Electric Car Boom. Who’s Driving, and How

September 30, 2013

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34 Responses to “Electric Car Boom. Who’s Driving, and How”

  1. All is fine, but again and again – electric cars, even if powered with low carbon electricity (which is often not the case) – have little to do with true sustainability — one needs to maintain roads, pneumatics, energy intensive industry (car production), battery production (mineral construction) and many, many other things.

    Transportation by foot, maybe bicykle, or some animals might be sustainable, but even that not for 7 billion people and growing…


    • petermogensen Says:

      Well … for starters we don’t need “true” sustainability. We just need to avoid the oceans going acidic and anoxic before we manage to keep CO2 at safe levels.
      I don’t expect that a solution to the global warmning problem at the same time will be a solution to every other environmental problem. I just want my grand children to life in a world which looks about the same as the one I see now.

      • jimbills Says:

        The world will most definitely NOT look the same for your grandchildren unless humans suddenly and radically accept major action now. Such action would be multiple times more effective with people riding bicycles to work in Copenhagen than having guys like Jay Leno driving Teslas.

        • petermogensen Says:

          Well… given that I work in Copenhagen…

          Danes do use bicycles as a natural form of transportation, but it’s not like we don’t have cars 😉

          My office window is actually right above one of the most heavily trafficed roads in Copenhagen and looking out it seems cars still out-numbers bicyles. (by a small margin)

          But a lot of these cars are not big luxus sedans like the Tesla. It’s often small cars like (and I’m looking at one now) the WV “up”.
          And replacing just half of the cars in Copenhagen with cars like the new WV “e-up” powered by electricity from the windmills I can see far in the horizon near the bridge to Scania would bring us in the right direction.
          … and – you must admit – be a whole lot more realistic than making everyone ride a bike several tens of kilometers a day to work.

          • jimbills Says:

            Do you hook up the WV directly to the windmill? What percentage of Danish electricity comes from fossil fuels? Where do all the components for the WV come from? How are they mined, processed, and shipped? Doors the electric version compare favorably in price to a bicycle? How much economic activity supported by energy flow will be needed to afford the extra cost? What about bicycles and mass transport instead of EVs? Will the infrastructure and resulting resource and energy flows be more or less for that option or for everyone to be driving EVs?

            Look, I know. It’s more ‘realistic’ that humans will accept EVs over bikes and mass transport. My point is that our environmental problems would be far better addressed via other, more ‘unrealistic’, means.

            Will your grandchildren be justly served if you had an EV?

          • petermogensen Says:

            I’m not saying that everything is solved by the current state of affairs in Denmark – far from it. (actually the current Danish government proposal is useless micromanagement of stupids niches like cow production)

            I’m doubting your premise that EVs are only for rich guys like Jay Leno and that there’s no solution besides making people walk or ride bikes.

            The problem is energy.

            If you have enough energy produces without CO2 emissions and the right technology you can do everything we do with fossil fuels today without raising the CO2 level of the atmosphere.
            Given that the Sun energy input to Earth is huge compared to what we actually need, it’s only technology we’re missing (and its wide spread use).
            … and we could “mine, process and ship” any product without fossil fuels.

            I’m not advocating for EVs as the single solution which will fix everything. (how you seemed to read that out of my reply I don’t know).
            Of course mass transportation (powered by the same CO2-free energy) is part of the solution.

            … btw… I don’t use bicycle or car to get to work. I take the train.

          • jimbills Says:

            The big problem I have with EVs is that they do not significantly cut resource use or energy demand, and that even if they are successfully implemented they will far more likely undercut moves towards mass transport than support it. In the United States, we are very susceptible to these issues.

            Money is a huge part of this. For our society to transition to a future of just EVs and PVCs, it would cost amazing amounts of money and resources. The economy would have to function at ever-growing rates for decades, and this would ensure that we would burn just about every bit of fossil fuel we could.

