Friday, August 9, 2013

Electric Vehicles Are Here to Stay. In Moderate Numbers.

The MIT Review titles the infographic below: Electric Vehicles are Here to Stay.

Yes, but the case for them is not particularly strong and their market penetration will be small for a very long time, for two big reasons.  One is EV's marginal environmental benefit. The infographic clearly shows that the big improvement comes when a gasoline-powered vehicle is converted to hybrid: Its emissions drop from 0.87 pounds of CO2 per mile to 0.57 pounds per mile. All the fuss to get to EV cuts CO2 down only to 0.54 pounds per mile (and probably leaves a much bigger problem with battery recycling at the end.) In addition this estimate does not likely account for all the charging infrastructure that is being installed from scratch.

The second reason is the affordable price of fuel, gasoline in particular. It will be priced at around $4 per gallon for a long time thanks to major forces that work against major price increases, such as:
  1. Hydraulic fracturing of fracking for natural gas extraction, which curbs the demand for oil by vast amounts. (In 2000 fracking yielded 1% of the natural gas production in the US. In 2010 it yielded 20% of the production. A breakneck acceleration in such a capital intensive industry thanks to my fellow Greek and father of fracking George Phydias Mitchell.)
  2. Sustained oil prices in the $50 to $100 per barrel make expensive explorations affordable, so a healthy supply of oil will be available to satiate the increasing demands of the developing world.
  3. Substantially decreased demand for gasoline due to the popularity of high mpg vehicles (CAFE requirements and sales success of hybrids and plug-in hybrids; can't buy a Hummer anymore.)
  4. Less travel due to persistent high unemployment and mega economic downers such as debt, deficit, bankrupt cities and countries, and looming pension and health care social costs in the US.
  5. Continued public and private investment in renewable sources of energy.