Saturday, March 23, 2013


California, the epicenter of environmental religiosity, leads the nation in purchasing electric cars. These zero-emission vehicles not only make their owners serious candidates for eco-sainthood, they also bestow on them a number of more tangible benefits.

Being allowed to drive in carpool lanes with only a single occupant is one nifty perk. Other bonuses are the steep government subsidies given to purchasers. The feds dole out up to $7,500 in rebates while the oh-so-green Golden State could kick in an extra $2,500.

Despite these emotional and financial incentives, 2012 sales for electric vehicles came in at only about 50,000. These numbers make President Obama’s nationwide goal of a million EVs by 2015 as unlikely as achieving a balanced federal budget by that date.

The good (or bad) news is that the environmental efficacy of EVs has been vastly overstated. This conclusion comes not from an oil-industry analyst but from “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg’s recent “Wall Street Journal” article on this topic focuses on the entire “life-cycle” of electric vehicles, not just on their post-production carbon dioxide emissions.

Taking into account the carbon emissions needed to produce a vehicle, electric cars begin their exhaust-free existence with more than twice the emissions required to make a conventional automobile (30,000 vs. 14,000 pounds). Then there’s the problem of recharging, a process that typically employs electricity produced from fossil fuels.

Here is Lomborg’s bottom line with respect to emissions: “If a typical electric car is driven 50,000 miles over its lifetime, the huge initial emissions from its manufacture means the car will actually have put more carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere than a similar-size gasoline-powered car driven the same number of miles.”

Another discouraging word for EV aficionados is that the Nissan Leaf has only a 73-mile range per charge and, according to one test, recharging takes so long that on extended trips the average speed is about six (yes, 6) miles per hour. Add to that tidbit the fact that within five years battery degradation brings the car’s range down to 55 miles. Thus, the likelihood of achieving any positive “carbon offset” with this vehicle is slim.

Despite these inconvenient truths, California and the feds continue to generously subsidize these hugely expensive vehicles—more out of blind allegiance to the green lobby and the goddess Gaia than out of a reasonable cost-benefit analysis.

California’s Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors greatly appreciate governments that dish out billions of dollars to battery and electric car manufacturers like themselves—all so that benighted greenies can feel good about themselves.

Informed taxpayers and honest environmentalists shouldn’t feel so swell about these dubious investments.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for the author's argument, CA is the state that is probably the best for BEVs as far as environmentalists are concerned. With only 7% of power coming from coal in CA compared with a national average of 42%, the environmental advantage of BEVs in CA is considerably better than most other parts of the country.

One good thing about the JIE study Lomborg references is that it is very thorough and produces a more completely documented inventory of vehicle components. Most previous studies on BEVs that I've read only examine the environmental impact of the batteries, but not the battery pack or other BEV components.

However, the study seems to overestimate the material composition of the BEV drivetrain and therefore I would assume the manufacturing impact on the environment. In the study, they state that they based their estimates roughly on a Nissan Leaf. But while a Nissan Leaf motor weighs 58 Kg the material estimates in the study total to approx. 138 Kg. And while a Nissan Leaf inverter weighs 17 Kg, in the study they list two inverters totaling approx. 75 Kg each. Since a large portion of these components is copper and aluminum, the production of which both have significant environmental impact, it seems that the environmental impact relative to these components for a typical BEV is considerably overstated in the study.

I would be very interested to see calculations based on more conventional EV material totals. said...

Terrific analysis.