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Cato Institute "energy expert" Jerry Taylor took on electric vehicles yesterday trying to prove that fuel costs for vehicles with electric engines is greater than fuel costs for gasoline engines.  In the end, however, all Taylor proved was that there's not much "think" in this "tank"... more after the fold...

Taylor's piece criticizes a US News and World Reports article regarding plug-in electric vehicles.  He attempts to debunk a fact contained in that article which the author obtained from a plug-in vehicle advocacy group:

In an article posted the other day at U.S. News & World Report, Marianne Lavelle reports on the state of affairs in the renewable energy industry. While the story she tells is a good one, she makes two stunning errors that lead me to question every other figure reported in the article.


The plug-in advocacy group CalCars estimates that with today’s electricity prices, drivers would be paying the equivalent of 75 cents per gallon [were they to run their cars on electricity rather than gasoline].

Again, really? Electricity prices last week averaged 9.57 cents per kilowatt hour. Given that there are 3,400 BTUs in a kilowatt hour of electricity and about 124,000 BTUs in a gallon of gasoline, simple math dictates that it would cost almost $3.50 to buy enough electricity to get the same amount of energy we get from a gallon of gasoline.

Renewable Energy BS at U.S. News & World Report
Jerry Taylor, Senior Fellow, The Cato Institute

Taylor's "simple math" is okay, but it's a classic case of garbage in, garbage out.  The relevant metric is not the cost per unit of energy provided by electricity as opposed to gasoline, which is what Jerry Taylor calculated.  The relevant metric is the one that CalCars provided-- that is, the cost per an amount of electricity that it takes to move an electric car down the road the same distance as a gallon of gas would in a car with a gasoline engine.

The fact that Taylor totally ignored is that electric engines are much much more energy efficient than gasoline engines-- electric engines are capable of performing something like three times more mechanical work per unit of energy consumed than a gasoline engine.  A gasoline engine can only turn about 30% of the total energy contained in the fuel into mechanical work.  The rest of the energy in the fuel cannot be harnessed by the engine to move the car.  Electric engines are much more energy efficient, and are able to turn something more like 90% of the energy in the electricity into mechanical work.  

Think of the heat and noise that a gasoline engine produces as compared to an electric engine... all that extra heat and so forth produced by the gasoline engine is generated by the energy content of the fuel, but it does not move the car down the road.

Toss in some of the other differences between gasoline and electric engines-- such as the fact that electric engines don't consume energy idling while the car is at rest like gasoline engines do-- and it's easy to see how an electric car might cost around "75 cents per 'gallon'"-- exactly as CalCars claims, and not the equivalent of $3.50 per gallon, as Taylor claims.

So Taylor's "simple math" just doesn't cut it.

But Taylor, leaking oil and running on empty, tries to drive this lemon to the finish line by concluding his piece with a triumphant lecture to the reader:

Reporters have got to stop taking figures at face value from policy activists with political axes to grind. And editors have got to start asking reporters to independently back their numbers up. Until that happens, don’t bother with the print media. The "facts" bandied about therein are a crap shoot. Some are correct, some are not, but you never know which.

Oops... Maybe people ought to stop taking figures at face value from think tanks with political axes to grind.

Originally posted to skymutt on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 01:09 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This is not the first time... (26+ / 0-)

    ...that I've found a Cato expert give analysis that I felt was not just wrong, but just ridiculous.  See Exxon Mobil profits: Cato Institute ridiculous "analysis"  for another example of the kind of work that this esteemed think tank is producing.

    •  I tried to post a comment or email the author (16+ / 0-)

      but the CATO institute is intelligent in one way (and one way only), they don't allow their silly 'analyses" to be challenged by reality. What I tried to send:

      I am a physicist, but it doesn't take my scientific background to know that your "analysis" is so very faulty. Any electrician would tell you the same.

      Turning heat into mechanical energy is vastly inefficient, and subject to the carnot limit (look it up), a basic thermodynamic reality. Turning electrical energy into mechanical energy has no such limit, and electric motors have efficiencies in the 90% range as opposed to the 25-30% or so from heat engines.

      Please limit your comments to subjects that you  are actually qualified to write about. What would that be, I wonder?