            Or, we could develop mass transport and build local infrastructure to support walking and biking at a fraction of the cost and at a fraction of the resource and energy use. I admit, I don’t see us doing this, though.

            We all gotta have our cool electric cars like Leno.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            “The big problem I have with EVs is that they do not significantly cut resource use or energy demand,”

            Who cares how much energy demand there is, if it is met using pollution-free renewables? Seriously, how much longer do we need to forget that the problems associated with fossil-fuel use do not apply to renewables?

            We could be using a hundred times as much energy tomorrow as we do today – but if it all came from the sun, or the wind, it would not make a difference to global warming. There is a million times more free energy available from the sun and the wind than we could possibly squander without any real consequence.

            Everybody on the planet could take 3-hour long hot showers, heat their homes to 90F inside during the winter, and drive their electric cars at 150 mph 10 hours a day, and it would do less harm to the planet than a pack of Cub Scouts roasting marshmallows around an open fire.

          • jimbills Says:

            GB – sorry, but you essentially do not grasp the scale or nature of the problem. More is not the answer – only less. We don’t get from here to there without using a lot less energy and resource use now. If we insist on this level of economic activity, increasing at say 3‰ per annum, we’re certain to burn every bit of fossil fuel to get to the same level of energy use with just renewables.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            “GB – sorry, but you essentially do not grasp the scale or nature of the problem. More is not the answer – only less. We don’t get from here to there without using a lot less energy…. If we insist on this level of economic activity, increasing at say 3‰ per annum, we’re certain to burn every bit of fossil fuel to get to the same level of energy use with just renewables.”

            I think you are the one who doesn’t get it. You are stuck using a paradigm that was true during fossil fuel days, but which does not hold true with renewables.

            Using more renewable energy is NOT inextricably linked to more economic activity, more resource utilization, more growth, more population, and certainly not more fossil fuel use.

            What more renewable energy use IS linked to is less CO2 in the air and less AGW. Period.

            Frankly, this is not a great time to be calling for more sustainability by increasing discomfort levels. This is not a great time to be saying negative things about electric cars and the use of renewable energy. This is not a great time to be making the Good the enemy of the Perfect.

            We have a much longer window to safely improve our sustainability, our population levels, our resource depletion. What we DON’T have is much time at all to save ourselves from AGW by building and deploying enough renewable infrastructure to replace all fossil fuel burning. We need to keep our eye on the ball, and that is CO2.

        • andrewfez Says:

          If EV’s to replace CEV’s were the entire package then yeah, less intense forms of transport would have the greater impact on the climate.

          But the battery technology being developed and the economy of scale of manufacturing those batteries secondary to automotive industry demand may have other effects: imagine that moment when it’s extremely cheap to have a battery set that holds enough energy that homeowners can capture and store their own solar energy, with little need for the grid.

          And who knows, maybe such tech also could be applicable to large scale storage so that the price of that goes down a lot, and grids can run huge amounts of renewables with no technical hurdles cheaply, allowing all that wind, built and in place but not online yet, to start contributing.

          And don’t forget about the smart grid where EV’s help supply power here and there. Two functions for one product – that’s the type of design efficiency we need.

  2. jimbills – I agree generally with the gist of your comments, however, the comment
    “The big problem I have with EVs is that they do not significantly cut resource use or energy demand” is not specific enough and leads to incorrect conclusions. There has been a lot of denier noise about EVs, most of it wrong, supported by the same unscrupulous groups that deny CC, and even written by Bjorn Lomborg, a CC denialist of repute. There is no need to add to their confusing and misleading comments.

    On the other had, any technology, even bicycles can be unsustainable, because unrestrained growth is the problem. A combination of restrained growth and sustainable methods is needed to get to a sustainable world. So, for example, Bob Lutz Via Motors is promoting electric pickup trucks and SUVs.
    Not your idea of sustainability? Not exactly mine either, but the problem is not a sustainable SUV or pickup truck, its all the people who will buy them that do not need one and are just accumulating wealth and posessions.
    This might be more like it.

