Is the upcoming domination of the electric car going to be a good thing?

I mean, if the electric power that charges the vehicles comes from non-clean sources, is it going to make a dent in helping combat climate change? I’m also a little concerned about the lack of range on these things.

I have a feeling that this whole electric car thing is going to be yet another gimmick that won’t work as well as “they” think it will.

Hard disagree. I have one gasoline-powered car and two EVs. It’s really hard for me to compare the three cars and not see electric as the obvious future.

This thread explores practically the same question. The consensus is that even if all the electricity comes from dirty sources, the emissions are comparable to an ICE, and it gets a lot better as the percentage of electricity from renewable sources increases.

I’m not sure how much of a dent it will make but it would certainly be a vast improvement over ICE cars. Even if 100% of the power was coal, point source, stationary emissions are much easier to deal with than millions of mobile sources.

The new generation particularly in trucks is getting to a decent range. Rivian is claiming 400 miles on their R1T and GMC is 350 miles. We’ll probably see 500 miles before the end of the decade. The bigger problem is charging speed at home charging won’t get you a full tank with battery packs that size.

I don’t think EVs will be a one size fits all solution but I certainly see 80% of vehicles being replaced by EVs in the near future.

Electric vehicles clearly aren’t a “gimmick” but I do share the skepticism that we’e going to see a mass worldwide transition to all electric vehicles in the next couple of decades. One issue is just the footprint of replacing existing vehicles; in the developed world people buy or lease a new vehicle every few years, but in developing nations vehicles are mostly second or third-hand (or more). It is also the case that large scale electric vehicle use requires substantial infrastructure, not only in the electrical distribution grid and generation system (which has to scale to accommodate peak charging times) but also physical locations and equipment to charge a vehicle. This is not a big challenge for drivers who can garage their vehicles, but for the large amount of people who rent and/or park vehicles on the street it becomes a significant issue. It isn’t necessarily insoluble, particularly if personal vehicle use goes from an ownership to subscription model (which has a lot of efficiencies over the current ownership paradigm) but it does represent a large shift in the economics of vehicle production and use

A fundamental issue that isn’t well understood outside of the battery industry is that there are serious resource limits in the availability of lithium, which is essential in high energy density batteries almost universally used in modern electric vehicle applications. Lithium is not exactly rare in the Earth’s crust but high concentrations of it are only found in a handful of reserves. The ocean is full of lithium but not at a density that supports economic extraction. In order to have sustainable battery production to support electric vehicles on a global scale we would have to both extract lithium at much higher rates and be able to recover and recycle lithium from ‘used’ batteries. The alternative is to develop a battery technology that does not require lithium or another rare element, and while there are candidates for such technology they would be at least a couple decades away from technical maturity. Modern high density batteries also require extremely high purity nanoscale material manufacture, so building factories to produce batteries are major capital intensive investments in the multi-billion dollar range, which tends to slow deployment of new technologies.

Electric vehicles have the advantage of fungibility—they can accept electricity generate from any source, be it natural gas, nuclear fission, photovoltaic solar, wind, et cetera—but also has a storage problem. We can store trillions of joules of energy in the form of liquid hydrocarbons for months or even years with ease; storing equivalent amounts of electrical energy in some substrate (batteries, flywheels, pressure or gravity storage, et cetera) is not currently a wide-scale technology. Even in developed countries power generating systems can shut down and power grids can fail, which would leave electric vehicle owners to their own devices in terms of household storage and what can be generated with PV panels. Depending on latitude and climate an owner may be able to charge their vehicle without access to the commercial power grid, but at high latitudes in winter this probably isn’t feasible. Electric vehicles have inherent advantages in terms of the energy-storage-to-wheel efficiency in not having the inherent thermodynamic limitations of a combustion engine but it isn’t as if an owner can readily swap out batteries or have some energy source that can easily and rapidly recharge the vehicle, and electric batteries have reduced throughput efficiencies in cold temperatures by dint of the reduced rate of chemical reactions. Of course, users who live in countries without reliable electricity would be hard pressed to justify the purchase of a vehicle that is so difficult to keep operating regardless of other benefits.

