Electric Vehicles Will Beat Gas Cars Because They Are Better, Not Because They Are Cheaper
02.10.2016 - by Joel Levin
Electric Vehicles Will Beat Gas Cars Because They Are Better, Not Because They Are Cheaper

If your phone company offered you a shiny new rotary-dial telephone, hard-wired to the wall, but with a lower monthly bill, would you trade in your iPhone or Android? Probably not.

People did not move to smart phones because they were cheaper. Consumers migrate to a new technology because it offers them benefits they appreciate, at a price they can afford and consider reasonable not necessarily because it is cheaper.

Five dollar gasoline certainly gets folks’ attention and does help to sell electric vehicles, but it is not an essential ingredient. As I write this, the average national price of gasoline is $1.78, according to AAA, and many economists predict that it will be low for some time to come.

Oil is a classic boom/bust commodity, because it is hard to scale back production and there is relatively little storage capacity, compared to the huge volumes we produce and consume every day. When the price rises, the oil industry starts drilling and discovers all kinds of ways to unlock new sources or squeeze more oil from existing wells.

Eventually, supply outstrips demand and the world is so awash in oil that there is no place to put it. Prices crash. Higher cost producers shut down and a few years later the cycle repeats.

Because of electric vehicles and the increasing efficiency of gasoline cars, demand for oil may soon peak and start coming down. This could keep the price of oil low for many years to come. Fortunately, the case for EVs is a compelling one, even in a world of cheap oil.

EVs are a pleasure to drive. They are convenient (i.e. good-bye fill-ups and most maintenance). They clean up local air and prevent climate change. They build our national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil. They strengthen the local economy because you can gather your fuel on your roof, with the help of the neighborhood solar installer. And they open the door to all kinds of innovative technologies under development.

Don’t get me wrong, EVs need to be well-priced so that people can afford them and feel like they are getting value for their money. But with so many advantages, EVs will succeed, even with $1.78 gasoline.

Photo Credit: Jorgen Rasmussen

8 comments on “Electric Vehicles Will Beat Gas Cars Because They Are Better, Not Because They Are Cheaper”
  1. Ronald Shaffer says:

    You can keep that ugly car…Nissan Leaf ugh!

  2. Phil Karn says:

    That 30% loss figure for electric transmission is ludicrous. In California, the actual end-to-end efficiency, from generator output to wall outlet, is 94%; i.e., the losses are 6%. The biggest chunk of that is due to the transformer out in your street.

    Even as bulk power is shipped over greater distances (often in support of renewable projects), the efficiencies remain high because of developments like HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) transmission. California has long had two major HVDC lines, one from the Columbia River region and the other from north central Utah, both going to the Los Angeles area.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Strange how so many say EVs cause pollution. Yes coal power plants pollute but not the EV. However no one ever talks about all the pollution from extraction, transportation of crude, refining, transportation again of petrol and pumping, and last of all the spillage and accidents from petrol. There is a constant problem from explosive fuel that is rarely reported. Electric vehicles can replace all the gas guzzlers out there. We have plenty of electricity and batteries are improving. There will never be much improvement of the 500 or more moving parts of a gas guzzler engine along with its transmission. Electric motors are already an improvement with 1 moving part and a small gearbox.

  4. Partly right says:

    No doubt about it, electric vehicles beat petroleum cars on many fronts: simplicity, acceleration, smooth operation, and ease of use.

    But they do NOT reduce carbon emissions, by themselves, at the macro level.

    Three reasons I say this:

    1. EVs require far more energy to produce than comparable gasoline vehicles. Batteries are especially energy-intensive to produce. And they need to be replaced several times over the life of an EV. I’ve seen figures that say EVs consume more than twice the energy of a gas powered car during 100,000 miles – just to exist (not counting energy for motion).

    2. Every kWH you load into your EV battery, and every kWH that goes into its production, must be generated somewhere, and today that means burning hydrocarbons in most states. Those generate greenhouse gases. Now, read point 1 again…

    3. The electricity that powers your EV must be shipped thousands of miles from the utility company to your garage. On the way, it loses 30 percent or more of its energy value due to resistance, leaks and other issues.

