Earth Day and Electric Vehicle Dreams

Today is Earth Day, and as I’ve written before, the idea of a future in which people drive non-polluting Electric Vehicles (EV), powered by renewable energy,  is the stuff of dreams for a world entering a full-blown climate emergency.

In my last post, I note two factors little discussed in the news that will negatively impact that future:  the lack of charging stations and the problems of battery disposal.

My fear is the politicians have gotten too far ahead of the engineering in their promises (having an engineering education tends to lead to questions on this subject I’ve not heard adequately addressed).

The states of California and New York have both announced plans to ban new fossil-fuel vehicle sales by 2035. In Washington State, a new bill signed by Governor Inslee will outlaw sale and registration of non-electric vehicles by 2030. Money is proposed in Washington State that will build “thousands” of charging stations as well as transition mass-transit to renewables.

But where do the above plans lead?

First, while gasoline consumption may go down, the consumption of other fossil fuels will likely go up as power-generating plants will need to increase their output for charging stations. Most of those will be conventional gas and oil plants (and shudder, coal?).

New nuclear power plants, given the licensing and construction time frames, would probably not be ready to meet any of the above targets.

And anyone talking about solar and wind will need to be able to explain how they maintain base load.  (I’m open to hearing how renewables meet the daily steady-state power requirements – but it hasn’t come up in anything I’ve read).

One other point on generation.  The follow-on to power generation is power transmission – things like transmission and distribution lines and their associated infrastructure.  Has anyone looked at the age and capacity of the nation’s electrical grid in an era of increasing loads from all the electronics in use? Now add to that the increase in transmission to power the nation’s fleet of vehicles.

Brownouts and blackouts may come from equipment damage that may not be repairable for extended periods of time.

Do you think there are thousands of transformers sitting in storage?

As only one example,  Californian utilities are facing back-orders of over one year for transformers to supply new housing construction; and these are the small transformers to power 10-14 houses, not the large transformers used at transmission substations that will have would have even larger back-order times due to material shortages.

And EV’s  have range issues.

Most current EV’s have a range of 130-300 miles; higher end EV’s (read – much more expensive) have greater range that are far less affordable. Even entry-level EV’s have a typical cost higher than conventional fleet average costs.

The range constraints are going to require a great many more charging stations than exist now or their use, at least in the range of driving in the West, would make EV’s impractical for anything but local use. And that doesn’t even address the issue of charging time. Charging time is measured in hours.

Think about the drive across your state and having to spend hours at a charging station – if you can find one where you need one.

So, how many charging stations are needed?

A report from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) – dated December 2021, stated that to meet the Biden administration’s goal of 500,000 EV charging stations by 2030, there would need to be 14,706 public EV charging station ports installed each quarter for the next nine years!

Where are the plans to do that? And where is the money coming from?

And is there the manufacturing capacity for all those stations? If not, what are the plans for adding capacity?

Who will plan and build the EV battery recycling facilities?

Who will plan, build, and pay for the increased power generating facilities?

How many tax increases will the American people accept to pay for all this – whether Federal, state, or local?

These are not meant to be smug questions.

Rather, they represent my fears that people may buy into unrealistic fairy tales told by cynical politicians out to ensure their next election.

Earth Day should be a time for sober reflection and realistic appraisals – not balloons and rainbows.





Author: Tom

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