John Michael Greer: False Promises

16 05 2018

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Not so renewables

12 05 2018

Lifted from the excellent consciousness of sheep blog…..

For all practical purposes, solar energy (along with the wind, waves and tides that it drives) is unending.  Or, to put it more starkly, the odds of human beings being around to witness the day when solar energy no longer exists are staggeringly low.  The same, of course, cannot be said for the technologies that humans have developed to harvest this energy.  Indeed, the term “renewable” is among the greatest PR confidence tricks ever to be played upon an unsuspecting public, since solar panels and wind (and tidal and wave) turbines are very much a product of and dependent upon the fossil carbon economy.

Until now, this inconvenient truth has not been seen as a problem because our attention has been focussed upon the need to lower our dependency on fossil carbon fuels (coal, gas and oil).  In developed states like Germany, the UK and some of the states within the USA, wind and solar power have reduced the consumption of coal-generated electricity.  However, the impact of so-called renewables on global energy consumption remains negligible; accounting for less than three percent of total energy consumption worldwide.

A bigger problem may, however, be looming as a result of the lack of renewability of the renewable energy technologies themselves.  This is because solar panels and wind turbines do not follow the principles of the emerging “circular economy” model in which products are meant to be largely reusable, if not entirely renewable.

dead turbine

According to proponents of the circular economy model such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the old fossil carbon economy is based on a linear process in which raw materials and energy are used to manufacture goods that are used and then discarded:

 

This approach may have been acceptable a century ago when there were less than two billion humans on the planet and when consumption was largely limited to food and clothing.  However, as the population increased, mass consumption took off and the impact of our activities on the environment became increasingly obvious, it became clear that there is no “away” where we can dispose of all of our unwanted waste.  The result was the shift to what was optimistically referred to as “recycling.”  However, most of what we call recycling today is actually “down-cycling” – converting relatively high value goods into relatively low value materials:

 

The problem with this approach is that the cost of separating small volumes of high-value materials (such as the gold in electrical circuits) is far higher than the cost of mining and refining them from scratch.  As a result, most recycling involves the recovery of large volumes of relatively low value materials like aluminium, steel and PET plastic.  The remainder of the waste stream ends up in landfill or, in the case of toxic and hazardous products in special storage facilities.

In a circular economy, products would be designed as far as possible to be reused, bring them closer to what might realistically be called “renewable” – allowing that the second law of thermodynamics traps us into producing some waste irrespective of what we do:

 

Contrary to the “renewables” label, it turns out that solar panels and wind turbines are anything but.  They are dependent upon raw resources and fossil carbon fuels in their manufacture and, until recently, little thought had been put into how to dispose of them at the end of their working lives.  Since both wind turbines and solar panels contain hazardous materials, they cannot simply be dumped in landfill.  However, their composition makes them – at least for now – unsuited to the down-cycling processes employed by commercial recycling facilities.

While solar panels have more hazardous materials than wind turbines, they may prove to be more amenable to down-cycling, since the process of dismantling a solar panel is at least technically possible.  With wind turbines it is a different matter, as Alex Reichmuth at Basler Zeitung notes:

“The German Wind Energy Association estimates that by 2023 around 14,000 MW of installed capacity will lose production, which is more than a quarter of German wind power capacity on land. How many plants actually go off the grid depends on the future electricity price. If this remains as deep as it is today, more plants could be shut down than newly built.

“However, the dismantling of wind turbines is not without its pitfalls. Today, old plants can still be sold with profit to other parts of the world, such as Eastern Europe, Russia or North Africa, where they will continue to be used. But the supply of well-maintained old facilities is rising and should soon surpass demand. Then only the dismantling of plants remains…

“Although the material of steel parts or copper pipes is very good recyclable. However, one problem is the rotor blades, which consist of a mixture of glass and carbon fibers and are glued with polyester resins.”

According to Reichmuth, even incinerating the rotor blades will cause problems because this will block the filters used in waste incineration plants to prevent toxins being discharged into the atmosphere.  However, the removal of the concrete and steel bases on which the turbines stand may prove to be the bigger economic headache:

“In a large plant, this base can quickly cover more than 3,000 tons of reinforced concrete and often reach more than twenty meters deep into the ground… The complete removal of the concrete base can quickly cost hundreds of thousands of euros.”

It is this economic issue that is likely to scupper attempts to develop a solar panel recycling industry.  In a recent paper in the International Journal of Photoenergy, D’Adamo et. al. conclude that while technically possible, current recycling processes are too expensive to be commercially viable.  As Nate Berg at Ensia explains:

“Part of the problem is that solar panels are complicated to recycle. They’re made of many materials, some hazardous, and assembled with adhesives and sealants that make breaking them apart challenging.

“’The longevity of these panels, the way they’re put together and how they make them make it inherently difficult to, to use a term, de-manufacture,’ says Mark Robards, director of special projects for ECS Refining, one of the largest electronics recyclers in the U.S. The panels are torn apart mechanically and broken down with acids to separate out the crystalline silicon, the semiconducting material used by most photovoltaic manufacturers. Heat systems are used to burn up the adhesives that bind them to their armatures, and acidic hydro-metallurgical systems are used to separate precious metals.

“Robards says nearly 75 percent of the material that gets separated out is glass, which is easy to recycle into new products but also has a very low resale value…”

Ironically, manufacturers’ efforts to drive down the price of solar panels make recycling them even more difficult by reducing the amount of expensive materials like silver and copper for which there is demand in recycling.

In Europe, regulations for the disposal of electrical waste were amended in 2012 to incorporate solar panels.  This means that the cost of disposing used solar panels rests with the manufacturer.  No such legislation exists elsewhere.  Nor is it clear whether those costs will be absorbed by the manufacturer or passed on to consumers.

Since only the oldest solar panels and wind turbines have to be disposed of at present, it might be that someone will figure out how to streamline the down-cycling process.  As far more systems come to the end of their life in the next decade, volume may help drive down costs.  However, we cannot bank on this.  The energy and materials required to dismantle these technologies may well prove more expensive than the value of the recovered materials.  As Kelly Pickerel at Solar Power World concedes:

“System owners recycle their panels in Europe because they are required to. Panel recycling in an unregulated market (like the United States) will only work if there is value in the product. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) detailed solar panel compositions in a 2016 report and found that c-Si modules contained about 76% glass, 10% polymer (encapsulant and backsheet), 8% aluminum (mostly the frame), 5% silicon, 1% copper and less than 0.1% of silver, tin and lead. As new technologies are adopted, the percentage of glass is expected to increase while aluminum and polymers will decrease, most likely because of dual-glass bifacial designs and frameless models.

“CIGS thin-film modules are composed of 89% glass, 7% aluminum and 4% polymers. The small percentages of semiconductors and other metals include copper, indium, gallium and selenium. CdTe thin-film is about 97% glass and 3% polymer, with other metals including nickel, zinc, tin and cadmium telluride.

“There’s just not a large amount of money-making salvageable parts on any type of solar panel. That’s why regulations have made such a difference in Europe.”

Ultimately, even down-cycling these supposedly “renewable” technologies will require state intervention.  Or, to put it another way, the public – either as consumers or taxpayers – are going to have to pick up the tab in the same way as they are currently subsidising fossil carbon fuels and nuclear.  The question that the proponents of these technologies dare not ask, is how far electorates are prepared to put up with these increasing costs before they turn to politicians out of the Donald Trump/ Malcolm Turnbull stable who promise the cheapest energy irrespective of its environmental impact.





Who killed the electric car…….

28 11 2017

Anyone who’s seen the film (I still have a DVD of it lying around somewhere…) by the name “Who killed the electric car” will remember the outrage of the ‘owners’ (they were all only leasing the vehicles) when GM destroyed the cars they thought were working perfectly well.  The problem was, the EV1 was an experiment. It was an experiment in technology and economics, and by the time the leases ran out, all the batteries needed replacing, and GM weren’t about to do that, because the replacement cost was higher than the value of the vehicles. Never let economics get in the way of a good story…. nor profit!