      Come see TV from the reality-based community at

      by MarkInSanFran on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 01:56:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Totally dumb question. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sxwarren, AndrewOG, skymutt

        Isn't the electricity that I would charge a battery with produced by heat energy?

        Like if I trace my electric lines back to the power plant wouldn't I find a steam boiler turning a turbine to make the electricity?

      •  as for your question (5+ / 0-)

        What would that be, I wonder?

        You probably don't really want to know.

        Think tanks used to hire experts in a wide variety of disciplines. . . until the right-wing "think tanks" realized that the paying customers wanted their opinions supported, no matter how little factual support existed for them, so the fewer real experts on staff, the better.

        I presume they're all PR hacks at this point, with a few whores / outside contractors with PhDs (apologies to any sex workers reading this) willing to sign off on any garbage they get in exchange for their consultant fees.

        Personally, I believe that "stink tanks" are a more accurate descriptive term.

        Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

        by alizard on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:07:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I found out what he's expert at: (8+ / 0-)

          Board games:

          Jerry Taylor (born 1963 or 1964) is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute where he researches environmental policy. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Iowa.

          He is also a board game designer who has released two wargames, Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex. His current wargame project is Wars of the Roses.

          Jeaz, not to be elitist or anything, but at least I have a B.S. degree... maybe I too can get a job as an expert at the Cato Institute and lecture on a few of the laundry list of topics on which Mr. Taylor is an expert, maybe lighten his load a bit :-)

          •  the critical qualification for a GOP stink tank (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            howd, cfk, skymutt

            is ideology, with lack of any form of personal integrity being almost as important.

            Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

            by alizard on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:30:36 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Now, wait a minute! (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            You're implying that a B.S. degree outranks a B.A.?? When I went to the University of Iowa, the Zoology Department didn't even offer a B.S. degree, so my undergraduate degree is a B.A. (double major: Zoology and Psychology). At Iowa, at least in my day, many majors offered both degrees. The difference in requirements between a B.S. and a B.A. was that a B.S. degree required no foreign language, but did require one semester of statistics. A B.A. required the equivalent of four semesters of any foreign language. So, to my eye at least, the B.A. requirement was more demanding.

            -5.12, -5.23

            We are men of action; lies do not become us.

            by ER Doc on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 04:54:21 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Touche, Doc! (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ER Doc

              Ok, I'll wave the white flag on this one-- you probably made up for the lack of a statistics course somewhere along the line on the way to getting a medical degree :-)

              At Ohio State, I recall more differences-- seems like a BS required more math and science courses, and there were "kiddie" chemisty/biology/physics courses for B.A. students that I always assumed had textbooks with lots of pretty pictures ;-) I took a 4 course foreign language sequence, can't remember if it was required or not.

      •  Qualifications? (2+ / 0-)

        Please limit your comments to subjects that you  are actually qualified to write about. What would that be, I wonder?

        As far as anyone can tell, nothing.  Cato is a bunch of hacks with axes to grind.  Period.

  •  There's one floating around... (7+ / 0-)

    ...that electric cars use more energy than gasoline powered cars because of the energy used to produce and transport the batteries.

    I haven't found the source for it but I know people who believe it. It doesn't sound right to me though.

    •  That kind of analysis is inherently difficult... (10+ / 0-)

      ...because, how many levels do you go down the effort food chain?  Do you count, for instance, a percentage of the energy used by our armed forces in Iraq, there in part to protect our oil interests in the region?  

      I kinda doubt that the production of the batteries is that significant, considering how much gasoline/electricity a car uses in its lifetime, but it would be interesting to see someone try to make the case.

    •  Entirely plausible (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ER Doc, JohnnyRook, skymutt

      I don't know whether what you suggest is true or not, but it is entirely plausible.

      The analysis of the environmental impact of powering a car with a traditional gasoline engine should take into account, in addition to the efficiency of the engine itself, the environmental costs of locating the crude, pumping the crude, transporting the crude, refining the crude, and transporting the fuel. Likewise in calculating the environmental impact of powering a car with an ethanol based engine, there should be taken into account the environmental impact of clearing the land, preparing the land for the corn, producing the fertilizer, harvesting the corn, transporting the corn, producing fuel from the corn, transporting the fuel. With an electric engine, one should consider the cost of producing the battery, transporting the battery, charging the battery, and disposing of the battery.

