Do Electric Cars Really Reduce Dependence on Fossil Fuels?

At the Obama administration’s bidding, the Department of Energy recently gave 43 billion taxpayer dollars to fund research into better electric car batteries (most notably for the Chevy Volt). The government-subsidized Volt had been the rightful butt of many jokes in 2011 when faulty battery technology caused many models to catch on fire. (This was a case of a bad idea literally going up in flames. But hey, if we run out of fossil fuels, we can always burn Chevy Volts, right?) As has been the case since the beginning of time, the government doesn’t have to quit when their social crusades fail to return the promised results. They just keep throwing money at them hoping for a different outcome. (Insanity much?)

Environmentalists love the idea of electric cars, which they think are somehow going to reduce our “carbon footprint.” The real question is, “Can electric cars actually lessen our dependence on fossil fuels?”

What people don’t seem to understand is that we must generate electricity from some other power source. We haven’t learned to bottle lightning yet, I don’t think. This means that the electricity used in an electric car must be generated by a power plant of some kind. Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) were used to generate 71% of electricity in the United States in 2008. In that same year, only 8% of electricity in the U.S. was generated through renewable sources (hydro, solar, wind, etc.) with most of the rest being produced by nuclear power plants (environmentalists just love those). The average thermal efficiency of a fossil-fuel power plant is 33%. This means that only a third of the potential energy stored in fossil fuels goes to actually moving turbines. The efficiency of most internal combustion engines is pretty poor—it averages 17–21% "power on the road" if you can trust government research. The same government statistics gush over the electric car’s 59–62% efficiency.  But wait just a second. 92% of the energy used by that electric car will be produced by fossil fuel, or nuclear, power plants (both on the environmentalists’ naughty list). Do the math:

So, let’s say 1 gallon of gas has the potential energy of 1 widget of work. Burn that 1 gallon at a fossil fuel plant and you produce enough electricity to do 1/3 widget of work. Use that electricity in an electric car and it is able to use, at best, 62% (according to enthusiastic advocates of the electric car, mind you) of that 1/3. That means 21% efficiency on its best day. This means that gallon for gallon, electric cars are not more fuel-efficient to the extent that power plants are still burning fossil fuels to power them. You don’t start to see a lessening of dependence on fossil fuels until you can transition power plants away from fossil fuels. In fact, since only 8% of electric power was being produced through renewable sources in 2008, the actual advantage to having electric cars right now is basically negligible as it relates to our environmental footprint, especially considering that those toxic batteries are not exactly made of daisy chains and patchouli.

But notice, I’ve been talking about fully electric cars this whole time. That snooty treehugger in his Toyota Pious is not driving a fully electric car. He is driving a hybrid. That means he is using fossil fuels at the power plant and in his car. Since hybrid cars are only about twice as fuel-efficient as conventionally powered ones of the same size, this sophomoric environmental “scientist” is actually not reducing fossil fuel usage at all. In fact, his hybrid engine is actually less fossil fuel efficient (in the long haul) than a conventional one because of our current dependence on fossil fuel power plants. Snap! If environmentalists really cared about the environment, they would stop driving hybrid cars for now, and buy the most efficient conventionally powered cars they could find while they search for more practical ways to create “clean” electricity. For now, they aren't actually doing any good. Ironic, isn’t it? It’s nothing more than the liberal way: pretend to see the big picture when all you really care about is your self-image. After all, it’s so much easier to look like a good guy than it is to actually be one.


  • http://www.facebook.com/crzydancer Richard Holmes

    The stupidity of these green minded pukes is astonishing. They shout one thing and do the exact opposite. Nothing that is done by them is worth the pile of hog dung they crawled out from under.

  • TabbyB

    Gee, someone else making the same argument I've been making all these years. It's not rocket science after all. First Law of Thermodynamics, in a CLOSED system, energy can neither be created or destroyed; only changed from one form to another. i.e. from chemical energy to thermal energy to mechanical energy to electrical energy in an electrical power plant using fossil fuels.

    And these kooks really do believe batteries grow on trees and don't have to be manufactured.

    And then this article doesn't even take into consideration the energy lost in transmission...hey, those wires overhead guys???they have RESISTANCE. P=R^2/E, that is Power (P in watts) is equal to the quotient of the Resistance (R measured in ohms) squared divided by the voltage (E measured in volts). A kilowatt is 1000 watts. This is the power lost to resistance in the form of heat. Every process along the way produces heat (lost energy). Any electrician or electronics technician knows this, has to know this.

    • Roger Samson

      I have been arguing for years to bring the lines down and run them through shielded, waterproof trenches. Prevents damage from wind storms, reduces the "supposed" health hazards of EMP as well as the real ones of a downed line. It also would reduce the susceptibility of older transformers to massive solar flares.

