Dr. John Happs
The latest announcements from political fairyland came from Bill Shorten with his vision that 50% of all new cars will be “electric” by 2030 and that each one would only take 10 minutes to recharge.
To borrow a phrase from The Castle, somebody should: “Tell him he’s dreaming.”
Better still, tell Bill to do a little homework on so-called electric cars and he will find that they are not electric cars at all.
Well-intentioned environmentalists and a number of politicians such as Bill fail to understand that batteries don’t continually create electricity. Rather they store electricity that has to be generated elsewhere by more often than not abundant, inexpensive, high energy-density, reliable hydrocarbon fuels.
Bill also believes that so-called electric cars don’t emit any carbon dioxide. The vehicles might not emit any when running on battery alone but since that electricity has come from a hydrocarbon-fuelled power plant, the elimination of car tail-pipe emissions is entirely countered by the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions at the power station.
There are buses running around in Australia with “100% electric” written on them. This is first-order deception.
Scientifically-challenged Bill (and many others) find it difficult to understand that most so-called electric cars in Australia are hydrocarbon-fuel-powered since 60% of our electricity comes from coal- fired stations with 20% from natural gas and diesel. A mere 20% comes from unreliable, inefficient (and always needing hydrocarbon backup) renewables.
Greg Archer, director of the UK’s Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, reflected:
“The industry should state the full lifecycle emissions of cars rather than just tailpipe emissions, to avoid misleading consumers.”
“Drivers wanting to minimize emissions could be better off buying a small, efficient petrol or diesel car.”
Adam Carey highlights another problem, specific to places such as Victoria:
“Victoria’s dependence on brown coal for energy is so high that any electric car that ran off the electricity grid would generate even more carbon emissions than one running on petrol.”
Thanks to political indecision, Australia, a nation rich in coal, gas and uranium, have unreliable, inefficient wind and solar energy forced upon them by environmental zealots and politicians angling for those votes they worry might go to the Greens. The result is that Australians are now facing electricity costs that are amongst the highest in the world. This is no coincidence:
Apparently Bill doesn’t seem to care. He is aiming at a 50% unreliable energy target, irrespective of further pain this will inflict on all Australians. He clearly hasn’t learned a lesson from state and overseas problems.
Industry in Victoria has recently been load-shedding whilst South Australia’s unreliable and expensive electricity has so far led to the closure of Mitsubishi, GMH, Plastics Granulating Services, Caroma, Penrice, Arnotts Biscuits, Aldinga Turkeys, ACI Glass, Arrium, BHP, Santos, Alinta Energy, Unibooks and United Dairies, to name a few.
It’s not just Labor politicians who display their ignorance about so-called electric cars. In his opinion piece“Stand by, Australia, for the electric car revolution is nigh” published in theSydney Morning Herald and The Age (13 January 2018), Josh Frydenberg said:
“Electric vehicles could reduce CO2 emissions by at least 15 million tonnes by 2030.”
15 million tonnes in 12 years? Josh clearly has no idea how trivial this amount is or where the bulk of atmospheric carbon dioxide comes from.
Human activity worldwide places about 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Termites produce 50 billion tons per annum and humans breathe out 2.25 billion tons per year).
In 2018, the Iceland volcano Katla was emitting 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide per day and Dr. Robin Wylie from University College, London said:
“In 1992, it was thought that volcanic degassing released something like 100 million tons of CO2 each year. Around the turn of the millennium, this figure was getting closer to 200. The most recent estimate, released this February, comes from a team led by Mike Burton, of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology – and it’s just shy of 600 million tons. It caps a staggering trend: A six-fold increase in just two decades.”
So Josh’s 15 million tonnes over 12 years is all rather trivial.
Josh went on to say there are: “two million electric vehicles on the road around the world.”
Two million? Gosh Josh! You don’t appear to know how this compares with total vehicle numbers.
Well Josh, the best estimate for the number of vehicles running globally is around 1.4 billion. I’m sure that Josh can work out the percentage of electric vehicles in use compared to the percentage of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
Josh also fails to mention that most of those battery-powered vehicles are purchased by companies, governments and local councils where expense and “range-anxiety” aren’t an issue. Presumably they are purchased for feel-good purposes and because they are so expensive, they are most likely paid for by the taxpayer.
