Posted by: jmtoriel | March 26, 2012

Electricity is the Thing

“Electricity is the thing.  There is no whirring and grinding gears with their numerous levers to confuse.  There is not that almost terrifying uncertain throb and whirr of the powerful combustion engine.  There is no water-circulating system to get out of order- no dangerous and evil-smelling gasoline and no noise.”

-Thomas Edison

Businesses, municipalities and other jurisdictions (like First Nations communities and universities) are starting to realize the same thing Thomas Edison did over 100 years ago — electricity is indeed the thing. 

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As finitie resources used to produce fuels for transportation become more problematic and expensive, communities are striving to llessen their reliance on oil. Although batteries are more expensive than convetional internal combustion engines (ICEs), they are significantly more efficient, non-toxic, nearly maintenance free and silent. Had issues of global warming and climate change been an issue, Thomas Edison would have surely mentioned the benefit of that as well. We are particularly fortunate, in B.C., to have a grid that runs almost exclusively on a clean, renewable resource — water. However, even in jurisdictions that use dirtier forms of energy — like coal in Alberta — the efficiency of the engine requires less energy to go the same distance and costs significantly less to run and to maintain over time. In fact, it requires more energy from non-renwable fossil fuels to produce the oil that is needed to keep our conventional transportation running. The energy needed is far greater with fuel from unconventional oil sources like the tar sands and deep sea oil rigs, so electric vehicles (EVs) have an added advantage of requiring less (and cheaper) energy to run.

Here are some benefits of EVs as outlined by the U.S. Department of Energy:

  • Energy efficient. Electric motors convert 75% of the chemical energy from the batteries to power the wheels—internal combustion engines (ICEs) only convert 20% of the energy stored in gasoline.
  • Environmentally friendly. EVs emit no tailpipe pollutants, although the power plant producing the electricity may emit them. Electricity from nuclear-, hydro-, solar-, or wind-powered plants causes no air pollutants.
  • Performance benefits. Electric motors provide quiet, smooth operation and stronger acceleration and require less maintenance than ICEs.
  • Reduce energy dependence. Electricity is a domestic energy source.

Let’s focus on efficiency: EVs are very efficient at turning nearly 80% of the required energy into torque whereas ICEs waste up to 80% of the energy to friction, heat and idling (not to mention weight) overheads.

In fact, it takes more electricity to refine, store, transport and pump gasoline than what an electric car would take to drive the same distance.
It has been well documented that 4 Litres (or approx. 1 US gallon) of gasoline takes 7kWh of electricity to refine (Oil Refineries are the 2nd largest consumer of electricity in California, for instance). Add an estimated 2kWh for the balance of gasoline handling and distribution, and you have a total of8kWh for that same 4 Litres of gasoline. Now, add in the energy required for unconventional separating of bitumen from the Tar Sands by burning copious amounts of steam fired from natural gas and you are easily pushing 10kWh of energy.  At CAFE fuel economy of 21MPG (11.20 L/100km), that gallon would take the average car 21 miles.  Electric cars are typically 300Wh per mile (1.6km) or 6.3kWh for the same distance.

So, the net impact of driving EVs over gasoline powered ICEs is that there would be a NET REDUCTION of total electricity consumed by the grid
through savings of electricity required for gasoline production and distribution. 
Slap on a few PV solar panels on your roof and you’re potentially producing and storing (in your EV battery) more energy to pump back to the grid than consuming at the pump.

That is something we need to work towards.

So, next time you hear someone carrying on about how much more energy EVs would require on the grid (or that it would require more dirty coal plants, etc)… set ’em striaght!

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