    Which brings us to the real problem. Massive consumption. Spurred by advertising. Paid for by corporations. Spurred by loans from banks. Paid back with compound interest. Demanding exponential growth. We are in a machine that demands it. It results in the 1% billionaires and the rapid depletion of resources. At the moment, all the countries on earth in this system consider 0 percent growth to be recession. And yet is exactly what we will have to do to survive. So the system has to change. Culturally, socially, and spiritually we will have to change from a collection of humans who egoistically follow their manipulated drives for excess consumption, to a collective intelligence that recognizes it is in the Matrix. Then somehow change it.

    • jimbills Says:

      The big difference between myself and deniers on this issue is that I say EVs are not nearly enough, and deniers say that EVs are far too much.

      EVs do save some energy and resource use over the life of the vehicle when compared to a gas powered vehicle. But they are pathetic when compared to biking, walking, and mass transport systems. The high cost of EVs adds demand to the ever-growing economy, which further increases energy and resource use. An exponentially growing economy, which is required to build an EV/PVC future, makes modest gains absolutely meaningless. That translates to many decades of intense fossil fuel and resource use. We have to do more.

      I don’t see a denier writing the above paragraph. Just because I’m against EVs as opposed to local infrastructure and mass transport doesn’t mean I’m parroting Fox News.

      • Jim,

        I agree with what you write. Our hope is that EVs are not nearly fast to counter peak oil, while we avoid also the “mad max” scenario 😉


      • petermogensen Says:

        “The big difference between myself and deniers on this issue is that I say EVs are not nearly enough, and deniers say that EVs are far too much. ”

        I have realized that you’re not a “denier”, but the way you presents your argument seems to assume that everybody else worried about the climate thinks EV is the do-all silver bullit to solve climate change.
        We don’t.

        My point just was that we don’t need 100% “true” sustainability in everything. We just need to stop the rise in CO2 levels and get control over the greenhouse effect (by maybe lowering it).

        Actually I think people using the opportunity to advocating for “true” sustainability and argue that we should all walk and bicycle and otherwise dramatically scale back our activities to levels around 100 years ago is hurting the cause seriously and getting in the way for actually tackling climate change.
        If we ever want to pursuade the public that stopping the rise in CO2 is imporant it’s a very bad idea to scare people with rethoric which to them sounds like we should all live in caves (or “hobbit homes” as some republicans put it).

        Key the eye on the important thing: To stop the rise in CO2 levels. ASAP

        • jimbills Says:

          Peter M – We can agree that we’re basically on the same ‘side’ here, but I honestly believe that we’re on a sure path to +2 degrees C without major cutbacks now. Renewables do not replace fossil fuels under any realistic scenario without decades of continued economic growth, and this growth only ensures we burn every bit of fossil fuel we can. It’s a death trap. EVs seriously hamper the cause, too, because they extend high resource use and create the dangerous misperception that we can all just continue as is with slightly different tech.

          But I’ll spell it out a bit more. I’m just saying that we do need to build renewables and tech that might support them (potentially EVs), but we’re kidding ourselves if we think that is going to be enough to avoid +2 degrees C. It won’t. We have to do more, and yes – that requires sacrifice on our part. Boo hoo for us. I’m not really worried about making people uncomfortable by saying that. It is what it is.

          • petermogensen Says:

            Nothing realistic will probably avoid +2 degrees C unless we also become good at extracting CO2 from the atmosphere.

            Any serious cut-back of CO2 emissions will have to address ALL sectors – INCLUDING transportation.

            If you think it’s easier to get people to not use a car than to give people a good EV to which you can then provide CO2-free power to whitout requiring consent for your decisions on how to do it from the user of the car … I must say I think you’re deluded.

            By moving the car fleet from fossil-fuel powered to EVs (or hydrogen) you exclude the consumer from the decission problem on how to solve the energy production best. It’s a much more politically managable way. You can even make electric power more expensive if you really want to actually limit the amount of individual powered transportation.