I wonder if Josh and Bill’s families and relatives are all running electric cars and have given up their ICE’s. Any guesses?
Of the energy taken from coal, only around 20% makes it to the battery-operated car’s motor. When the car is running, a further 10% of the energy is lost in the electric motor. This leaves very little of the original energy from the coal to actually drive the wheels.
Today’s ICE cars will beat coal-fired battery-operated cars every time on energy conservation and ICE’s are becoming more fuel-efficient every year. As Jack Stewart noted:
“The power plant under the hood of a modern car has fuel injection, often more than one turbocharger, variable valve control, catalytic converters, and an electronic brain to oversee it all. These are complex, versatile, and scalable machines that harness the power of tiny explosions, thousands of times per second. They power cars, trucks, trains, ships, leaf-blowers, and more. And they keep getting better.”
For politicians to argue that the use of battery-operated vehicles leads to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is to further ignore key information about their manufacture and use. There are environmental problems at every step in their production and use. As Bill Gates observed:
“People think, Oh, well, I’ll just get an electric car.There are places where if you buy an electric car, you’re actually increasing CO2 emissions, because the electricity infrastructure is emitting more CO2 than you would have if you’d had a gasoline-powered car.”
Another problem. Battery-operated cars accentuate environmental damage during the mining of materials and their manufacture. Electric motors require rare earth metals such as neodymium and dysprosium. They also need cobalt of which around 70% of global demand is met by child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Child labour is used without any regard for safety standards and the environmental damage from primitive cobalt mines is shifted out of sight.
Battery-operated cars waste more energy and produce more pollution than the ICE cars they replace. The mining of rare-earth materials, the production of lithium-ion batteries and electric motors consume large amounts of energy along with high carbon dioxide emissions.
Constructing a battery-operated car produces around 13,600 kg of carbon dioxide compared to 6,350 kg for the manufacture of a conventional car so the production of an electric car will have resulted in emissions equivalent to 130,000 km of driving before it even leaves the factory.
Professor Anders Stromman, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology reported that:
“The global warming potential from electric vehicle production is about twice that of conventional vehicles.”
“Across the other impacts considered in the analysis including potential for effects related to acid rain, airborne particulate matter, smog, human toxicity, ecosystem toxicity and depletion of fossil fuel and mineral resources, electric vehicles consistently perform worse or on par with modern internal combustion engine vehicles, despite virtually zero direct emissions during operation.”
The Journal of Industrial Ecology has reported that electric car factories also produce more toxic waste than conventional car factories.
That battery-powered cars are worse for the environment has been made clear by theFraunhofer-Institute for Structural Physics. The institute concluded that:
“The manufacture and recycling of modern batteries has a negative impact on the ecological budget when compared to the fossil fuel engines.”
In summary, battery-powered cars put more pollution into the environment than similar sized petrol-driven cars during manufacture and when driven over the same distance.
In 2012, Canadian investigative journalist Margaret Wente reported:
“The fantasy that electric cars are right around the corner doesn’t survive even the most cursory reality check… consumers simply won’t pay a $20,000 premium for a vehicle that doesn’t go very far, isn’t very convenient, and runs out of juice as soon as you turn on the air conditioner.”
The reality is that an electric car would have about 50% less range per charge once the driver switches on the heating or cooling systems, lights, wipers and radio.
In colder climates, batteries are even less efficient and don’t last as long. Most new batteries provide a 20% lower current at 0oC, and 50% less at -25oC. Additionally, batteries that are charged in the winter have a lower voltage rating (about 20% less voltage) per cell.
Another cold-climate problem arises if the car is in a parking lot for some time. Extra battery life is lost when switching on the heater and defroster until the car is ready to go.
One has to ask the question: “What happens if a battery-powered car gets stuck on the side of the road in snow?”
In many parts of the world drivers are faced with blizzard conditions and are stranded. Britain occasionally experiences severe blizzards which strand drivers on snow-covered roads. A stranded petrol car can continue burning fuel, and can keep the car interior safe and warm for many hours. An electric car, not so much – especially if the battery starts to freeze.
