Electric Cars, Nuclear Power, and Being Green

 

A bill to extend tax credits for the purchase of electric cars is before the Congress. It has bipartisan support, and supporters specifically cite the threat of global warming as a reason for this measure. It is estimated that this extension will cost $16 billion in lost revenues.

The idea that electric cars are so “green” that tax credits to encourage their sales are warranted lacks foundation. Although they are frequently termed “zero emission”, electric cars are not emissions-free. It’s just that the electric power plants do their emitting for them. Given that the National Energy Institute says that on average 0.95 kg of carbon dioxide is emitted to produce one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electrical energy, of which the Tesla needs 75 kWh to go about 210 miles (real world estimate), as much carbon dioxide is emitted to power a Tesla Model S as is emitted by a similar sized conventional car given recent improvements in gas mileage.

There are clear advantages of electric cars. Teslas, for example, are just cool and fun to drive. Energy purchased as electricity is a lot cheaper than energy purchased as gasoline. There is a lot to be said for not emitting carbon dioxide and other gases in the cities. The disadvantages include long refueling times and the impracticality of taking long road trips. Also, they are still just a lot more expensive than conventional cars.

Regardless, let’s get out of our heads this idea that electric cars are somehow reducing overall carbon dioxide emissions because they are not, not with our current mix of electric power supplying the electric grid. Some people subscribe to renewable energy power companies, but those customers get their juice off of the same grid as everyone else, 85% of which is powered by carbon fuels on the average. Where you send your check for the power is only a matter of bookkeeping. In fact, there is a limit to the amount of renewable energy the grid can take without becoming too unreliable. If your grid is supplied by less carbon fuel, then electric cars make more sense, but my impression is that there are as many electric cars buzzing around in cities supplied by a lot of carbon fuels as in those that are not.

There is only one way to make electric cars truly emissions-free, and it’s not with renewable energy, which is not ready to take over supplying the power grid and probably never will be. The only way is to go with nuclear power, the only power source cheap enough and reliable enough to power our civilization emissions free. If we are serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions then we should be transitioning to nuclear power, which is much safer now with new reactor designs.

What can we do that is actually green, what really will reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

For one thing, do you really need that vehicle? Does it need to be so enormous? A small car with a small engine that sips gasoline or diesel is the most kind to the environment given that such vehicles are simpler, take fewer resources to make, and are easier to dispose of. Second place for green-ness goes to hybrid vehicles which are better emissions-wise than electric vehicles.

  • Was that trip to Hawaii for the conference really necessary?
  • How about the insulation in the house?
  • Consider going over all the appliances and gadgets at home to make sure there aren’t a lot of energy vampires hanging around.
  • Own a smart thermostat yet?
  • CFL or LED lights throughout?
  • Carpool? Bus? Bicycle? Train? Scooter?

And so on. It’s really pretty simple to cut back on one’s carbon footprint. The purchase of expensive electric vehicles doesn’t figure into it for the time being.

And the policy implication here is: No, we should not subsidize the purchase of electric vehicles with tax credits.

Full Disclosure: I own stock in petroleum energy and related companies.

Published in Environment
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 42 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Contributor

    Electric cars are simpler to make than ones driven by gasoline engines. Take a look at the number of moving parts. Within a couple of years, they’ll be cheaper to manufacture, too. The big question mark of 2025 pricing is the battery, as it has been for about 130 years. The range hasn’t been extended as much as enthusiasts like to claim–Tesla and other long range electrics just use a lot of the most expensive kind. But for other electric cars, they two key changes in batteries are longer life (from about 4 years to 10 years on average) and dropping cost (about 50% of what per unit charges were in 2008, before Tesla and the Leaf basically created a new market). 

    Europe placed a big bet on Diesel cars and it’s turned into a massive disaster for them. They can’t be made clean enough for city use. 

    Average carbon per Kwh is a reasonable measure. In my part of the country, the deal is favorable. 

    As usual when my fellow conservatives argue about electrics: recognize that others have different conditions than you do. You live in Alaska? You tow trailers up mountains? You drive 300 miles a day? Don’t get an electric. But for me, it’s a much better, cheaper, smarter deal. Your Mileage May Literally Vary. 

    • #1
    • May 19, 2019, at 3:17 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  2. Member

    There are other disadvantages to electric cars. The batteries pose a environmental problem both during manufacturing and inevitable disposal. There also have been quite a few fires during charging.

