Elon Musk recognized early on there was money to be made in businesses that support environmental causes. He has gained the support of the green movement by broadcasting his vision for a future without fossil fuels, reducing global warming and traveling on battery powered cars. However most people do not think about the source of the energy to charge his batteries. He tells us solar energy can do it all and he owns the company to get the job done (Solar City is now part of Tesla motors).
At first glance Musk’s vision for the electric car seems reasonable. It has no tailpipe and no emissions. Government subsidized electric buses and trains have been increasing in recent years. However, our entire nation has been ignoring two critical questions that must be answered — and those answers will not come easily.
(1) Where does the electricity required to power electric cars going to come from, and (2) What energy sources are capable of meeting the transportation needs of a nation?
To evaluate the true potential for electric cars we must face three unresolvable facts. First, constructing batteries requires the burning of a great deal of fossil fuels and their subsequent emissions. Swedish scientist Johan Kristensson, writing in New Technology in December of 2017, determined that life cycle quantities of carbon dioxide generated ultimately by an electric car come very close to that generated in a gasoline powered automobile.
Second, it would appear a difficult task for the nation to produce sufficient non-fossil fuel energy to replace gasoline for all our cars. The Laurence Livermore Laboratory of the Department of Energy states that the current electrical generation capacity of America is 11.4 trillion kilowatt hours, and that the total energy used for transportation is 8.5 trillion kilowatt-hours. Currently solar and wind generate only .7 trillion Kilowatt hours, which is only 6% of what our cars would need if all ran on battery power from renewable resources required by the Green New Deal. We would need to construct new solar and wind farms having a total electric generating capacity of 16 trillion kilowatt hours, or 22 times the current capacity in operation. We have neither the economic resources nor the land area to come close to meeting this total.
Finally, there currently exists no way for our nation to distribute sufficient electricity to replace gasoline. Chris Lo at Power Technology.com indicates that the current value of the nation’s grid is just under $900 billion. Nearly all experts agree that the grid is in desperate need of repairs and modernization, estimated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars to replace such things as transformers now 40-50 years old. The International Business Times estimated in 2014 that power outages since 1984 have increased three fold — the largest occurring in New York in 2003. What do proponents of electric cars expect this aging grid to accomplish for them?
The consequences of government policies to promote renewable energy to replace fossil fuels and increase the numbers of electric cars on the road can be viewed by the experiences of Germany and Spain. They both undertook such programs over a decade ago resulting in nothing but dramatically increased energy costs and no substantial increase in either solar or wind power as a source of the nations energy.