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A Claim That Electric Cars Aren’t Green Fuels Firestorm

An electric charging station is seen on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. (Toby Talbot/AP)

An electric charging station is seen on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. (Toby Talbot/AP)

Plug-in electric cars have lower greenhouse gas emissions than the average gas-guzzling vehicle.

But conservationist Ozzie Zehner argues in a piece called “Unclean at Any Speed”that electric cars may be worse for the environment than traditional gas-powered cars.

Zehner, who is also author of the 2012 book “Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism,” writes in IEEE Spectrum magazine:

When the National Academies researchers projected technology advancements and improvement to the U.S. electrical grid out to 2030, they still found no benefit to driving an electric vehicle. If those estimates are correct, the sorcery surrounding electric cars stands to worsen public health and the environment rather than the intended opposite. But even if the researchers are wrong, there is a more fundamental illusion at work on the electric-car stage.

Zehner’s claims have sparked a firestorm of disagreement. Don Anair, co-author of the Union of Concerned Scientists 2012 report “State of Charge” offered this response to Zehner’s article:

Powered by today’s electricity grid, operating an electric vehicle produces less global warming emissions than the average new compact gasoline vehicle (averaging 27 mpg) everywhere in the country. In regions with the cleanest electricity grids, electric vehicles out perform even the best hybrids. And factoring in estimates of global warming emissions from manufacturing reduces, but doesn’t negate the benefits of EVs, as I illustrate in the following blog post.

For Zehner, electric cars are illustrative of a larger discussion that he says environmentalists are not having.

“We associate certain technologies with being clean,” Zehner told Here & Now. “These technologies have become a part of the environmental movement, a part of what it means to be an environmentalist, and we’re finding now that there are some questions that we haven’t been asking.”

For example, Zehner argues that much of the research into electric cars is funded by members of the automotive industry.

“I’m not suggesting that the corporate sponsorship leads people to massage their research data, but it can shape findings in more subtle ways,” Zehner said. “It influences the questions that get asked, and companies are interested in directing their money to researchers who are asking the types of questions that stand to benefit their industry.”

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Ozzie Zehner asks provocative questions, and he says environmentalists need to do that as well. The title of his 2012 book says it all: "Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism." Then there's this month's piece in IEEE Spectrum magazine, "Unclean at Any Speed," in which he says plug-in cars are as environmentally bad as gas cars.

But Ozzie Zehner once worked for GM and backed electric cars. So what happened? Now, it's long been known that electric cars aren't totally green. The electricity needed to power them is largely generated by polluting coal and natural gas plants. But Ozzie says that subsidizing plug-ins also encourages America's love affair with cars in general.

His article has fueled a firestorm. We'll get to the criticism. But first, Ozzie Zehner joins us from KQED in San Francisco to make his case. Welcome.

OZZIE ZEHNER: Thank you, Robin, it's nice to be here.

YOUNG: So we've said before on this program that much of the electricity to power these cars is generated from dirty sources. But just a quick question there. At least these cars don't pollute where they live. Isn't that worth something?

ZEHNER: Well, saying an electric car is clear is kind of like saying that a light bulb is clean. I mean, light bulbs don't produce exhaust, but it doesn't mean we can use them with zero emissions. And the same holds true for electric cars. But with electric cars there's another problem, because if you intend on driving that car farther than the extension cord you have in your garage, you have to rely on a battery, and that battery brings another layer of environmental and health concerns.

And in fact when the National Academies looked into this, and they tried factoring in technological advancements and grid improvements out to 2030, they really found no benefit to driving an electric car over a gas car.

YOUNG: In fact, you say the National Academy's assessment was a gut punch to electric car advocates because tell us more about what they concluded about the battery in particular.

ZEHNER: The National Academy of Sciences took a step back, and they looked at the entire life cycle of an electric car. Electric cars may be very exciting, they're a charismatic technology, and they're fun to drive, there's no doubt about that, but there's no reason to believe that they are clean.

And in fact, according to the National Academy, they're likely one of the most harmful modes of transportation available. Part of the impact of an electric car arises from the manufacturing, and it isn't the battery per se, but it's because the battery packs are so heavy, engineers have to make everything else in the car lighter.

And the lightweight materials that they use for everything else in the car are energy intensive to produce and process, things like aluminum, carbon composites, and of course the electric motors and battery add to the intensity of the electric car manufacture. And the reason the electric cars are so expensive is because all of these fossil fuels that go into making them. And of course all of that comes before you plug it in for the first time.

YOUNG: You also talk about how a lot of the things that are needed to build an electric car are precious metals that are mined, and that impacts the environment.

ZEHNER: Yeah, there's a lot of different materials that are required for an electric vehicle that we don't find in a traditional vehicle, or not to the same extent. These are things like rare earth metals. A lot of them come from China, and it's difficult to extract them. It's very energy intensive to extract them, which is why they're so expensive. And then we also have increased levels of copper and other precious metals.

Again, it comes back to the fossil fuel inputs that are used to mine and refine those materials that make them so expensive, and those fossil fuel impacts end up accruing to the construction of the electric vehicle overall.

YOUNG: OK, so let's just stop for a second and hear some of the response to your article, because there was tons, thousands, a roiling debate going on. First of all, a lot of readers noted that not all electric cars use rare earth metals. But others say, as to this idea, the original idea, and one of the biggest criticisms about electric cars, that the electricity comes from dirty power sources like coal plants.

Rob Bruninga of the U.S. Naval Academy says coal consumption has gone down dramatically, and you didn't point out that almost half of those who buy electric vehicles also buy clean power because they value a cleaner environment. You say that this is a question of values, and people who buy these cars tend to check off on their statements they want their power to come from clean sources.

ZEHNER: Yes, so electric vehicle marketers sell the promise of refueling with alternatives like solar cells, but this ends up being a slight of hand. First of all, solar cells supply less than one-tenth of one percent of the electrical grid in the United States, and building enough solar capacity to fuel electric cars would bankrupt the U.S. government.

And even if there were magically enough solar cells, clean energy isn't very clean. Solar cells, for instance, contain heavy metals. Building them releases greenhouse gases, such as sulfur hexafluoride, which has a global warming potential 23,000 times higher than CO2, according to the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And electric cars rely on magical ways of thinking about these very real tradeoffs, and these slights of hands are easy to maneuver because we associate certain technologies with being clean. These technologies have become a part of the environmental movement, a part of what it means to be an environmentalist. And we're finding now that there are some questions that we haven't been asking.

YOUNG: That's former engineer and gadfly Ozzie Zehner. By the way, he cites that 2010 National Academy of Sciences finding that electric cars are environmentally worse than gas cars. His critics say that is old research, that a 2011 Swiss study gives the edge to electric cars.