    • #2
    • May 19, 2019, at 3:17 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. Contributor

    The batteries are recycled. One of the more interesting developments from a cheapskate’s point of view has been Chinese and Japanese work on what had been considered unusuable depleted materials; at the right price, they may be much more reusable than we thought. 

    I do agree that EV overenthusiasts are too fond of playing up the environmental damage of a century or so of massive petroleum use without admitting that if Thomas Edison (and presumably, Roger Rabbit) had their way, we’d now have a hundred million tons of lead acid batteries in landfill, near water tables, according to the ecological standards of 1910–1970.

    • #3
    • May 19, 2019, at 3:29 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. Member

    Tax breaks for the rich people who buy electric cars.

    • #4
    • May 19, 2019, at 4:04 PM PDT
    • 15 likes
  5. Member

    Tax breaks for my tennis shoes, please.

    • #5
    • May 19, 2019, at 4:07 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Member

    One of our cars is a Ford Fusion Hybrid – I love it! Ford really knocked it out of the park on this one. We’ve had to drive a lot more for work lately and I really didn’t want a Prius or Insight. I wanted to feel like I was driving a ‘car’ not make a statement. Very pleased with it and like the idea of wringing all the energy possible out of the braking and coasting. Getting about 41.5 mpg. 

    • #6
    • May 19, 2019, at 4:36 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. Member

    WI Con (View Comment):

    One of our cars is a Ford Fusion Hybrid – I love it! Ford really knocked it out of the park on this one. We’ve had to drive a lot more for work lately and I really didn’t want a Prius or Insight. I wanted to feel like I was driving a ‘car’ not make a statement. Very pleased with it and like the idea of wringing all the energy possible out of the braking and coasting. Getting about 41.5 mpg.

    My employer owned one of those that I sometimes used for trips to the main university campus. I thought it was great, and decided that if we lived in an urban place I would want one.

    I agree that there should be no subsidies, though. An extra fossil fuel tax to put a visible finger on the market might be in order, so long as it didn’t grow the government. But subsidies are the worst.

    • #7
    • May 19, 2019, at 5:25 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Coolidge

    We need more CO2 in the atmosphere. It is plant food and all life on earth depends on it. The more the better. Therefore the credit should expire and we should place a fee on the EVs to pay for roads. Illinois actually got something right.

    • #8
    • May 19, 2019, at 5:52 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. Member

    DonG (View Comment):
    We need more CO2 in the atmosphere. It is plant food and all life on earth depends on it.

    That’s not a good reason to put more CO2 in the atmosphere.

    • #9
    • May 19, 2019, at 5:54 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Reagan
    Roderic Fabian Post author

    WI Con (View Comment):

    One of our cars is a Ford Fusion Hybrid – I love it! Ford really knocked it out of the park on this one. We’ve had to drive a lot more for work lately and I really didn’t want a Prius or Insight. I wanted to feel like I was driving a ‘car’ not make a statement. Very pleased with it and like the idea of wringing all the energy possible out of the braking and coasting. Getting about 41.5 mpg.

    I owned a Ford Fusion Hybrid for 6 years. It was a great car. My new Fusion has an EcoBoost engine because I needed the extra space in the trunk (no big high voltage battery). Gas mileage is good but not as good as the hybrid. I sure am going to miss filling it up with gasoline less than once a month.

    It’s a shame that Ford is phasing out that car line this year.

    • #10
    • May 19, 2019, at 6:10 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Coolidge

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    DonG (View Comment):
    We need more CO2 in the atmosphere. It is plant food and all life on earth depends on it.

    That’s not a good reason to put more CO2 in the atmosphere.

    Sure it is. Plants require less fertilizer and water. That makes food cheaper. There are still hungry people in the world. People driving Tesla’s rarely worry about going hungry.

    • #11
    • May 19, 2019, at 8:16 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. Member

    DonG (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    DonG (View Comment):
    We need more CO2 in the atmosphere. It is plant food and all life on earth depends on it.

    That’s not a good reason to put more CO2 in the atmosphere.

    Sure it is. Plants require less fertilizer and water. That makes food cheaper. There are still hungry people in the world. People driving Tesla’s rarely worry about going hungry.

    That’s not a good reason to put more CO2 in the atmosphere. Water is important for life. We would die without it. That doesn’t make it a good thing to fill your basement with water.

    • #12
    • May 19, 2019, at 8:29 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Member

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    Tax breaks for the rich people who buy electric cars.

    I have a buddy who used to drive a Lexus hybrid, and he enjoyed thanking me for my tax dollars that subsidized his purchase of a car I couldn’t afford.