      The only reason they strung them up by telegraph (original name) poles in the old days was they did not have wheeled trenching machines

      • Shawn_N_StL

        Totally agree. Problem is the expense and the government red tape to see it through. Here is a positive way to get our government involved in securing a better future. Would create a lot of jobs, too!

  • dean29685

    Only a brain dead liberal would believe that an electric car does anything except make the few who can afford to waste the money on a tin coffin status symbol feel good about their other excesses.

  • http://www.facebook.com/karaoke60 Dennis M. Young

    It would be a good thing in general if all envirowackos, during their search for clean energy, would lick their finger and put it into a 220 volt outlet...while stanging knee deep in water.

  • Bill L Conner

    With all the fossil fuel you burn to make ethanol plus all the fossil fuel you burn to produce electricity???? I do not see it !!!!!

  • Floyd

    Burn baby burn.

  • strayne

    ..... and, you have not even begun to consider the additional mining required to obtain the materials for the batteries (or the disposal thereof) or the lightweight materials required to lessen the weight of the vehicle so that "electric" is actually "efficient".
    This country was full of electric cars and trucks around the turn of the century (early 1900s) ..... want to know why they are not still around????? If they were so good, they would have been working on making the batteries more efficient, even back then.

  • Chester Payne

    One Volt self ignites, three WEEKS after the original collision that caused the damage, and inside a government owned storage garage. There have been a couple of others involved in fires they did NOT cause. If the rest of your reporting matches that little bit, hardly worth the time to read it, which I have only skipped through as of yet. You keep saying fossil fuels are the only thing powering the Volt, and all the other total electric cars, yet many of the areas where they are used the most use nuclear power plants as their main source of power, with natural gas making a good part of the peaking power. In areas around St. Louis, MO, that get their power from Union Electric in one of its various disguises, most of the power comes from nuclear or water. Yes, Union Electric has a major hydroelectric power plant in the north central Ozarks that supplies a good part of the power for the St. Louis area.

  • Debra

    If you have solar on your house and an adapter, electric vehicles are a smart, money saving, environmentally smart option. Many solar companies in California charge less per month for electricity then people pay for their bill and if your car is a gas guzzler, paying monthly for solar panels saves a lot of money. Although developing water powered cars would be the best solution.

  • dbur

    Factor in the environmental damage from the production of the exotic materials needed to provide the batteries and motors as well. Not to mention many of these substances are provided by nations not particularly economically friendly to us. They are also not that interested in producing the materials with low impact to their environment or related emissions either.

    As far as power here in the NW we get most from hydroelectric so it makes more sense to go electric here, especially if you charge at night. (Until the envirowacko liberals make us tear down all the dams)

  • satelliter

    I use ONLY ethanol free gas. It give me about 20 to 25% increase in MPG and better performance. I pay a dime more per gallon but burn about 25% less fuel per mile, so it is actually cheaper than ethanol mix and my engine is much cleaner inside which means better performance and less maintenance

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrewlarnott Andrew Arnott

    Does the author even know how hybrid cars work? Sorry, but you're argument is completely off. Hybrids *don't* use fossil fuels from the power plants dummy. They generate their own electricity from the fossil fuels they burn themselves. So in fact when a Prius gets 50 MPG, that's really truly twice as efficient as most all-gas cars.

  • siquijorisland

    geothermal, Hydro and Nuclear energy sources of the future almost no co2 footprint in operation. The real green energy.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/FW2SMLTMLG5P3ZGETHVMPYEI4A donaldo

    Thats how its done in communist countries.Government runs businesses.

  • doug63

    where the hell do they think the power comes to charge thier volts? The FREE plug in your house? when the power grid goes down the volts will go nowhere.

  • sillyboy

    People (companies) have been trying to make an electric car since the early 1900's. After a 100 years, if it was doable, don't you think that it would have been done by now??? The USA, with the prodding of JFK, put a man on the moon in 20 years...Duuhhh!

    • Roger Samson

      Make that "the USA, with the prodding of JFK, put a man on the moon in less than 10 years"
      JFK 'We Wil Go to the Moon" Speech ~ 09 Dec 1962
      Neil Armstrong first steps on the Moon ~ 21 Jul 1969

  • Suzi

    And of course, they never factor in the fossil fuel expense of those ridiculously toxic batteries, for which "rare earth minerals" are sourced from China. Gotta get it over here somehow, so let's not forget that means a barge that doesn't burn salt water...
    Let's not get started on ethanol!

  • cic100

    This is a very old and incorrect position. Already invalidated by people who actually know how to do math.

    Write something worthwhile next time.

  • Warbler

    Hybrid cars don't use power from the power plant. It IS itself a power plant. That's how they work. And mine gets 42 miles per gallon average. I love it. I'm not a leftist, and my car isn't either :0) Though she does support same sex marria.................wait, maybe she AHHHHH!!