And we also heard from the Union of Concerned Scientists before Ozzie even came that not only do electric cars produce less global warming emissions than the average new compact gas vehicle, they say emissions from manufacturing do reduce but don't negate the benefits of electric vehicles. We're going to have lots more questions for Ozzie Zehner in a moment.


And we're already getting a lot of comments on our website, Robin, hereandnow.org. Nick writes: Who cares if they are barely cleaner or not? The more oil we import, the more we are dependent on other countries for our fuel. Cars that run on electricity use U.S.-made energy and bolster our national security. That's what Nick is writing. Let us know what you think at hereandnow.org or at Facebook.com/hereandnowradio.

Robin's conversation about electric cars continues in a moment, HERE AND NOW.


YOUNG: It's HERE AND NOW, and we're talking with Ozzie Zehner, a former GM engineer who once backed plug-in cars and now says that over their lifecycle they're worse for the environment than gas cars. He wrote about this in his 2012 book "Green Illusions" and more recently in a piece in the July issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine called "Unclean at Any Speed," in which he takes on the cars but also government subsidies of electric cars, tax credits up to $7,500 for buying a plug-in, access to HOV lanes if you drive one. Ozzie, have I got that right?

ZEHNER: Yes, so American taxpayers give electric car buyer credits to buy vehicles, as well as priority parking and freeway lanes and even though there's really no evidence that they've done anything positive for the environment in return. And it would make a lot more sense if we spent that money on infrastructure that benefits people from across the economic spectrum, such as public transit or vehicle emissions testing to reduce smog.

What's more shocking, really, today, that these electric car perks pass for genuine environmentalism, but they're not. They're what I call eco-fetishism, and there's a big difference.

YOUNG: Well, eco-fetishism, in other words governments are clamoring to do what they think is the maybe politically correct thing, but you say that one of the reasons this is happening is because many of the academic programs that are carrying out electric car research are funded by the auto industry. Is that fair? Because there's been such a push to try to do something to better the environment, to better our cars. What's wrong with people researching to try to find out a better way?

ZEHNER: Well, I used to work for General Motors. I worked there for about seven years, both in the United States and Europe. And I've come to the realization about electric vehicles since I left my job in the advanced engineering department there, and "Unclean at Any Speed" was not just about determining whether or not the data sets of specific studies were accurate or inaccurate.

Rather, "Unclean at Any Speed" was a critique of the way we ask environmental questions, including the parameters, the scope of electric vehicle research. It considered what hidden assumptions researchers make and which transportation options they leave out of the analysis and why.

And so to get a sense of how the biases creep in, we can follow the money, to a certain extent. And most academic programs that are carrying out electric car research receive funding from the automotive industry. And so the University of California at Davis has affiliations with BMW and Chrysler and Nissan. Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Project, which publishes quite a bit on electric cars, has received $113 million from ExxonMobil and General Electric and Toyota.

And I'm not suggesting that the corporate sponsorship automatically leads people to massage their research data, but it can shape findings in more subtle ways. And for one it influences the studies that get done. So it influences the questions that get asked. And companies are interested in directing their money to researchers who are asking the types of questions that stand to benefit their industry.

And so an academic who is studying car-free communities is not going to receive as much funding from corporations as one who's studying engineering vehicle charging stations, or something like that.

YOUNG: Well so you conclude that it's not just - we have to look at the whole lifecycle of the car. You note things like when batteries are improperly disposed, they release toxic chemicals. To make the Nissan Leaf, for instance, light enough to be able to carry that battery, the aluminum used in the Leaf's hood and doors, they are light, but they require more energy to produce than steel.

Copper used in the motor and electronics and wiring also burdens the environment. There's the magnets that are found in the car, and then of course, as we said, the battery. So you say as the car dies, it's worse for the environment.

But Bob Bruninga, again, one of your critics online, says everything that a human does and consumes, from food production to television, everything dies. Why not value the one thing, the electric car, that can have zero or only 10 percent of the whole lifecycle fossil fuel consumption over its next 18 years on the road?

ZEHNER: Well, the automotive industry likes to point to numerous studies to show that electric car operation yields less CO2 than gasoline cars and these sorts of things and that electric cars produce no exhaust. And this seems to make sense, the CO2 is important. But by focusing only on CO2 or only the operating impacts of an electric car, these studies leave out much of the story.

And to a large extent the findings of certain studies are a reflection of what the researchers chose to count and what they didn't. And so when we consider the entire life cycle of electric cars, the impacts from constructing the vehicles to fueling to actual health impacts based on epidemiological data, the results are a little bit more sobering.

And the National Academies concluded that electric car damages are actually far greater than that of gas cars. In fact they determined that the life cycle impact of an electric car is likely worse than that of a car fueled exclusively by tar sands-derived gasoline.

YOUNG: Which many people feel is pretty bad, the impact on the environment from oil gotten from tar sands.

ZEHNER: Absolutely. When we do take this closer consideration, shifting from gas to electric cars starts to appear like swapping a smoking habit from one brand of cigarettes to another. And we wouldn't expect doctors to endorse cigarettes. And so I ask, should environmentally minded people be supporting electric cars? And maybe not.

YOUNG: Well as we say, you also say that you think that car companies have an agenda here. But some of the responders to your article think you do because you end up by saying people should walk, take public transportation, ride their bike, we should be thinking about that instead of electric cars.

Theo Barca says you're a propagandist. You want to reduce everyone to walking, riding bikes and public transport. He says no personal powered vehicles allowed in your utopia.

ZEHNER: Oh, well, you know, when researchers show people pictures of walkable neighborhoods and pictures of suburban sprawl and then ask them where they'd prefer to live, people overwhelmingly point to the walkable neighborhoods. And I received a surprising amount of support for the article, and I think people are starting to grow weary of being told that they have to buy something expensive in order to be green.

On the other hand, I agree that electric car proponents are not happy at all. Electric cars have been tattooed into the flesh of the environmental movement. And so it's very difficult to accept the idea that maybe we were asking the wrong questions. And one thing about science is that scientific studies can answer our questions, but they can't tell us beforehand which questions to ask, who should be doing the asking or what variables they should be measuring.

And that's really what makes data a moral problem. That's how our values get incorporated into what we consider to be objective scientific knowledge.

YOUNG: Ozzie Zehner, author of "Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism." His article "Unclean at Any Speed" is online in the July issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine. You can also join the food fight in the response. Were you surprised at the response?

ZEHNER: Well, you know, I've written on electric cars before in "Green Illusions," and so I was prepared for a little bit of pushback. But the response was, I think, much larger than I had anticipated. I think it's absolutely vital that we're having this conversation. I mean, just the fact that when I go into communities and see that they're holding bake sales in order to fund bike racks, and meanwhile the highway infrastructure is bathed in billions of public funds every year.

