Evslin: Without nuclear power, subsidizing electric cars might hurt environment

by Tom Evslin, Fractals of Change

Electricity is NOT an energy source; it’s just a way to move energy from place to place! Obviously, before electricity can move a car, the electricity must be generated somehow.

Tom Evslin

According to the US Energy Administration Agency, in 2020 40% of US electricity was produced by burning natural gas, 19% from coal, 20% from nuclear, 13% from wind and solar,  7% from hydro, and 1% from petroleum. When we plug in our electric cars, we create a new demand. In the short-term, that new demand will almost always be met by burning more natural gas since you can’t tell the sun to shine brighter or the wind to blow harder. Coal and nuke plants don’t spool up quickly and there is only so much water available behind the dam. In practice electric cars are natural gas cars except not quite as efficient because of electrical transmission losses.

“Yeah, but…” say the proponents of subsidies for electric cars, “more solar and wind is being built so eventually those cars will be running on renewable energy.” Trouble is that by the time we get to eventually, this generation of electric cars and their lithium batteries will be somewhere in the waste stream. “Yeah, but…”, say the subsidy proponents, “at least 20% of the energy for these cars is coming from renewables.” But a new electric car doesn’t create a greater supply of renewable energy. If it happens to use electrons which came from a solar panel, something else won’t be able to use those electrons and they will almost certainly be replaced by more electricity generated from natural gas.

We electric ratepayers and taxpayers subsidize not only electric cars but also the generation of electricity from solar and wind. In order for an electric car to reduce emissions, we have to subsidize enough renewable energy to power the car. That means that the cost of using electric cars to reduce emissions is much higher than even the outrageous subsidies they already receive.  Looked at another way, these cars don’t reduce emissions at all because any renewable energy they use must be replaced by non-renewable energy. It’s double counting to add the emissions saved by replacing gasoline cars to the emissions saved by generating more renewable energy if that new energy is going into the cars. Yet subsides for electric cars remain one of the most popular proposals for reducing greenhouse gasses. They have long been part of Vermont’s plans for reducing greenhouse gasses.

I have both solar panels and a plug-in hybrid. I received subsidies for both; but I’m only reducing emissions once. If my “clean” electricity goes to power my car, then I’m not reducing the overall load on the grid. If my solar-generated electricity goes into the grid, then my car is running on non-solar electricity. Neither subsidy actually influenced my decision, which may be the case with many early adopters.

Electric cars are going to happen even without subsidies. From an engineering point of view the development of electronic controls means that electric cars increasingly have capabilities that combustion engines can’t match. There will be very little fossil fuel used to generate electricity if we regain our sanity with respect to nuclear energy. If we really build back better, we’ll also have an electric grid which is safely decentralized, efficient, and hardened so that we can afford to rely on it for much of our energy needs.

Our security and the grid will be endangered if electric car adoption outstrips the energy available to power them and the ability of the grid to transport that energy. We want to prepare for more electric cars by building a better grid and adding new supply including nuclear. But we don’t want to subsidize electric cars or force their premature adoption.

The author, an author, entrepreneur, former Vermont state cabinet officer, lives in Stowe. He founded NG Advantage, a natural gas truck delivery company. This commentary is republished with permission from his blog, Fractals of Change.

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8 replies »

  1. Just think of all the coal they are going to burn to power the electric plants so we can charge our trees cars. Total bull shot

  2. I looked into the solar panels on the roof scam. I wanted more panels than I need to allow for future growth. An Ev would have required enough extra panels to power a small house. Since I didn’t have an EV and not planning to purchase one in the immediate future all. the extra ,electricity would be give free to the power company, as your only allowed to generate what you use

  3. OK–Have you SEEN the energy (petri_ needed to remove uranium ore from the massive pits, truck it to rock-crushers & “refine” that ore, then refine & pelletize it for the nuke fuel rods, all while endangering any & all who come in contact with this radioactive material? Then, after using these fuel rods to boil water & drive turbines, we have NO place to store this “waste” which has a 1/2 life of about 750,000 years, meaning it’s only HALF as dangerous in 3/4 of a MILLION years as it is NOW..Maybe Mr. Evslin will volunteer to bury/store this “waste” on HIS property? One of the biggest obstacles to “safe storage” is developing warning signs that future humans will heed and stay away from, a future “Forbidden Zone” as it were..But, other than THESE minor problem, Nukes are totally “Carbon-Free”! I won’t even mention the “accidents” that almost brought reactor meltdowns on the past 70 years, THAT’s a another story altogether..”Clean, Safe, & Reliable”! Sure..

    • Steve, obviously you are still in the distant past. Investing in the next generation of nuclear reactors could give the world an important tool for reducing carbon emissions. And at the same time provide safe and reliable electrical power, that wind, sun, water and other “pie in the sky” fantasies, cannot nor will they ever. I suggest you leave the 1970s and educate yourself to our present century. I suggest you begin by reading Gernot Wagner’s recent (2021) book. “Geoengineering: The Gamble” Polity Press 2021. Also, his feature article, in The Wall Street Journal, January 8-9, 2022. Dr. Wagner teaches at Columbia Business School (on leave from New York University).

    • Steve,
      Just four years ago Harvard professor Steven Pinker published Enlightenment Now. Praised by many, I recall the excellent chapter that he wrote on the environment. Pinker noted that there have been more deaths from the solar and wind industries (mining, transportation, installation, etc.) than the nuclear industry. In fact if my memory serves me right, there have only been some two dozen deaths from nuclear accidents and I believe almost all – if not all – came from Chernobyl. The 4th generation nuclear SMR’s are much more efficient, safe and cost effective than the prior generations. Many scientists believe that without a meaningful increase in nuclear energy, there can be no meaningful reduction in carbon emissions unless of course standards-of-living are significantly reduced and controlled (think redistribution) by powerful governments, which is what I think the socialist Left has in mind.

    • OK. And still no discussion on the fourth largest electricity generator in the world, our northern neighbor, Hydro Quebec, that already provides 30% of Vermont greenest electricity, available at half the cost of wind and solar. And they want to sell us all the power we can use.


  4. Excellent Commentary Tom. But…if we can just get all of these fools to fund the research and development to improve the technology needed to make them more profitable and affordable, we will have the fabled “Perpetual Motion Machine”.

    I sat through a presentation by VELCO about two years ago and the presenter was saying that the grid in Vermont is designed to support electrons flowing from North to South because Vermont Yankee was operating in Vernon, Vt. Now, most of the electrons are produced in the North and they (VELCO is responsible for providing power transmission and distribution…the grid) have to figure a way to get those electrons to the Southern counties. Guess who would have had to pay for that build-out if the global warming solution act hadn’t passed? Yup. You guessed it. Guess who is going to pay for it now. Yup!

    Maybe we need to get cracking and figure a way to store all of that generated energy?

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