Anyhow, here is another well researched article Alice Fridemann pointed me to regarding the senseless travesty of the big switch to EVs…..  It’s just too little too late, and we have the laws of physics to contend with.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

alice_friedemannThe battery did it.  Batteries are far too expensive for the average consumer, $600-$1700 per kwh (Service). And they aren’t likely to get better any time soon.  Sorry to ruin the suspense so quickly, guess I’ll never be a mystery writer.

The big advances in battery technology happen rarely. It’s been more than 200 years and we have maybe 5 different successful rechargeable batteries,” said George Blomgren, a former senior technology researcher at Eveready (Borenstein).

And yet hope springs eternal. A better battery is always just around the corner:

  • 1901: “A large number of people … are looking forward to a revolution in the generating power of storage batteries, and it is the opinion of many that the long-looked-for, light weight, high capacity battery will soon be discovered.” (Hiscox)
  • 1901: “Demand for a proper automobile storage battery is so crying that it soon must result in the appearance of the desired accumulator [battery]. Everywhere in the history of industrial progress, invention has followed close in the wake of necessity” (Electrical Review #38. May 11, 1901. McGraw-Hill)
  • 1974: “The consensus among EV proponents and major battery manufacturers is that a high-energy, high power-density battery – a true breakthrough in electrochemistry – could be accomplished in just 5 years” (Machine Design).
  • 2014 internet search “battery breakthrough” gets 7,710,000 results, including:  Secretive Company Claims Battery Breakthrough, ‘Holy Grail’ of Battery Design Achieved, Stanford breakthrough might triple battery life, A Battery That ‘Breathes’ Could Power Next-Gen Electric Vehicles, 8 Potential EV and Hybrid Battery Breakthroughs.

So is an electric car:

  • 1911: The New York Times declares that the electric car “has long been recognized as the ideal solution” because it “is cleaner and quieter” and “much more economical.”(NYT 1911)
  • 1915: The Washington Post writes that “prices on electric cars will continue to drop until they are within reach of the average family.”(WP 1915)
  • 1959: The New York Times reports that the “Old electric may be the car of tomorrow.” The story said that electric cars were making a comeback because “gasoline is expensive today, principally because it is so heavily taxed, while electricity is far cheaper” than it was back in the 1920s (Ingraham 1959)
  • 1967: The Los Angeles Times says that American Motors Corporation is on the verge of producing an electric car, the Amitron, to be powered by lithium batteries capable of holding 330 watt-hours per kilogram. (That’s more than two times as much as the energy density of modern lithium-ion batteries.) Backers of the Amitron said, “We don’t see a major obstacle in technology. It’s just a matter of time.” (Thomas 1967)
  • 1979: The Washington Post reports that General Motors has found “a breakthrough in batteries” that “now makes electric cars commercially practical.” The new zinc-nickel oxide batteries will provide the “100-mile range that General Motors executives believe is necessary to successfully sell electric vehicles to the public.”(Knight, J. September 26, 1979. GM Unveils electric car, New battery. Washington Post, D7.
  • 1980: In an opinion piece, the Washington Post avers that “practical electric cars can be built in the near future.” By 2000, the average family would own cars, predicted the Post, “tailored for the purpose for which they are most often used.” It went on to say that “in this new kind of car fleet, the electric vehicle could pay a big role—especially as delivery trucks and two-passenger urban commuter cars. With an aggressive production effort, they might save 1 million barrels of oil a day by the turn of the century.” (WP 1980)

Lithium-ion batteries appear to be the winner for all-electric cars given Elon Musk’s new $5 billion dollar li-ion battery factory in Nevada. Yet Li-ion batteries have a very short cycling life of 5 to 10 years (depending on how the car is driven), and then they’re at just 70% of initial capacity, which is too low to drive, and if a driver persists despite the degraded performance, eventually the batteries will go down to 50% of capacity, a certain end-of-life for li-ion (ADEME).

One reason people are so keen on electric cars is because they cost less to fuel.  But if electricity were $0.10 per kWh, to fill up a 53 kWh Tesla battery takes about 4 hours and costs $5.30. 30 days times $5.30 is $159. I can fill up my gas tank in a few minutes for under $40.  I drive about 15 miles a day and can go 400 miles per fill up, so I only get gas about once a month.  I’d have to drive 60 miles a day to run the cost up to $159. If your electricity costs less than ten cents, it won’t always.  Shale gas is a one-time-only temporary boom that probably ends around 2020.  Got a dinkier battery than the Tesla but go 80 miles or less at most?  Most people won’t consider buying an electric car until they go 200 miles or more.

So why isn’t there a better battery yet?

The lead-acid battery hasn’t changed much since it was invented in 1859. It’s hard to invent new kinds of batteries or even improve existing ones, because although a battery looks simple, inside it’s a churning chaos of complex electrochemistry as the battery goes between being charged and discharged many times.

Charging and recharging are hard on a battery. Recharging is supposed to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but over time the metals, liquids, gels, chemicals, and solids inside clog, corrode, crack, crystallize, become impure, leak, and break down.

A battery is like a football player, with increasing injuries and concussions over the season. An ideal battery would be alive, able to self-heal, secrete impurities, and recover from abuse.

The number of elements in the periodic table (118) is limited. Only a few have the best electron properties (like lithium), and others can be ruled out because they’re radioactive (39), rare earth and platinum group metals (23), inert noble gases (6), or should be ruled out: toxic (i.e. cadmium, cobalt, mercury, arsenic), hard to recycle, scarce, or expensive.

There are many properties an ideal Energy Storage device would have:

  1. Small and light-weight to give vehicles a longer range
  2. High energy density like oil (energy stored per unit of weight)
  3. Recharge fast, tolerant of overcharge, undercharging, and over-discharge
  4. Store a lot of energy
  5. High power density, deliver a lot of power quickly
  6. Be rechargeable thousands of times while retaining 80% of their storage capacity
  7. Reliable and robust
  8. A long life, at least 10 years for a vehicle battery
  9. Made from very inexpensive, common, sustainable, recyclable materials
  10. Deliver power for a long time
  11. Won’t explode or catch on fire
  12. Long shelf life for times when not being used
  13. Perform well in low and high temperatures
  14. Able to tolerate vibration, shaking, and shocks
  15. Not use toxic materials during manufacture or in the battery itself
  16. Take very little energy to make from cradle-to-grave
  17. Need minimal to no maintenance

For example, in the real world, these are the priorities for heavy-duty hybrid trucks (NRC 2008):

  1. High Volumetric Energy Density (energy per unit volume)
  2. High Gravimetric Energy Density (energy per unit of weight, Specific Energy)
  3. High Volumetric Power Density (power per unit of volume)
  4. High Gravimetric Power Density (power per unit of weight, Specific Power)
  5. Low purchase cost
  6. Low operating cost
  7. Low recycling cost
  8. Long useful life
  9. Long shelf life
  10. Minimal maintenance
  11. High level of safety in collisions and rollover accidents
  12. High level of safety during charging
  13. Ease of charging method
  14. Minimal charging time
  15. Storable and operable at normal and extreme ambient temperatures
  16. High number of charge-discharge cycles, regardless of the depth of discharge
  17. Minimal environmental concerns during manufacturing, useful life, and recycling or disposal

Pick Any Two

In the real world, you can’t have all of the above. It’s like the sign “Pick any two: Fast (expensive), Cheap (crappy), or Good (slow)”.

So many different properties are demanded that “This is like wanting a car that has the power of a Corvette, the fuel efficiency of a Chevy Malibu, and the price tag of a Chevy Spark. This is hard to do. No one battery delivers both high power and high energy, at least not very well or for very long,” according to Dr. Jud Virden at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (House 114-18 2015).

You always give up something. Battery chemistry is complex. Anode, cathode, electrolyte, and membrane separators materials must all work together. Tweak any one of these materials and the battery might not work anymore. You get higher energy densities from reactive, less stable chemicals that often result in non-rechargeable batteries, are susceptible to impurities, catch on fire, and so on. Storing more energy might lower the voltage, a fast recharge shorten the lifespan.

You have to optimize many different things at the same time,” says Venkat Srinivasan, a transportation battery expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. “It’s a hard, hard problem” (Service).

