Economics and ecology of electric vehicles questioned

Electric vehicles are becoming more available and more popular, but there are questions about how much sense they really make as far as emissions and convenience go.

The range of EVs (fully battery powered vehicles) is improving, but recharging still takes substantially longer than refueling a fossil fueled vehicle, which is an issue if you want to travel further than the range of a battery powered vehicle.

There is also a major issue of where all the electricity will come from to charge the batteries.

On top of that, a study claims that even the supposed emissions advantage is questionable.

Stuff:  When will we finally admit that electric vehicles aren’t the solution?

Replacing fossil fuel cars with electric vehicles seems to be a logical, correct, and even necessary solution to our climate problem. But the issue is far more complex than our intuition tells us.

The banning  of further production of internal combustion engines by 2050, 2040 or as soon as 2030 is talked about, even though it could take us into dangerous uncharted territory we know almost nothing about.

A few months back, German physic professor Christoph Buchal, with his colleagues from the IFO think tank in Munich, published a study – subsequently widely challenged – in which they found that electric vehicles in Germany produced 11 to 28 per cent more carbon dioxide (CO2) than  “dirty” diesel cars.

More than diesel powered vehicles? Not surprisingly that was controversial.

“Considering Germany’s current energy mix and the amount of energy used in battery production, the CO2 emissions of battery-electric vehicles are, in the best case, slightly higher than those of a diesel engine, and are otherwise much higher,” says the think tank’s release.

Even Volkswagen, the German car maker, joined the discussion. Despite VW’s response being clearly “pro-electric”, it admitted that in current German conditions its new electric Golf emits more CO2 than the one with an internal combustion engine.

It depends a lot on how the electricity needs to be generated.

And it’s not just emissions that are a problem. Batteries need materials that need to be mined. Ecologists (like the New Zealand Green Party) tend to oppose mining.

Earlier this year, scientists from the University of Technology in Sydney published a study, in which they concluded that the rising production of electric batteries will increase the need for certain metals such as lithium, manganese or cobalt. The research “shows that as demand for these minerals skyrockets, the already significant environmental and human impacts of hardrock mining are likely to rise steeply as well”.

For example, the cobalt is found predominantly in the Democratic Republic of Congo and mining in this African country is detrimental to the whole region. Amnesty International warned about the increasing demand for these metals, but its researchers have also noticed the exploitation of child labour and violation of human rights during mining.

So there are a number of benefits and problems.

We also know that electric cars aren’t very popular among blue-collar workers. Indeed, cars with alternative propulsion are – as various statistics show – a matter of predominantly richer social groups; poor people cannot afford them despite government incentives. As a result, they subsidise the rich to buy their new, shiny Tesla.

“In effect, the wealthy owners of electric vehicles will enjoy the benefits of their clean, silent cars, while passing on many of the costs of keeping their vehicles on the road to everyone else, especially the poor,” pointed out Jonathan Lesser of the Manhattan Institute in an article for Politico.

Poorer people not only are less likely to be able too afford an EV, they are more likely to use older less efficient, more polluting petrol or diesel powered vehicles.

At least if this unprecedented change could be justified by the fight against environmental pollution, for the future of our planet, people would be willing to accept the radical transition to electric vehicles regardless of their ideology.

But we cannot even say with certainty what consequences such a 100 per cent transformation would have on our society and the environment itself; we don’t know where we will take the extra electric energy, how to solve the metal problem and what it could do to  our economy.

However, because climate change makes us all so nervous, citizens demand some kind of action, and as politicians don’t know exactly which kind, they chose the most populist one that could cost our society and the environment much more than we are willing to admit.

Maybe our Government has effectively admitted something.

Newsroom:  Govt quietly abandons electric vehicle target

There are 15,473 vehicles in the government fleet and only 78 are electric. When the coalition Government came into power in late 2017, the agreement between Labour and New Zealand First stipulated that the entire fleet would be emissions-free by mid-2025, “where practicable”.

Making the government fleet fully emissions-free would have been a daunting task, even with the “where practicable” caveat. The Government’s progress so far has been abysmal.

Out of around 15,000 vehicles, less than half of a percent of the Government’s fleet is electric. This has been the case for at least the past nine months, according to data from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Electric vehicles have trickled into the fleet at a snail’s pace. In the third quarter of the 2018/2019 financial year, there were 71 electric vehicles. The next quarter, that number rose to 73 and has now reached 78.

In the most recent quarter, in addition to adding five electric vehicles, the Government added a net of 514 non-electric vehicles.

That sounds like Kiwibuild scale underperformance.

Although it was repeated as recently as June, that goal has been quietly revised to a commitment that, after mid-2025, all new vehicles entering the fleet will be emissions-free.

And that sounds a bit like an Animal Farm style revision of the wording.


I have been looking at getting a new vehicle at some stage. Currently I’m tending towards a hybrid that uses a petrol powered engine to power low capacity batteries. I think these are a good balance now that they cost little different to petrol only vehicles. They are more efficient than petrol only cars, using about two thirds the fuel, so i think they make economic sense and they don’t have the range and recharging disadvantages of electric only vehicles.

But I am currently waiting and seeing how things evolve.

Leave a comment

10 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  12th October 2019

    Morning Griffy?

    Reply
  2. “after mid-2025, all new vehicles entering the fleet will be emissions-free.” certainly the govt is on track to be target free

    Reply
  3. Duker

     /  12th October 2019

    “And that sounds a bit like an Animal Farm style revision of the wording”
    All governments do that , remember the Nats tax cuts they legislated for before Xmas in 2008 which were repealed 5 months later in 2009, or the absolute promise to remove the bodies from Pike River made about 9 months after the explosions , became one ‘if possible’

    Reply
  4. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  12th October 2019

    IJER editorial: The future of the internal combustion engine

    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1468087419877990

    Reply
  5. NOEL

     /  13th October 2019

    I wish they could get a decent standard car battery designed.
    My old XR6 original Antinim battery lasted 15 years but was superseded, for the environment. by Centinum battery with a supplier guarantee of 3 years.
    The old batteries slowly died giving you an early indication a change was necessary.
    The replacement environmentally friendly crap just dies without warning not long after the guarantee expires.

    Reply

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