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Cars Why EVs Are Awesome

Published on January 10th, 2012 | by Charis Michelsen


Why Electric Cars Are Awesome

January 10th, 2012 by  


Why EVs Are AwesomeMost of you reading this are already inclined toward green-type technology, whether that’s clean power generation, electric transportation, or more efficient ways to do things. Today, I’m going to give you one more reason to stop supporting – or at least vocally dislike – big gas and big oil.

Yes, We’ve All Heard About This

There are a number of people who will happily speak at length about dependence on foreign oil and how it leads to American troops being sent over to oil-rich hotspots to make sure we can still get affordable gas at the pump. There was a pun a while back about how Operation: Iraqi Freedom should have been called Operation: Iraqi Liberation (or O.I.L.), for example. I’m not really one of those people, but I listen when they talk.

Oil is not cheap; from the cost of importing oil to the cost of filling up your car, and everything in between, that’s been covered in depth. How do we reduce that cost? Not using oil would be one way, I would think.

Of Course I Will Now Bring Up the Electric Car

If you’ve read my pieces here or on Gas2, you know that I’m a big fan of the electric car. (If you haven’t, well, I like electric vehicles.) Whatever their limitations in range or top speed, or the inconvenience of having to wait several hours to recharge the batteries, the massive advantage of an electric vehicle is that it does not use oil.

However, we’re hearing a lot about how the Chevy Volt caught fire three weeks after crash tests (note how many times a year gasoline-powered cars catch fired — in next section). There’s been a massive amount of media attention given to this. Please remember, the media is not impartial, okay, the big news networks are not impartial, everything is bought and paid for; and while this also means that you should take what I’m telling you with a grain of salt, please keep in mind, also, that I’m not being paid by an industry that’s sending our citizens to fight and die for cheap gasoline. But I’m talking about the negative attention given to the Volt and the Leaf here, and how that influences your perception.

What, Exactly, Defines Failure?

Both USA Today and Yahoo! Finance have been calling the Volt and the Leaf flops and failures, although they’ve been selling fairly well. This seems to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy — the more we hear about how the Volt and the Leaf are doing poorly, the less we want to buy one, and the fewer end up on the road. Only 17,000 of both vehicles combined were sold, said USA Today.

But let me tell you something else – how often do you see a Prius rolling down the street? I see two or three parked near where I live all the time. They seem to be pretty successful. But they sold less than 6,000 their first year. According to the numbers quoted above, that would have been indicative of market failure.

That’s not even the most frustrating part of the whole mess. Gasoline-powered cars catch fire nearly 200,000 times a year! Two. Hundred. Thousand. We’re not talking about crash tests. We’re not talking about in a laboratory, under safe and controlled conditions. This is on the road, in your neighborhood or somewhere very like it. Gasoline is flammable. It catches fire. A car running on a flammable substance may catch fire in a crash. This is not new, this is not news, this is accepted as a fact of life.

So why is it suddenly terrifying and horrible that an EV battery might potentially burst into flames under conditions of massive stress? (And it wasn’t even during the crash itself; it was afterwards.) I’ll tell you why – because the mass media is telling you that it’s horrifying, and the mass media is funded by big oil.

Electric Cars Aren’t Perfect Yet, Either

I’m not saying that EVs are perfect, or that they’re a super easy solution. They’re expensive. They take time to charge. They’ve got limited range. But they allow for far less dependence on foreign products (particularly considering how recycling technology to reclaim rare earth metals is improving), and they’re better for public health and the environment. Even without the foreign policy issues, EVs have the potential to be really clean transportation.

It’s not just a matter of not spewing out carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, fine dirty particles that damage the cardiovascular system, although that’s the first and most obvious way that EVs are clean. It’s also not production or recycling, because, to be honest, EVs aren’t significantly cleaner to produce or recycle than traditional cars (batteries, in particular, are kind of hard to dispose of). But the energy that powers an EV has the potential to be green, too – you don’t have to charge your EV with electricity from coal or a nuclear power plant; you can run it with energy from a wind turbine, a solar power generator, or geothermal energy. The EV doesn’t care. It just needs electricity, and that can be cleanly generated.

