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The Potential Disruptive Impact of EVs on US Energy Footprint and Sustainability

image credit: Courtesy, https://www.carmagazine.co.uk/electric/cheapest-electric-car/
Alan Rozich's picture
Director, BioConversion Solutions

Providing quantitative sustainability insights using sound technical analyses with a management consulting approach to craft strategies that address the mega-trends that are occurring in the...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Apr 4, 2022
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Synopsis

Electric vehicles (EVs) have the potential to significantly reduce energy resource consumption in the US and other countries. Although these products have been notoriously identified with elitists that tout pandering to green causes, EVs are now gradually segueing into the economic mainstream. The EV initiative is arguably an energy efficiency play with the potential to reduce annual US energy consumption by as much as 11% and provide cost-savings to consumers. Energy efficiency takes priority over deployment of renewables. It is uncommon to identify a technology architecture has the potential for large reductions in resource or energy consumption without impinging societal functionality.

Introduction

Elon Musk. A name that conjures up poignant images of an iconic persona that is firmly ensconced as a 21st Century entrepreneurial force. Elon is viewed by some as aggressively forthright and, perhaps by others, as brash and a bit of a "loose cannon." He has demonstrated gravitas and chutzpah in a wide-ranging swath from IT and sustainable technologies to space exploration and beyond. Musk, who Newsweek dubbed, the "King of Electric Cars", is the charismatic co-founder and CEO of electric car maker Tesla and rocket manufacturer SpaceX. He studied physics at the University of Pennsylvania which gave him a sound academic basis and skill set with which to tackle complicated science and engineering initiatives at the programmatic level to separate the wheat from the chaff in brainstorming sessions. This skill set also gives him the ability to take the proverbial "deep dive" and focus on problematic scientific or technical minutia that may be blocking system implementation or hindering project economics, technology deployment, etc.

The King of Electric Cars and A Prince of Sustainability

Some time-honored sayings often ring true in the pursuit of excellence, achievement, and accomplishment. Thomas Jefferson once said, "I'm a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."

From the world of intellectual property and patent law, there is the mantra that truly groundbreaking concepts or inventions are, in fact, "not obvious to those skilled in the art."

These two seemingly unrelated principles appear to fortuitously coalesce when it comes to EVs or electric vehicles and sustainability. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the Musk Tesla Vision has been relentlessly excoriated by doubters until quite recently. That overdue exoneration may likely transition to outright support and a more vigorous sense of enthusiasm for EV platforms.

Closer inspection shows that there is much more to the EV sustainability value proposition than meets the eye. This realization may not even be apparent to EV afficionados. The key takeaway for EV architecture is, first and foremost, that it is likely a compelling energy-efficiency play for societal functionality.

Quantifying the EV Energy Footprint Value Proposition

There are several ways that one can assess the value proposition or paybacks for alternate approaches for technical or commercial projects. However, the aggregate beneficence of the technology platform for societal functionality has multiple components that need to be considered. These elements include:

  • A macro analysis that estimates the impact on societal energy consumption;
  • The potential cost savings incentives for drivers or vehicle owners/operators;
  • Resource requirements and logistics.

Impacts on US Societal Energy Consumption

The figure below which was assembled using data assembled elsewhere shows energy footprints for four scenarios:

  • The current US energy footprint
  • The US energy footprint if one goes "all in" and replaces all gas vehicles with EVs.
  • The current energy footprints of the EU and China.

In addition to showing that the US is an egregious energy consumer compared to other countries, this graphic illustrates that:

Substituting EVs for gas vehicles potentially can achieve an 11% reduction in US energy footprint. This significant energy efficiency initiative indicates a massive reduction of 10.5 QUADS per year in overall national energy utilization. Reducing energy demand takes priority over deploying renewables.

Clearly, more analyses are required, but the base indicators appear valid.

Implications for Owner/Operators of Vehicles

Owner/operators are bombarded with a voluminous bevy of information on whether EVs make economic senses or not.  Mason Inman did an analysis comparing energy efficiencies of EVs and gasoline vehicles. These calculations showed that:

EVs get 80% more miles per gigajoule of energy than gasoline vehicles. Gasoline vehicles need 263 BTUs per mile while EVs require only 146 BTUs per mile.

With such a significant differential in energy requirements, it is feasible to suggest that a number of economic scenarios exist where, particularly as EV technology and infrastructure evolve, electrified automotives become a palpable economic choice. The confluence of reduced EV costs and/or increased gasoline prices function to enhance the value proposition.

EVs Face the Same Challenges as Most Renewables

Any time that a new product or service is introduced to the marketplace, there are always market entry challenges and obstacles that hinder the adaptation of a new product or service. It should be quite obvious that the bulk of existing vehicle infrastructure is almost exclusively built for gasoline powered vehicles. According to an article published in Element, the top three reasons that hinder EV adoption are:

  • Vehicle Cost
  • Range
  • Lack of charging infrastructure
Although EV vehicle costs are currently more expensive than their combustion engine counterparts, the Element article noted that EV maintenance costs are about 40% less.

And that EV range, while currently problematic, is expected to climb to the 250 to 300 mile range before charging is required. Finally, as demand grows for EVs, so will the proliferation of charging infrastructure. EV infrastructure charging assets can be deployed at domiciles, businesses, and stand-alone installations and charging times for EVs are now as low as 4 hours. As these numbers drop, it is conceivable that EV charging options will increase and be deployed at mini-marts and the like similarly to how gas pumps are currently deployed. For longer trips, drivers and businesses would need to be aware of the charging networks as part of their travel planning.

Summary

In order to garner widespread acceptance, EVs must make economic sense. The consumer value proposition is largely driven by the EV's capacity to utilize less energy per mile driven. As energy prices, particularly those for gasoline rise, and as EV capital costs decline, a broader societal adaptation is feasible. Concomitantly, increased support infrastructure for EVs will further catalyze an increased role for them in the economy.

Discussions
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 4, 2022

Fleet operators are the ones that will have the biggest potential to move this market, incentivize the infrastructure build out, etc. Municipal fleets, delivery fleets, etc. I'm excited to see more movement in this area. 

Alan Rozich's picture
Thank Alan for the Post!
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