February 3rd, 2021 by Jennifer Sensiba
A recent article by Liam Denning and Elaine He at Bloomberg gives readers a really cool set of infographics showing how much energy EVs could save the US economy. They answer the question of “where would all that electricity come from” and make some really good points. The biggest one is that changing to mostly EVs by 2030 would allow a much greater amount of economic activity using less energy than we do today.
To do this, they took data from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and simplified it. I can’t show the Bloomberg charts here due to copyright laws, but as a government agency, the National Laboratory’s works aren’t subject to copyright. They use a Sankey diagram to show the flows of energy from fossil fuels, solar, nuclear, hydro, and everything else from raw fuel to the final uses of the energy.
The cool thing the Bloomberg team did was to make it simpler, explain what “rejected energy” means (mostly wasted), and otherwise make it more readable. They also created a projected chart of what it would look like if the US switched away from fossil fuels for transportation and made the grid cleaner. The final result is a really cool looking overlay Sankey chart that compares today to the goal for 2030.
I’ve been using the Lawrence Livermore Sankey flow charts for years when discussing fossil fuels with people on social media for years. In fact, I started writing for CleanTechnica after my online arguing got noticed by some of the staff. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wasting time arguing on social media, it could, in rare cases, make your life better! (kidding, mostly)
The big point I make to people is that around four-fifths, or 80%, of energy from oil gets wasted when we burn it in internal combustion engines. This, of course, varies by engine type. Some newer diesels and variable compression gasoline engines achieve as much as 40% efficiency (40% of the energy burnt goes to moving the car), but most vehicles are nowhere near that efficient.
The chart’s numbers are in “quads,” a unit of energy that is roughly equal to 8 billion gallons of gasoline, 36 million tons of coal, or 5 times the energy released in the Tsar Bomba nuclear test, the most powerful ever.
When people think about electric cars, they seem to know that gas-powered vehicles use a lot of energy, and they assume that an electric car would need an equivalent amount of energy. Were that the case, there would be reason for panic because the grid may struggle provide it. What they don’t know is that EVs are far more efficient.
Instead of wasting 60-90% of the energy, an EV converts between about 75 to 90% of the energy to actually moving the car. This depends heavily on driving speeds, the relative heaviness of the driver’s right foot, and whether the vehicle can take advantage of regenerative braking. With so little waste, an EV needs far less energy than a gas car, and thus don’t need the equivalent of a gas car’s gasoline energy.
In fact, a gallon of gas contains about 33.7 kWh of potential chemical energy. Most EVs go well over 100 miles on that much battery power.
With all of this in mind, it’s not surprising that switching most vehicles to EVs would save a lot of wasted energy. Instead of throwing away 3/4 of the energy, we’d use 3/4 of it. This makes it possible to not only lower pollution and improve the climate change situation, but it also allows us to do a lot more work with less energy used.
By 2030, the economy will be bigger and the population will be bigger. There will be more cars and trucks. There will be a lot more useful energy needed. If we use more efficient technologies to generate, use, and re-use energy, we’d be able to handle all of that extra economic activity while using less energy than we presently do.
So, the next time somebody asks, “But where will all that electricity come from?,” have a bookmark for this article on hand. You’ll be able to send them the information from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and from Bloomberg. You won’t be able to convince all of the people arguing against EVs, but the ones willing to accept new information will get some good resources from you.
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