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#AstonGate: Sleuthing anti-EV disinformation

image credit: Auke Hoekstra
Adam Siegel's picture
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Adam Siegel is an entrepreneurial analyst working at the intersection of energy, climate, national security, and business affairs. He has worked with/for government agencies, think tanks...

  • Member since 2013
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  • Nov 30, 2020
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Upfront truth

An electric car is a relatively low-polluting vehicle today and will be even less polluting tomorrow.

All things being equal, electric vehicles (EVs) reduce pollution loads.

Now, fossil-foolish defenders of business as usual don’t want people to understand this as part of their drive to maintain fossil-fuel dependency and their own business profits.

From the UK, a rapid fire uncovering of the truth behind a media splash of credulous reporting of yet another “report” (falsely) showing that EVs are a more polluting option than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. For reasons that will be made clear, this is AstonGate.

Now, for some simple truths

  • Glossy brochures often gloss over truth, shiny objects that distort rather than inform
  • (Too) Many journalists/media outlets are ready consumers of glossy spoon-fed lies that provide easy click-bait
  • Lies travel faster, with more impact, that corrective analysis
  • Truth-tellers, today, are often (mainly) doing it on their own time, with their own energy, with little recognition, and,
  • We do well to boost the efforts of truth-tellers to help fight back disinformation and deceit.

Before getting into Aston Gate, a tip of the hat to two truth tellers who tag-teamed to get to the bottom of the situation rapidly.

Now to #AstonGate.

How long does it take for an EV to be better than an ICE?

When it comes to energy and energy usage, a very large share of the time the better “life-cycle” option uses more energy upfront. An efficient home to operate has more insulation, better design, and higher quality heating/cooling systems that increase purchase price while lowering the annual energy costs. An LED light bulb costs more to buy than an incandescent but the energy savings means it pays for itself in months. Same is true for clean electrons (solar, wind, nuclear) compared to coal or natural gas. And, so on, a myriad of cases where there is a higher cost to buy (CtB) with a lower cost to own (CtO). That is not just a financial cost, but also pollution as ‘clean'(er) options often have more upfront energy and pollution but quickly are the ‘cleaner’ option due to lowered use of polluting energy.

This is true for EVs as well (at least right now). An electric vehicle, due primarily to battery costs and resource requirements, will cost more to buy and will have a higher pollution load the day it comes out of the factory than a similar combustion engine vehicle. However, that gap between the two of them begins to fall as soon as they are put into use: lower costs to operate and lower pollution per mile/kilometer driven. The question: how fast.

Now, reported in numerous European outlets, a shocker of a (heads-up: false) story that it takes 48,000 miles for an electric vehicle to catch up to an ICE when it comes to pollution loads. Drive 10,000 miles a year and, well, you won’t make up that embedded pollution load for nearly five years.

Up to the plate: Auke Hoekstra

As is his wont, Auke saw headlines spreading across Europe (popping into his emails and Twitter thread, almost certain), knew something was wrong with what he was seeing, and started to scratch the surface.

 

In short, follow Auke’s thread, this “analysis” came from a PR firm and doesn’t cite a single analyst. Taking to heart ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’, this brochure’s data presentation:

  • Distorted by using European electricity pollution for ‘manufacturing’ the ICE vehicle and Chinese for the EV;
  • Only counted the pollution load of fuel after it had been delivered to the ICE’s tank, not the pollution to find, exploit, transport, and refine the fuel; and
  • Assumed a very highly polluting electricity system for counting EV pollution.

As he scratches away with a more honest, apples-to-apples analysis, Auke concludes that a more honest pollution-load break-even point is about 16k, not 48k, miles.

Auke ends with a plea to journalists to “please be less gullible”.

 

And a handoff to Liebreich

Liebreich takes the inbound from Hoekstra seriously and starts his own digging. He documents and uncovers

Liebreich asks (sarcasm warning):

Suppose this were a sock-puppet PR company, set up by @AstonMartin to spread misinformation about the environmental performance of EVs in general and a competitor’s EV in particular – that would be a great story for a transport correspondent like @GraemePaton, no?

And, Liebreich questions whether media outlets will own up to being owned.

Yeah, just suppose that this was a sock-puppet public relations firm to spread misinformation that has made its way broadly into public discourse via gullible reporters without the time, background, resources, nor inclination to dig deeply into material spoon fed to them. Nah … something like that just wouldn’t ever occur … Nothing to see here.

As Auke responded to Michael,

Sad thing about all this, if they’d used a professional PR firm, this would all be ‘normal’.

Hoekstra & Liebreich aren’t alone

Their are others calling foul on this flimsy disinformation and media click-baiting articles about it. James Morris, the editor of WhichEV, has an excellent piece up at ForbesElectric Vehicles ARE A Silver Bullet For Zero Emissions – Don’t Believe The Fossil Fuel Hype. Within that, Morris suggests that the ‘break-even’ point might be ballpark 11,000 miles (rather than 48k or even Hoekstra’s 16k). He concludes

As with the self-driving hybrid con, some people will read the headlines, not dig deeper for the details, and fall for this attempt to blacken the green credentials of EVs. But taking a step back, it just seems rather sad. When you look at the constantly falling price of EV batteries, making a $25,000 Tesla possible by 2023, and the drive towards greener battery production, the mass arrival of BEVs seems inevitable. Batteries won’t replace every transportation type – they are best suited to personal cars, bikes, and scooters – but they are much, much greener than fossil fuel cars. With adequate charging infrastructure, they can decrease CO2 emissions considerably and improve air quality dramatically. They really are a silver bullet for emissions neutrality; don’t believe the hype from companies with heavy fossil fuel bias.

On a related note: Chocolate

For an excellent discussion of how easy it is to spoon feed misinformation with ‘scientific’ underpinnings into widespread media coverage, look no further than the click-baiting about how (NOT TRUTHFUL) eating dark chocolate is an excellent diet tool.

And, related note two: Dutch Coal Plants & EVs

While there are innumerable examples of such falsehoods, this item reminded me when there was a story being pushed around the globe (with stories in such minor outlets as The Washington Post) that Dutch coal plants were being built to meet electric vehicle electricity demands. False in so many ways but (a) the coal plants were contracted far before EVs started to enter the Dutch market and (b) total EV electricity demand was less than one percent of the two coal plants’ production capacity.

 

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