There are a a lot of applications where adoption of electric vehicles makes economic and logistical sense (again, with some adjustments of ownership models) but it is not the universal solution that advocates often paint them as being in terms of an immediate reduction in transportation-related carbon emissions or eliminating liquid hydrocarbon vehicles, and in fact all of those vehicles that are offset by people purchasing new electric vehicles will likely just be shifted to users who cannot afford to purchase electric vehicles. It certainly makes sense to encourage adoption in urban transportation (where, again, private ownership is actually a serious inefficient) and in at least short-haul cargo (UPS and other carriers have already adopted electric vehicles for “last mile” distribution). Consideration for long-haul transportation, where electric trucks can also show significant efficiencies not only on an energy-usage basis but also reduction of maintenance costs and off-line time (even if haulers have to stop to charge, trucks can be designed to have an endurance consistent with mandator driver rest intervals or for automated haulers a rapid swap trailering system to keep loads moving), but I suspect the fundamental limit for the foreseeable future will be the availability of material to manufacture batteries and the rate at which batteries can be manufactured for use.


ICEs will remain critical globally because much of the world is still industrializing, which means it lacks infrastructure for green energy. In addition, energy densities are much lower.

Second, the systems involved in making electric cars involve significant amounts of fossil fuels for mining, manufacturing, and shipping, especially given extensive supply chains worldwide.

Third, the world also faces resources shortages, not only for fossil fuels but even for minerals and other resources (like fresh water) needed to make electric cars. Meanwhile, the global economy that will manufacture and use these cars is based on maximization of profits, competition, and lifestyles requiring increasing amounts of energy and material resources. That means manufacture, sales, and use of electric cars, together with all sorts of electronic gadgets, services like tourism, and so on, have to keep going up each time.

Given these points, the upcoming domination of the electric car will lead to increasing usage of energy and materials, and with that increasing pollution. There will be no lack of demand because up to 70 pct of people worldwide live on less than $10 daily and they want to earn and spend much more, and the 30 pct are relying on them to do that because their own wealth and earnings are dependent on constantly rising production and sales of all sorts of goods and services.

Meanwhile, fossil fuels will remain critical to make not only electric cars but most manufactured goods, not to mention maintain mechanized agriculture, but like many resources, will peak in terms of availability (together with rare earth metals and all sorts of materials needed for EVs and more, including petrochemicals) due to physical limitations of the biosphere.

Finally, some scientists point out that in order to avoid problems in the future involving resource shortages plus the effects of environmental damage plus climate change, the world population will have to cut down heavily on resource and energy use across the board. That means almost no passenger vehicles for leisurely use, both ICE and EV. More will have to travel on foot, use bicycles, or mass transport like electric rail. Movement will have to be limited to emergencies or movement of critical goods like food and medicine. Combinations of recycling, rationing, and sustaining needs using resources nearby will have to become dominant, with middle class conveniences like electric cars, air travel for vacation, electronic entertainment, etc., cannot dominate.

But because too many people worldwide lack basic needs and because too many who have basic needs want more, then this will very likely not take place.

Actually yes, even if EV’s were recharged exclusively by burning coal (the most greenhouse contributing fuel we have), due to higher across the board efficiencies we would still be ahead of conventional ICE’s in terms of helping make a dent in climate change. Even if we burnt pure carbon we would still be ahead (which coal is pretty much pure carbon already).

But that’s not what happens either, there is a mix of sources that go into charge EV’s, the excess is not always from coal. As more renewables come online this will only grow and the need to accept power when there is an excess available would be a net benefit. EV’s can be programed to do extra charging during those periods and hold back when there is little excess power, even selling back power during times of very high demand, which could net the owner money in their pocket, to later buy back the power at a lower cost later on. The more EV’s we have the more resilient our grid can become, and many may chose to make money by using a portion of their EV battery as a grid storage device to lower their power bill and perhaps even drive for free. As I understand it a fully charged EV battery can run a home for several days, so the storage potential for the grid is very large with a switch to EV’s. The question remains however what happens after a disaster and power is restored after a long outage, people will want to recharge their EV’s which will require much more power then what we do currently, and could cause a much slower bounceback from a power outage.