      It is entirely plausible, a priori, that gas engines are less efficient that ethanol engines which are less efficient that electric engines but that the environmental cost goes in the reverse order. To resolve the question someone competent has to do the analysis using realistic estimations of the costs involved.

      Certainly manufacturing a large battery involves some noxious chemicals, and disposing of it properly is no trivial matter. Charging a battery requires an energetic input that would generally come from the usual power grid, e.g. burning coal or windmills or whatever your area uses - and because of considerations of this sort it might be that the answer to your question depends on where you live.

      The notion that electric cars are just plainly better for the environment than are gasoline cars seems to me problematic. To get an engine to do work one has to release stored energy somehow; thermodynamically there is always a loss, the question is how much is it. The stored energy is generally coal, crude, uranium (wind and sun are somehow outside this discussion, but so far neither makes for a big part of electricity generation in the US) Electricity comes from coal or uranium or big dams, gasoline comes from crude oil. The relevant questions are - to get a car to move 1 km how much crude oil or coal is needed and what is the cost of turning it into a given amount of work? - not - how much gasoline or electricity is needed to do a given amount of work?

      It seems to me that the real issue is to encourage producers of whatever kind of engine to produce engines and fuel production regimes for which the environmental impact is as low as is possible. If someone can make an environmentally friendly gasoline engine, then encourage him to do it.

      •  centralized management (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cfk, skymutt

        of smokestack or cooling tower emissions can reduce environmental impact of electric vehicles.

        centralized battery recycling can minimize impact of electric vehicles.

        using excess baseload capacity in overnight hours charging can minimize impact of electric vehicles.

        converting wind, solar, tidal forces into electricity which subsequently charges vehicle batteries can minimize impact of electric vehicles.

        gasoline engines will always require... gasoline.   Its byproducts and waste don't occupy landfills or abandoned mines, but the air you breathe.  I'm all for much more efficient ones to bridge the gap to hydrogen-electric, but we need to break our love-fest with gas.

        If concentrating solar power got nearly the same loan guarantees as nuclear, there would be several large plants in the Mojave...  Fossil fuels have remained artificially cheap because their health impacts and other external costs, such as war, have not been part of their price.  

        Another external cost that has not been part of the price of any fossil fuel is the impending and imminent impact of changing climate.  One island in Papau New Guinea, as diaried by someone yesterday, is being abandoned, all 2300 of its residents relocated because rising ocean levels are taking it over.  This scene will be repeated in Florida.  and New York.  And San Diego.  And all along the 3000 or so miles of coast in the US, nevermind the world.. if we continue our current atmospheric dumping practices.

        NOT IRAN! NOT IN MY NAME!! / Dodd is GOOD / Funding the war = Killing the Troops / Privatization = Corruption

        by netguyct on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 09:28:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  fossil fuels (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Neon Vincent

          Right now an electric car in the US depends on fossil fuels. The electricity with which it is charged comes from burning coal or fissioning uranium. At any rate, these are the dominant paradigms.

          Electric engines will always require ... electricity - which has to be produced, generally by some process which releases stored energy from some fuel sourse such as coal, organic waste, or uranium - at least until all of our electricity generation can be via hydroelectricity, windimills, and solar power - which time does not seem near (and big dams also are problematic).

          My point is just this - any method of driving engines, of whatever kind, has consequences for the environment which could be considered adverse. Electricity cannot be produced `for free' in a costless, harmless way, anymore than can gasoline. It may be that electricity can be produced with less cost and harm than gasoline, but it is not self-evident that this is the case, nor that this occurs in the present.

          I agree completely that one should develop electric vehicles, and a contet in which they are viable, just as one should develop solar technology and facilitate its use. But this does not mean that one should discard existing technologies; there will remain contexts in which these are superior, and there remains the possibility of making them less damaging to the environment. Put it this way: US auto manufacturers could produce much more efficient gasoline powered automobiles than they do; as long as they continue to do so, it pays to also try to encourage (or obligate) them to do so.