            On the other hand… your idea of removing emissions by transportation WITHOUT EVs (which you say “hamper the cause”), but by making “sacrifices” have absolutely no place in political reality. I see absolutely no way that can be implemented in the real world before the problem is so severe and obvious to everybody that they will accept real draconian political solutions – like banning private transportation. In reallity a “Marshall law” situation.
            And by that time it will be too late anyway.

            So. Yes… solving this requires sacrifies. But to say that EVs “hamper the cause” and that it has to be solved only by “sacrifices” instead is – IMHO hampering the cause.
            I see EVs as a tool to make it politically much simpler to generate the energy in a way compatible with no further increases in CO2 levels.

          • jimbills Says:

            Mmm. It sounds so reasonable, except when one realizes you’re saying +2 degrees C plus geo-engineering is unavoidable and you’re basically on board with that. I’m sorry, but I don’t find that position much different than Rex Tillerson’s “We’ll adapt to that”. Your grandchildren, again, WILL live in a very different world than the one we have now, and all because it’s unrealistic to say or think we should cut back.

            Look, I’ve said above and I’ll say again – I know people won’t accept what I think is reasonable. They’re going to keep on keepin’ on, and thinking EVs are the solution, and let the good times roll. They won’t accept less as long as they can have more.

            I’m not deluded on this. I know what’s going to happen, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with one lemming saying, “Hey, wait a mo’, guys. Maybe we should stop for a second and think about this.”

            I’m not excluding anything – I’m rather powerless in that regard. I’m saying we need to think bigger as a species than we currently are. I believe I’m right in this regard, and I really don’t care that the vast majority thinks everything’s good, or at least everything’s good with a few alterations, because it’s not.

            EVs do increase CO2 levels – and they will for a long time. All we’re doing is adding increased demand to the electrical sector, which will only increase coal and natural gas usage. It’s slightly better than gas-powered, but it won’t make a wink of difference in the end. We’re still giving your grandchildren an altered world when it’s all said and done.

        • jimbills Says:

          And let me explain the mechanics of politics, because I find that many people on the left are fairly clueless about how the game works. (My views are not represented by the left, which I think is just a version of moderate Republicanism from the 1970s in new clothes, and the right are some type of wasp-like creature from the Andromeda galaxy).

          A big reason why the right has been so successful the past 3-4 decades is because of their extreme factions and because their adversary (the left) has been so soft and willing to compromise. Most people, as they are uncertain about each and every issue, will instinctively head towards what they perceive as the middle ground. If you have one side presenting an extreme position, and one side already searching for the common ground, the compromise will naturally lean towards the side that is more extreme and unyielding.

          Extremes provide the goal posts for the debate. For instance, FDR’s ‘New Deal’ would never have happened in the States without the communists providing a more extreme alternative. FDR’s vaguely radical programs wouldn’t have found consensus without the discussion bars being set in advance.

          My point is this – you shouldn’t be telling the hobbit hole people to shut up. You should be telling them to speak more loudly, because the cumulative effect will be to bolster your more centrist position.

          • petermogensen Says:

            Sorry … but even in a “socialist” country like Denmark where people live in “hobbit holes” (according to the Andromeda Wasps) … you view have absolutely no place in political reality.

            The reality is that even if you are right that your extreame goal posts are the only objective solution to keep the warmning under 2 degrees, by the time you will have convinced the public in even “socialist” Denmark that they’ll have to accept your measures (like not having individual transportation besides bicyles) … it’ll be too late to avoid complete wrecking our climate.

            IMNSHO there is only one viable solution to getting this CO2-problem under control and that’s what James Hansen proposes: A gradually rising feed-n-dividend carbon-tax.

          • petermogensen Says:

            And btw…
            I don’t believe in the idea that the way to achieve a political goal is to promote a position so extreme that your goal seems “centrist”.