Conflicting demands. The main job of a battery is to store energy. Trying to make them discharge a lot of power quickly may be impossible. “If you want high storage, you can’t get high power,” said M. Stanley Whittingham, director of the Northeast Center for Chemical Energy Storage. “People are expecting more than what’s possible.”

Battery testing takes time. Every time a change is made the individual cells, then modules, then overall pack is tested for one cycle and again for 50 cycles for voltage, current, cycle life (number of recharges), Ragone plot (energy and power density), charge and discharge time, self-discharge, safety (heat, vibration, external short circuit, overcharge, forced discharge, etc.) and many other parameters.

Batteries deteriorate.  The more deeply you discharge a battery, the more often you charge/recharge it (cycles), or the car is exposed to below freezing or above 77 degree temperatures, the shorter the life of the battery will be. Even doing nothing shortens battery life: Li-ion batteries lose charge when idle, so an old, unused battery will last less long than a new one.  Tesla engineers expect the power of the car’s battery pack to degrade by as much as 30% in five years (Smil). [ED. the exception of course being Nickel Iron batteries….. but they are not really suitable for EVs, even if that’s what they were originally invented for]

Batteries are limited by the physical laws of the universe.  Lithium-ion batteries are getting close to theirs.  According to materials scientist George Crabtree of Argonne National Laboratory, li-ion batteries are approaching their basic electrochemical limits of density of energy they can store. “If you really want electric cars to compete with gasoline, you’re going to need the next generation of batteries.” Rachid Yazami of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore says that this will require finding a new chemical basis for them. Although engineers have achieved a lot with lithium-ion batteries, it hasn’t been enough to charge electric cars very fast, or go 500 miles (Hodson 2015).

Be skeptical of battery breakthroughs. It takes ten years to improve an existing type of battery, and it’s expensive since you need chemists, material scientists, chemical and mechanical engineers, electrochemists, computer and nanotechnology scientists. The United States isn’t training enough engineers to support a large battery industry, and within 5 years, 40% of full-time senior engineering faculty will be eligible for retirement.

Dr. Virden says that “you see all kinds of press releases about a new anode material that’s five times better than anything out there, and it probably is, but when you put that in with an electrolyte and a cathode, and put it together and then try to scale it, all kinds of things don’t work. Materials start to fall apart, the chemistry isn’t well known, there’s side reactions, and usually what that leads to is loss of performance, loss of safety. And we as fundamental scientists don’t understand those basic mechanisms. And we do really undervalue the challenge of scale-up. In every materials process I see, in an experiment in a lab like this big, it works perfectly. Then when you want to make thousands of them-it doesn’t.” (House 114-18).

We need a revolutionary new battery that takes less than 10 years to develop

“We need to leapfrog the engineering of making of batteries,” said Lawrence Berkeley National Lab battery scientist Vince Battaglia. “We’ve got to find the next big thing.”

Dr. Virden testified at a U.S. House hearing that “despite many advances, we still have fundamental gaps in our understanding of the basic processes that influence battery operation, performance, limitations, and failures (House 114-18 2015).

But none of the 10 experts who talked to The Associated Press said they know what that big thing will be yet, or when it will come (Borenstein).

The Department of Energy (DOE) says that incremental improvements won’t electrify cars and energy storage fast enough. Scientists need to understand the laws of battery physics better. To do that, we need to be able to observe what’s going on inside the battery at an atomic scale in femtoseconds (.000000000000001 second), build nanoscale materials/tubes/wires to improve ion flow etc., and write complex models and computer programs that use this data to better predict what might happen every time some aspect of the battery is meddled with to zero in on the best materials to use.

Are you kidding? Laws of Physics? Femtoseconds? Atomic Scale? Nanoscale technology — that doesn’t exist yet?

Extremely energy-dense batteries for autos are impossible because of the laws of Physics and the “Pick any Two” problem

There’s only so much energy you can force into a black box, and it’s a lot less than the energy contained in oil – pound for pound the most energy density a battery could contain is only around 6 percent that of oil. The energy density of oil 500 times higher than a lead-acid battery (House), which is why it takes 1,200 pounds of lead-acid batteries to move a car 50 miles.

Even though an electric vehicle needs only a quarter of the energy a gasoline vehicle needs to deliver the same energy to turn the wheels, this efficiency is more than overcome by the much smaller energy density of a battery compared to the energy density of gasoline.  This can be seen in the much heavier weight and space a battery requires.  For example, the 85 kWh battery in a Tesla Model S weighs 1,500 pounds (Tesla 2014) and the gasoline containing the equivalent energy, about 9 gallons, weighs 54 pounds.  The 1500 pound weight of a Tesla battery is equal to 7 extra passengers, and reduces the acceleration and range that could otherwise be realized (NRC 2015).

Lithium batteries are more powerful, but even so, oil has 120 times the energy density of a lithium battery pack. Increased driving ranges of electric cars have come more from weight reduction, drag reduction, and decreased rolling resistance than improved battery performance.

The amount of energy that can be stored in a battery depends on the potential chemical energy due to their electron properties. The most you could ever get is 6 volts from a Lithium (highest reduction) and Fluorine (highest oxidation).  But for many reasons a lithium-fluoride or fluoride battery is not in sight and may never work out (not rechargeable, unstable, unsafe, inefficient, solvents and electrolytes don’t handle the voltages generated, lithium fluoride crystallizes and doesn’t conduct electricity, etc.).

The DOE has found that lithium-ion batteries are the only chemistry promising enough to use in electric cars. There are “several Li-ion chemistries being investigated… but none offers an ideal combination of energy density, power capability, durability, safety, and cost” (NAS 2013).

Lithium batteries can generate up to 3.8 volts but have to use non-aqueous electrolytes (because water has a 2 volt maximum) which gives a relatively high internal impedance.

They can be unsafe. A thermal runaway in one battery can explode into 932 F degrees and spread to other batteries in the cell or pack.

There are many other problems with all-electric cars

It will take decades or more to replace the existing fleet with electric cars if batteries ever do get cheap and powerful enough.  Even if all 16 million vehicles purchased every year were only electric autos, the U.S. car fleet has 250 million passenger vehicles and would take over 15 years to replace.  But only 120,000 electric cars were sold in 2014. At that rate it would take 133 years.

Electric cars are too expensive. The median household income of a an electric car buyer is $148,158 and $83,166 for a gasoline car. But the U.S. median household income was only $51,939 in 2014. The Tesla Model S tends to be bought by relatively wealthy individuals,  primarily men who have higher incomes, paid cash, and did not seriously consider purchasing another vehicle (NRC 2015).

And when gasoline prices began to drop in 2014, people stopped buying EVs and started buying gas guzzlers again.

Autos aren’t the game-changer for the climate or saving energy that they’re claimed to be.  They account for just 20% of the oil wrung out of a barrel, trucks, ships, manufacturing, rail, airplanes, and buildings use the other 80%.

And the cost of electric cars is expected to be greater than internal combustion engine and hybrid electric autos for the next two decades (NRC 2013).

The average car buyer wants a low-cost, long range vehicle. A car that gets 30 mpg would require a “prohibitively long-to-charge, expensive, heavy, and bulky” 78 kWh battery to go 300 miles, which costs about $35,000 now. Future battery costs are hard to estimate, and right now, some “battery companies sell batteries below cost to gain market share” (NAS 2013). Most new cathode materials are high-cost nickel and cobalt materials.

Rapid charging and discharging can shorten the lifetime of the cell. This is particularly important because the goal of 10 to 15 years of service for automotive applications, the average lifetime of a car. Replacing the battery would be a very expensive repair, even as costs decline (NAS 2013).

It is unclear that consumer demand will be sufficient to sustain the U.S. advanced battery industry. It takes up to $300 million to build one lithium-ion plant to supply batteries for 20,000 to 30,000 plug-in or electric vehicles (NAE 2012).

Almost all electric cars use up to 3.3 pounds of rare-earth elements in interior permanent magnet motors. China currently has a near monopoly on the production of rare-earth materials, which has led DOE to search for technologies that eliminate or reduce rare-earth magnets in motors (NAS 2013).