      •  I just recently saw a startling stat: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Only 1/10,000th of our energy mix here in the United States is produced by solar energy.  A pretty sobering fact for those who think solar will be a significant contributor to our domestic energy needs in the foreseeable future.  There's also practical economic and capacity issues regarding production of solar panels... This article from a solar advocacy group presents an optimistic picture, but I have seen elsewhere that we are currently expanding solar production at capacity, and yet are still only producing such a tiny amount.  It seems obvious to me that solar is a very long term answer to energy needs, and that it's going to take other sources in the short-to-medium term to buy the time to get the capacity in place.

    •  What you're talking about (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cfk, ER Doc, skymutt

      I think is called a "cradle to grave" analysis, which essentially talks about all of the components involved in the process, their manufacturing, use and disposal. There are different degrees of this though.

      In my mind,ideally you would need to estimate the costs used in securing and acquiring oil, and the health and health costs of burning all of the fossil fuels. In my mind, electric cars would win hands down.

  •  Cato institute (8+ / 0-)

    Not where I go to get my facts on science or engineering.

    Actually, not where I go to get my facts at all.

    When do these losers get laughed into oblivion?

  •  I need help coming up with an easy to remem (3+ / 0-)

    term to illustrate "energy substitution savings".  Pardon my early a.m. Liberal Arts rambling....

    For instance, sometimes this morn, I have to travel 22 miles round trip, to the nearest bodega, get my espanol translation checked on a flyer "Cabritos se vende"...

    Anyway, the car gets 27 mpg, one type of bike I build gets 175 mpg, another gets about 240 mpg.

    The only way my energy substitute savings factor could be "zero" is walking, jogging, or pedaling.

    Chrysler has that little electric car unit starting at about $5,000 (the hills around here would drain the batteries quicker than normal however), but I'm trying to weigh ALL options:  

    The plug-in advocacy group CalCars estimates that with today’s electricity prices, drivers would be paying the equivalent of 75 cents per gallon [were they to run their cars on electricity rather than gasoline].

    I don't need to be exact skymutt and all, I just need a "ballpark figure" for electric, could we say one quarter .75 versus 3.00 (price per gal)??  Triple the efficiency per mile?

    So if gas goes to $4, I can think "electric would be $1" more or less.

    •  There's be a lot of factors involved (3+ / 0-)

      For one thing, the 9 cents per kilowatt hour is a nationwide average for electricity, but would vary depending on where you live.  I'm looking at my electric bill here and it looks like I'm getting charged a little more than 10 cents per kwh.

      The kit wouldn't be the same as the CalCars car either.  

      The main thing, though, is that I don't think electricity has increased in price like gasoline has (at least it hasn't here).  I may be using slightly less electricity as I did five years ago, but my electric bill hasn't really increased at all.  Compare that to gasoline, which has doubled over the same period.  So if gas goes to $4, an electric engine could 5 times as efficient per mile, I'd guess.

      •  So, I could "think" 5 times the 27 mpg ? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Electric could be thought of as between 100-110 miles per gallon of "energy substituted" ?

        TVA says the drought is affecting our hydro, they are instituting a winter long surcharge to by alternative produced electric, so I understand most effective "charging on electric batteries" is off-peak, when rates are lowest...(but I don't trust electric propoganda anymore than stink tank research either.)

        I LIKE "Stink Tank", good one upthread !!!

        •  You could probably get better answers... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          ...from someone who knows more about electric cars than I do-- I'm really no expert, but I bet that A Siegel or some other energy guru around here would probably be able to tell you how much electricity that kit would use as opposed to the car that CalCars was talking about.  I think the CalCars car which they use for comparison is a modified Prius, but I'd have to dig into their site to be sure.  I've never had anything but a plain old gasoline powered car, so I don't know how hills, etc. affect performance also.

        •  Apples and oranges (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          No. You are comparing the efficiency of battery storage to forward motion vs ICE to forward motion. You still need some way of charging the battery. There's no good way to compare individual EV and ICE carbon/fossil fuel footprints and energy efficiency because the energy source for the EV is everything. If you are among the minority who gets electricity from non-carbon sources, great for your carbon footprint, possibly great for efficiency (but keep in mind negative externalities from nuclear, big hydro, etc). If you get your electricity from natural gas, you should be doing better than ICEs (hybrids and diesels may come close, depending on how quickly you charge, what kind of electricity transmission and charging losses you incur, etc). If you get your electricity from coal, ummm ... most coal burners are still the old single cycle plants averaging around 33% efficiency. To that include transmission, charging, and motor efficiencies, and small gas ICEs may well be competitive (depends on your personal driving cycle), certainly hybrids and diesels will be competitive and may be better. A coal-fired EV is progress only if there is a path to replace the coal plant.