And this is an inglorious national embarrassment, and I think it's something that we need to be discussing.

YOUNG: And by the way, we're hearing you don't own a car.

ZEHNER: Well, I did cycle to the studio today, yeah.

YOUNG: There you go. Ozzie, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ZEHNER: Thank you very much, I appreciate it, Robin.

HOBSON: And Robin, more of the feedback, Gina Coplin Newfield(ph) of the Sierra Club writes on our Facebook page that when you take into account a full life cycle analysis of electric versus gas cars, electric offers at least a six to 19 percent improvement. Paulo Correa(ph) is agreeing with Ozzie's critique. He writes that even 20 years ago, taking a grad-level advanced power systems class at MIT, it was known that electric vehicles concentrated pollution at power plants. So that's some of the feedback we're getting.

YOUNG: And join in, hereandnow.org, Facebook.com/hereandnowradio. News is next. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Mark Goldes

     To the surprise of almost everyone, future electric cars will have unlimited range and will not need to plug in.

    They will be mobile power plants, able to sell electricity to the utility when suitably parked. No wires needed.

    Cars and trucks may be able to pay for themselves.

    Impossible? See http://www.aesopinstitute.org Make the “impossible” possible.

    See a few examples of revolutionary technologies that may make cars into power plants starting on the second page.

    These technologies will also power factories making cars and trucks.

    They open doors to accelerating the replacement of all fossil and radioactive fuels.

  • J P

    I’m really disappointed that Here & Now is perpetuating false impressions of plug-in electric vehicles.  I expect more….and your credibility has diminished in my eyes.  How about doing an accurate piece on plug-in vehicles?

  • Paul Wessel

    Zehner’s criticisms are thoughtful, if backward-looking. 

    Looking ahead, BMW Chairman Norbert Reithofer’s  proclomation today at the release of that company’s premium electric vehicle gives us hope – and direction.  “Innovation drives change,” he said, “What the mobile phone did for communication,
    electric mobility will do for individual mobility.”

    The need for energy security at a time when half the country’s air quality is unhealthy and at a point with scientist overwhelming agree that humans are inducing climate change all push towards new forms of getting around.  Increasingly efficient mass transit and personal vehicles – fueled by gasoline, diesel, electricity, natural gas and even our legs – are part of a market-driven “all of the above” strategy for the changes we need to make.

    Plug-in hybrids and all-electrics are are by no means THE answer.  But they will prove to be an exciting, quiet, cheaper to fuel and incredibly fun to drive part of the solution.

  • Eseyler

    NPR, I’m surprised by your inaccurate coverage of this topic.  Even taking into account the emissions from the production of electric
    cars in addition to the electricity used to charge them, they are still
    clear environmental winners over the emissions from the production of
    conventional gasoline-powered cars coupled with the extraction,
    transport, and burning of the oil used to power them. This is true, even
    in the most coal-heavy electricity regions in this country.

  • Nick

    Who cares if they are “barely cleaner” or not. The more oil we import the more we are dependent on other countries for our transportation fuel. Cars that run on electricity use US made energy and bolster or national security.  
    Give me; a car made in America.
    Fuel to run it made in America
    make that fuel free for me by using American made solar panels.

    • Mike

       I agree.   Whether they’re cleaner or not, a plugin electric is better for the owner because they require MUCH less maintenance than a gasoline piston engine and won’t wear out as fast.

  • http://www.facebook.com/randy.bryan.1466 Randy Bryan

    Respectfully disagree with Zehner’s premise that EVs are “dirtier” that combustion cars.  There are a number of studies, for example:
    UCS [http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/smart-transportation-solutions/advanced-vehicle-technologies/electric-cars/emissions-and-charging-costs-electric-cars.html] and
    NREL [http://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.php]
    that clearly show that EVs, when measured at the utility smokestack, are cleaner for the environment than even the cleanest combustion cars in all but a few States of the US where coal is the primary fuel for the local utilities.  These “coal” States  are not a large % of US population so the market significance of these locations is tiny.  What states have equal or worse EV emissions vs gasoline cars?  He is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.  I am disappointed that Here and Now would give air-time to this gobbledy gook. 

    But even in these regions, owners can install PV or wind systems that are nearly 100% clean, as many EV owners do, or take the slower route to wait for coal plants to phase out and clean renewables to phase in.

    Maybe do a redeeming piece on plug-in cars and the grid [grid power, grid trends, residential solar as fuel].  Thanks.

  • llaumann

    I drive an electric car because it is silent, smooth, and has impressive acceleration from a stop.  My EV is more fun to drive than my two-seater turbo sportscar I had for 15 years.  Hands down, it is a better driving experience. 

    More than a third of EVs are charged from home rooftop solar panels, something that every homeowner should consider.  Home solar panels charging electric vehicles improve our economy and energy security.

  • Ed Mainland

    More than 50 studies show electric vehicles are substantially “cleaner” and make fewer greenhouse gas emissions than internal-combustion vehicles. Why “Here & Now” would choose to air the anti-EV propaganda of a crank, without balancing his hokum with scientific truth, is puzzling.

    • gordon_wagner

       Recall LONG ago, 40 years, that Detroit (still a going concern at that time) commissioned a study on increasing fuel economy in automobiles (this after we sided with Israel and OPEC raised oil prices to thank us) — they purposely excluded gas-electric hybrids.

      Now, why would they do that? Dirty pool, much like this story.

    • N_Jessen

      Agreed, and with this comment regarding the hit piece:

      I’m sure many dittoheads would happily accept it at face value, but when you consider fossil carbon pollution and the potential for the grid (and manufacturing processes) to improve over time, it’s not that easy to write off electrics. Or improved hybrids that reduce energy waste while addressing “range anxiety”.

      How do such things as mining the materials for motors and batteries compare to a standard vehicle? And how about all the tar sands being dug up from beneath leveled boreal forests, and intensively processed to produce an increasing proportion of America’s fuel supply?

      Of course, it would be better if most cities and their burbs were designed for efficient travel/had better mass transit systems, and the majority of people didn’t feel the need to drive as much, but it seems we’re not quite there yet.

  • Emily

    Why do we not have solar panels over parking lots to provide shade for our cars and shoppers and power for our buildings and cars? Yeah, it’d be expensive to install, but… you’d then get free electricity.

    • gordon_wagner

       This is a great idea. Worth it in the long run.

  • Timbrainer

    Looking at the ‘system’, electric vehicles are less damaging to the environment and contribute less to global warming.  Please research that perspective and provide additional coverage.

