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EV Myths From ‘Our Side’

EV myths abound. Most of them spread by EV detractors have been covered in these forums in great detail – some, perhaps, in too much detail.

Just for a change of pace, I’d like to open a little discussion on some EV myths that I often hear uttered by EV advocates. I’ll suck some of the fun out of it right off the bat by saying that most of these might not really be best described as “myths.” Perhaps a more accurate description would be “mis-applied principles, technical misunderstandings, unwarranted assumptions and inadvertent exaggerations,” but I think you can see why I didn’t use that in the title.

I care less about what they are called, and more about accuracy – no matter which “side” you are on, and regardless of your intentions. When talking about EVs, I think we all want to make sure that we are clarifying agents. There is already too much mud in the waters.

MYTH: EV owners and supporters are left-wing environmentalists

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This is not often stated outright; but is often a clear implication of another statement. For example, posting an article about possible future leaks from a proposed oil pipeline in an EV forum with a comment like “I know everybody here wants to see this dirty thing stopped.” I see a statement like this several times a week.

Yes, EVs are far better for the environment than gas cars, and this is one of the great social benefits of their general adoption. Many buyers and supporters are environmentalists; in the early days, it is likely that most were.

But it was never all of them; and things have changed. Numbers differ widely in surveys based on wording, but it is pretty clearly not true that most current buyers are primarily purchasing for environmental reasons. Nor is it likely true of others in the space, such as industry, government and NGO employees and volunteers. As we advocates have been saying for a long time, there are many good reasons to support EVs; so it is not helpful to assume that all of us have the same motivations or place the same weight on all of the benefits.

This is a complicated topic so I’ll just barely skim here, but the blanket assumption that EV owners and supporters are all environmentalists is not just incorrect – it is slowing down EV adoption. Some people really don’t like being associated with environmentalists, or in seeing environmentalist causes succeed. Even those that largely root for them don’t generally make their car purchases based on it, as a quick look at the market share of various types of ICE vehicles will tell you. The blanket, unexamined assumption that EVs are “for the environment” is behind a lot of the pushback from both the far right and the far left. And it is likely the main driver behind the following myth.

MYTH: EV detractors are right-wing shills for Big Oil

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This is the most common dismissal I see EV advocates use when somebody mentions a downside to EVs (even when the downside happens to be a real one; though that is not often).

The most annoying part of this is that many conservatives are EV owners and fans – and why not, as there is much to appreciate including performance, convenience, TCO savings, national security implications, savings from air and water mitigation efforts and health effects, and local economic benefits. The idea that only liberals like EVs is absurd (as noted with the previous myth).

But it is also plain incorrect to state that most detractors are big oil fans, paid or not. Yes, oil companies have been caught paying think tanks for friendly white-papers and op-ed placements, and some oil executives have made statements about EVs that display a startling lack of understanding (or a disappointing disingenuousness). But the quantity of this pales in comparison to the efforts of some of the other detractors: TSLA shorts, executives of alternative companies (power-dense batteries, H2, CNG, etc), liberals afraid that EVs might slow progress towards bicycles and buses, gearheads that are unaware of electric performance implications, free-market purists or economic justice advocates that are unaware that petroleum has huge subsidies, auto dealers trying to avoid a tectonic shift that may not include them, auto manufacturers trying to slow down a risky transition, etc. Or, regular consumers that have seen some of these arguments but have not examined them in detail.

Incorrectly assuming the motivations of detractors derails the conversation, and muddles the opportunity for education about EV benefits. I find it more effective to focus on the message than on possible motivations of the messenger.

MYTH: Most trips are under 40 miles, so there is no reason for anybody to not buy an EV now

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Yes, it is true that most trips are under 40 miles. And in fact, UCS and CR did a study that determined that 42% of car buyers could buy a short-range battery electric vehicle and not change ANY of their driving habits or require public charging – there are that many people in the new car market that have electricity where they park, and NEVER carry more or go farther than a LEAF is capable of. It is definitely true that more of the existing plug-in electric vehicles could be sold.

That said, there is still a majority of new car buyers (plus all the people that typically don’t buy new cars) that are not well-served by the current offerings. Some people really need a pickup truck, or a minivan, or something with a lot of clearance. Most can’t afford Tesla’s current offerings but may still need six seats or AWD. There are plenty of good reasons to not buy one of the existing EVs.

