You can’t carry electricity in a bucket

By Jane M. Orient, M.D.

If you ran out of gas, you used to have to hike to the nearest gas station, buy a enough gas to get the car to the station, and carry it in a can back to the car. Now, with the miracle of cellphones, you can telephone your road-side service provider, and someone will bring you some gasoline.

Unless, of course, you are driving an electric vehicle (EV).

From my dad, a building contractor, I learned Bill Orient’s Laws of Contracting. Rule No. 3: You can’t carry electricity in a bucket.

If your EV stalls because its battery is depleted – say the weather is cold, so the range is much less than you thought – you’ll have to wait for a rescue vehicle to bring a diesel generator with enough fuel. It will take some time, so let’s hope your wife is not in labor, or your son’s appendix does not burst. Or perhaps the zero-emissions authorities still allow an internal combustion engine (ICE) in ambulances and other emergency vehicles.

The EV is not exactly fuel efficient. Your ICE might get almost 30 miles to the gallon. A charging station hooked up to a 350 kw diesel generator uses 12 gallons of diesel per hour. If it takes three hours to charge your EV so you can go 200 miles, you are getting 5.6 mpg.

But President Biden has promised half a million charging stations that presumably will be connected to the grid, not a diesel generator.

Suppose you are fleeing a hurricane, along with thousands of others, in a huge traffic jam. Maybe you’ll be lucky and come upon a roadside charger that doesn’t have a long line of waiting cars.

You understand that there’s no electricity stored in the charger. Just as you can’t carry electricity in your gas can, you can’t store it either. Electricity must be used as it is generated, or else wasted. If high winds and torrential rains have taken down power lines, that charging station is useless.

And what about the grid? During a hurricane or blizzard, wind turbines and solar farms will be generating zero electricity. To save any surplus generated energy for a rainy day, it must be converted to another form of energy; for example, potential energy in pumping water up a hill, or chemical energy in a battery.

In 2017, the total energy capacity of all installed battery systems in the U.S. was less than 1,000 MWh. A nuclear generating station puts out more than that in an hour. “Renewable” energy (solar and wind) is unreliable and weather-dependent, and adequate battery back-up is impossible.

Floridians evacuating before Hurricane Ian probably own an ICE and had enough warning to fill up their tank. If the EV zealots get their way, next time will be different. And there will be a next time – there will still be hurricanes, just as there were before ICEs.

President Biden wants you to have an EV. If you are a hardworking but low-income person, who can barely manage to keep your old car running, you cannot afford to buy a $60,000 EV, even with subsidies and price controls. If somebody gave you a used model, you probably couldn’t afford to replace the battery when it reached the end of its lifetime. An average 12-year-old used EV on the market is on its third battery.

But say you do scrape up the money. You will probably have to wait for delivery. As demand grows, waits will be longer, as materials are hard to come by. Making one battery requires digging up between 200,000 and 1,500,000 pounds (or between 90 and 680 tons) of the earth’s crust. You need the lithium from processing 25,000 pounds of brine; cobalt from 30,000 pounds of ore; nickel from 5,000 pounds of ore; copper from 25,000 pounds of ore; plus graphite, aluminum and steel. Just getting to the ore requires moving vast amounts of earth.

The bottom line is that if you are not allowed to have an ICE, you are not going to have a private vehicle, or one that can go very far. If there’s a wildfire, blizzard, hurricane, or other emergency, you will just have to “shelter in place” – and the place might be under 12 feet of water.

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