  • Moriel

    What about HYBRIDS? The battery is charged by recapturing the energy during braking?

  • RoninNY

    He handpicks old research and doesn’t even state what study he is basing his skewed view on. Saying ‘the national academies’ over and over does not validate his claims. If you go to the National Acadamies site, there are a lot of studies, some of which are PRO electric vehicles. He sounds like a fake environmentalist- usually funded by some Koch brothers front group, like Heritage Foundation .

  • gordon_wagner

    Holy @#(*, was this produced by Big Oil?  I’ve got solar panels on my rooftop and they power just about everything when the sun is up.  I had an early Prius and it used very little gasoline.  USED VERY LITTLE GASOLINE. This story is really suspect. “Agenda-driven” you might say. Solar power is a GREAT idea.

    The old joke has it that we don’t have widespread solar power because the oil companies haven’t figured out how to build a pipeline to the sun yet. That’s too true.

    A former GM engineer, eh? Never owned a GM car. For a reason.

  • eSuzy

    I got an electric car after I put up my solar panels, which provide more than 100% of my electricity.  

  • Gadge

    Let’s face it, all manufacturing pollutes, but when considering the ‘in-phase’ use of an EV, there is far less pollution depending on your utility & the power generation mix.  As the owner of the 1st LEAF in Maine, I offset the electric power for my car with solar panels on my home.

  • Jay butera

    Aluminum and copper are fully recyclable! What is Mr. Zehner talking about???

    • gordon_wagner

       It’s GM engineering! It’s SPECIAL!!

  • Eveendicott

    I am powering my Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid by solar panels on my house. Isn’t this better than using polluting gasoline? Regular cars also have lots of parts with environmental impacts.

    • Calipenguin

       Your solar panels don’t work at night.  Most people recharge their EVs at night.  So you’re still using electricity generated by fossil fuels somewhere else.

      • PaulScott58

        Calipenguin, you are missing the point. When uyou generate clean electricity during the day, when demand is highest, you are offsetting dirty energy, mostly natural gas generated. At night, there is a lot of wind energy that goes wasted since the demand is so low. EVs charging at night can use that clean energy so it isn’t wasted.

  • Chainsaw

    What about the argument that much of the electricity generated at night is wasted. the electric cars would be using this wasted energy at night. Although  only something like 20% of the 
    cars on the road could be electric before they start increasing plant emissions.

    • JeffUr

      And replacing gasoline cars with electric cars will always decrease overall emissions by at least half if not way more depending on how green your power generation is and will get. As the power grid cleans up, all electric cars clean up. That will never happen with gasoline cars.

  • Andrew Page

    Having read the article there are glaring points missed by the author.

    1.   The entire assumption that none of an EV’s critical components and materials will be recycled.  That includes the lithium in the batteries, the copper in the motor and the aluminum in the frame.  ALL of these are far cheaper to recycle than to extract from raw ore.

    2.   That changes in the electric supply does not affect an EV’s environmental performance.  As electricity comes from cleaner sources such as wind, solar, hydro/tidal natural gas or(heaven forbid)nuclear that the EV’s become cleaner to drive.   Whereas your average internal combustion vehicle is still burning dead dinosaurs.

  • Jay butera

    I drive a 100% electric Nissan Leaf which I charge from solar panels on my roof. I drive on bottled sunlight. It is the most economical car I have ever owned. The battery in my car is fully recyclable, the aluminum and copper are fully recyclable. I object to Mr. Zehner’s distortions. 

    • Calipenguin

       Do you only drive at night?  I don’t see how you can recharge the Leaf during daylight hours.  If you have a home battery system or use the grid to recharge your car at night, that’s additional sources of pollution that Zehner mentioned.

      • JoeLado

         Batteries used in today’s off grid systems are 94% recycled. The carbon coming out of your tailpipe isn’t. Over the life of the car the amount of tailpipe emissions are significant while the momentary cost to the environment in production in comparison is insignificant. There are also huge emissions in the refining process that almost equal the emissions coming from cars. Most of the readers here now have the option to purchase wind and solar through their utility. That is what I do. My Volt, which I only fill up once a year, gets most of its energy from solar and wind, and so does my house. This is the commonsensical approach to solving our worlds geopolitical and environmental problems with one stone, the electric car. We would be stupid not to make this choice. 

  • Guest

    Are there tax credits to replace the batteries?  Have you seen how expensive they are to replace? What is the shelf life of these batteries; five or six years? Do we just toss it in the junk yard and get a new one? What about investing in better mass transportation?  I live within two blocks East and West of major service providers, stores, etc. yet there are no sidewalks to get to them leaving me with no other choice other than getting in my card and drive everywhere.  That would affect positively pollution problems, obesity problems, depression, etc.  

    • JeffUr

      Batteries are warranted to 8 years. They are too expensive to not recycle and renew for after market resale. Chevy Volt battery is expected now to go 12-15 years. The replacement part cost is $3000. Like rebuilding gas dirty gas car engine. :)

    • guest

      I just replaced my battery in a hybrid after eleven years. It cost over 3K for a new one. The dealer recycled the old one.

      • Anonymous

        Id really like to see the whole “recycle” process for these batteries. Probably cant be done economically in the US. I think for EV to really be practical longer term they need to standardise the battery systems so different vehicles can share the same elements. That would reduce cost and provide competition. These super custom packs are jacking the EV costs way up.

    • N_Jessen

      Even many of the older Prius (although not fully electric) are still going strong, and if memory serves have been tested well beyond 100K miles. And there’s no reason to think the cost won’t continue to come down, especially if electrics and partial electrics were to further expand their market share. There’s lots of room for ‘both’ reducing car use where practical, and replacing gasoline powered cars.

    • Guy Hall

      Guest, first of all I agree with your point that there should be neighborhood stores and sidewalks that support getting there.  Absolutely.   Though to answer your question about the afterlife for batteries is that they have great value after the car.   Typically they are considered unusable for EVs after they lose 30% of their capacity.  This is because the car has to haul around significant weight that is not productive and the owner’s range requirements might not be met any longer. However, the battery pack has great value in stationary applications, such as for the grid power management, home or office power backup, 3rd world locations with unstable power, etc.   These markets and applications are just getting started.

  • Jerry McMurry

    He is ignoring the fact that fossil fuel converted to automobile-propelling energy via a large power plant is highly more efficient than the conversion that occurs within a standard gasoline engine built into the same automobile.  It does not answer all of his complaint, but it is significant.

  • Chainsaw

    I’m tired of people searching for a silver bullet on energy. Walkable cities are part of it, electric cars are part of it, high milage gas cars are part of it.

    • shri chaudhary

      Not to mention reliable and convenient public transportation. I had the opportunity to visit Basel Switzerland for just an afternoon. I was impressed by the network of electric  trolleys and the frequency with which they ran.