Just as important, people don’t buy cars based on statistical averages, especially averages that are not their own. Many people DO regularly take trips well over 40 miles (I take a 100-mile trip almost every week; a LEAF won’t work for me). Or even if it’s not regular – say they only take it once every three months – that is still four times per year. If a car sharing service parks vehicles on your block, no problem – but such services only cover small parts of the country. Renting a car four times a year is a considerable burden for many buyers.

The biggest issue I have with this, really, is that I have never seen it be effective as an argument. So why use it? I think a far more useful argument is that any ICE driver can switch to a PHEV with no change in driving habits. That can be good enough to switch most of their driving to electricity so the discussion could end there. But note that once a PHEV is accepted, it is usually easier to argue for the merits of BEVs, or explain how a two-car household with a BEV and an ICE can be similar to a PHEV.

MYTH: It takes 6kWh of electricity to refine a gallon of gas

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It does take an enormous amount of energy to refine petroleum, and 6kWh seems to be a reasonable guess. That is not even counting energy used to locate, extract, transport (at least twice), and pump it. Refineries are the second-largest electricity consumers in California. Petroleum is FAR less efficient than electricity for transportation.

But “6kWh of electricity” is simply not correct – the energy is indeed needed, but much of it (exact amounts are elusive) is not grid electricity, but rather a byproduct of the refining process. Also, petroleum refining typically produces multiple products (i.e. diesel and gasoline) that muddles the amount of energy per gallon.

I understand the desire to use this number – it sounds like you can take the petroleum middleman out of the equation and just power the car directly on that electricity, which would render all further arguments about cost and emissions moot. But while electricity is far superior to petroleum on both counts, I am afraid that this shortcut to explain the difference doesn’t really work.

MYTH: An EV is cleaner than any gas car even when the electricity is generated from 100% coal

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This is kind of close. EVs are way cleaner than gas cars on the current U.S. grid. The grid is getting cleaner, enabling EV owners to choose cleaner sources of electricity.

It is true to say that the average EV is better than the average ICE even with 100% coal, or that an EV is better than a comparable ICE with 100% coal. But the average EV is not as good as the best hybrid with 100% coal.

According to UCS, the US-sales weighted-average EV consumption can be as low as 35mpg (based on 2012 data; it is probably better now, but still likely less than a Prius).

MYTH: The $7,500 federal tax credit is to make EVs more affordable

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Many people seem to think that the $7,500 federal tax credit is in place to help poor people afford an electric car. Or at least to get middle-class people that might be stretching to be able to finally make it.

The government has no particular interest in selling EVs to people with little money; and the poor don’t buy new cars. New cars – especially expensive cars with new technology – are almost always purchased by people with lots of money, and the government is fine with leveraging their dollars. The tax credit is a buying incentive, designed to help shift the balance so that somebody thinking about buying an ICE might decide on an EV instead.

The public benefits of EVs – better national security, lower trade deficit, a cash injection to the economy, less fouling of air and water, fewer carbon emissions – don’t depend on who buys the cars. In any event, poor people are rarely able to take advantage of a large tax credit, or float the cash until tax refund time even if they could. Sure, there are some buyers on the edge that are enabled by the tax credit, but the objective is to alter buying behavior, not subsidize the poor. That is why it is a tax credit, and not subject to income or vehicle price limitations. Having rich people buy new technology is the best way to increase volumes, reduce prices, and create a used market – those are how the poor will eventually afford EVs.

Electric vehicles are new technology that was starting off in small quantities, and in the auto market that means higher prices. In 2008 the Bush administration asked the DOE how much to subsidize EVs to help drive buying decisions. The US Government Accountability Office estimated that petroleum subsidies (payments and tax credits to petroleum companies only; this did not include pollution mitigation, health effects, patrolling Hormuz, etc) benefited the average gas car by about $12,000 over its lifetime. The $7,500 was calculated to be the net present value of that amount, and that’s how EVs got their tax credit.

MYTH: Other automakers can’t build a competitive car because they can’t duplicate Tesla’s technology

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I am confident that engineers at any major automaker could make a great competitor to the Model S and X. Tesla has great engineers, and they do have some technical advantages that other automakers are not yet using, but engineering skill and technology are not why the Model S and X are in a class by themselves. Especially not since Tesla has said other automakers will not be sued for copying their technology.

