by George P. Nassos
Over the past few years, there have been many articles written why our land transportation has to move away from internal combustion engines (ICE) and towards electric vehicles (EV). Some states in the U.S., as well as some countries, have already decided that ICE automobiles will not be sold after 2035 while some have set an earlier date of 2030. Is this the best path to help reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions? Let’s take a close look at how we got here.
In 1973 there was a major gasoline shortage due to the Arab Oil Embargo. It affected the U.S. so much that oil companies set an upper limit as to how many gallons of gas you could purchase at any one filling. This policy was so stringent that cars would be lined up around a block waiting to purchase some gasoline.
As a result of this gas shortage, in 1975 EPA passed the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for all the U.S. automobile manufacturers. Beginning in 1980, the U.S. car companies had to average a rate that quickly went to 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) for all cars manufactured in the U.S. assembly plants. If the company did not meet the CAFE standard it was fined a fee of $14 for each 0.1 mpg above the standard times the number of cars produced in that year. (It has become more complicated since then, but the CAFE standards still exist.)
In order to continue manufacturing their automobiles without any major adjustments, the companies found some loopholes. Some large, inefficient automobiles were produced in Canada or Mexico which did not have to meet the CAFE standards since they were not produced in the U.S. The companies also found another opportunity by using the chassis and frame of a small pickup truck and adding an automobile body onto this chassis. Now they had an automobile made from a truck chassis. This was the new beginning of the SUV (sport utility vehicle), but they didn’t count toward meeting the CAFE standards since they weren’t produced in an automobile assembly plant – it was a truck plant. People loved this automobile with more interior space than a sedan and sales took off. Because of the increased demand for SUVs, they started producing them in the auto assembly plants and made them somewhat more energy efficient, but still not where we need to be.
Is going to all EVs within the next 10-15 years the answer? We should consider the energy generated by fossil fuel power plants that is needed to charge the batteries in an EV. Fossil fuel plants generate about 60% of the U.S. electrical energy with the remaining 40% divided between nuclear and renewable. Using fossil fuels, there are many energy losses in the process beginning with the burning of coal or gas to produce steam which in turn is converted to mechanical energy to move turbines. These turbines drive generators that produce the AC electricity which is transported hundreds of miles through power lines. At the end, this AC electricity is converted to DC in order to charge the batteries. Throughout this process there are large losses of energy, and with all these energy losses is a large quantity of carbon emissions. The question is how much energy is produced at the power plant necessary to charge an EV battery, and what are the resulting carbon emissions? This needs to be compared to the energy needed and carbon emissions emitted to drive an equal distance in an ICE automobile. I am sure this analysis has been done, but I have not seen the results.
The other big question for the EV system is how soon would the country be ready to charge all the new EVs? If everyone in my neighborhood bought an EV in the next few years, the electrical grid in my neighborhood could not handle the electricity demand. And what about driving your EV to a resort hotel. Would it have the charging system for all the EVs? These systems can all be produced but it may take more time than we expect.
I believe we should move to an EV system but not as quickly as is being recommended. The automobile manufacturers should produce more efficient automobiles in order to reduce the CO2 generation. This can easily be done. My first automobile was a 1961 model that got 40 mpg, so why can’t we do it today? It was a small four passenger car but got twice the gas mileage of my current five passenger car. If you go to Europe or Israel, you will see nothing but compact, high efficient automobiles that get the driver and passengers from point A to point B just as fast as our gas-guzzling SUVs. We have been spoiled with the SUVs because of the additional “cargo” space in the car that we might need about 1-5% of the time. In summary, let’s move more slowly in introducing electric vehicles throughout the U.S., and let’s get the auto manufacturers to produce more energy efficient internal combustion automobiles.