Natural gas generated electricity is likely to be far more expensive when the fracking boom peaks 2015-2019, and coal generated electricity after coal supplies reach their peak somewhere between now and 2030.

100 million electric cars require ninety 1,000-MWe power plants, transmission, and distribution infrastructure that would cost at least $400 billion dollars. A plant can take years to over a decade to build (NAS 2013).

By the time the electricity reaches a car, it’s lost 50% of the power because the generation plants are only 40% efficient and another 10% is lost in the power plant and over transmission lines, so 11 MWh would be required to generate enough electricity for the average car consuming 4 MWh, which is about 38 mpg — much lower than many gasoline or hybrid cars (Smil).

Two-thirds of the electricity generated comes from fossil fuels (coal 39%, natural gas 27%, and coal power continues to gain market share (Birnbaum)). Six percent of electricity is lost over transmission lines, and power plants are only 40% efficient on average – it would be more efficient for cars to burn natural gas than electricity generated by natural gas when you add in the energy loss to provide electricity to the car (proponents say electric cars are more efficient because they leave this out of the equation). Drought is reducing hydropower across the west, where most of the hydropower is, and it will take decades to scale up wind, solar, and other alternative energy resources.

The additional energy demand from 100 million PEVs in 2050 is about 286 billion kWh which would require new generating capacity of ninety 1,000 MW plants costing $360 billion, plus another $40 billion for high-voltage transmission and other additions (NAS 2013).

An even larger problem is recharge time. Unless batteries can be developed that can be recharged in 10 minutes or less, cars will be limited largely to local travel in an urban or suburban environment (NAS 2013). Long distance travel would require at least as many charging stations as gas stations (120,000).

Level 1 charging takes too long, level 2 chargers add to overall purchase costs.  Level 1 is the basic amount delivered at home.  A Tesla model S85 kWh battery that was fully discharged would take more than 61 hours to recharge, a 21 kWh Nissan Leaf battery over 17 hours.  So the total cost of electric cars should also include the cost of level 2 chargers, not just the cost itself (NRC 2015).

Fast charging is expensive, with level 3 chargers running $15,000 to $60,000.  At a recharging station, a $15,000 level 3 charger would return a profit of about $60 per year and the electricity cost higher than gasoline (Hillebrand 2012). Level 3 fast charging is bad for batteries, requires expensive infrastructure, and is likely to use peak-load electricity with higher cost, lower efficiency, and higher GHG emissions.

Battery swapping has many problems: battery packs would need to be standardized, an expensive inventory of different types and sizes of battery packs would need to be kept, the swapping station needs to start charging right away during daytime peak electricity, batteries deteriorate over time, customers won’t like older batteries not knowing how far they can go on them, and seasonal travel could empty swapping stations of batteries.

Argonne National Laboratory looked at the economics of Battery swapping  (Hillebrand 2012), which would require standardized batteries and enough light-duty vehicles to justify the infrastructure. They assumed that a current EV Battery Pack costs $12,000 to replace (a figure they considered  wildly optimistic). They assumed a $12,000 x 5% annual return on investment = $600, 3 year battery life means amortizing cost is $4000, and annual Return for each pack must surpass $4600 per year. They concluded that to make a profit in battery swapping, each car would have to drive 1300 miles per day per battery pack!  And therefore, an EV Battery is 20 times too expensive for the swap mode.

Lack of domestic supply base. To be competitive in electrified vehicles, the United States also requires a domestic supply base of key materials and components such as special motors, transmissions, brakes, chargers, conductive materials, foils, electrolytes, and so on, most of which come from China, Japan, or Europe. The supply chain adds significant costs to making batteries, but it’s not easy to shift production to America because electric and hybrid car sales are too few, and each auto maker has its own specifications (NAE 2012).

The embodied energy (oiliness, EROEI) of batteries is enormous.  The energy to make Tesla’s lithium ion energy batteries is also huge, substantially subtracting from the energy returned on invested (Batto 2017).

Ecological damage. Mining and the toxic chemicals used to make and with batteries pollute water and soil, harm health, and wildlife.

The energy required to charge them (Smil)

An electric version of a car typical of today’s typical American vehicle (a composite of passenger cars, SUVs, vans, and light trucks) would require at least 150 Wh/km; and the distance of 20,000 km driven annually by an average vehicle would translate to 3 MWh of electricity consumption. In 2010, the United States had about 245 million passenger cars, SUVs, vans, and light trucks; hence, an all-electric fleet would call for a theoretical minimum of about 750 TWh/year. This approximation allows for the rather heroic assumption that all-electric vehicles could be routinely used for long journeys, including one-way commutes of more than 100 km. And the theoretical total of 3 MWh/car (or 750 TWh/year) needs several adjustments to make it more realistic. The charging and recharging cycle of the Li-ion batteries is about 85 percent efficient, 32 and about 10 percent must be subtracted for self-discharge losses; consequently, the actual need would be close to 4 MWh/car, or about 980 TWh of electricity per year. This is a very conservative calculation, as the overall demand of a midsize electric vehicle would be more likely around 300 Wh/km or 6 MW/year. But even this conservative total would be equivalent to roughly 25% of the U.S. electricity generation in 2008, and the country’s utilities needed 15 years (1993–2008) to add this amount of new production.

The average source-to-outlet efficiency of U.S. electricity generation is about 40 percent and, adding 10 percent for internal power plant consumption and transmission losses, this means that 11 MWh (nearly 40 GJ) of primary energy would be needed to generate electricity for a car with an average annual consumption of about 4 MWh.

This would translate to 2 MJ for every kilometer of travel, a performance equivalent to about 38 mpg (6.25 L/100 km)—a rate much lower than that offered by scores of new pure gasoline-engine car models, and inferior to advanced hybrid drive designs

The latest European report on electric cars—appropriately entitled How to Avoid an Electric Shock—offers analogical conclusions. A complete shift to electric vehicles would require a 15% increase in the European Union’s electricity consumption, and electric cars would not reduce CO2 emissions unless all that new electricity came from renewable sources.

Inherently low load factors of wind or solar generation, typically around 25 percent, mean that adding nearly 1 PWh of renewable electricity generation would require installing about 450 GW in wind turbines and PV cells, an equivalent of nearly half of the total U.S. capability in 2007.

The National Research Council found that for electric vehicles to become mainstream, significant battery breakthroughs are required to lower cost, longer driving range, less refueling time, and improved safety. Battery life is not known for the first generation of PEVs.. Hybrid car batteries with performance degradation are hardly noticed since the gasoline combustion engine kicks in, but with a PEV, there is no hiding reduced performance. If this happens in less than the 15 year lifespan of a vehicle, that will be a problem. PEV vehicles already cost thousands more than an ICE vehicle. Their batteries have a limited warranty of 5-8 years. A Nissan Leaf battery replacement is $5,500 which Nissan admits to selling at a loss (NAS 2015).

Cold weather increases energy consumption

cold weather increases energy consumption

 Source: Argonne National Laboratory

On a cold day an electric car consumes its stored electric energy quickly because of the extra electricity needed to heat the car.  For example, the range of a Nissan Leaf is 84 miles on the EPA test cycle, but if the owner drives 90% of the time over 70 mph and lives in a cold climate, the range could be as low as 50 miles (NRC 2015).

 

References

ADEME. 2011. Study on the second life batteries for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Batto, A. B. 2017. The ecological challenges of Tesla’s Gigafactory and the Model 3. AmosBatto.wordpress.com

Birnbaum, M. November 23, 2015. Electric cars and the coal that runs them. Washington Post.

Borenstein, S. Jan 22, 2013. What holds energy tech back? The infernal battery. Associated Press.

Hillebrand, D. October 8, 2012. Advanced Vehicle Technologies; Outlook for Electrics, Internal Combustion, and Alternate Fuels. Argonne National Laboratory.

Hiscox, G. 1901. Horseless Vehicles, Automobiles, Motor Cycles. Norman Henley & Co.

Hodson, H. Jully 25, 2015. Power to the people. NewScientist.

House, Kurt Zenz. 20 Jan 2009. The limits of energy storage technology. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

House 114-18. May 1, 015. Innovations in battery storage for renewable energy. U.S. House of Representatives.   88 pages.