Until Model 3 demand was demonstrated, many automakers didn’t really think there was demand for EVs. Perhaps they had convinced themselves of this, since they kept arguing so to keep governments from forcing them to make EVs. Even if they thought consumers wanted them, they are legally required to sell through dealers, and dealers have generally been happier selling gas cars (although this is changing). Plus, EVs have that refueling problem that all of their current cars don’t have – who wants to think through all that when they already have a solution? And once you have a solution, there’s the whole marketing problem about how to sell your new product as superior when you are still mostly moving the old product.

It might be short-sighted thinking. It might be waiting until the technology is ready. It might be misunderstanding how to apply the technology to best attract consumers. It might be waiting until somebody else proves the market and then following quickly to reduce the risk. But it’s not that they aren’t capable of building the cars.

TMC Member Chad Schwitters is a retired mobile software executive. He has been an EV driver since 2008 and a Tesla driver since 2009. Additionally, he served as Event Coordinator for the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association and as a board member for Plug In America.

Photo: Flickr
 
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apacheguy

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Oct 21, 2012
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MYTH: EVs cheat their way out of having to pay gas taxes.

I can't stand this one. When you add up all the savings that EVs generate by improving air quality, reducing climate pollution, and decreasing hospital admissions, there is no way you can argue that EV drivers are "cheating" the system. Cumulatively, we are saving our local and state governments substantial sums of money.
 

Jeff N

Active Member
Oct 31, 2011
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Excellent writeup!

As for the amount of electricity used to refine a gallon of gasoline, it is very clearly under 0.5 kWh and probably closer to 0.25 kWh at a typical refinery, based on multiple lines of evidence.

As you noted, much of the energy (not electricity) comes from previous unsaleable refinery output like so-called "still gas" as well as natural gas and perhaps some purchased hydrogen or steam from a co-generation plant. Only about 4-6% of the energy used to refine gasoline comes from grid electricity.
 
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mspohr

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MYTH: EVs cheat their way out of having to pay gas taxes.

I can't stand this one. When you add up all the savings that EVs generate by improving air quality, reducing climate pollution, and decreasing hospital admissions, there is no way you can argue that EV drivers are "cheating" the system. Cumulatively, we are saving our local and state governments substantial sums of money.
I'll be happy to pay "gas taxes" as soon as fossil fuels stop receiving all of their tax benefits and exemptions and start paying for all of the health and climate damage they do.
 

gregd

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Dec 31, 2014
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So, really interesting information about the electric usage in the refining process. I clearly remember hearing someone at Tesla (Elon?) stating that you can drive an EV on the electricity saved by not refining oil for the car it replaced (or words to that effect).

If the power needed is mostly created from the refining process itself, how much "bad stuff" is put into the air and water as a result of its generation? I.e., what is the carbon footprint of the refinery itself?
 

mspohr

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Jul 27, 2014
10,416
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So, really interesting information about the electric usage in the refining process. I clearly remember hearing someone at Tesla (Elon?) stating that you can drive an EV on the electricity saved by not refining oil for the car it replaced (or words to that effect).

If the power needed is mostly created from the refining process itself, how much "bad stuff" is put into the air and water as a result of its generation? I.e., what is the carbon footprint of the refinery itself?
Here's a good discussion of energy use in petroleum extraction and refining.
The 6 kWh electricity to refine gasoline would drive an electric car the same distance as a gasser?
The actual electricity used is much less than 6kWh and most of the rest is made up of burning petroleum and natural gas. If you converted that energy to electricity, it probably could drive a car for the same distance as the gasoline.
 

Jeff N

Active Member
Oct 31, 2011
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So, really interesting information about the electric usage in the refining process. I clearly remember hearing someone at Tesla (Elon?) stating that you can drive an EV on the electricity saved by not refining oil for the car it replaced (or words to that effect).
You're probably thinking of this joint interview of Elon Musk and Chris Paine from almost 6 years ago:

Exclusive Q&A With Elon Musk And Chris Paine: How The Electric Car Got Its Revenge (TSLA)
Chris: It's funny they make that argument, because they're one of the largest users of electricity in the country, to refine gasoline. That's why the power cords go into refineries. Something like 4 to 6 kilowatt hours of electricity to refine every gallon of gasoline. They're pulling that electricity from the same source as they're critiquing on electric cars and they get much less result out of it.