I believe even if the power comes from coal-fired power plants the net CO2 (and this, again from memory, includes all of the stuff to make the car, which is a pretty large CO2 footprint itself), the ROI on CO2 is something like 3-4 years. That means that, after that, it’s putting less CO2 into the atmosphere than a comparable ICE vehicle. This is all going on on memory, but the short answer is that electric cars will be better than CO2 cars.

The range is, of course, another matter. Currently, EVs don’t have the operating envelop that ICE vehicles do. That said, the gap does seem to be narrowing, and there seem to be several promising battery technologies that will further narrow the gap. I saw something on air-aluminum batteries that potentially could get you over 1000 miles per charge. The catch though is they aren’t rechargeable…you’d have to swap them out. However, this could be made to work with the right design.

ETA: I do think that it’s a good thing, overall. I see a paradigm shift happening in the next 10 or so years and I think the swing has already started.

Transport in general is responsible for about 24% of global CO2 emissions. Of that, passenger cars make up about 45%. Call it 12% of total CO2.

That gives us the absolute upper bound of what could be saved with electric cars. Of course, electric cars are not zero CO2. Depending on the power source they may be as much as 50% that of cars, or maybe as little as 10%. But let’s assume they all contribute nothing to CO2.

If we converted half of all cars to electric in that case, we could reduce CO2 by 6%. In reality, The amount of CO2 saved will be less than that, and it will take decades to get to 50% global penetration of electric vehicles.

So electric cars, while a good idea, will not make a dent in climate change. We’d be lucky if they reduce CO2 by more than 1-2% in the next decade, and maybe 3-4% in a few decades. That won’t even cover a year of China’s emissions growth.

Stranger, thanks for your commentary. You addressed issues I hadn’t even thought of.

Again, the rhetorical tactic of “if we subdivide any large problem narrowly enough, we can conclude that no change is possible.”

There is no doubt that we have to tackle all these things together. Electricity generation needs to be close to 100% decarbonized, and at this point it’s fairly clear that it happen for economic reasons alone–although fossil fuel subsidies will slow progress.

Non-electrical industrial CO2 emissions are still dominated by its use as an energy source (i.e., heat). That can also be electrified. Same for commercial/residential use.

Of course, if you look at these individually, each will look to only contribute a few percent to the total. But a few percent times a dozen or so areas is significant.

The reverse is true as well. An ICE is unable to do many things that an EV can.

As for the OP, people that buy EVs tend not to go back. They find that the worries they had about range and the like are actually totally inconsequential, and that they underestimated the benefits such as charging at home.

I’m happy to see the recent deal between Hertz and Tesla (hey, what a name combo). It will expose many more people to EVs and their advantages.

There are many more sources of lithium than brine extraction (currently dominant) and seawater. More efficient extraction methods will have to be developed.

Resource extraction is always about the cost vs. price curve. Brine extraction is cheap and lithium prices are low. If demand goes up, so will the price, which will open up reserves that are currently unprofitable. Seawater is probably a last resort.

Of course, as you note, recycling is the best of all. Used batteries are effectively a very high grade ore, not just for lithium but other metals. Tesla claims to be reclaiming 92% of materials, though I’m not sure this currently includes lithium. They’re currently more limited by nickel and cobalt production, though moving more of their fleet to iron-phosphate chemistry will help alleviate this.

Overall, it’s unlikely that lithium will be a key limiter here, though companies that fail to set up long-term supply contracts or get into extraction themselves might find themselves at a disadvantage.

I never said any such thing. In fact, I just said that electric cars are a good idea.