  • Walter Bays

    Periodically another oil industry funded “study” shows how bad EV’s are. They add in the total life cycle vehicle production and disposal costs of the EV and compare it to just the running costs of the gas vehicle. Or they add in the total life cycle energy production costs of petroleum and compare it to just the cost of gas from the pump. Every time a number of news organizations are suckered into running the story. I expected better of NPR: a little background research of your own. It’s called journalism.

  • SteveEV

    What an absurd premise. Compare a vehicle which forever burns a constrained and toxic liquid fuel which becomes more so over time with one that may use any electric fuel source, a great number of which cause no toxic effluent. My electric vehicle had caused 100% of its emissions before I took delivery. Solar collectors on my garage generate free power with no emissions to produce a net carbon footprint per mile which decreases every day. The only way a gas vehicle can do better is to recycle it before driving.

  • DaveE

    We own an electric car. We have also installed solar cells on our house that offset some of the electric usage. We have elected green energy for our electric source and it is true that all that energy isn’t green. Wouldn’t it be better to improve electrical generation to be cleaner than abandon electric cars?  Also, don’t cell phones and other electronics we all use have precious metals. Couldn’t disposal of electric cars be done in a responsible manner? As far as walking and bicycling we do as much as possible, but because of where we live it isn’t feasible at all times. If we use more gasoline then more oil drilling will be necessary at great environmental cost.  The electric car is a step forward, perhaps not perfect but still a step. We love our electric car, and will continue to support them.

  • Argh

    Why are we giving continued life to these long-discredited articles?

  • Gloria

    There are many electric car owners who have photo voltaic systems on their roof tops, including myself.  I had my PV system installed 4 years before I leased my plug-in car.  I’m waiting to see how much my electricity consumption increases this year.  I’v had a zero net metering for the last 4 years.  I feel I’m doing my part.  I hope there are more studies to refute some of these claims….I don’t like the feeling of spending a lot of money and not helping the environment.  (Bubble bursting in the background.)

  • Steve

    Although electric autos and hybrids are not an ideal solution to our environmental transportation problems, keep in mind that electric power plants (of any kind) generally operate at their maximum efficiency, or “steady state” condition, whereas gasoline/diesel fueled vehicles rarely achieve their maximum efficiencies because of start/stop driving, temperature variations, etc.  Thus, electric autos would result in a net improvement in efficiency of energy consumption.

  • BrianKeez

    NPR has a Koch problem and needs our intervention.  Frustrating.

  • yanquetino

    Zehner makes sweeping generalizations that are inaccurate, outdated, and consequently misleading.

    Like the largest percentage of electric vehicle owners, I power mine with solar panels on my roof, and thus its emissions are zero, zip, zilch, nada. In fact, even if I did power it from the grid in my state, its greenhouse gases would be only 1/4th those of a comparable gas-burning vehicle, and 1/3rd those of a natural gas car.

    Moreover, can Zehner honestly purport that oils spills and fracking are doing less damage to our planet than manufacturing EV batteries? I suggest that he consult a relevant study from Switzerland published in Environmental Science and Technology that debunks this myth:

    Contribution of Li-Ion Batteries to the Environmental Impact of Electric Vehicles

    The researchers conclusions?

    All the facts taken together, the results of the LCA, the various sensitivity analyses, the modeling applied for EOL, the assumption for the used electricity mix, etc., suggest that E-mobility is environmentally beneficial compared to conventional mobility. The Li-ion battery plays a minor role in the assessment of the environmental burden of E-Mobility. Thus, a Li-ion battery in an BEV does not lead to an overcompensation of the potential benefits of the higher efficiency of BEV compared to an ICEV.

  • ThirdWayForward

    Zehner doesn’t like cars period. His is an argument mostly against cars — against individualized rapid transportation — sure there are environmental consequences of using electric cars, but it was far from clear from this program that they are significantly worse than gas-guzzlers (where were the numbers?).

    We would like to see smaller, lighter electric city cars — that would be one way of reducing the amount of materials and operating costs of solar vehicles. There is no reason a city car needs to go above 55 mph or more than 50 miles in range.The pollution generated by the electrical power generation that electric cars use depends on the mode of generation, which for electric cars can be solar, wind, and hydro power.

    If the electricity is generated by fossil fuels that produce air pollutants, at least those pollutants are situated nearer the power generation sites and not in the middle of big cities, where they will cause the most damage to human health, both to rich and poor. So in terms of the health effects on the most people, even if electric and fossil powered vehicles generated the same amounts of air pollutants, the health effects of dumping those  pollutants into the air of densely populated cities would be much greater. We don’t see those kinds of differences being factored in to his calculations.

    Ideally, rather than subsidies, we would have a carbon tax and an air pollution tax that would factor in the various externalities of these technologies, thereby leveling the playing field somewhat. Fossil fuels have substantial subsidies that could be reduced or eliminated   (right now we pay hundreds of billions per year maintaing military power capable of defending the Middle East oil fields — those expenditures might be better spent making the US energy independent).

    A massive switch back to public transport is never going to happen, except, perhaps under very dire economic circumstances where most people can no longer afford cars.

    Our political system is completely captured by special economic interests that block any kind of comprehensive systemic rational solutions. If we cannot even raise the gas tax to cover all of the transportation infrastructure expenditures that roads require, we also do not have the political will to support greater access to more effective mass transit systems. The socio-political barriers are always far, far more formidable than the technological ones.

    • Calipenguin

       A city car has no need to above 40 mph unless there are expressways that allow 50 mph.  In any case Zehner advocates the use of bicycles and public transportation within city limits.  If you ever see a Youtube video of Copenhagen residents bringing kids and shopping with cargo bikes you’ll realize we don’t need electric cars in cities.
      Don’t blame our political system for the car-centric policies that even you adhere to.  Blame the voters’ addiction to effortless transportation.

      • ThirdWayForward

        Pardon me, bicycling is sooooo virtuous — you bicyclers are clearly better people than the rest of us (sluggards) because you invest more physical effort in your transport and are not addicted to “effortless” pursuits. This comes across as holier-than-thou. 

        We are not absolutely against any mode of transport — we wish that there were more transportation options for everybody that ranged from walking and bikes to scooters and city cars to full size vehicles and public transit. City cars are an important part of that mix, especially given the way, like it or not, American cities have evolved. 

        But most American cities are not like central Copenhagen, and it is difficult to raise a family without a car in all but a few selected American cities. It typically can take many times longer to commute using public transport than by car, and bicycling itself can be quite dangerous when it involves mixing with dense motor vehicle traffic and/or biking amidst snow and ice. In Boston there has been a disturbing string of bicycle deaths this year alone, but the biking community is in total denial about the risks, and as a result there is a surprising amount of internal debate about whether helmets should be worn (maybe bicycle safety would make e a good Here And Now topic).