Elon: Exactly. Chris has a nice way of saying it which is, you have enough electricity to power all the cars in the country if you stop refining gasoline. You take an average of 5 kilowatt hours to refine gasoline, something like the Model S can go 20 miles on 5 kilowatt hours. You basically have the energy needed to power electric vehicles if you stop refining.

If you aren't refining in the first place then you can't count on the refining leftovers. However, you still have the natural gas that makes up about 40% of the energy used during refining so you can run that through a combined cycle generator at ~55 percent efficiency minus 6 percent distribution loss and you would end up with a bit over 1 kWh of electricity good for 3-4 miles of driving.

Beyond refining, you might save another 1+ kWh of electricity used during pumping at the oil field if we weren't using petroleum anymore.
 
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Jeff N

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Oct 31, 2011
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Here's a good discussion of energy use in petroleum extraction and refining.
The 6 kWh electricity to refine gasoline would drive an electric car the same distance as a gasser?
The actual electricity used is much less than 6kWh and most of the rest is made up of burning petroleum and natural gas. If you converted that energy to electricity, it probably could drive a car for the same distance as the gasoline.
That article does have a lot of excellent links to various sources of the "4-6 kWh of electricity per gallon of gas" mythology as well as conflicting explanations but it mostly leaves it to the reader themselves to decide how to make sense of it all.

The underlying raw information to make the calculation is available. The amount of grid electricity used in refining is around 4-6% of the total energy according to multiple reports and separate lines of evidence, not the 15% quoted from the one EnergyStar report using 2005 data. The quoted Fully Charged "Volts for oil" episode is a disaster of misinformation and tin-hat conspiracy nonsense.

Finally, there are mid-size gasoline-powered cars from multiple car makers that get 45+ mpg. Let's stop pretending that gasoline cars get 24 mpg. With the electricity saved by no longer refining a gallon of gasoline you could maybe drive ~4 miles on a mid-size EV and maybe 10 miles if you included the grid electricity used in average oil extraction and other overhead -- nowhere close to the 45+ mpg in a modern hybrid.
 
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mknox

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Great post... but you almost perpetrate a myth that bugs the hell out of me. There is a passing comment about electric cars being better from a "national security" point of view. I take this to mean from the point of view of the so-called "oil wars" and sending US dollars to less than friendly regimes for their oil. The fact is that the US is largely self-dependent for oil and way and by far the largest source of "foreign" oil coming into the US comes from Canada. We are really a friendly bunch and you don't have to worry about us Canucks using your money to fund terror.

Now, my professional background is in the electric utility sector, and I see great value in sourcing your "fuel" locally and providing good jobs to your neighbors in the generation, transmission and distribution businesses, so there's that.
 

Jeff N

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If the power needed is mostly created from the refining process itself, how much "bad stuff" is put into the air and water as a result of its generation? I.e., what is the carbon footprint of the refinery itself?
I don't have the details on that offhand, but the "upstream emissions" from burning a gallon of gasoline is estimated by the EPA to be around 5 pounds of CO2 in addition to the 19+ pounds emitted directly during combustion of the gasoline itself. That extra 5 pounds includes the refining process.
 
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mspohr

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That article does have a lot of excellent links to various sources of the "4-6 kWh of electricity per gallon of gas" mythology as well as conflicting explanations but it mostly leaves it to the reader themselves to decide how to make sense of it all.

The underlying raw information to make the calculation is available. The amount of grid electricity used in refining is around 4-6% of the total energy according to multiple reports and separate lines of evidence, not the 15% quoted from the one EnergyStar report using 2005 data. The quoted Fully Charged "Volts for oil" episode is a disaster of misinformation and tin-hat conspiracy nonsense.

Finally, there are mid-size gasoline-powered cars from multiple car makers that get 45+ mpg. Let's stop pretending that gasoline cars get 24 mpg. With the electricity saved by no longer refining a gallon of gasoline you could maybe drive ~4 miles on a mid-size EV and maybe 10 miles if you included the grid electricity used in average oil extraction and other overhead -- nowhere close to the 45+ mpg in a modern hybrid.
It's only fair to use a full life cycle for energy consumption so you need to include the energy used to extract and refine oil. If you don't do that, you miss a lot of emissions. If you're not burning gasoline or diesel in a car, you're not spending the energy to extract and refine it.
Small econocars can get better gas mileage but most people today drive SUVs and pickup trucks and are lucky to get 24 mpg.
 
