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.
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.