    Put simply, EVs are not as energy-efficient nor as good for the environment as people claim. In states that burn coal, EVs are considerably worse for the environment than gas-powered vehicles.

    These are all engineering facts. I don’t see many people acknowledge them, in the EV world. I wish they would. It’s more honest.

    When most or all electrical power generated in this country is from non–hydrocarbon sources, THEN EVs will be better for our environment.

    Until then, however, people who claim EVs are “better for the environment” don’t understand (or care) about the bigger, more accurate picture.

    That said, I believe EVs are far better for our society for one simple reason: EVs don’t care how electricity is produced. So, they play a huge role in making our transition to alternative energy sources easier. This makes it possible for us to focus on utilities as the last remaining source of emissions. And that’s a huge advantage.

    In 50 years or so, the “better for the environment” label will be accurate, probably everywhere.

    Until then, it’s more honest to say we’re willing to purchase less efficient, more satisfying, more expensive electric vehicles… in order to create a more efficient, hospitable world for our kids.

    1. 100 says:

      Did you think in the way that makes the fuel to power your car combustion ? Think first and write later!

    2. bob p. says:

      No one is disputing that it takes more energy to produce an electric car and its battery.

      1) All studies I have read say over the life of the car there is still a smaller footprint for the electric car.

      2) Your comment that the batteries will have to be replaced “several times” over the life of the car are unfounded. Most batteries are warranted for 8+ years and 100,000 miles or more. The Prius has proven that they last far longer than expected. The battery will see some depletion causing less range over time but will still work. Plans are being made for the time that there are large numbers of EVs on the road and battery packs could be used at generating stations to store electricity during low demand periods to be put out on to the grid at peak periods.

      3)Your comment about electricity being shipped thousands of miles, is even more ludicrous. I don’t know of anywhere that it would be shipped that far. Yes, there is some energy loss when sent over transmission lines.
      So, what is distance for oil being shipped from the Middle East or Norway? That’s thousands of miles.

      4) Coal fired electric plants do have a large environmental footprint. Yet, the U.S. has seen a drop of coal usage drop 20% from 2004 to 2014. Many states do not use any coal. Kentucky and West Virginia, major mining states of coal still get 90+% of their energy from coal. I live in Ontario, Canada. We are coal free and and have converted most of the oil units to natural gas. Nuclear makes up 51% with hydro second and increasing amounts of renewables.

      5) Using an EV has many advantages. Most are charged at night when grid demand is low and helps to balance out electric production. I charge off peak at a lower costs. Also, not dependent on fluctuation in oil prices or concerns about global conditions, meaning more stable national energy. Lastly, I am using state or provincial produced energy that is regulated at home, supporting local jobs and infrastructure. My money mostly stays in the country.

      6) As an early adopter and EV owner, I realize that this is the early stages of this industry and that it is getting better day by day. Range will increase, prices of battery production will decrease and cars will become more affordable for the masses. I own a 2015 Leaf. The battery in the 2016 already is 25% bigger and the range is 27% better than mine. For now, I accept that this is a commuter car but it fills 90% of our driving needs. Soon I hope it is 100%.

    3. Uzezi says:

      I agree with your point 1. I’ll just like to add that it is a lot easier to capture greenhouse gases (CO2, NOx, Sox) at a Power plant far away than it is capture the Co2 and green house emissions from multiple cars using gasoline at various locations. All we need to do is to enforce the regulations such that older plants have these carbon capture solutions retrofitted into them. Emissions will reduce significantly by such methods, although it will increase the price of electricity moderately. So, in my opinion EVs are still a great solution to the emssion issues we are facing.

  5. Steinar says:

    21.000 miles on our LEAF, had it for a year and a half, I totally agree. This is a car with somewhat short range and therefor a hassle to drive longer distances due to the need to speed charge. That is the disadvantage. The only one. As range becomes longer, you will only have advantages.

    The car is a dream to drive compared to even the best gasoline cars. So smooth, noise free. Every morning, “full tank”. No oil change, the car is a so absurdly simple compared to a gas car, way less parts to break. One pedal driving = ease of city driving.

    My LEAF is a 24kWh, with the 30kWh range is even less issue. Once a 40+kWh LEAF comes out, gas cars will seem pointless for most needs.

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