NAE. 2012. National Academy of Engineering. Building the U.S. Battery Industry for Electric Drive Vehicles: Summary of a Symposium. National Research Council

NAS 2013. National Academy of Sciences. Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels. Committee on Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels; Board on Energy and Environmental Systems; Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences; National Research Council

NAS. 2015. Cost, effectiveness and deployment of fuel economy tech for Light-Duty vehicles.   National Academy of Sciences. 613 pages.

NRC. 2008. Review of the 21st Century Truck Partnership. National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences.

NRC. 2013. Overcoming Barriers to Electric-Vehicle Deployment, Interim Report. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

NRC. 2015. Overcoming Barriers to Deployment of Plug-in Electric Vehicles. National  Research Council, National Academies Press.

NYT. Novermber 12, 1911. Foreign trade in Electric vehicles. New York Times C8.

Service, R. 24 Jun 2011. Getting there. Better Batteries. Science Vol 332 1494-96.

Smil, V. 2010. Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate. AEI Press.

Tesla. 2014. “Increasing Energy Density Means Increasing Range.”
http://www.teslamotors.com/roadster/technology/battery.

Thomas, B. December 17, 1967. AMC does a turnabout: starts running in black. Los Angeles Times, K10.

WP. October 31, 1915. Prophecies come true. Washington Post, E18.

WP. June 7, 1980. Plug ‘Er In?”. Washington Post, A10.

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Tesla semis and the laws of physics

23 11 2017

UPDATE

Since posting this, Tesla’s semis have been unsurprisingly shelved…….  white elephant from the start!

Summary

Tesla unveiled the prototype of its Semi to much fanfare in November 2017.

Successive press events and public test drives built the perception that the Semi would enter production in the near term; numerous large companies made preorders.

Yet, during the Q1 2018 earnings call, the Semi received no mention except in response to questions; CEO Elon Musk essentially admitted the project had been put on hold.

Lack of capital to build a manufacturing plant and apparent technological challenges have raised eyebrows since the unveiling; the financing situation has only gotten worse since then.

It appears increasingly certain that the Tesla Semi will never see commercial production.

ANOTHER excellent and well researched article from Alice Friedemann. This pretty well confirms everything I told our mate Eclipse who believes in all this techno crap, because that’s all it is. I find it baffling how people get taken in by such rubbish.  Even if these trucks were going to be built, it would be a HUGE waste of Lithium batteries, because they are needed elsewhere, in things that we need to carry around for doing useful things…….

Loads of interesting links in the references at the bottom

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electric-semi-Nikola-One

Tesla Truck

Preface: Most people think that electric truck makers need to tell us the specs — the battery kWh, price, performance, and so on — before we can possibly know anything about their truck.

But that’s simply not true.  We know what lithium-ion batteries are capable of. And we know the kWh, size, and weight of the battery needed to move a truck of given weight a certain number of miles.  That makes it possible for scientists to work backwards and figure out how many kWh the battery would need to be to go 300 to 500 miles, what it would weigh, and the likely price for the battery needed for a truck at the maximum road limit of 80,000 pounds. [in Australia it’s 40 tonnes – our trucks have more wheels! We also have B doubles, some with 9 axles that can haul 64.5 tonnes https://www.nhvr.gov.au/files/201707-0577-common-heavy-freight-vehicles-combinations.pdf ]

S. Sripad and V. Viswanathan (2017) at Carnegie Mellon have done just that.  They published a paper in the peer-reviewed American Chemical Society Letters at the following link: Performance metrics required of next-generation batteries to make a practical electric semi truck.  Below is my review of their paper along with some additional cited observations of my own.

 — Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick JensenPractical PreppingKunstlerCast 253KunstlerCast278Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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Authors S. Sripad and V. Viswanathan felt compelled to write their paper because there are so many guesstimates of the likely cost and performance of an electric class 8 semi-truck in the media. But these hasty calculations don’t take into account critical factors like the specific energy density of the battery pack, vehicle weight, drag, rolling resistance, battery kwH to go a given distance, and weight of the batteries given current Li-ion battery technology.

The definition of class 8 trucks is their weight of 33,000 pounds or more.  We can assume electric class 8 trucks would have the same basic truck weight, because building them with light-weight aluminum or carbon fiber is too expensive. And unlike cars, where the average income of an electric car buyer is $148,158 (NRC 2015), and the amount of aluminum needed to light-weight the car is a small fraction of what a truck would require, the trucking industry is a cut throat business with razor thin profits.  Light-weighting them is out of the question.

The maximum weight of a truck allowed on the road is 80,000 pounds, so if the body weight of the truck is the minimum 33,000 pounds, then the maximum amount of cargo that can be carried is 47,000 pounds.

The authors found that a 900 mile range [to arrive at kms, just multiply by 1.6] is simply not possible with today’s batteries, because the weight of the battery pack required is 54,000 pounds plus 33,000 pounds truck weight, which is 87,000 pounds, well over the maximum road weight limit of 80,000 pounds. And this truck that can not haul cargo will set you back $500,000 to $650,000 dollars for the battery alone.

A 600 mile range isn’t commercial either. For starters, the battery pack would cost $320,000 to $420,000 dollars, and on top of that you’ll need add another $100,000 for the body of the truck. To move a truck 600 miles requires a 36,000 pound battery + 33,000 pound truck weight and the truck can only carry 11,000 pounds, which is 36,000 pounds less than a diesel truck can carry.

Musk claims the range of the truck can be as much as 500 miles.  Based on the figures in Table 1, that means the battery would cost $267,000 to $350,000 (also add on $100,000 for the truck body), and the battery will weigh 30,000 pounds + 33,000 pound truck weight and be able to carry only 17,000 pounds of cargo, which is 30,000 fewer pounds than a diesel truck.

Even if the range is on the low end of 300 miles, the battery will still be very heavy, 18,000 pounds + 33,000 pounds truck weight and and only be able to carry 29,000 pounds of cargo, which is 18,000 pounds less than a diesel truck.

The bottom line according to the authors, is that a 600 to 900 mile range truck will use most or all of their battery power to move the battery itself, not the cargo. The cost of the battery is $160,000 to $210,000 plus $100,000 for the truck body, so overall $260,000 to $310,000, which is $140,00 to $190,000 more than a new $120,000 diesel truck — considerably more than used diesel class 8 truck, which can cost as little as $3,000.

If anyone in the trucking industry is reading this, I’d like to know if a 300 mile range with just 18,000 pounds of cargo is acceptable.  I suspect the answer is no, because the Port of Los Angeles explored the concept of using an all-electric battery drayage (short-haul) truck to transfer freight between the port and warehouses, but rejected these trucks because the 350 kWh battery weighed 7,700 pounds and reduced cargo payload too much. Nor was the 12 hours or more to recharge the battery acceptable. Ultra-fast 30 min recharging was considered too risky since this might reduce battery lifespan, and bearing the cost of replacing these expensive batteries was out of the question (Calstart 2013).

Even if a way has been found to charge a truck in half an hour without reducing battery life, the amount of power needed to do that is huge, so new transmission, voltage lines, upgrading many substations with more powerful transformers, and new natural gas generating power plants will need to be constructed.  Across the nation that’s many billion dollars.  Who will pay for that?

It shouldn’t be surprising that a truck battery would weigh so much.  Car batteries simply don’t scale up — they make trucks too heavy.  The authors calculated that a 900 mile electric class 8 truck would require a battery pack 31 times the size and weight of a 100 kWh Tesla Model S car not only because of weight, but all the other factors mentioned above (aerodynamics, rolling resistance, etc).

If the Tesla Semi or any other truck maker’s prototype performs better than this, there are additional questions to ask.  For example, new diesel trucks today get 7 miles per gallon. But the U.S. Super Truck program has built trucks that get an amazing 12 mpg. But those trucks are not being made commercially.  I don’t know why, but it could be because this achievement was done by making the prototype truck with very light weight expensive materials like carbon fiber or aluminum, costly tires with less rolling resistance, and other expensive improvements that were too expensive to be commercial.

