Twitter button

Sunday, March 24, 2013

EV or not EV? That is (not really) the question

My wife and I got a ride last evening in a Mitsubishi MiEV and were very impressed. It's a small but reasonably roomy 100 percent electric 4-person vehicle, range 50-60 miles, 22 hours to charge (from zero to full) on 110, 7 hours to charge on 220.  Talking with its owner brought out an aspect to those numbers I hadn't considered, which is that if you drive it 20 miles, it can probably be fully charged again overnight because it won't be down to zero.  Duh. Which means, in turn, that if your commute is not too long, you may be able to use it every day for several days ...

Anyway, that prompted a discussion, because my wife had seen a reference somewhere recently to how EVs (electric vehicles) may not be as clean as hybrids, depending on the fuels that the utility system in your region uses to generate electricity. I've also seen this issue raised a number of times, perhaps most prominently in a New York Times article discussing a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) study on the issue.

I have a beef, not with UCS--which is a great organization--but with the implications that can easily be drawn from such a study, specifically the implication that anyone, anywhere, should feel free to go ahead and buy a gasoline auto if the utility system in the region depends heavily on coal.  Don't do it!

I say not so, and here's why.  The problem with carbon emissions from an EV, such as they are, is not inherent with the EV, it's a problem with the utility system, and a problem that can actually be fixed, by the utility building or purchasing more renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, biomass) power plants.  The problem with carbon emissions from a gas auto is inherent with the auto, and you're investing in a (small) piece of infrastructure that will never get better until it goes to the junkyard at the end of its useful life, 10 to 20 years from now.

The Times article, and the UCS study itself, suggest how easy it is to misread the issue.   The article ends as follows: "'To prevent the worse consequences of global warming,' the report concludes, 'the automotive industry must deliver viable alternatives to the oil-fueled internal combustion engine, i.e., vehicles boasting zero or near-zero emissions.'" (emphasis added)  But what about the utility industry?  It's remarkable that it isn't mentioned, given the subject of the study. More importantly, it's remarkable because using electricity to break into the transportation energy market is a huge potential opportunity for electric utilities to expand their business.  Geez.

(I've had at least one argument on the Web about a closely related topic.  The people involved were very environmentally conscious, and dissing the idea of driving entirely for the same reason, saying that bicycling is the only way to go.  In essence, I told them, "If you want to see gasoline autos for the indefinite future, just keep belittling EVs and that is what you will get.")

Luckily, it turns out that our region (northeastern U.S.) has a relatively low-carbon generating mix, and so an EV tops the best hybrid, which means there is a good chance we will pop for one.  To me, it's a no-brainer, not only because of the reasoning above, but because buying or leasing it helps demonstrate there is a market and sends a message to other drivers who see it around town.

The one (very minor) downside?  Owning an EV will boost our electric bills a tad, just as we are beating them into submission with a backyard solar system.  Still, that's a minor issue, as driving an EV costs roughly 1/4 as much per mile as driving a gasoline auto.

1 comment:

  1. Another point is that an EV has the ability to feed energy back into the grid if you have or are getting smart metering and demand pricing. Buy power when it is cheep at night and sell some back to the grid when the price goes up during peak demand.