        Given the choice, we would rather spend much more money on public transit and dedicated bike paths so as to make car-less lifestyles more viable — a carbon and pollution tax would help move things in that direction while preserving choice of transportation alternatives for those who need or want them. Choice is good — the more lifestyle choices for more people, the better.

      • prmiller

        Do you suppose that watching a video of a remote village in Africa where they carry loads by foot while balancing them on their heads also make you realize that we don’t need cargo bicycles?

  • Dency Nelson

    Why do we have to keep listening to these guys who don’t know what they are talking about, and why does NPR give them this forum?  I have 4.2kw of PV solar on my roof that has powered my home and my two plug-in electric vehicles for over 14 years.  Those two electric vehicles have taken me over 150,000 miles for all of my driving needs in Southern California.  Both the rooftop solar and the cars will continue to operate basically maintenance and parts free for many years to come.  In all of that time, no used up parts and oil going into landfills, no carbon emitted into the atmosphere, and no need to destroy our planet or to go into battle overseas to obtain the fuel to power those cars and my house.  And when the life of the batteries in my cars after hundreds of miles of clean driving have been exhausted, all of the valuable metals in those batteries will be reused.  Absolutely no comparison to the vehicles Zehner wants us to continue to rely on. 

    • Khoa Cao

      totally agree with you. Furthermore, if there is such discussion that keeps pointing at the “potential” danger instead of focusing on the coming positive of solar-powered vehicle, we are going nowhere. If this engineer is any serious, the only option for us is walking. Anything comes with a cost (cycling is potentially dangerous to the environment as well because no solar-powered factory I have ever heard of is making bike parts), it is the improvement as things progress that will push us forward that we need to focus on.

    • Calipenguin

       Do you drive your electric vehicles to work?  If so, how can you charge them using your home solar system during the daytime?  If you have a home battery storage system, how much more did you pay for the chemical batteries?  Ever had to dispose of any batteries?

      • guest

        It depends on how many miles the car owners commute is. Many of our neighbors have EV and plug-in hybrids. Their round trip commutes are under 100 miles so they don’t recharge while they are at work but wait until they return home.

        My old battery was recycled by the dealership, and it is illegal to dispose of them in the landfill in CA.

        • Calipenguin

           Thanks.  This has been my observation as well.  EV owners charge their cars at home at night using the utility’s grid, in which power is generated from a fossil fuel hundreds of miles away.  In the daytime the PV panels put electricity onto the grid, but that electricity is not being used to recharge EVs.

          • orenyny

            At night, the consumption of power is mostly zero emission. the reason is that utilities keep their plants running for the peak capacity. At night they are simply over capacity, therefore charging an EV at night creates net revenue for the utility, but also there is a lot of room to charge electric cars without increasing capacity (and therefore without increasing emission).
            In the future electric cars can serve as batteries for the grid. charging at night and giving back to the grid during peak hours (if managed correctly).
            PV provide important capacity during the day time when consumption is in high demand.

          • guest

            In CA the power is generated by wind, and natural gas, not coal.

          • SteveEV

            My electric utility encourages EV drivers to charge at night to better utilize its wind power generation facilities. Meanwhile my solar array generates at its peak during peak demand periods for grid power. This arrangement seems to help everyone avoid fossil fuels.

  • Karyl

    I really appreciate Zehner’s caution about scholarly, peer-reviewed research. I teach technical writing at a community college and the main product of that class is a research paper based on scholarly, peer-reviewed articles in journals. I am guessing that the preponderance of these articles are funded by corporations that do have an influence on the research questions and answers.  For example, medical school scholarships and research are often funded by pharmaceutical companies. So the reader must balance the kinds of research results obtained to try to get a complete, somewhat unbiased picture of a research question, but it is not easy, especially with the thousands of databases available to students now.

    • PaulScott58

      Have you asked Ozzie how much the oil industry is paying him? I suspect he is a paid hack. Otherwise, why would he make statements that are so easily discredited, and why would he completely ignore the detrimental aspects of oil?

  • Jim Montgomery

    Wow, extremely disappointed that NPR would run such a shoddy story by a person whose “research” has been completely discredited as skewed and not looking at the complete picture.  Although NPR may have bought into the snake oil that Zehner is trying to peddle, very pleased to see that the public has not based upon the comments below.  And to add to the list, I have been driving 100% battery electric vehicles since 1992, covering 270,000 EV miles since that date.  We have a 4 KW solar PV system on our roof, powering my car (2002 Toyota RAV4 EV) and my wife’s recently acquired 2013 Nissan LEAF and our house.. and we still put more electricity into the grid than we take out!  We drive on sunshine with American made electricity that couldn’t be more local.  My brother serves in the Michigan National Guard and did two tours of duty protecting “our” oil in the Middle East.  Not only is driving 100% battery electric a winner in terms of environmental benefits, it improves my personal economic security and our national security as well.  The status quo (Big Oil and their paid hacks) are doing all they can to confuse the public on the benefits of EVs because they know once you drive a 100% battery electric vehicle you will never go back to a gas car.  You are free from the tyranny of oil!

    • guy

      whats the make and model of your all electric car that was made in 1992?

  • MarkIra613

    An EV passes its carbon footprint on to the grid.  However, the size of the footrpint is dramatically reduced. 

    Even in a state like West Virginia, the carbon footprint of a Tesla Model S is about half of that from a car of similar size and performance. 

    And in a state like Vermont, which produces on average the cleanest electricity in the nation, the carbon footprint produced by the Tesla is a very small fraction of that produced by its gasoline equivlant.

    It should also be noted that even though electric cars go back more than a century, they are  still in their infancy.

    This means that we are seeing the WORST that electric cars will ever be. They will continue to drop in price and soar in terms of efficiency in operation and safety in manufacturing.

    Hopefully this will parallel the development of cleaner and more efficient methods of producing the electricity needed to charge such cars.

  • PaulScott58

    What is the matter with NPR? You give valuable air time to a charlatan who has an axe to grind and who posits innacurate information about a technology that can, and does, greatly reduce our generation of climate change gasses. Balanced journalism compels telling both sides of a story. Plug In America is the go-to organization for pro-EV experts. We have been fighting Ozzie in the comments section for weeks now, but he keeps getting the interviews. Please contact Plug In America and ask for a speaker to counter Mr. Zehner’s lies. 

    Our personal transportation is 99% reliant on oil as the energy source. The entire world needs to stop using oil for this purpose as soon as possible. Electric cars represent a practical technology that will do that in the shortest time frame of any other option. 