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Jeff N

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Small econocars can get better gas mileage but most people today drive SUVs and pickup trucks and are lucky to get 24 mpg.
Mid-size cars like the Malibu, Prius, Ioniq, and Accord hybrids get 46+ mpg today. The new Hyundai Niro hybrid CUV is ~50 mpg.

The only reason we still have conventional 24 mpg vehicles is because hybrids cost a bit more upfront although they pay for themselves over the life of the vehicle. The same is basically true of BEVs or will be soon.
 

Topher

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Apr 7, 2016
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The fact is that the US is largely self-dependent for oil and way and by far the largest source of "foreign" oil coming into the US comes from Canada.

...At the moment. What happens when we run out before they do? Given the current price, we should probably be buying MORE of our oil from other countries.

But even so, it is clear that we are spending huge amounts of money and lives fighting over oil. Reducing the amount we import does not seen to have changed that.

Thank you kindly.
 
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mspohr

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Mid-size cars like the Malibu, Prius, Ioniq, and Accord hybrids get 46+ mpg today. The new Hyundai Niro hybrid CUV is ~50 mpg.

The only reason we still have conventional 24 mpg vehicles is because hybrids cost a bit more upfront although they pay for themselves over the life of the vehicle. The same is basically true of BEVs or will be soon.
New cars get an average of 26mpg. Most of the cars on the road are older and get 24mpg average.
Pickup trucks get 20mpg.
Corporate Average Fuel Economy - Wikipedia
 

mspohr

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Jul 27, 2014
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...At the moment. What happens when we run out before they do? Given the current price, we should probably be buying MORE of our oil from other countries.

But even so, it is clear that we are spending huge amounts of money and lives fighting over oil. Reducing the amount we import does not seen to have changed that.

Thank you kindly.
We will always be at war in the Middle East.
It started with the British a few hundred years ago and we and other "developed countries" have continued the stupidity.
See "The Great Game" by Peter Hopkirk
The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (Kodansha Globe): Peter Hopkirk: 9781568360225: Amazon.com: Books
 

ChadS

Last tank of gas: March 2009
Jul 16, 2009
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Great post... but you almost perpetrate a myth that bugs the hell out of me. There is a passing comment about electric cars being better from a "national security" point of view. I take this to mean from the point of view of the so-called "oil wars" and sending US dollars to less than friendly regimes for their oil. The fact is that the US is largely self-dependent for oil and way and by far the largest source of "foreign" oil coming into the US comes from Canada. We are really a friendly bunch and you don't have to worry about us Canucks using your money to fund terror.

Now, my professional background is in the electric utility sector, and I see great value in sourcing your "fuel" locally and providing good jobs to your neighbors in the generation, transmission and distribution businesses, so there's that.

Thank goodness I only almost perpetrated a myth. :)

I didn't mean quite what you fear. I am familiar with US energy issues including where we (I am US-based and worked at a non-profit for EVs in the US, so I am often US-centric, sorry) buy oil. However, I agree that there are indeed people that aren't. In fact, I used to hear this myth (that the US buys its oil from the Middle East) frequently, but that was long ago...it is awfully rare these days. Still, it could well qualify as a myth that some EV advocates perpetuate.

"National Security" covers a great many broad and complicated issues, some of which even work at cross-purposes (is it good or bad for US national security for us to intervene in the affairs of governments in the Middle East? Both, of course). EVs don't address all of the issues; nor do they address any single issue fully. But I have never heard anybody dispute that making cheaper energy at home, and having many ways to make that energy, isn't better for national security than relying only on petroleum. That's all I was saying.

I am glad that we buy much of our foreign oil from Canada; one of the good aspects of a global commodity is that we can choose to do that. One of the bad aspects, however, is that in the big picture it doesn't really matter. In your example of terrorists getting a small cut of oil money in their country: no matter where the US buys its oil, buying the oil affects the global price. OPEC nations hold most of the oil and even more important, they have most of the cheap stuff to extract, so they get the vast majority of the profits. The terrorist funding comes from oil profits regardless of who buys the oil, and most profits are in OPEC nations no matter where the US gets its oil. In that sense it is not only better for US national security for the US to buy less oil, but it is in the US' interest for other countries to buy less oil as well.


MYTH: Solar panels on the car will make a noticeable difference in range, at a price worth paying.

Excellent, I wish I had thought to include that one.
 
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