    • #13
    • May 20, 2019, at 4:17 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  14. Member

    I swear I read 10 or 15 years ago that GM was going all-in on fuel cell vehicles. I guess that didn’t go anywhere because now they don’t even seem to be part of the discussion.

    • #14
    • May 20, 2019, at 5:43 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Coolidge

    Hybrids and EV’s pose challenges in extrications for us. All we need to do is cut the battery cable on a conventional vehicle and it can’t move on its own. Much more complicated with hybrids and EV’s. And of course, there is no standard way for marking the high voltage cables or shut offs. We carry phone apps with diagrams showing cable runs and airbags. But cut in the wrong place and you will have a bad day.

    • #15
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:47 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Member

    I’ve been following Tesla closely. 

    Personally I don’t care if it saves the environment. Eventually EV’s will if nuclear power becomes more prevalent, as the OP suggests. What’s more interesting to me is going to be the massive disruption to the economic environment.

    Self driving cars are much closer than imagined by most. This will have a huge – huge – effect. Tesla is way out in front with a neural network fueled by 500,000 data collecting cars on the road and a dedicated specially designed computer chip. 7 cameras one forward radar and a sonar, all integrated in a continually self-learning networked ( teaching all other cars) system. 

    With battery technology fast-approaching the event horizon, all the other constraints of an EV disappear. Lower cost, extended range, more rapid charging, extended battery life, along with more fueling stations.

    Electric motors have fewer moving parts and last 500,000 miles, soon Tesla will increase it to one million and a one million mile battery!

    Tesla is buying back its leased fleet to be converted to robocars where it will compete with Uber and Lyft. They will be able to undercut them massively and still make a profit.

    This is not a political or environmental cause, even though some enthusiasts and detractors both come at this from that angle. It’s going to happen and it will be a very positive transformation.

    I encourage everyone to dive into this new transformative technology. If I had extra money I’d be buying Tesla stock.

    • #16
    • May 20, 2019, at 11:39 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Contributor

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):

    I swear I read 10 or 15 years ago that GM was going all-in on fuel cell vehicles. I guess that didn’t go anywhere because now they don’t even seem to be part of the discussion.

    From maybe 1975-1995 ethanol was supposed to be such an obvious solution that it was called a no-brainer. Turns out it took brains to see that it was taking more energy to make the fuels than it was saving.

    Bush 41 and Clinton encouraged battery electric vehicles, like GM’s EV-1, but the tech wasn’t quite there.

    Bush 43 was closer to what the energy and auto industries wanted, so their approach was based around liquid fuels that would retain as much of today’s infrastructure as possible. Fuel cells. At that time the “Left” approach was hydrogen.

    What happened? Fuel cells haven’t worked out economically, and battery cars got a lot better.

    • #17
    • May 20, 2019, at 11:58 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Coolidge

    Franco (View Comment):
    I encourage everyone to dive into this new transformative technology. If I had extra money I’d be buying Tesla stock.

    If I extra money I’d be shorting Tesla stock. Actually that is a horrible idea, since so many other people have shorted Tesla already. I think Tesla is gone in 4 years. The market for $100K electric cars is saturated and VW is going to own what is left of it. VM is better at making cars and they don’t need to make a profit off electric cars, since they have so many gas/diesel cars sold.

    The self-driving car problem is really hard. It has to work 100.00% of the time, because 99.9% of the time is not good enough. It is workable in a constrained world (specially designed roads). It is nearly impossible in an unconstrained world. It is completely impossible, if people work against it. Picture people smashing looms, but these people are mobbed up teamsters and cabbie groups. AI is easily defeated by HI (human intelligence).

    • #18
    • May 20, 2019, at 12:01 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Member

    DonG (View Comment):

    Franco (View Comment):
    I encourage everyone to dive into this new transformative technology. If I had extra money I’d be buying Tesla stock.

    If I extra money I’d be shorting Tesla stock. Actually that is a horrible idea, since so many other people have shorted Tesla already. I think Tesla is gone in 4 years. The market for $100K electric cars is saturated and VW is going to own what is left of it. VM is better at making cars and they don’t need to make a profit off electric cars, since they have so many gas/diesel cars sold.

    The self-driving car problem is really hard. It has to work 100.00% of the time, because 99.9% of the time is not good enough. It is workable in a constrained world (specially designed roads). It is nearly impossible in an unconstrained world. It is completely impossible, if people work against it. Picture people smashing looms, but these people are mobbed up teamsters and cabbie groups. AI is easily defeated by HI (human intelligence).