Any questions, comments, opinions? Let us know in the comments, below.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.

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  • Rlymg

    The whole argument by petroleum advocates (and even some electric car proponents) that electric cars are similar to gas cars’ pollution levels because half of the electricity produced in US comes from burning coal is nonsense for several reasons. First, this argument focuses on the pollution created in the production of the fuel for powering the vehicle (ie rather than pollution created by the vehicles) yet ignores the critical facts that: (1) it takes a significant amount (6 kw) of electricity to produce (refine) gas from crude oil and (2) the drilling, transporting and storing of crude oil needed for making gas generates a massive amount of pollution including massive oil spills like in the Gulf and Alaska (valdez) plus the thousand of

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  • Anonymous

    Or, you could power them with thorium LFTRs for 1.5-2 cents per mile, using the thorium that is now either buried, dumped into tailings at rare earth mines, or spewed in the air as a result of burning coal. There’s 7x as much energy in the thorium in a ton of coal than there is in burning the coal itself! The only downside to thorium is that it’s extremely hard to make bomb-grade fissile material with it, which is why the US didn’t go with that tech in the 50s and 60s.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, and if we could capture a few more unicorns we could run cars on unicorn farts.

      There’s no way that power from a LFTR could be produced for under $0.10/kWh. Try something more like 15 cents – lots of construction costs and lots of financing costs.

      At a dime per kWh you’re looking at 3.5 cents per mile.

      The real winning supply here is wind. It’s cheap as heck at night when most would want to charge up.

      • Anonymous

        India and China will be doing LFTRs in large scale (multi-gigawatts) at no more than 2-3 cents US per kwh within the next 20 years, while US makers are still trying to get funding to get their designs certified. The costs you speak of are based on regulations and engineering related to high-pressure uranium fission, which requires expensive safety and high-pressure engineering that molten salt high-temp fission do _not_ require. Plus, we are literally throwing away the fuel, and people would happily pay to deliver it to thorium fission plants until there’s enough of them to make thorium reclamation a profit center for them.

        Watch this and get educated: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWUeBSoEnRk

        • Anonymous

          China seems to be interested in building a LFTR. Let’s check in with China about a decade from now to see if they solved all the problems and managed to make one work.

          As for affordable – you can’t build big stuff quickly and cheaply. China might finance their reactors out of pocket (and ignore loss of return on capital) but that isn’t going to happen outside of a command economy.

          Suggest you don’t view UToob as a credible source. Spend some time reading papers on the cost of reactor construction.

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  • Tom


    I have been following the paths of renewable energy posts such as Clean Technica for now over two years since “running away” from Zimbabwe to Wales three and a half years ago.

    I must say right from the start that I am a firm believer in community cooperative ownership of energy production either as “farm installations” or individual home owned installations of solar panels and/or wind, especially small scale vertical turbines.

    However there is another area of potential for energy production, where it there seems to me very little notice is taken – bio-digestion. Just think of all the “hot air” trapped in human dumped waste, especially the considerable amount released out of animal orifices, which could be converted into fuel to drive the generators to supply the electricity you need to charge your batteries.

    Community owned bio-digesters situated at current sewerage work sites are surely a strategy for consideration in the immediate future?

  • Al

    I’ve had my Volt for almost 4 months, and I love it! By the stats, I’m 95% electric driving. I’ve had a stretch of over 1000km without using ANY gas, and usually only use a bit of gas after using all my charge on weekends. Almost all of my daily commute is purely on electric. And it’s a blast to drive – great pick-up, and top speed is 100 mph – not that I’ll try to get there anytime soon.

    It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m sitting in bumper traffic or moving along swiftly, I still tend to use about the same amount of power to get to work…about 18 cents worth if I charge at night. One way trip is 18km. Ignoring the cost of the car, cost to operate might be similar to when I’m riding my bike to work;) And there is NO range anxiety, just going onto gas anxiety!