That doesn’t change the fact that electric cars on their own are not going to move the needle on climate change. That’s just the truth.

No, you said:

There is an enormous difference between “on their own are not going to move the needle” vs. “will not make a dent”.

A few percent, leading into several percent as time goes on, is very significant. It is only one of many things we need to move rapidly on, but it is by no means trivial.

Those limits are more artificial than real, and they’re largely imposed by liberals who want magical sky ponies without the associated hard work. The US has large lithium deposits, but does hardly any mining.

The air will be cleaner. That is a good thing. I cannot see many people being nostalgic for the photo-chemical smog that shrouds our cities.

Eventually public and commercial fleet operators will find a use for the large quantity of batteries in vehicles parked in their depots. It is not beyond the wit of electrical grid designers to adapt the network to take advantage of such resources to help deal with the peaks and troughs in supply associated with renewable power generation. Their jobs and careers have become much more interesting.

Drivers who prize personal agency above all will find in these vehicles the torque and acceleration they crave, for a modest running cost. And maybe one day the car will drive them home when they are drunk.

Having a big battery parked outside your home may become integrated with your own home capacity to generate power from solar or wind. Charging your car from sunshine and using it as a backup during outages is surely a useful thing. Being able to plug in electrical appliances into your car is also a useful feature.

Lots of positives. We are just at the beginning, there is a lot to look forward to.

That depends on what it costs. The point to understanding the effects of proposed interventions is to be able to make sound cost-benefit analyses and choose the ones that offer as much bang for the buck as possible.

For example even if electric cara are a good thing (and I think they are), that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily smart to spend a huge amount of money to accelerate their adoption a little. It might be, it might not. But unless you are willing to grapple with the exact numbers when possible, you are likely going to make errors.

The fact is, we’ve been doing all sorts of ineffective yet costly things to reduce CO2 output. This happens because people sign off on anything that sounds good without actually thinking about tradeoffs. For example, is giving $80 billion in subsidies to electric car buyers a better use of the money than say, building 15 nuclear plants? Or perhaps converting steel smelting facilities to electric power? Or investing the money into research into CO2 mitigation, sequestering carbon, or trying to solve the grid storage problem?

We don’t have the money to do everything, unless you buy into the MMT bullshit, i which case we still don’t but you might believe otherwise.

Take Biden’s gigantic spending bills. You realize that these bills are so huge they are probably the last big items like this the government is going to pass for a long time? So, is there good climate bang for the buck in there? If the government is shooting its decadal wad on these proposals, are they the correct ones? How much CO2 will they save? What will it cost per lb of CO2 relative to other options?

Does anyone even know? The CBO hasn’t been allowed to score these bills, I do 't think. It looks to me that the climate provisions are mostly about transferring money to preferred groups than actually fixing the climate. But we don’t know umless we get serious, and instinctively recoiling when anyone tries to provide a little reality check is not the way to go aboht it.

No, we don’t. But we do have the money to do, say, 100 times what we’re doing now. Especially if we stop doing the worst thing possible, which is continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry. There are a few other things we might also want to cut back on.

Earth will be lucky to get out of the crisis for less than a quadrillion dollars. If we are very proactive, right now, we might be able to limit the damage to a few hundred trillion dollars. Of course, I’m not counting intangibles like mass extinction.

So, we should probably consider spending on the order of a few hundred trillion dollars to avoid the worst effects. It’s not unimaginable; the US spent ~40% of GDP on WW2 at the peak. I’m quite sure we can survive spending 10% of GDP for a longer period.

Biden’s spending bills are not the best possible use of our dollars (it’s pathetic that unions have been allowed to hold the climate hostage), but they are also not the worst. The worst is pretending there’s no crisis and continuing the status quo.

Electric cars and clean power have synergistic effects. Every new solar farm or nuclear plant makes every EV on the road cleaner, automatically. It does not matter that power is not currently as clean as it could be, because they will automatically receive any future benefits to electric generation.

And what do we do with all the batteries when they need replacing or upgrading?