News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.



Professor Demurs: ‘Well-To-Wheels’ Efficiency Twice As Great In Electric Cars


Professor Demurs:
Efficiency Twice As
Great In Electric Cars

To the Editor:
In his Jan. 24-25 column, former DEC Commissioner Mike Zagata makes an argument that is theoretically interesting but falls apart when you look at the actual numbers behind it.
Zagata compares electric cars to conventional gas-powered vehicles and points out that, while electric cars are responsible for lower carbon emissions during the driving part of their life cycle, it’s more energy intensive to manufacture them.
This sets up a kind of decision that’s familiar to business people or households: Should I go for Option A that’s more expensive to buy but cheaper to operate, or Option B that’s cheaper off the shelf but costlier to use?
It’s a good question to ask, and most people would then want to know how much cheaper is Option B to buy, and how much more expensive to operate?
Mr. Zagata doesn’t ask that, but instead jumps right to his preferred conclusion: Electric cars are a bad idea.
It turns out people have run the numbers, and Mr. Zagata’s claim is wrong. The higher carbon emissions during manufacture are easily made up for, and more, by the lower carbon emissions while driving. And that’s true even if you don’t recycle the battery, so recycling makes the case for the electric car even stronger.
And it’s true even if your electricity is from coal.
An electric car is 80 percent to 90 percent efficient in terms of turning the electricity in the battery into the car’s motion. A gasoline-powered car ranges from 0 percent (when it’s idling) to 30 percent.
By the time you figure in additional considerations, like the energy lost in generating the electricity (assuming it’s from a coal- or gas-fired plant), or the energy spent pumping, shipping, and refining the oil that powers a conventional car, the “well-to-wheels” efficiency of the electric car is about 28 percent, while a gasoline car comes in around 14 percent. That difference is what allows electric cars to make up for the slightly larger impact they have during manufacturing. And if the electricity comes from cleaner sources than coal or gas, so much the better.

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