Thursday, November 3, 2011

100 Million Electric Vehicles

If in the course of daily life, you use a yellow pages phone book, a manual typewriter or a rotary phone, you might find this vision of 100 million electric cars, a little farfetched.

For the rest of us, the question is not if, it’s how soon the electrification of the car will happen. And one of the big questions after how soon, is how do we make all that electricity to power a large percentage of our domestic fleet of 220 million vehicles?

The answer is surprisingly simple. To begin with we need to understand that 100 million electric cars will require 1/3rd of the gross energy of 100 million gasoline cars. Energy is expensive and is needed to create both electricity and to refine gasoline. The cost of this energy is contained within the retail price of both. The electric car is three times as efficient as the gas car converting that energy into road miles thus will use 1/3 the total amount of energy. This represents a huge energy savings as well as energy independence for our country.

Here are four basic reasons why we will have more than enough electricity without building one new utility power plant to drive 100 million electric cars.

1. An energy revolution is happening. The phenomena is that approximately 25% of electric car drivers are choosing, for the first time in history, to generate their own electricity for their cars via home solar PV or use renewable energy sources via a choice from their electricity supplier. Who knows if that percentage will go lower or higher as the electric vehicles moves beyond the early adopters? Most cars have a garage or a carport to call home and an increasing percentage of drivers will want to “own or lease their fuel station” on top of these structures at a fixed cost of less $0.40 a gallon of gas equivalent forever. 25% or greater of the 100 million cars will be powered by small scale home grown electricity and renewable energy.

2. Refineries are one of the largest electricity users in the country. The refining process to turn crude oil into gasoline uses approximately $0.25 in energy cost and 8 kwhs of total energy for every $3.75 a gallon of gasoline produced. 3 kwh of that energy is electricity the rest is generally natural gas. 3 Kwh of electricity will drive an electric car 12 miles. If you add the natural gas (the other 5kw of energy) to generate additional electricity this number grows even higher to 5 kwh or 22 miles in an electric car. 22 miles in an electric car is 100% of the current fleet average of 22 miles per gallon for gasoline cars, and remember this is just the energy used in the refining process! This is 100% or the total electricity required for 100 million electric cars.

3. Per the 2010 US Census, There are 112,611,029 households in the USA. The average household energy use is 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. Appliances, lighting, LED TV’s, Computers, DVRs, HVAC, and other components are all getting substantially more energy efficient each year. The average home size, growing the past 30 years, is now stabilizing and in some parts of the country homes are getting smaller. Efficiency gains of 20% in households are easily achieved with very low cost items such as insulation or LED light bulbs or new appliances when needed. Couple this with simple behavior modifications such as turning off the TV or the lights when you’re not in the room and a 20% energy savings in each household is a no brainer. This will conserve 2150kws per household. This is enough electricity to power 100 million electric cars 8,000 miles a year. If you add similar efficiency savings in places of work, schools, shopping and manufacture, Enough electricity can be conserved to power 100 million electric cars 12,0000 miles per year. This is 100% or the total electricity required for 100 million electric cars.

4. The electricity grid. Telegraph to telephone, analog to digital, digital to wireless, wireless to connected gps and data wireless. Using this comparison of voice communication, our electricity grid would fall somewhere between telegraph and telephone. It’s 100 year old technology that cannot store energy on the grid. Because of this we generate base loads of energy at 80% of consumption, and then use peaker plants intermittently to provide extra energy when needed on high load times or when a base plant is off the grid for servicing. Unfortunately when loads are extremely low such as at night, much of this base load cannot be used or stored and is run to ground as a waste product. In energy markets, between midnight and 5am electricity trades at a price of zero. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the base load electricity run to ground at night coupled with the capacity to use the existing power plant infrastructure more effectively could power 84% of our existing fleet of 220 million vehicles without one new power plant needed. How can this be? A large majority of electric car owners will choose to charge at night with this previously wasted energy, responding to when the prices are the lowest and when it is the most convenient for them to charge, while they sleep. Enough electricity is wasted due to lack of storage and unbalanced use of existing power plants to power well over 100 million electric cars 12,0000 miles per year. This is 100% or the total electricity required for 100 million electric cars.

In Summary,

I used 100 million electric cars as a number that represents about 40% of our US fleet. The electric car will not work for everyone in the near future and we need to be very realistic about that. Based on my experience driving an electric car the past two years and 34,000 miles, research conducted by universities and auto manufactures, and the price trend lines of any emerging technology, I have no doubt that the majority of urbanites, suburbanites and those in a two or more car family will find the electric car perfectly suited for their lifestyle with zero compromise and value added. In rural America, single car households, and those that drive long distances for work, the electric car is not the answer, at least not yet.

Shifting to 100 million electric cars will not be easy and will be one of the greatest challenges that we undertake as a nation. Significant challenges and great opportunities exist beyond just the supply of electricity covered in this writing. Scale and cost, charging infrastructure, availabilities of commodities such as lithium rare metals used in some motors are just a few examples of the challenges. Huge benefits to society such as cleaner air, lower health care cost, independence from imported oil, and lower cost of energy to drive for consumers also are part of the equation.

In the great debate between using gasoline or electricity as power sources for our cars, one issue is crystal clear, we already have more than enough electricity domestically produced to drive 100 million electric cars in a manor that is cleaner, cheaper with no dependency on foreign nations. Driving 100 million electric cars will require one third the energy and cost compared to drivng a gasoline car.

And my favorite argument of all... you will never be able to drive a gasoline car powered by sunshine.



Mini-E #183, 34,000 sunshine powered miles.


  1. Peder,
    Another great column :-) I'm curious where you're getting the 25% figure in terms of EV owners who have solar.

  2. More fun with numbers :)

    As a San Diego County Planning Commissioner, I am proud to share this with you. The County of San Diego is on pace in 2011 to issue 1,336 building permits for solar PV.

    San Diego County is approximatly 3.1 million people, however 2 million live in the 18 incorporated cities within the county. 1.1 million live in the unincorporated areas and that is the 1336 number that is represented in the county numbers.

    It can be assumed via the population in both incorporated and unincorporated areas that San Diego County will issue around 3000 solar PV permets in 2011 including all 18 cities and the County.

    The most recent numberthat I have heard from CCSE is that approximatly 1800 electric vehicles have been registered in San Diego County. This would be better than 10% of the total for the nation.

    So 3000 solar pv installs in one year and 1800 EV's.

    My guess is that at least 40% of the ev drivers are part of the same 3000 solar pv installs in 2011.

    Go San Diego!


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