Market Monday November 20th 2023
With crazy designs, amazing acceleration, and the promise of a greener future, electric vehicles seem like the dream of everyone, from the most fanatic car head to the most vigorous environmentalist. For those who can afford it, battery-powered cars seem like the perfect solution to fix climate change. However, those who analyze this transition seem to think that it’s not as clear as day.
Power and Energy
Going electric at such a rapid pace comes with its challenges. John Lorinc, the recipient of the 2022 Balsillie Prize for Public Policy, emphasizes the importance of moving away from Internal Combustion Engines (ICE). However, it’s vital to recognize that Electric Vehicles are intricate machines that demand substantial mining and mineral processing. Moreover, given that a sizable portion of the world’s energy still relies on fossil fuels, our primary focus should be on transitioning to cleaner and more efficient power generation and usage methods. A study conducted by the American Public Power Association highlights that if all vehicles worldwide switched to electric tomorrow, there would be a 30% surge in power consumption, leading to an increased demand for fossil fuel energy production and increasing CO2 emissions.
The ability to grab your keys and drive wherever and whenever you feel like it’s a reality that we live in since the sight of gas stations and cars became as common as the sunrise or sunset. However, the lack of charging infrastructure and a sufficient range of electric cars is a big deal. According to a J.D. Power report on EV ownership, the range is the most important factor in customer satisfaction. The report says, “When deciding which electric vehicle to buy, the most-often-cited factor in the purchase decision is battery and driving range.” Add this to the absence of decent charging infrastructure in rural areas, non-conventional highways, and even in cities, the ability to take your keys at any time, turn Spotify on, and reach the place you need to be isn’t quite there yet, even if you find a charging station compatible with your EV you will still probably need to wait quite a bit until it’s charged again, and people simply do not have enough patience for that.
Weight is a problem that worries the EV industry, but one that most people don’t think about. Electric vehicles weigh significantly more than their ICE counterparts, which is partly why they perform well in collision tests. However, heavier cars don’t just mean safer cars; they also translate to significantly larger road and tire wear, “Tire use is probably the naughtiest problem for vehicles,” Nick Molden, founder and CEO of Emissions Analytics, told Deutsche Welle. A single car loses, on average, 4 kg of tire debris annually, according to data released by Emissions Analytics. The same study also found out that EVs tend to have tire wear 26% higher than a normal ICE car. When we multiply that by the entire worldwide fleet, that amounts to over 6 million tons of tire debris every year, which are hazardous to human health, and react in the atmosphere to create smog.
So how can EVs transform into climate change fighting machines? The problem is that electric cars are impressive machines. They work well, despite all their controversies, but that won’t change the fact that being stuck in traffic for 30 minutes, driving from your suburb to the market to pick that one ingredient that you forgot for today’s dinner, or driving to work every single day, is inefficient and it doesn’t matter whether your car is electric or not. Nowadays, it is necessary to plan cities, public transportation, and walkability better and run away from car-dependent infrastructure. The idea that EVs are here to save the environment, at present, serves more of a purpose to save the car industry than the environment itself.
The World has a strange infatuation with cars. That is part of the reason why the electric car has become the poster child for the fight against climate change despite its rather limited potential to do so.
As Lorinc noted, the consumer-friendly side of buying and driving a flashy electric car must be backed up by many more expensive steps. Those include developing green power sources, transforming our ability to get and store electricity where it’s needed, and the business of finding, extracting, and processing essential battery minerals. That’s a lot less sexy and more complicated than picking out a brand-new car that is going to save the world. But as Lorinc observed, in Dream States, “Anyone who fails to acknowledge that everything is complicated, simply isn’t paying enough attention to it”.