    Had I not done extensive research I would be inclined to agree about the problem of 100% ( which is better than humans, btw) .

     I sincerely doubt people will work against it. In the recent past there have been many tech innovations that put large groups of people out of work, I haven’t seen any such activity. And there are cameras. Everywhere. Tesla’s have seven each. 

    There are so many who have shorted the stock there’s a veritable Tesla bashing industry rooting for failure. You have to be careful who to believe.

    As a 65 year-old who couldn’t understand how Amazon could possibly make money selling books, couldn’t see how Google could be worth investing in, has seen GPS develop, earth mapping, smart phones, voice to text translations, AI beating the best humans at chess and Go, and AI has still an almost infinite upside, I’m going to start paying attention. 

    Every car company is working on self-driving schemes. Tesla is way ahead of everyone, and these others are going down the wrong path with Lidar which compounds their ultimate situation.

    • #19
    • May 20, 2019, at 12:47 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Member

    Roderic Fabian: The idea that electric cars are so “green” that tax credits to encourage their sales are warranted lacks foundation. Although they are frequently termed “zero emission”, electric cars are not emissions free. It’s just that the electric power plants do their emitting for them. Given that the National Energy Institute says that on average 0.95 kg of carbon dioxide is emitted to produce one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electrical energy, of which the Tesla needs 75 kWh to go about 210 miles (real world estimate), as much carbon dioxide is emitted to power a Tesla Model S as is emitted by a similar sized conventional car given recent improvements in gas mileage.

    Yes the whole zero emission claims mean that the car doesn’t emit emissions, but the electricity has to come from somewhere. If you have nuclear or hydro then that is great, but the Left doesn’t like hydro because it changes the environment and they don’t like nuclear because Jane Fonda made a movie 40 years ago (and aren’t there bombs with that same name?).

    There is no need for tax credits. If a company’s business plan is completely reliant on tax credits then it deserves to fail. If you removed the tax credits, companies would likely need to lower prices. If they can’t do that, then they never did have a viable product.

    What is good about Telsa is that green isn’t their main selling point. They are trying to make a cool (and fast) product that you actually want to drive (unlike say, a Prius).

    • #20
    • May 20, 2019, at 1:06 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  21. Contributor

    “Fast” is rarely an issue with electric cars. Electric motors deliver full torque from the literal get-go. Tesla’s gamble was ignoring the price/performance balance that other manufacturers struggled with and took a chance on making one of the best roadsters in the entire world, price be damned. It wasn’t an obvious or a risk-free strategy, but they won. 

    • #21
    • May 20, 2019, at 2:20 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. Member

    Roderic Fabian: What can we do that is actually green, what really will reduced carbon dioxide emissions? 

    Not that much…

    Pretty much all the real environmental improvements we’ve seen have come from regular technological progress. My grandfather’s house was heated by coal, my parents’ house was heated by oil, mine is heated by natural gas.

    Individuals making individual choices doesn’t really do much good because full information about those choices is not available.

    For instance:

    Roderic Fabian: CFL or LED lights throughout?

    The reasoning is that CFL and LED lamps are more efficient. But any power consumed by a lamp that does not create light is emitted as heat. So incandescent lamps are 100% efficient if the heat is put to use. And manufacturing incandescent lamps puts far less nasty chemicals into the environment.

    So it’s often false environmentalism. Or virtue signaling.

    • #22
    • May 21, 2019, at 9:12 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  23. Member

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    From maybe 1975-1995 ethanol was supposed to be such an obvious solution that it was called a no-brainer. Turns out it took brains to see that it was taking more energy to make the fuels than it was saving.

    …and it messed with the food supply. And it contributed to draining the Ogallala Aquifer. And the exhaust emissions were worse.

    • #23
    • May 21, 2019, at 10:15 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  24. Member

    Electric cars do have the distinct advantage of Regenerative Braking, where slowing down or stopping the car serves to recharge the battery. Though I don’t know exactly how effective that is in practice.

    • #24
    • May 21, 2019, at 10:38 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Member

    DonG (View Comment):

    Franco (View Comment):
    I encourage everyone to dive into this new transformative technology. If I had extra money I’d be buying Tesla stock.

    If I extra money I’d be shorting Tesla stock. Actually that is a horrible idea, since so many other people have shorted Tesla already. I think Tesla is gone in 4 years. The market for $100K electric cars is saturated and VW is going to own what is left of it. VM is better at making cars and they don’t need to make a profit off electric cars, since they have so many gas/diesel cars sold.

