Electric Shock

I wonder about electric cars. So I did a small amount of research on Ontario Power Generation.

We have some 17,048 megawatts (mw) of total generating capacity. At the moment I visited their web page, we were generating (and using) some 9,030 mw. The breakdown in capacity is interesting; I’ll give it below in current  (max) mw for each class of energy.

  • Nuclear (Pickering and Darlington)   5,937   (6606)
  • Hydro-electric (falling water)             2,996   (7438)
  • Thermal (biomass mostly)                    48   (2458)
  • Total overall                                       9,030 (17,048)

I don’t care if the numbers add up perfectly, it’s close enough to make some observations.

  1. Nuclear is running close to capacity. That’s as expected: nuclear is the most difficult to ramp up and shut down. Response time is in days, weeks, or months.
  2. Thermal can be more or less ignored. It’s mostly biomass.
  3. Hydro-electric is well below full exploitation.
  4. There are no numbers for wind or solar provided.

I think we’re about to refurbish some nuclear. It isn’t clear to me that we need a lot more nuclear capacity. Falling water is subject to surprises, and global warming could create drought in strategic watersheds, leaving the generators there dry.

The net here is that most of our power, in Ontario, Canada, comes from nuclear and the rest comes from falling water.

Now for my foray into the logic (or lack of it) on electric cars.

Electric heat is essentially 100% efficient. Natural gas furnaces can approach this. However, those who heat their homes with electricity will tell you that their bills are very large, much worse than even oil heat at some 80% efficiency, and very much worse than natural gas heating.

From this I make some deductions.

  • Ontario electricity, generated by nuclear and falling water, is a lot more expensive than natural gas when heating the same home. Heat is energy.
  • Electric cars must overcome this basic difference in energy cost. Gasoline engines are about 30% efficient. Apparently at high r.p.m. some 20% of engine power is simply used to ‘pump’ fuel in and exhaust out.
  • Apparently, the deed has been done. Here you will find that the average gasoline engine gets about 20% of the energy available to the wheels, whereas the average electric car gets about 60% of the energy there.

Given an electric per calorie cost of about triple that of gasoline or natural gas, we can see that the electric car is after all in the ballpark to be as cheap to run.

But:

  • The electric car costs a lot more, and today, weighs more for the same cargo capacity.
  • The electric car has a short range away from charging stations.
  • Nobody really knows how expensive replacing electric car batteries will be.
  • There are environmental concerns re the manufacturing of electric cars. Lead in the batteries, or large NiMH batteries, whatever: storing a lot of electricity has proven difficult (witness the Dreamliner and Samsung problems.)

I don’t think electric cars are appropriate. Let the rich and the super-green drive them while the science catches up to the cost and battery numbers.

If you’re driving one of these, thank you. I’ll follow after the trail has been safely blazed. I hope you’re not shocked.

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