One has to ask the question: “What happens if an Australian battery-powered car gets bogged in sand?”
A stranded petrol car can keep burning fuel, and can keep the car interior safe and cool for many hours. An electric car will not do this for long.
One has to ask the question: “What happens if a battery-powered car has a flat battery in the middle of nowhere?’ Jumper leads will not help and the RAC will not be carrying Tesla battery packs that weigh over half a tonne.
Without the above constraints, even if the battery operates in an optimum climate, it might last, at most, for only 12 years. Therein lies another problem since there is no sense in replacing a 12 year-old battery with an expensive new one when the car itself will not last another 12 years.
China is often portrayed as a country eagerly embracing battery-powered cars yet, of the 40,000 electric vehicles now running, approximately 80% are fleet vehicles such as sanitation vehicles and buses. As expected, the electric vehicle industry in China has run up against the obvious constraints of expensive batteries, limited range between charges and deteriorating battery performance.
Sales in China slumped 75% in January 2017 when the government slashed subsidies by more than a fifth.
In Germany battery-operated cars were once seen to be the answer to the internal combustion engine, heralding a new era of clean, quiet, energy-efficient transport. This simply hasn’t happened. The Rheinpfalz Daily reported:
“For years they dominated international car shows and were seen everywhere in the media. However up to now they have been completely missing in one decisive place: the streets.”
Americans operated their petrol-driven cars over 3.2 trillion miles in 2016. More miles than ever before because internal combustion cars are inexpensive, efficient, reliable and don’t give their owners range-anxiety with petrol remaining plentiful and cheap.
Australia has approximately 15 million cars on the road and only a handful of these are battery-powered. Not surprisingly, in 2018 only 0.2% of new vehicles purchased were so-called electric cars because consumers are waking up to the fact that they will pay a disproportionately high price for a battery-powered car with the likelihood of facing a huge loss on its resale.
In 2016 Tony Hagon pointed out that:
“Just 95 of the 273 Hybrid Camrys sold in January were to private buyers, while only 12 of the paltry 50 Prius buyers were listed as private buyers by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.”
He highlights a major problem:
“About 5 years from purchasing [FN1] their main (big) battery dies and costs thousands to replace.”
Politicians arguing that countries such as Norway have embraced so-called electric cars has little bearing on Australia since hydroelectric power is the main source of electricity in Norway. Additionally, the distances travelled by Norwegians, over their total area of 385,207 km² is trivial compared with Australia’s 7.692 million km²
Norwegians are not likely to suffer from “range anxiety” since they don’t have far to travel in their battery-powered cars but, unless Bill and Josh are planning to have re-charging stations right across the Nullarbor and running north-south down both coastlines, Australians will not be remotely interested.
And that brings us to the silliest part of the politicians’ battery-powered fantasy. That of electrifying Australia so that owners of these expensive range-limited, polluting battery-operated cars can use them to travel quickly anywhere at any time.
The media recently hyper-ventilated about Wiebe Wakker who recently drove his battery-operated station wagon across 33 countries from the Netherlands to Australia. He said:
“I wanted to change people’s opinions and inspire people to start driving electric by showing the advantages of sustainable mobility.”
“If one man can drive to the other side of the world in an electric car, then EVs (electric vehicles) should definitely be viable for daily use.”
Perhaps Wiebe means driving to the corner shop with plenty of time on your hands. After all, his battery-powered drive took him 3 years and he clocked an impressive average speed of 3.5 km per hour.
Wiebe would have had a faster journey by riding a bicycle.
Whereas Norwegians might think that 200 km is a long drive, Australians have much longer distances to consider and the Grey Nomads would have no prospect of towing their caravans even a modest distance with a battery-powered car.
Bill should also think about this observation from Andrew Bushnell:
“Forty per cent of new car sales are SUVs. The highest selling car in Australia is the Toyota Hilux. There is currently no electric ute on the market.”
Hyundai will attempt to sell a small battery-operated SUV (Kona) but it will have a price-tag of around $60,000 and I doubt there will be many takers.
