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Old 06-25-2009, 11:37 PM   #1
Ought Six
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Arrow Electric Cars Will Not Decrease Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Says Federal Study

Electric Cars Will Not Decrease Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Says Federal Study


By Monica Gabriel
CNS News
Thursday, June 25, 2009


The stimulus law enacted in February promoted the purchase of plug-in electric cars by the federal government and the broader market, but a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released this month says that the use of plug-in electric vehicles will not by itself decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

To do that, the report argues, the United States would have to switch from coal-burning plants to lower-emission sources to generate electricity such as nuclear power.

“If you are using coal fired power plants and half the country’s electricity comes from coal powered plants, are you just trading one greenhouse gas emitter for another?”
Mark Gaffigan, co-author of the GAO report and a specialist in energy issues told CNSNews.com.

The report found that the adoption of plug-in cars could result in benefits, including reduced petroleum consumption and dependency.

But it concedes that in regions of the country heavily reliant on coal for power generation, electric plug-in vehicles will not result in a decrease in green house gas emissions.

“Reduction in CO2 emissions depend on generating electricity used to charge the vehicles from lower-emission sources of energy,” GAO reported.

“For plug-ins to reach their full potential, electricity would need to be generated from lower-emission fuels such as nuclear and renewable energy rather than the fossil fuels--coal and natural gas--used most often to generate electricity today.”

In an attempt to encourage the development and manufacturing of “plug-in” electric vehicles, the government has allocated $300 million from the economic stimulus funding to the General Services Administration (GSA) to acquire fuel-efficient vehicles. These funds must be spent by 2011.

The GAO report pointed out that the stimulus law also establishes a tax credit for consumers for the purchase of plug-in cars--up to $2,500 for two-wheeled, three-wheeled, and low-speed plug-in cars.

But the report cites results from a study showing that “if plug-in hybrids reached 56 percent of the cars on the road by 2030, they would require an increased electricity production, much of which would likely come from additional coal plants.”

The government watchdog said that adjustments would need to be made, such as building new nuclear plants and developing technology so that fossil fuel plants will be equipped to capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2).

“However, new nuclear plants and renewable energy sources can be controversial and expensive,” the report noted.

While not a mandate, goals within President Obama’s executive order (No. 13423) encourage the integration of plug-in hybrid cars into federal vehicle fleets. The GAO report, while remaining supportive of the goal, pointed out the difficulties in achieving plug-in integration.

“Developing policy or incentives to encourage consumers to buy plug-ins only in regions with low-carbon energy sources could be difficult and may not correspond with manufacturers’ business plans,” reported the GAO.

Another impediment to the success of plug-in cars, is the high cost of lithium-ion batteries. The GAO report noted that in order for plug-in cars to be cost effective they must be relatively inexpensive compared to gas.

“Research suggests that for plug-ins to be cost-effective relative to gasoline vehicles the price of batteries must come down significantly and gasoline prices must be high relative to electricity,” the report said.

Gaffigan told CNSNews.com that $2 billion of the Recovery Act funds are being expended for grants to manufacture plug-in batteries, and the money is not limited to lithium-ion batteries.

But Gaffigan also explained that this particular impediment would not go away just because the government threw a lot of money at it.

“At the end of the day, if gasoline is still relatively cheap compared to the other alternatives, there is just not going to be that kind of motivation for the market place to develop something else,” Gaffigan told CNSNews.com.

Furthermore, foreign dependency on lithium could take the place of dependency on petroleum.

“The United States has supplies of lithium, but if demand for lithium exceeded domestic supplies, or if lithium from overseas is less expensive, the United States could substitute reliance on one foreign resource (oil) for another (lithium),” warned the GAO.

“Yes, it is a very real possibility,” Gaffigan confirmed when CNSNews.com asked about the possibility of lithium dependency.

To make matters worse, while lithium-ion batteries are attractive because they produce insignificant levels of toxic waste, the extraction of lithium could have harmful environmental consequences.

“Extracting lithium from locations where it is abundant, such as South America, could pose environmental challenges that would damage the ecosystems in this area,” the GAO report pointed out.
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Old 06-26-2009, 01:59 AM   #2
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Well, here we go again. The advantage of using electricity is that the generation source is far more flexible than when fueled by gasoline. This report's snapshot of the current situation is not the viewpoint of a country that wants to survive.

If the majority of our vehicle fleet becomes electric. ANY method can be used to generate the electricity as time goes on, and people do not need new cars, we don't need 150,000 new filling stations, etc etc. when oil is no longer desirable and/or affordable.

No rational viewpoint can look forward and expect gasoline prices to NOT rise incredibly in the next decade or two, making all kinds of other generation more interesting, and if we wait to start to change our infrastructure until the oil prices of permanently gone to the stratoshere, it will be far too late. Of course, oil interests will love it because if we remain "bent over the oil barrel", their profits and power will unimaginable.
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Old 06-26-2009, 05:28 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fiddlerdave View Post
The advantage of using electricity is that the generation source is far more flexible than when fueled by gasoline.
I'm not sure what you mean by this. Certainly electric vehicles are not even in the ball park when it comes to versatility and convenience compared to hydrocarbon fueled vehicles. Care to elaborate?
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Old 06-26-2009, 01:10 PM   #4
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If the majority of our vehicle fleet becomes electric. ANY method can be used to generate the electricity as time goes on, and people do not need new cars, we don't need 150,000 new filling stations, etc etc. when oil is no longer desirable and/or affordable.
Well, yes and no.

You are quite correct, there is little flexibility with a gasoline engine. If you have a car that burns a liquid fuel, you might have a little bit of flexibility in tweaking what kind of liquid you put in the tank. But in general, you're stuck with that kind of fuel. So if you want to run your car from solar energy or nuclear energy, then you need to replace your $10,000 car.

If you have an electric car, then you get to use whatever fuel source your electric utility is providing. So you can run your electric car from solar, wind, nuclear, etc., etc., etc. So it sounds like a good plan.

But remember, the reason we wanted the electric car is so that we wouldn't have to simply discard the $10,000 car every time we want to change fuel.

But where does the electricity come from? If it's coming from a billion dollar natuarl gas power plant, and we want to run it on solar, then we have to simply discard that billion dollar natural gas plant, and build a new solar plant. That doesn't sound like an improvement over scrapping the $10,000 car.

For now, it seems to me that I'm better off driving my current liquid fuel IC car. Since I live in the corn belt, I usually burn ethanol, which has two primary inputs--solar to make the corn grow, and natural gas to distill it. But I have the flexibility to burn dead dinosaurs if my fuel of choice happens to be unavailable.

If I used a car only to drive myself to and from work, then I would probably consider an electric car if available, since I could charge it at night when cheap nuclear and hydro power (and some coal) is available. But this is not true in many areas of the country, in which case electric cars aren't a very good environmental choice. (And in my case, and a lot of people's case, I use the vehicle for many things other than driving to and from work, and in many of the applications I use it for, electric simply wouldn't be a good option, even if available. That might change in the future, but for me, it would be wasteful to buy an electric car, since I would need an IC vehicle for other purposes.)

As with many things, the answer to what is best is "it depends".
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