    The self-driving car problem is really hard. It has to work 100.00% of the time, because 99.9% of the time is not good enough. It is workable in a constrained world (specially designed roads). It is nearly impossible in an unconstrained world. It is completely impossible, if people work against it. Picture people smashing looms, but these people are mobbed up teamsters and cabbie groups. AI is easily defeated by HI (human intelligence).

    It only has to work 99.9% percent of the time for Tesla. 100% of the time for every one else. I work for GM, and I think Waymo (Google ) is the leader with GM a fairly close second in developing the technology. This is my opinion, not GM’s. Musk thinks cameras are the way to go because vision works for people ( logical ) and that the radar and lidar solutions are too expensive. Volvo agrees with Musk. However, Tesla’s camera solution has gotten a couple of people killed, mostly by driving into white truck trailers with the sun behind them.

    • #25
    • May 21, 2019, at 3:53 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Member

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):
    It only has to work 99.9% percent of the time for Tesla. 100% of the time for every one else. I work for GM, and I think Waymo (Google ) is the leader with GM a fairly close second in developing the technology. This is my opinion, not GM’s. Musk thinks cameras are the way to go because vision works for people ( logical ) and that the radar and lidar solutions are too expensive.

    Yes, Waymo (Google) has been doing this for a much longer time.

    I agree with you. Interpreting camera images is a difficult operation under the best of conditions. But they are totally vulnerable to glare, and shadows, and to things that happen to look a lot like other things.

    Lidar is amazing, it’s provides a pretty accurate 3d map of the immediate area without having to interpret anything.

     

    • #26
    • May 21, 2019, at 4:12 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Coolidge

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):
    I work for GM, and I think Waymo (Google ) is the leader with GM a fairly close second in developing the technology. This is my opinion, not GM’s. Musk thinks cameras are the way to go because vision works for people ( logical ) and that the radar and lidar solutions are too expensive. Volvo agrees with Musk. However, Tesla’s camera solution has gotten a couple of people killed, mostly by driving into white truck trailers with the sun behind them.

    Camera only sucks. Give me radar all day. I like the way GM has mapped out a bunch of roads and put the data into the car. Not just lat,lon but slopes and other speed considerations. The car is not figuring out how to drive given what it sees, it is just executing what humans have already decided with adjustments for the unexpected. Smart and something that can be done with big data. 

    • #27
    • May 21, 2019, at 5:15 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Member

    I always figured Google Streetview was really created to help their autonomous vehicles find their way around.

    • #28
    • May 21, 2019, at 6:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  29. Reagan
    Roderic Fabian Post author

    namlliT noD (View Comment):

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):
    It only has to work 99.9% percent of the time for Tesla. 100% of the time for every one else. I work for GM, and I think Waymo (Google ) is the leader with GM a fairly close second in developing the technology. This is my opinion, not GM’s. Musk thinks cameras are the way to go because vision works for people ( logical ) and that the radar and lidar solutions are too expensive.

    Yes, Waymo (Google) has been doing this for a much longer time.

    I agree with you. Interpreting camera images is a difficult operation under the best of conditions. But they are totally vulnerable to glare, and shadows, and to things that happen to look a lot like other things.

    Lidar is amazing, it’s provides a pretty accurate 3d map of the immediate area without having to interpret anything.

     

    On several of the freeways around Houston they’ve had construction where the roads have been marked and re-marked and the lanes changed around. The result is a chaotic mesh of lane markings and ghost markings. I defy anyone to come up with a self driving car that can figure out where the road is supposed to be. And keep in mind that the engineers will change the route and the markings next week as construction progresses.

    IMHO the only way we’ll have self driving cars is when the roads are built and maintained specifically for them with some sort of standardized pathway markers.

    • #29
    • May 22, 2019, at 10:18 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  30. Member

    Songwriter (View Comment):

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    Tax breaks for the rich people who buy electric cars.

    I have a buddy who used to drive a Lexus hybrid, and he enjoyed thanking me for my tax dollars that subsidized his purchase of a car I couldn’t afford.

    Yes. This. Why is my money being used to help someone else buy a car — any car? “Cash for Clunkers” was bad enough, and I thought we learned our lesson back then. I guess not.

    “Because Global Warming” just makes it that much more infuriating. Global Warming is the biggest scam ever foisted on the developed world.

    But once again we have Congress picking winners and losers.

    Primary any Republican who votes for this money-laundering scheme.

    • #30
    • May 27, 2019, at 5:36 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  1. 1
  2. 2