Performance can also be gamed – a diesel truck going downhill or on level ground, with less than the maximum cargo weight, going less than 45 miles per hour with an expert driver who seldom brakes, can probably get 12 mpg even though they’re not driving a Super Truck.

Who’s going to buy the Tesla Semi, Cummins EOS, Daimler E-FUSO, or BYD all-electric semi-trucks?

Most trucking companies are very small and can’t afford to buy expensive trucks: 97% of the 1.3 million trucking companies in the U.S. own 20 trucks or less, 91% have six or fewer. They simply aren’t going to buy an electric truck that costs roughly 2.5 times more than a diesel truck, carries half the weight, just 300 miles (diesel trucks can go 1,800 miles before refueling).

Nor will larger, wealthier trucking companies be willing to invest in electric trucks until the  government pays for and builds the necessary charging stations. This is highly unlikely given there’s no infrastructure plan (Jenkins 2017), nor likely the money to execute one, given the current reverse Robin Hood “tax reform” plan. With less money to spend on infrastructure, charging stations might not even be on the list.

The big companies that have bought (hybrid) electric class 4 to 6 trucks so far only did so because local, state, and federal subsidies made up the difference between the cost of a diesel and (hybrid) electric truck.  The same will likely be true of any company that makes class 8 long-haul trucks.

I constructed Table 1 to summarize the averages of figure 2 in this paper, which has the estimated ranges of required battery pack sizes, weights, cost, and payload capacities of a 300, 600, or 900 mile truck.

Range (miles) Battery kWh required Battery Pack Cost at $160-$210 per kWh Battery Weight kg / tons Max Payload
300 1,000 $160 – 210,000   8,200 /   9 8.5
600 2,000 $320 – 420,000 16,000 / 18 5.5
900 3,100 $500 – 650,000 24,500 / 27 0

Table 1. All electric truck data from figure 2 of Sripad (2017).   A diesel truck Max payload is 23.5 tons.  The max payload (cargo weight) is derived from the max truck road weight of 40 tons, minus battery weight, minus weight of the truck (17.5 tons).

As to whether the Tesla Semi will perform as well as Elon Musk says, it is not certain he will still be in business in 2019, because Musk and other electric car makers are competing for very few potential electric car buyers and with each other as well. There will never be enough electric car buyers because of the distribution of wealth. Sixty-nine percent of the United States population has less than $1,000 in savings (McCarthy 2016). At best the top 10% can afford an electric car, but many of them don’t want an electric car, don’t have a garage, prefer Lyft or mass transit, are saving to buy a house or survive the next financial crash.  And if states or the Trump administration end subsidies that will further dent sales.

Nor will there ever be completely automated cars or trucks, because unlike airplanes, where pilots have 8 minutes of grace before the crash to go back to manual controls, there is only a second for a car or truck driver to notice that an accident is about to occur and override the system.  The better the system is automated, the less likely the driver is to even be paying attention.  So the idea that the poor bottom 90% can order an automated electric car to their doorstep isn’t going to happen.  Nor can it happen with a driver – there is simply too little time to notice and react.

Just imagine if an automatic truck were hacked or malfunctioned, it would be like an attack missile with that much weight and momentum behind it.

Even if the Tesla semis are built in 2019, we won’t know until 2024 if charging in just half an hour, cold weather, and thousands of miles driven reduces driving range and battery life, if the battery can withstand the rough ride of roads, and be certain that lithium is still cheap and easily available.

The only thing going for the Tesla Semi is that electricity is cheap, for now.  But at some point finite natural gas will begin to decline and become very expensive, even potentially unaffordable for the bottom 90%.  As gas decline exponentially continues, all the solar and wind power in the world does no good because the electric grid requires natural gas to balance their intermittent power. There is no other kind of energy storage in sight.  Utility-scale batteries are far from commercial.  Although compressed air energy storage and pumped hydro storage dams are commercial, there are so few places to put these expensive alternatives that they can make little, if any meaningful contribution, ever.

Meanwhile, this hoopla may drive Musk’s stock up and distract from his lack of meeting the Model 3 goals, but investors have limited patience, and Musk has over $5 billion in debt to pay back.  It may be that Elon Musk is banking on government subsidies, like the $9 million State of California award to the BYD company for 27 electric trucks — $333,000 per truck (ARB 2016), and the Ports of Los Angeles and San Pedro who will subsidize a zero emission truck that can go at least 200 miles.

References

ARB. 2016. State to award $9 million for zero-emission trucks at two rail yards, one freight transfer yard in Southern California. California Air Resources Board.

Calstart. 2013. I-710 project zero-emission truck commercialization study. Calstart for Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 4.7

Jenkins, A. 2017. Will anybody actually use Tesla’s electric semi truck? Fortune.

McCarthy, N. September 23, 2016. Survey: 69% Of Americans Have Less Than $1,000 In Savings. Forbes.

NRC. 2015. Overcoming barriers to deployment of plug-in electric vehicles. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Sripad, S.; Viswanathan, V. 2017. Performance metrics required of next-generation batteries to make a practical electric semi truck.  ACS Energy Letters 2: 1669-1673.

Vartabedian, M. 2017. Exclusive: Tesla’s long-haul electric truck aims for 200 to 300 miles on a charge. Reuters.

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EV transition…. what EV transition…?

15 08 2017

It’s raining again, and all work outside has been temporarily suspended. Well that’s my excuse for hitting the keyboard again. And the more I delve into the future of this supposed transition to EVs techno utopians continually go on about, the less I believe it will occur. No one gets limits to growth, and therein lies the problem. I also found this neat document my readers might like to download. If you’ve been hanging out on this blog for some time. you probably already know what’s in it, but there are a lot of newbies joining DTM these days, this is for you…

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I have already exposed how limits to Lithium and Cobalt and other resources needed to implement a transition away from oil powered happy motoring is going to give manufacurers (and share holders) headaches in the future; but obviously the fans of electric motoring do not understand the disruptive effects of such an industry nor how it will decimate the oil industry, which itself will kill off the EV sector….

At first glance, getting rid of polluting cars sounds like a great idea.  The billions of such vehicles around the world that pump out noxious gases and CO2 are, we know, are major contributors to climate change.  Banning them at the earliest opportunity, then, must surely be a good idea. But, there’s always a but………

If the world is going to make the switch to electric vehicles, we are going to need a massive infrastructure spend to create the fast charging systems without which the country is going to grind to a halt.

For most journeys – those of less than 10km – charging up at home overnight will do the trick.  But, Australia in particular.  is a nation of commuters who average around 1500km a month.  I know people who commute even further from where we used to live in Queensland….. Anyone driving more than about 70km to get to work is going to need somewhere to charge up before going home; and anyone driving more than 160km is going to need a fast charging station somewhere along their commute.  On the few times a year that many of us make far longer journeys (such as on long weekends) we would have to be able to stop several times to recharge – Australia is a big country. It’s either that, or we won’t be going away…..

And all of those other holiday drivers will all want to use the same “fast” (they currently take 20-30 minutes) chargers. I see melting circuit breakers…….

Add to this the fact that new oil discoveries have been plummeting and, without prices north of $200 per barrel, unlikely to bounce back, and it tells us one highly unpleasant thing… petrol and diesel prices are going to bounce back a few years from now, once the current glut is over.

That is great news if you work for an oil company or if you are a government that depends upon the taxes from oil exports to pay your debts.  But if you are a country whose oil industry is in terminal decline – like Australia that will have almost certainly totally run out of oil by 2020 – then you are about to find yourself competing for dwindling oil supplies against far richer countries like the USA and China.

Back in the real world, coal plants are shutting down, nuclear companies are going bust, the so-called ‘shale revolution’ is teetering on the cliff edge of collapse, and there is simply no way given the current state of technology for renewables to take up the slack.  What we are facing today is figuring out how to maintain the current supply of electricity, and the last thing anyone needs is the massive increase in demand that will inevitably accompany the mass consumption electric cars.

Electricity shortages may, however, prove to be the least of our worries.  Too many electric cars could trigger a global economic collapse.