  •  Keep up the good work, Skymutt! (5+ / 0-)

    I just recently had a LTE published in my local paper in which I skewered a columnist's Gore bashing piece about moose flatulence increasing global warming.

    Dudehisattva... <div style="color: #0000a0;">"Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Effort, Concentration, and Wisdom"&l

    by Dood Abides on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 03:07:37 AM PDT

  •  Electric car analysis from think tanks is like (5+ / 0-)

    Diebold counting votes.  They were both built to be unverifiable.

    These are the facts I know:  all the electric cars being tested in California were not allowed to be sold or kept although people offered substantial prices for them.

    All the people who had them wanted to keep them.  Most people said they has almost no repair bills and not only don't they use much gas they don't require oil changes or part changes like combustions do.

    They guarded them like gold in Burbank and crushed every single one of them.  Therefore, no outsider could do any public research on any statements the manufacturers made.

    They want to replace gas with hydrogen cells and continue requiring substantial service etc.

    If they could put a meter on sunlight and charge for it, I am sure we would no longer have any problems developing electric cars.

  •  So, miles per BTU is a better measure of (3+ / 0-)

    transportation efficiency for the future (perhaps even passenger miles per BTU and freight pound-miles per BTU) - unless, of course, you're a shill for Big Oil and the status quo.

    Another measure I'd like to see is total GHG emissions per mile.

    Some folks prefer a map and finding their own route. Others need someone to tell them where to go.

    by sxwarren on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 04:41:06 AM PDT

    •  more like energy-units per mile (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sxwarren, skymutt

      BTUs, watt-hours, joules, calories or Calories (the food Calorie = 1000 calories), all are small enough that it takes a number of them to move the car some distance.

      Another way to state the same thing would be miles per barrel of oil equivalent (bboe or BOE).  Perhaps there should be a "miles per ton of coal" rating, given the push by some people for coal-to-liquid-fuel conversion, burning a ton of coal in a modern power plant will give far more miles of travel for BEVs than turning it into fuel for conventional automobiles. (ignoring all other aspects of coal)

      •  Yes! I definitely like the idea of (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        skymutt, Neon Vincent

        calculating back to food energy.  To me, all economic abstractions are ultimately based on "our daily bread."

        Anyway, in the meantime, I stumbled on the following site while Google-surfing the question.  Lotsa cool comparative numbers.  Seriously, this stuff is like crack to me. ;-)

        Some folks prefer a map and finding their own route. Others need someone to tell them where to go.

        by sxwarren on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 05:11:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Pot calling the kettle black? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    skymutt, RonRaunikar

    Reporters have got to stop taking figures at face value from policy activists with political axes to grind.

    Cato doesn't have a "political axe" or two waiting for the grinding wheel?

    I wonder if these fools walk 18 holes when coming up with their nonsense or ride around in electric cars?

    I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. - Albert Einstein

    by SecondComing on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 07:18:20 AM PDT

  •  when gas goes to $10 a gallon (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    we will all be driving illegal golf carts even in the winter and sharing roads with semis, hummers, and SUVs...

    sorry...feeling bitter.

    Join us at Bookflurries: Bookchat Wednesday evenings 8 PM EST

    by cfk on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 10:54:30 AM PDT

  •  My letter to Taylor (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    skymutt, Neon Vincent

    Dear Senior Fellow Taylor:

    You may be senior, but you're also kind of dumb.

    I'm sure I'm not the first person to point out that comparing the raw cost-per-BTU of electricity vs. gas for vehicle propulsion is completely bogus. Let me know if you don't understand why and I'll try to explain.

    I guess the moral of this story is (if I may paraphrase a certain Senior Fellow at Cato):

    Reporters have got to stop taking figures at face value from right-wing ideologues with political axes to grind. And editors have got to start asking pundits who are way over their heads technically to independently back their numbers up.

    I look forward to your published retraction.

    News is what they don't want you to know. Everything else is publicity. --Bill Moyers

    by RobLewis on Wed Oct 31, 2007 at 05:56:06 AM PDT

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