Should a battery-powered vehicle come on the market with a 500 km range with the heater or air-conditioner running full-time and with the towing capacity of a 6 or 8 cylinder ute and a price-tag of $25-30,000, then a few people might be interested. But then, only if it could be charged rapidly.
Consider a much smaller country such as Germany where there are currently about 60 million vehicles on the road. If those vehicles were battery-operated and every one was charged for only 30 minutes every other day, it has been estimated that the German grid would need 140 new power plants or 220,000 wind turbines. This would be ten times the current power.
Once the world’s most stable, the German power grid is already under stress, thanks to the mindless push by politicians to promote unreliable, inefficient wind and solar power schemes. Power outages in Germany have now grown common even on calm weather days.
An impossible, extraordinary power demand would be needed in Australia, should there be a switch to battery-operated cars. The demand would be overwhelming and the current grid would simply collapse. Bill and Josh’s dream of powering this battery-operated fantasy-land cannot possibly come from wind or solar yet the ever-reliable coal is opposed and uranium is banned. Adding to this problem is the Green zealots’ opposition to the construction of new dams.
It should also be pointed out that the use of a fast charger for a battery-operated car would most likely trip the home main fuse if charging occurs at the same time that other high-demand appliances, such as kettles, heaters or ovens are used.
As Robert Gottliebsen observed:
“The danger really came home to me when I met up with an affluent, long-time Melbourne acquaintance who lives in a street where there are six Tesla cars. When they all try to charge their batteries at the same time, the power goes out in the street because the grid fails. Sometimes it fails when only three or four of them try to charge at the same time.”
Reports from the Auckland-based network company Vector and the Wellington-based firm Concept Consulting have warned:
“The new generation of EVs, with larger batteries and far greater driving ranges, will take more than two days to fully charge from a standard wall socket. To avoid that, they predict demand will rise swiftly for fast-charging technology, which will place many times more load on local networks than socket-charging.”
Imagine thousands of Australian heading off on their holidays and, after only 2 hours of driving, they all attempt to charge their battery-operated cars at the same time.
Imagine those Australians wanting to make an emergency dash to the hospital or a quick escape from a bushfire when their battery-powered car needs several hours of charging.
Apparently we can look forward to the 25th James Bond movie to see Daniel Craig driving a $330,000 Aston Martin Rapid E electric car.
Just imagine Bond shouting to the escaping villain:
“Just give me a few hours to charge this thing and I’ll be right after you.”
Dr. Vaclav Smil, a leading expert on cars and energy at the University of Manitoba observes:
“The myth that the future belongs to electric vehicles is one of the original misconceptions.”
Haven’t we heard all this electric vehicle hype before?
In 1967 a Pathe newsreel reported:
“The dream of more convenient motoring is the dream of every car owner. The Comuta, Ford’s prototype electrical runabout, could well be one of the answers to that dream.
In a few years, there’s the strong prospect of seeing millions of them on the road. It’s just as likely you’ll own one like this or one of several others which are being developed.
Electric cars are easy to drive, only two pedals, and even more important they’re quiet and inexpensive to run. Refuelling means plugging into a handy electric socket to recharge batteries. There’s certainly a future for this sort of transport.
Over at the British Motor Corporation’s Longbridge headquarters, they don’t intend to be left behind. In conjunction with a battery firm, it’s planned to build an electric town car within two years. Britain is way ahead of the world with its plug-in car projects.”
Earth to Bill and Josh:
The widespread use of battery-operated cars is on the horizon – and always will be.
Dr. John Happs M.Sc.1st Class; D.Phil.
John has an academic background in the geosciences with special interests in climate, and paleoclimate. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas and was President of the Western Australian Skeptics for 25 years.
Now retired from academia and consulting work, Dr. Happs frequently writes to scientists, journalists and politicians, providing evidence-based information about climate change whilst exposing the ways in which the issue has become captured by politics and ideology. He has had one of his letters, detailing IPCC malfeasance, tabled in the Canadian Parliament. He gives regular talks on climate change to community groups such as Probus, U3A and Rotary since he believes that the public has essentially obtained its information about climate change through the media and political commentary.