    • Jim Montgomery

       NPR, I second Mr. Scott’s request.  Please give Plug In America equal time to counter the lies that you have subjected your audience to.  The evidence and facts regarding the benefits of plug-in electric vehicles is overwhelming; to the environment as well as our economic and national security. Plug In America is the perfect organization to give you the true story based upon fact that can be backed up and not inaccurate information from people like Zehner that can and has been easily discredited.

    • Calipenguin

       Zehner does not advocate the use of oil.  He merely asks that you consider where your electricity comes from.  States like California are using natural gas (still a fossil fuel) and importing energy from Arizona, which is over 90% generated by coal. 

      • Ashkenazer

        You are changing the issue from electricity to fuel transportation to the issue of how that electricity is obtained  –  not the problem of the electric vehicle, but of the lack of solar electricity.  Check out what Denmark is doing with electric vehicles & solar panels at parking lots to utilize the cars as energy storage devices.

    • Nick Galaday

      Plug-In America is not funded by any industry or corporation.  It is funded by EV fans’ love of our environment, our balance of trade (oil), and folks who are not in denial about climate change.  They have no anterior motives.  They aren’t that exciting, ie., they don’t sell a lot of air time, but why would NPR worry about that…?  NPR, please don’t go over to the dark side. 

      70% of oil is used for transportation.  Just think of what an impact the increasing use of EVs can have.  It can happen none too fast for my money.  What a different world this can be.


        I presume you mean ulterior motives, and not “anterior” motives.

  • Ebikeguy

    Zehner may be a well-intentioned hack, but he is a hack none-the-less.  His
    unsupported allegations against electric cars are directly refuted by the
    extensive scientific research done by numerous, credible organizations which
    shows that EVs are less polluting and have lower carbon footprints than do their
    gasoline-consuming counterparts.

    Zehner wants us all to live in a more energy-efficient manner.  That’s great,
    but the oil industry’s huge PR machine never allows that message to be broadcast
    as anything more than a footnote.  They splash anti-EV headlines everywhere they
    can, and use Zehner’s alleged “credentials” as an expert to perpetrate a hoax of
    epic proportions.

    NPR should be ashamed of itself to give a major microphone to junk science
    such as this.


      You give Zehner far too much credit by describing him as “well-intentioned.  He is a shill paid by the Koch brothers and the rest of the oil industry to use his junk science to try to discredit electric vehicles.

  • KevininNW

    Electric vehicles can play a major part in improving our economy and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. At present time, about 8 kilowatts hours of electricity are used in the full cycle production and transport of every gallon of gasoline [1]. The average US passenger vehicle uses five gallons of gasoline and thus 40 kilowatts hours of electric power to travel a distance of 100 miles. An average modern 5-person  electric vehicle can travel 3.8 miles per kilowatt hour. A 2011 Nissan Leaf can travel 100 miles using only 26.3 kilowatts hours of electric power. By driving electric cars instead of our present internal combustion engine vehicles, we can simultaneously eliminate the use of gasoline and reduce our electric power use.
     According to the EPA one gallon of gasoline used in a typical internal combustion engine car creates about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. For every million electric cars on the road and we can prevent 2 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide every year. This transition to an electric vehicle fleet would vastly improve our country’s energy efficiency, would reduce our reliance on foreign fossil fuel, reduce our US dollars from exiting our economy, and greatly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It’s time to press the accelerator toward widespread electric vehicle adoption. Be the first, not the last, one on the block to make this change toward a smarter future.
    [1] Peder Norby “Hidden Cost of Energy” CurrentEVents, Noverber 2011 Vol. 43 No. 11

    • jeffhre

      I believe 8KW is a stretch, though few have looked at the energy costs of all refined inputs into production and distribution and the energy cost of transporting massive amounts of water into refineries. But massive amounts of water are used to generate electricity as well.

  • KellyO

    As I remember Ozzie Zehner’s arguments in his book, he’s not too fond of anything other than biking or walking. In fact, as I remember it, his arguments center around not going far enough with alternative energy – current attempts are all half-cheeked – from his point of view.

    As “The Dude” would say, “That’s just your opinion, man.”

  • JeffUr

    Shame on NPR! As a 2 plugin electric car family we know the lies this guy is spewing.
    Giving a guy like this air time is very harmful to our society. He’s in it for his own agenda obviously. Solar and wind electrical generation can NOW make up for ALL the carbon electrical generation in our country. THAT IS WHAT YUR LISTENERS NEED TO KNOW!

  • herenna

    Questioning electric cars does not make Mr Zehner a “hack”.  And, he’s not advocating gas car usage, it sounded to me like he wants everyone to take public transportation and ride bicycles.
    I’m glad to hear so many people are able to generate a lot of their electricity via solar panels—this makes the electric car as a “clean” vehicle much more reasonable. Much of the country burns coal to produce electricity, however, and if electric vehicles are being powered with electricity in that way, well—not so clean. The Union Of Concerned Scientists claim that 44 percent of the electricity generated in the US comes from highly polluting coal burning. 

    • Ebikeguy

      If Zehner were not a hack, the headline to this article would not be “Could Electric Cars Be Bad For The Environment?”  It would be “Public Transportation and Bicycles are Great,” or something similar.  He keeps burying his message about energy efficiency under layer upon layer of “Green Technology is Evil” mumbo-jumbo.

      Also note that the Union of Concerned Scientists, whom you reference, has come to the unambivalent conclusion that EVs are better for the planet than are gasoline-powered cars, even given the dependence on coal-fired power plants seen in various regions of the globe.

      • Jim Montgomery

         Exactly!  Well put.    Bland subjects like “Public Transportation and Bicycles are Great” does not sell books or advertising but provocative subjects like “”Could Electric Cars Be Bad For The Environment?”  do.   If Zehner focused his message on energy efficiency, I am in support of what he is saying as I agree the cleanest source of a resource is the resource not used.

    • Jim Montgomery

      I respectfully disagree.   Anyone that churns out conclusions that are based upon faulty premises without thorough research to back it up as he as done is in my mind a “hack” regardless the motivation.  His “research” has been discredited as incomplete and not based upon reality.  NPR does it’s listeners a disservice by giving him a forum to spread his faulty journalism. I expect better from them. If I wanted weak entertainment-focused journalism I’d listen to Fox or CNN or (insert your favorite corporate-controlled mass media outlet here).     I ride my bike and walk as much as possible, but I live in the Los Angeles area and due to our urban sprawl and inadequate mass transit system, I am forced to use a car.  When I use a car, I want it to have as light a footprint as possible.  Driving a 100% battery electric vehicle powered by solar PV on our roof gives me that opportunity.  A gas car doesn’t compare (drill for oil, transport to a refinery, refine the oil into gas, transport to a gas station, pump into your car, burn it in your car).   The greatest impact my car has was when it was manufactured.  It requires precious little consumables like motor oil, air filters, etc.  Driving an EV even from a coal plant is cleaner than driving a gas car.  And as many have pointed out, the grid is much cleaner than 100% coal and is getting cleaner every day.  And many of us drive on 100% renewable.  Gas cars only get more polluting with age, plug-in electrics get cleaner as the grid gets cleaner.  Sorry NPR, you have failed your listeners. Please do better vetting your  sources in the future.  And please give Plug In America equal time to give your listeners information on plug-in electrics based upon solid factual information.