Few pundits now doubt the benefits to consumers of electric cars compared to petrol (gasoline) powered ones.  A recent article in The Economist observes:

“Compared with existing vehicles, electric cars are much simpler and have fewer parts; they are more like computers on wheels. That means they need fewer people to assemble them and fewer subsidiary systems from specialist suppliers…

“With less to go wrong, the market for maintenance and spare parts will shrink. While today’s carmakers grapple with their costly legacy of old factories and swollen workforces, new entrants will be unencumbered. Premium brands may be able to stand out through styling and handling, but low-margin, mass-market carmakers will have to compete chiefly on cost.”

Sounds like job losses to me….. and who will buy EVs if they don’t have a job?

What would mass ownership of EVs do to the already struggling global oil industry?

The existential threat posed by electric cars is simply that they might force the price of petrol (gasoline) to zero.

In 2014, the world burned 41,235,000 barrels of petrol (gasoline) every day!  If no one wants the stuff,  and as there is no obvious alternative use for it with maybe the exception of some power tools and hobby engines, cars and light vans are the only place where petrol is consumed, why would the industry make petrol?

“Great,” I hear the greenies shout, “just stop producing the filthy, environment-destroying stuff.”  If only it were that simple.  The trouble is, as Michael Schirber at Live Science reminds us, oil is a chemical potpourri:

“Petroleum is not a single molecule but a mix of thousands of molecules, the most important of which are hydrocarbons. These are chains or rings of carbons atoms surrounded by hydrogen atoms.

“Although gasoline comprises nearly half of all petroleum production in the United States, a wide range of fuels and specialty oils come out of a modern-day oil refinery. The petroleum is first heated in a boiler to separate the smaller hydrocarbons with low boiling points from the larger hydrocarbons with high boiling points.”

Oil refineries can’t simply stop producing petrol (gasoline) without also ceasing production of all of those other far more useful products…. like those used to manufacture tyres, and bitumen roads..!  Both required by the EV revolution…. Lighter gases are used in such things as paints, cleaning agents and as chemical feedstock.  Heavier products include the kerosene that fuels jet aircraft; diesel for our heavy machinery and trucks; lubricating oils and greases for industry; and solids like the aforementioned bitumen.  One assumes that, like the rest of us, the greenwashers would quite like all of these other petroleum products – and the things they do for us – to be available after petrol has gone away.

And therein lies the conundrum; because petrol effectively subsidises the price of all those other products.  Even the pro-electric car Economist article concedes that:

“The internal combustion engine has had a good run—and could still dominate shipping and aviation for decades to come…”

Except of course, the oil industry is on its knees, and once it goes, so does the dream of happy electric car motoring……





The green car myth

28 06 2017

How government subsidies make the white elephant on your driveway look sustainable

And this comes on top of this article that describes how just making electric cars’ battery packs is equivalent to eight years worth of driving conventional happy motoring.

I have written before about the problems with bright green environmentalism. Bright greens suggest that various technological innovations will serve to reduce carbon dioxide emissions enough to avoid catastrophic global warming and other environmental problems. There are a variety of practical problems that I outlined there, including the fact that most of our economic activities are hitting physical limits to energy efficiency.

The solution lies in accepting that we can not continue to expand our economies indefinitely, without catastrophic consequences. In fact, catastrophic consequences are in all likelihood already unavoidable, if we believe the warnings of prominent climatologists who claim that a two degree temperature increase is sufficient to cause significant global problems.

It’s easy to be deceived however and assume that we are in the process of a transition towards sustainable green technologies. The problem with most green technologies is that although their implementation on a limited scale is affordable, they have insufficient scalability to enable a transition away from fossil fuels.

Part of the reason for this limited scalability is because users of “green” technology receive subsidies and do not pay certain costs which users of “grey” technology have to shoulder as a result. As an example, the Netherlands, Norway and many other nations waive a variety of taxes for green cars, taxes that are used to maintain the network of roads that these cars use. As the share of green cars rises, grey cars will be forced to shoulder increasingly higher costs to pay for the maintenance of road networks.

It’s inevitable that these subsidies will be phased out. The idea of course is that after providing an initial gentle push, the transition towards more green driving will have reached critical mass and prove itself sustainable without any further government subsidies. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to occur. We’ve seen a case study of what happens when subsidies for green technologies are phased out in Germany. After 2011, the exponential growth in solar capacity rapidly came to a stop, as new installs started to drop. By 2014, solar capacity in Germany had effectively stabilized.1 Peak capacity of solar is now impressively high, but the amount of solar energy produced varies significantly from day to day. On bad days, solar and wind hardly contribute anything to the electricity grid.

Which brings us to the subject of today’s essay: The green car. The green car has managed to hide its enormous price tag behind a variety of subsidies, dodged taxes and externalities it has imposed upon the rest of society. Let us start with the externalities. Plug-in cars put significant strain on the electrical grid. These are costs that owners of such cars don’t pay themselves. Rather, power companies become forced to make costs to improve their grid, to avoid the risk of blackouts, costs that are then passed on to all of us.

When it comes to the subsidies that companies receive to develop green cars, it’s important not just to look at the companies that are around today. This is what is called survivorship bias. We focus on people who have succeeded and decide that their actions were a good decision to take. Everyone knows about the man who became a billionare by developing Minecraft. As a result, there are droves of indie developers out there hoping to produce the next big game. In reality, most of them earn less than $500 a year from sales.2

Everyone has heard of Tesla or of Toyota’s Prius. Nobody hears of the manufacturers who failed and went bankrupt. They had to make costs too, costs that were often passed on to investors or to governments. Who remembers Vehicle Production Group, or Fisker automotive? These are companies that were handed 193 million and 50 million dollar in loans respectively by the US Federal government, money the government won’t see again because the companies went bankrupt.3 This brings the total of surviving car manufacturers who received loans from the government to three.

To make matters worse, we don’t just subsidize green car manufacturers. We subsidize just about the entire production chain that ultimately leads to a green car on your driveway. Part of the reason Fisker automotive got in trouble was because its battery manufacturer, A123 Systems, declared bankruptcy. A123 Systems went bankrupt in 2012, but not before raising 380 million dollar from investors in 2009 and receiving a 249 million dollar grant from the U. S. department of energy back in 2010.

Which brings us to a de facto subsidy that affects not just green cars, but other unsustainable projects as well: Central bank policies. When interest rates are low, investors have to start searching for yield. They tend to find themselves investing in risky ventures, that may or may not pay off. Examples are the many shale companies that are on the edge of bankruptcy today. This could have been anticipated, but the current financial climate leaves investors with little choice but to invest in such risky ventures. This doesn’t just enable the growth of a phenomenon like the shale oil industry affects green car companies as well. Would investors have poured their money into A123 Systems, if it weren’t for central bank policies? Many might have looked at safer alternatives.

One company that has benefited enormously from these policies is Tesla. In 2008, Tesla applied for a 465 million dollar loan from the Federal government. This allowed Tesla to produce its car, which then allows Tesla to raise 226 million in an IPO in June 2010, where Tesla receives cash from investors willing to invest in risky ventures as a result of central bank policies. A $7,500 tax credit then encourages sales of Tesla’s Model S, which in combination with the money raised from the IPO allows Tesla to pay off its loan early.

In 2013, Tesla then announces that it has made an 11 million dollar profit. Stock prices go through the roof, as apparently they have succeeded at the task of the daunting task of making green cars economically viable. In reality, Tesla made 68 million dollar that year selling its emission credits to other car companies, without which, Tesla would have made a loss.

Tesla in fact receives $35,000 dollar in clean air credits for every Model S that it sells to customers, which in total was estimated to amount to 250 million dollar in 2013.4 To put these numbers in perspective, buying a Model S can cost anywhere around $70,000, so if the 35,000 dollar cost was passed on to the customer, prices would rise by about 50%, not including whatever sales tax applies when purchasing a car.

