The numbers are in, the report is out: Haters still wrong. (pdf)
In a previous post, I noted the (bogus) talking point that “electric vehicles just trade tailpipes for smokestacks.” But the math is clear. Electric drive is such an efficient way to roll that overall energy use is way down versus a gasser. And by “gasser,” I’ll include Diesels, since overall Diesel efficiency (pump-to-wheels net yield) is just ~20%, with ~14% for Otto-cycle (gasoline), versus 60-80% for electrics.
To pile on further, the grid isn’t as dirty as it used to be, and getting better every year (including this one). EVs aren’t “coal burners”, since for 2012, coal as a portion of the national power grid kept falling, going below 40%. Major fractions of the grid portfolio are natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric dams.
Installed Capacity % of Total Capacity
Coal 337.31 GW 29.17%
Natural Gas 491.82 42.48
Nuclear 107.01 9.24
Oil 41.32 3.57
Water 98.12 8.47
Wind 57.53 4.97
Biomass 15 1.30
Geothermal Steam 3.7 0.32
Solar 3.9 0.34
Waste Heat 0.69 0.06
Other 1.04 0.09
Total 1157.86 100.00
FERC industry report for Dec. 2012
There’s been a lot of talk about natural gas, since fracking has led to low prices and lots of new gas-turbine generators. And yet, the fastest growth for 2012 was in wind- again. For multiple years now, installation of wind turbines has outpaced every other additional source of electricity. That’s right, even with all the natural-gas hype, it still didn’t catch windpower’s growth rate.
Some clarification: the table above is installed (maximum or “nameplate”) capacity, not net usage, so coal isn’t right under 40%. There’s a difference between the two. Nuclear and coal are used for base load; their plants run steadier with time. Hydro and natural gas are used more for swing or peak load; they ramp up or down with demand. Wind and solar fall at points in between. Oil is the “peakiest”; because oil is valuable as a fuel for vehicles, it doesn’t make much sense to send it to stationary plants. Oil generators tend to be either backups, or old plants built before the ’70s crises, or in some other special circumstance.
However, even when you factor in intermittency versus dispatchability, a funny thing happens: wind still looks good. In many places, the wind blows strongest at night… exactly when EVs are charging! This is also when nuclear tends to be a bigger part of the mix.
Windpower is scalable: you can ramp up turbine production in a way you can’t with coal, nuclear, etc. Turbines and solar cells are built on a factory floor, which gets better (cheaper) with volume. A coal or nuclear plant or mine is an infrequent, huge project, with individual site issues. (Natural-gas turbines are in between, which is why they’re also ramping up.) With financing still a problem since 2008, the commodity factory products will receive the go-ahead even faster, versus the individual mega-projects under scrutiny.
To a lesser extent, hydro installations are moving from mega-dams, to mini- and micro-hydro. Similarly, a commodity factory product is going ahead to individual micro-sites.
Electric vehicles are cleaner, and getting cleaner still. Because scalable technologies are the future, and we are living in the future now.