    Never thought I’d by a Chevy (my last car was a Mini Cooper) but this thing is a joy to drive, handles really well, is loaded with high tech stuff, and feels like a luxury car. My wife’s biggest complaint (other than me being obsessed with it) is that it has a gold Chevy logo on it;)

  • Paul Scott

    Full disclosure, I sell the Nissan LEAF. As a matter of fact, I’ve sold more than anyone in the country. This car is simply amazing! I drove a Toyota RAV4 EV for 8.5 years and 91,000 miles before selling it after getting my own LEAF. That whole time, the car ran perfectly, never needing any service other than a couple of new shocks at 60K miles. When I sold it, it was still running the same as the day I bought it.

    I installed a small solar PV system just prior to buying the EV, so for the past 9 years, I’ve powered my house and car on sunlight. My electricity bill averages about $100 per year for both the house and car. I haven’t been to a gas station since 2002, nor have I given the oil companies, and by extension the Saudis, one dime of my money.

    Electric vehicles will definitely take over for most of our driving, they are exceptionally efficient and have exciting driving characteristics, especially the acceleration, that will astound those who grew up listening to the oil companies’ propaganda about EVs.

    Speaking of which, Charis mentioned some of these negative articles on EVs and I’ve been following all of them pretty closely. We see some of the very same terminology from article to article, so it’s clear there is a concerted effort by some entity, oil is the likely culprit, to delay or slow down the adoption of this technology. We need to fight this hard. The options for alternatives to oil are few and far between, and with peak oil coming up fast, we need to get as many plug-in cars on the road as quickly as we can.

    • Thanks! Great story 😀

      Yeah, I’m sure the oil industry is doing everything it can, media-wise and otherwise, to stop the proliferation of these beauties.

  • Kearse1

    who cares if there was a fire or not this is such a rarity and the probability is less than a petrol vehicle by thousands. How many battery operated forklifts catch fire? As for spending one gallon on gas for going to a fuel station it is more like 50 -60 gallons in my neck of the woods as the nearest station is 12 miles away (one way still have to get home)

  • muchos huevos

    Electric, Air vehicles, bring them over, anything that would run without so much need for gasoline will be welcomed here, and the rest of the world.
    Taht was world economies will start to go up, as the money will be used for other than oil and gasoline.

  • Note to commenters below: this post has been updated in several places to clarify the issues pointed out below.

  • Eomukaga

    This is Mr Chris in Kenya, All I want it so sell that Car in Kenya, I know My guys will buy it, for it supports Green Energy Technology, Send me an email

  • Jmtoriel

    Yes! Don’t forget mitigating climate change. The growth of the Alberta tar sands through the bitumen separation process produces copious amounts of energy, water and waste. Then it needs to be transported to a gas station near you. In places like BC, Quebec and Manitoba, Canada the grid itself is largely renewable. EV drivers will be advocates for cleaner, decentralized grids that will support local economies and innovation in cleantech through PV solar and small wind on homes and buildings. With smarter grids, utilities will soon be able to access battery storage from EVs. Germany has seen the benefits and is reaping the rewards, cleaner, more efficient vehicles are a perfect match to a smarter and cleaner grid. Bring it!

  • Mark

    “However, we’re hearing a lot about how the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf caught fire during crash tests.”

    To my knowledge, the Nissan Leaf has never caught fire during a crash test or at a later date due to a crash test. If you have other information could you link that?

    • Anonymous

      Also, the Volt didn’t catch fire *during* crash tests, but only three weeks after the test.

      • Oceangenesis

        Seriously, stating that both the Volt and Leaf have caught fire is only adding fuel to the misinformation fire of the Jalopnik’s out there… I know of no Leaf fires, please correct the article ASAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Anonymous

        After the battery cooling liquid dried over a three week period and created a short.

        Having been in a wreck in which one of the gas tanks ruptured and the spilt fuel caught on fire I’ll take the three week delay, thank you.

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