          • jimbills Says:

            Okay, you missed my point here.

            I’m not saying people normally adopt the extreme position, or that the extreme position is the only political choice. I’m saying the extreme sets the discussion for the middle.

            How does Hanson get a nation to accept his carbon tax? Right now, at least in the States, Hanson is viewed as the extreme end of the spectrum, and his carbon tax is a loony left-wing idea. But what if the right actually saw the real extreme position? What if they were faced with hard-line leftists who said socialism was the only way, or living in hobbit holes was the only way, or taking away everyone’s cars was the only way?

            Suddenly, Hanson wouldn’t be viewed as the extreme. He’d be viewed as an entirely reasonable middle ground.

            That is how the extremes affect politics. The right has more than their share of the extreme, and the left is entirely vacant in this regard. Guess who is winning the war?

          • MorinMoss Says:

            Please, it’s Hansen, James Edward, Jim, Professor.

            NOT Hanson – that’s a pop-rock boy band of 3 brothers from Tulsa, OK

          • jimbills Says:

            Ha ha, Morin. Okay.

    • andrewfez Says:

      Our addiction to mass consumption is a tough nut to crack. The other day my bicycle had a flat. So I took a $10 pair of pliers, and unscrewed the $0.02 nut that was keeping the wheel on the $300 bike, pulled off the $10 tire, and put a new $3 rubber tube in it and put it all back together. The reason all these things are so cheap is because of economy of scale manufacturing, where 99% of the manufacturing nutrients are pulled out of the ground, used (or not) and then end up as waste, leaving only 1% to re-enter the manufacturing process a second time.

      However, the 99% waste could be a significant business opportunity waiting to be exploited, and it may even be possible that if we stabilized our population numbers (increased population –> increased demand for available resources —> increase price for such resources –> increased incentive to pull more stuff out of the ground for both profit and to stabilize prices in the face of population growth), that we could start recycling manufacturing nutrients in a way that keeps bikes, pliers, nuts, tubes, etc. cheap enough for me to buy, and keeps the operation somewhat sustainable (or at least less destructive).

      Same thing with glasses. I can’t type junk on the internet, unless I’m wearing glasses. In order for me to have access to $300 glasses that are comfortable and practical, I need to have a large enough choice of models that at least one of those suits my needs (fits my head OK, doesn’t hurt to wear for long periods, etc.). Again, this implies a need for large scale manufacturing that only works if large scale consumption [demand] is in place.

      Same thing with beds. I was watching a history show a few years ago, and it was highlighting some aspects of medieval homes of nobles. Before there was large scale manufacturing, only nobility could afford to purchase what we interpret as a modern bed. Someone has to take time away from farming to chop down a few trees, another person has to take time away from farming to shape the bed pieces with hand tools (the tools themselves requiring someone to take time away from food acquisition to make), and someone has to take time away from farming to put everything together using fasteners; and that’s just the framing part. All these skills need time to acquire, which keeps the practitioners away from their gardens/farms. And anytime someone is willing to give up growing food to do another activity that allows them money/barter to regain that food opportunity loss, there is a credible cost involved. They have to guarantee that they make enough to eat, otherwise they die and no more beds get made.

      Well, I’m in insomnia mode, so hopefully some of this made sense, or at least some dots can be connected that my writing implies the point I’m trying to make…

    • MorinMoss Says:

      I’ve been keeping an eye on Lit Motors. In my current situation, that would suit me just fine for my day-to-day.

  3. Peace. Agreed. Just trying to make the point clear. Especially agree with your comments re exponential growth.

  4. MorinMoss Says:

    The demographics of the participants are very interesting – more seniors than under-35s and the largest group are in their late 40s – mid 50s.

    Unsurprisingly, they mostly have high incomes.

    And the avg annual driving distance for the EVs is 1/3 less. If that keeps up as adoption ramps up, surely that’s a good thing?

    The most surprising number is the 18% who replaced a van, SUV, pickup with a Leaf?? That doesn’t make sense.

