fuels also have reason to doubt electric cars: About half of the world’s lithium reserves are in Bolivia. A major shift to lithium-powered cars “could substitute reliance on one foreign resource [oil] for another [lithium],” the GAO writes.
This is another argument we’ve heard in the past. Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, says he’s willing to work with foreign companies, but he wants Bolivia to retain 60% of the earnings from any lithium production in his nation. We don’t have any problem with that. Why can’t the U.S. or Korea or any nation work in a productive manner with Bolivia, if it has the natural resource in its ground?
Further, the GAO says, “reliance on foreign sources of lithium may not pose the same dependence issues as oil.” Lithium is highly recyclable, so issues of demand won’t be as great. Also, auto companies are working on battery technology that doesn’t use lithium.
And, as a commenter once pointed out, we won’t be sending hundreds of billions of dollars to Bolivia, so the implicit comparison between Bolivia and OPEC falls on its face.
The most important issue in this debate, that goes unaddressed, is what plug-ins can do for the economy and the consumer. According to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in 2007, using a plug-in hybrid costs the equivalent of $.75 a gallon. That’s based on $3 gas, and cars that get 25 miles per gallon. While the costs of electric cars are high now, over time, with scale, they should come down.
When the price of gas soars, an electric option will be very attractive. Not just from a driver’s perspective, but from a global perspective. The fundamental problem with oil is that it’s a finite resource. Plenty of experts believe we’ve passed peak oil. So the price of oil will only go higher in the future. If we don’t start planning for that reality now, it’s spells trouble in the long run.
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