A Costly Transition
I know, it’s confusing.
1. Are battery-powered electric vehicles the future?
2. Are they better for the environment than internal combustion engine vehicles?
3. Are they competitive with gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles?
The answer to the first question is yes. The reasons are simplicity and convenience. The EV is directly connected to the modern micro-tech world. The older internal combustion engine or ICE technology, even the most advanced, has to jump through hoops to connect to that world. The old ICE engine will continue to get more complicated as it tries to match the simplicity of the electric motor, but eventually it will lose the battle. Its advantages of an energy dense, portable fuel and existing infrastructure will be whittled-down by the EV lobby which includes renewable energy conglomerates, environmental activists and America’s enemies, both internal and external. The transition from gas and diesel-powered vehicles to battery-powered EVs was inevitable, but the push to accelerate that transition is going to be uncomfortable and costly. And the acceleration is unnecessary.
Question 2 has two answers. Today, the total EV transition is harmful to the environment and humanity. It is a matter of the exotic materials necessary for batteries and electric motors. Lithium and Cobalt are problematic. They require mining and are associated with worker abuse. The mining increases pollution. Slave and child labor are used in the process. And let’s face it, China has cornered the market on these exotic materials. But eventually, less difficult battery and motor materials will be developed. The environmental and human costs will become less. There is still the question of the actual emissions from EVs versus conventional vehicles. Today, EVs require more CO2 emissions than ICE-powered vehicles. That is because the total EV life cycle involves more mining than gas or diesel vehicles. The mining requires more fossil fuel burning. The more EV mileage required; the more fossil fuel is used to manufacture the batteries. With improvements in battery materials, the CO2 emission levels will drop. But that is irrelevant since CO2 is not a pollutant. Lithium and Cobalt are. So, getting away from these exotic, rare materials will make the EV less harmful.
The answer to Question 3 revolves around infrastructure. Electrification is both simple and complex. We will need a source of reliable power and an expanded distribution system for the charging stations in order to make EVs practical. The competition for these resources will come from the other electrification goals-- residential heating and commercial manufacturing. Even today public utilities are planning to phase out natural gas for residential heating. Coal has already been eliminated. The decision to do this was ideological and political, not financial. While some industries are touting that they are moving to 100 percent renewable power sources, the truth is that they are just purchasing offsets. It will be difficult to operate a steel mill or any other significant manufacturing process using solar panels and wind. Those industries will need the denser energy provided by fossil fuels, nuclear and hydroelectric power sources. So, it seems the move to EVs will be competing with the overall goal of electrifying everything else.
In his new book, FOSSIL FUTURE, Alex Epstein explains: “Oil has more competition for ‘light-duty’ applications, such as automobiles, where the far lower energy density of batteries matters less . . . Battery automobiles, while they have definite advantages (such as no tail-pipe emissions), currently struggle with cost and especially with convenience (charging times, vehicle range, significant battery loss in hot and cold conditions) compared with gasoline vehicles. To the extent batteries improve in cost-effectiveness, these disadvantages could diminish and make battery vehicles competitive without the massive subsidies that currently drive most battery vehicle purchases . . . But it is important to remember that even if battery vehicles become better for light -duty applications, anything resembling today’s levels of energy density for batteries is a complete and utter deal breaker for the largest vehicles such as cargo ships and airplanes . . . The direct burning of oil fuels for mobility is truly a marvel of cost-effectiveness that is a staggering challenge for any alternative to take on. It involves generations of economic innovation and achievement around engines and vehicles that specifically harness the remarkable energy density of oil.” (Epstein, 2022, p. 197)
The practicality of EVs is in the urban centers. Little two-seaters that go everywhere locally will be the norm. That part of the charging station issue will be less difficult than that required by personal, long distance traveling EVs. Long distance passenger travel requires a comfortable cabin environment—heating and cooling. That adds to the drain on the EV’s batteries. These will need charging stations along the major highway systems and that will force the expansion of the electrical grid. Many of the freight haulers will be EVs and may even be fully automated. The careers of long-distance independent and union truckers will be over. However, the supply chain will become more efficient as a result of increased automation of ports and shipyards. Automated forklifts, robotic cranes and conveyors will replace unionized longshoremen. EVs are conducive to that process. Another upside is that highway accidents involving 18-wheelers will probably decline.
So yes, EVs may very well be the future of land transportation but they should evolve with the expansion of the power grid and the addition of natural gas, clean coal, hydroelectric and nuclear power stations to provide the power to that grid. And that’s not happening.