  5. Sure it does. The majority of SUVs are single drivers with no passengers. Unnecessary consumption. Proves my point. Ironically, they are the most wealthy also. They do no need an SUV. They probably do not need a leaf either. If we do not recognize the nature of excess consumption, we will replace the useless consumption of ICE SUVs with excess consumption of EV SUVs. I predict it. Toyota and Tesla are waiting in the wings. Future technology will not solve resource depletion or CC in the face of exponential growth and consumption.

  6. andrewfez Says:


    We’ve rolled back our oil demand to 1998 levels (as of 2011 that is).

    I’m hoping the carbon fiber technology gets moving so that we all can have 50 to 100mpg hybrids. Carbon fiber is more expensive per unit volume than traditional material, but it doesn’t require near the huge amounts of capital investment a ‘regular’ car does with regard to retooling a factory. Plus it weighs so much less, that the hybrid motor and battery can be smaller and cheaper, offsetting the cost of the carbon fiber. Crash safety it turns out is more a function of vehicle size than of weight [carbon fbr vs. traditional].

    So now we wait for Honda and Toyota to make the first move, so that Detroit can get killed again (the former companies were already in cahoots with the largest carbon fiber manufacture in the world a few years ago).

    Efficiency is the way to go across the board…

    • MorinMoss Says:

      That’s the song Amory Lovins’ been singing both for efficiency (“negawatts”) and carbon-fiber for transport vehicles and I wish more people would listen.

      The man’s been walking his talk for 30 yrs, built a house that’s 10x more efficient that the typical US home of equal size with ’80s tech and grows bananas at 8000 ft altitude.

      • andrewfez Says:

        Yup – if all the car manufactures would listen and act at the same time, the cost of the carbon fiber tech would come down. Toyota made a $300k Lexus with their carbon fiber equipment, but if they’d listen to Lovins then they would put the coloring right in with the carbon fiber, and avoid the painting step altogether (and all the equipment and materials needed to paint the car), again making the carbon fiber more feasible.

        It’ll eventually get there; it’s just a snail’s pace relative to our desire to see significant change in a small amount of time.

  7. Andrew Take a look at the BMW i3. They call it fiber reinforced plastic. Currently, the only major EV that are awake to the need for lighter chassis materials is Tesla and BMW. The rest are using stamped steel. Lighter chassis material is worth it in a purpose made EV, because a lighter chassis means less battery needed. The math must consider how much less battery is needed in a lighter car. A more expensive chassis reduces battery cost. The other mfrs are still building ICE chassis. Also, no EV mfr has removed the external mirrors or completely enclosed the wheels, i.e. None are serious about aero. The last car of note to enclose rear wheels was the first gen insite. 60 years ago there were cars that enclosed front and rear wheels. Aero has a huge effect on EV highway range. Tesla is cd 0.24, i3 about 0.3. EV-1 was 0.19. ( also enclosed rear wheels) it’s styling over performance. GM started with awful mild hybrids just to get in the game. Many mfrs are only in it for the credits and sell conversions like the mini or focus. Some day you will see EVs with cameras instead of mirrors and fully enclosed wheels giving a cd of less than 0.2.

    • andrewfez Says:

      Thanks Chris,

      I was just posting about the EV-1’s super low drag the other day on here. That first gen Insight was amazing – no room, but it got like 70mpg….in 2001. It’s a shame they stopped making it, but it’s lack of popularity at the time shows starkly that climate change and resource depletion is just as much a cultural problem as a financial or technical one: we’d rather fight oil wars than drive ‘ugly’ efficient cars which reduce oil demand and the probability of price spikes (which drive us into recession).

      I hadn’t heard about the BMW – I’ll check it out. Yeah, redesign from scratch is how to do it. With carbon fiber, Lovins says you can design a car body with just 24 pieces which snap together. I gather this saves lots of money in assembly, but it also saves money when parts get damaged during a collision.

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