Kevin Nelson


I recently read an article in the North Dakota Living magazine that compared the energy cost of an all electric Chevy Bolt to that of a gasoline powered car. The short synopsis sounded wonderful. The Bolt’s energy cost was between 2.6 and 4.8 cents per mile, depending on the time of year, and the 30 mpg gasoline powered car cost of 7.3 cents per mile. Of course the initial cost, that is probably $10-15 thousand higher for the Bolt, wasn’t mentioned. Neither was the cost of battery disposal for the Bolt or maintenance costs for either vehicle.

These facts are only part of the story. In the USA, total vehicle miles driven per year is about 2.5 trillion miles. If all vehicles were Chevy Bolts, and using the facts from the article on energy consumption per mile, it would take 660 billion kwh hours each year. This is quite conservative as almost all vehicles are larger and heavier than the Bolt. For the last 15 years, total USA electrical usage has been quite constant at just under 4 trillion kwh. Of this 4 trillion, about 1.4 trillion is generated by natural gas, about 1.2 trillion by coal and oil, .8 trillion by nuclear, .3 trillion by hydro, .25 trillion by wind and about .05 trillion by solar. It is highly doubtful that the existing electrical generation could possibly produce enough power for the additional .66 trillion kwhs needed for an all electric vehicle fleet. The plan to eliminate coal and oil from the production, or even reduce it to eliminate CO2 emissions, makes it much worse. It is also highly doubtful whether the existing electrical distribution system could get enough power into the more densely populated areas to supply the fleet.

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Expanding the production of solar and wind energy is the current plan, but the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. We would need tremendous numbers of batteries to store energy on vehicles and in stationary locations. The largest battery plant in the world is the Tesla plant in Nevada. It would take this plant 500 years to make enough batteries to store the amount of electricity used in the USA in one day. Tremendous amounts of rare earth elements, i.e. lithium, cobalt, dysprosium and others, would be needed for these batteries and this would require huge mining operations, almost all outside America. Battery life is probably about 20 years. Disposing of these batteries, as well as solar collectors, would make disposing of of nuclear waster seem simple.

My intent is to show that this “all electric plan” has some serious drawbacks. GM just announced it would be all electrical by 2038 so the intent is there. Wind, solar, electric cars and batteries have been deemed to be good while coal and other hydrocarbons are evil. But has anything else been considered, such as making coal and oil cleaner?

It would once again appear that only the information released is that information that supports the conclusion a certain segment of the country has selected. What we need now are complete and comprehensive economic and environmental impact statements, done fairly and impartially, that address all the alternatives. If we can afford $1.9 trillion to stimulate the economy, we should be able to come up with a few million to make sure we are making a wise decision on our future energy needs. Perhaps our Congressional delegation will step forward and make such a proposal.

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