We can add to all of this the 1.2 billion of subsidy in the form of tax exemptions and reduced electricity rates that Tesla receives for its battery factory in Nevada.5 The story gets even better when we arrive at green cars sold to Europe, where we find the practice of “subsidy stacking”. The Netherlands exempts green cars from a variety of taxes normally paid upon purchase. These cars are then exported to countries like Norway, where green cars don’t have to pay toll and are allowed to drive on bus lanes.6

For freelancers in the Netherlands, subsidies for electrical cars have reached an extraordinarily high level. Without the various subsidies the Dutch government created to increase the incentive to drive an electrical car, a Tesla S would cost 94.010 Euro. This is a figure that would be even higher of course, if Dutch consumers had to pay for the various subsidies that Tesla receives in the United States. After the various subsidies provided by the Dutch government for freelance workers, Dutch consumers can acquire a Tesla S at a price of just 25,059 Euro.7

The various subsidies our governments provide are subsidies we all end up paying for in one form or another. What’s clear from all these numbers however is that an electric car is currently nowhere near a state where it could compete with a gasoline powered car in a free unregulated market, on the basis of its own merit.

The image that emerges here is not one of a technology that receives a gentle nudge to help it replace the outdated but culturally entrenched technology we currently use, but rather, of a number of private companies that compete for a variety of subsidies handed out by governments who seek to plan in advance how future technology will have to look, willfully ignorant of whatever effect physical limits might have on determining which technologies are economically viable to sustain and which aren’t.

After all, if government were willing to throw enough subsidies at it, we could see NGO’s attempt to solve world hunger using caviar and truffles. It wouldn’t be sustainable in the long run, but in the short term, it would prove to be a viable solution to hunger for a significant minority of the world’s poorest. There are no physical laws that render such a solution impossible on a small scale, rather, there are economic laws related to scalability that render it impossible.

Similarly, inventing an electrical car was never the problem. In 1900, 38% of American cars ran on electricity. The reason the electrical car died out back then was because it could not compete with gasoline. Today the problem consists of how to render it economically viable and able to replace our fossil fuel based transportation system, without detrimentally affecting our standard of living.

This brings us to the other elephant, the one in our room rather than our driveway. The real problem here is that we wish to sustain a standard of living that was built with cheap natural resources that are no longer here today. Coping with looming oil shortages will mean having to take a step back. The era where every middle class family could afford to have a car is over. Governments would be better off investing in public transport and safe bicycle lanes.

The problem America faces however, is that there are cultural factors that prohibit such a transition. Ownership of a car is seen as a marker of adulthood and the type of car tells us something about a man’s social status. This is an image car manufacturers are of course all too happy to reinforce through advertising. Hence, we find a tragic example of a society that wastes its remaining resources on false solutions to the crisis it faces.


1 – http://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/publications/veroeffentlichungen-pdf-dateien-en/studien-und-konzeptpapiere/recent-facts-about-photovoltaics-in-germany.pdf Page 12

2 – http://www.gameskinny.com/364n3/report-most-indie-game-devs-made-less-than-500-in-game-sales-in-2013

3 – http://www.forbes.com/sites/joannmuller/2013/05/11/the-real-reason-tesla-is-still-alive-and-other-green-car-companies-arent/

4 – http://evworld.com/news.cfm?newsid=30195

5 – http://www.rgj.com/story/news/2014/09/04/nevada-strikes-billion-tax-break-deal-tesla/15096777/

6 – http://www.elsevier.nl/Economie/achtergrond/2015/4/-1742131W/

7 – https://www.cda.nl/mensen/omtzigt/blog/toon/auto-rijden-op-subsidie/





Ugo Bardi on the end of cars…..

25 05 2017

The Coming Seneca Cliff of the Automotive Industry: the Converging Effect of Disruptive Technologies and Social Factors

This graph shows the projected demise of individual car ownership in the US, according to “RethinkX”. That will lead to the demise of the automotive industry as we know it since a much smaller number of cars will be needed. If this is not a Seneca collapse, what is? 



Decades of work in research and development taught me this:

Innovation does not solve problems, it creates them. 

Which I could call “the Golden Rule of Technological Innovation.” There are so many cases of this law at work that it is hard for me to decide where I should start from. Just think of nuclear energy; do you understand what I mean? So, I am always amazed at the naive faith of some people who think that more technology will save us from the trouble created by technology (the most common mistake people make is not to learn from mistakes).

That doesn’t mean that technological research is useless; not at all. R&D can normally generate small but useful improvements to existing processes, which is what it is meant to do. But when you deal with breakthroughs, well, it is another kettle of dynamite sticks; so to say. Most claimed breakthroughs turn out to be scams (cold fusion is a good example) but not all of them. And that leads to the second rule of technological innovation:

Successful innovations are always highly disruptive

You probably know the story of the Polish cavalry charging against the German tanks during WWII. It never happened, but the phrase “fighting tanks with horses” is a good metaphor for what technological breakthroughs can do. Some innovations impose themselves, literally, by marching over the dead bodies of their opponents. Even without such extremes, when an innovation becomes a marker of social success, it can diffuse extremely fast. Do you remember the role of status symbol that cell phones played in the 1990s?

Cars are an especially good example of how social factors can affect and amplify the effects of innovation. I discussed in a previous post on Cassandra’s Legacy how cars became the prime marker of social status in the West in the 1950s, becoming the bloated and inefficient objects we know today. They had a remarkable effect on society, creating the gigantic suburbs of today’s cities where life without a personal car is nearly impossible.

But the great wheel of technological innovation keeps turning and it is soon going to make individual cars as obsolete as would be wearing coats made of home-tanned bear skins. It is, again, the combination of technological innovation and socioeconomic factors creating a disruptive effect. For one thing, private car ownership is rapidly becoming too expensive for the poor. At the same time, the combination of global position systems (GPS), smartphones, and autonomous driving technologies makes possible a kind of “transportation on demand” or “transportation as a service” (TAAS) that was unthinkable just a decade ago. Electric cars are especially suitable (although not critically necessary) for this kind of transportation. In this scheme, all you need to do to get a transportation service is to push a button on your smartphone and the vehicle you requested will silently glide in front of you to take you wherever you want. (*)

The combination of these factors is likely to generate an unstoppable and disruptive social phenomenon. Owning a car will be increasingly seen as passé, whereas using the latest TAAS gadgetry will be seen as cool. People will scramble to get rid of their obsolete, clumsy, and unfashionable cars and move to TAAS. Then, TAAS can also play the role of social filter: with the ongoing trends of increasing social inequality, the poor will be able to use it only occasionally or not at all. The rich, instead, will use it to show that they can and that they have access to credit. Some TAAS services will be exclusive, just as some hotels and resorts are. Some rich people may still own cars as a hobby, but that wouldn’t change the trend.

To have some idea of what a TAAS-based world can be, you might read Hemingway’s “Movable Feast”, a story set in Paris in the 1920s. There, Hemingway describes how the rich Americans in Paris wouldn’t normally even dream of owning a car (**). Why should they have, while when they could simply ride the local taxis at a price that, for them, was a trifle? It was an early form of TAAS. Most of the Frenchmen living in Paris couldn’t afford that kind of easygoing life and that established an effective social barrier between the haves and the have-nots.

As usual, of course, the future is difficult to predict. But something that we can say about the future is that when changes occur, they occur fast. In this case, the end result of the development of individual TAAS will be the rapid collapse of the automotive industry as we know it: a much smaller number of vehicles will be needed and they won’t need to be of the kind that the present automotive industry can produce. This phenomenon has been correctly described by “RethinkX,” even though still within a paradigm of growth. In practice, the transition is likely to be even more rapid and brutal than what the RethinkX team propose. For the automotive industry, there applies the metaphor of “fighting tanks with horses.”

The demise of the automotive industry is an example of what I called the “Seneca Effect.” When some technology or way of life becomes obsolete and unsustainable, it tends to collapse very fast. Look at the data for the world production of motor vehicles, below (image from Wikipedia). We are getting close to producing a hundred million of them per year. If the trend continues, during the next ten years we’ll have produced a further billion of them. Can you really imagine that it would be possible? There is a Seneca Cliff waiting for the automotive industry.

(*) If the trend of increasing inequality continues, autonomous driven cars are not necessary. Human drivers would be inexpensive enough for the minority of rich people who can afford to hire them.

(**) Scott Fitzgerald, the author of “The Great Gatsby” is reported to have owned a car while living in France, but that was mainly an eccentricity.