  • http://www.facebook.com/warren.tighe.1 Warren Tighe

    Mr Zehner needed a controversial statement to sell his book.  Its a shame that Here & Now picked up on that Trojan horse instead of reporting on the accurate part of his book which is that green technologies like electric cars are only a marginal short-term benefit.  We need to drastically reduce and change our consumption and transportation habits to achieve the big gains the environment needs. 

    • mikeg3

       We simply need to use and enhance known technology to make cars and energy production less polluting.  Eliminating powered personal transportation is not going to happen.  Let’s concentrate on the possible.

  • Zabiht

    Diesel series hybrid with a relatively small battery pack is the cleanest.

    • Jim Montgomery

       Please provide references to back up your assertion.  Thanks.

      • jeffhre

        A series hybrid especially a plug in with modern pollution control equip would likely be benign for quite some time in a garage, though the full EV would eliminate the burning of diesel altogether. Common sense would have to dictate that would be cleaner and safer when using wind energy and solar panels, than diesel. Wouldn’t it..

    • PaulScott58

      Zabiht, Tell you what, you get in your diesel car and start it up in an enclosed garage. I’ll get in my EV and turn it on in enclosed garage. We can chat on our cell phones for a while until I hear your voice slurring. I’ll then call 911 to have you saved from your “cleanest” car.

  • Paiman Yousafi

    Lets not ignore this claim by Mr.Zehner, this is brought to our attention by an intelligent engineer early in its making. There is always a down side to big new inventions like electric cars. I have one question for Mr. Zehner: is electric cars going to eventually end global warming or continue to add on to it?

    Thank you

    - Paiman Yousafi

  • orenyny

    It is good to doubt every thing that we do. But this guy spreads more  confusion for his own profit. It is annoying that people have no moral, when they make this kind of outraging statements.

  • Chris Cox

    I have a 6.5 kw solar system installed on my home. I get a smile on my face every
    time I see our C-Max Energi come up the driveway for it’s free recharge. Wake
    up , the dirty electric vehicle claim is the latest scare tactic of big energy
    to scare us out of our clean and might I just say extremely inexpensive to own and operate PHEV cars.


  • shri chaudhary

    What about Hybrids like the Toyota Prius?

  • Mitchell_swann

    This guy’s argument is the most specious, circular nonsense I have heard in a long time.  Power for electric cars CAN come from coal fired plants, but those plants would be coal fired if they powered electric cars or electric toothbrushes.  There are opportunities to reduce fossil fuels using electric transport that simply are not there using gas/diesel power.  Can we use CNG? Yes, and we should….as a transition to something that doesn’t involve burning stuff.  The expense of electric cars is NOT due to the fossil fuel energy used to produce them (why not connect them to the non-coal fired plants?? duh!) but due to the “economies of scale’ issues that are inherent in a ‘new’ technology coming into the marketplace when compared to an existing (and incidentally, subsidized) technology like fossil fuels.  This was true of radio, television, computers, airbags, the ‘walkman’ players, etc,etc etc.  Is there an environmental impact from the manufacture of electric cars? YUP!  But we are going to “make” cars.  If we advance the e-car technology, maybe we can reduce its environmental footprint much like we’ve done with other manufactured products over the years.  Should we walk and use public transit? YUP!  But but when you’ve got to go on a 200 mile trip from One-Eyed Dog-ville to Po-dunk Town and there is no ‘public transit’, well….

    We’ve got to start SOMEWHERE!  We’ve got to start making some changes.  And we’ve got to stop listening to people who try to make the perfect the enemy of the good.  This is an iterative process.  

  • Bryan Baker

    This is shameful.  Show the real story or I’m cancelling my subscription/support of NPR.  It’s a distortion to even show this “side” at all.  It’s worthy of a footnote, not a full NPR monologue.

  • Bryan

    The electric car is not just about the environment, the electric car is simple. Simplification is the ultimate satisfaction-Leonardo Di Vince. And because it is simple it will last longer and be easier to fix.  

  • Raymondgoebel

    Its about time somebody espoused some common sense into the “green movement”…..ie the ethanol boondoggle that we are still stuck with, because of politics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marc.fontana.3 Marc Fontana

    Ozzie Zehner is wrong !  The “real’ facts don’t support his assertion.   His careful choice of some aspects of EVs are used to support his argument.  He is not looking at all aspects of using gasoline from wells to wheels to make a fair comparison.  He has not credibility in my mind.  Look at the whole picture Ozzie !!!

  • Andrew D

    I was skeptical to his claims at first, but he makes sense. Southern California undoubtedly has high traffic congestion and air pollution from cars, but replacing all those cars with electric vehicles will not help reduce the amount of pollution overall. He brings up the question as to WHY are we not investing more in public transportation and infrastructure and I whole heartedly agree. I have tried public transportation around the OC and it is terribly inconvenient. Investing more in PT I believe is the responsible thing to do, and the more we distance ourselves from cars the better off our planet will be. 

    • PaulScott58

      Andrew, there is not one shred of evidence to support your claims. If you were to replace all the ICE cars with electric, the pollution in SoCal would be dramatically reduced. This is basic common sense. Multiple studies, many cited in the comments here, have conclusively shown this to be true. 

    • jeffhre

      1) Southern California uses very little coal, essentially shifting the fuel from gasoline to NG, hydro, wind and solar.

      2) Power plants are 60% efficient. And gasoline engines are 22% efficient, after using 6KW of energy just to refine, deliver and pump each gallon of fuel into customers gas tanks. (Average EV will travel about 20 miles on 6KW of electricity)

      3) CARB studies show that 33% of California EV drivers deploy solar panels.

      4) EV drivers are often so excited about using less energy with their cars that they are inspired to execute efficiency measures about their homes such as LED lighting. They often find that they recover through efficiency measures, nearly all of the electricity required to run their vehicles.

      Knowing this, is it that easy to say with informed certainty that “replacing all those cars with electric vehicles will not help reduce the amount of pollution overall” in Southern California?

  • Joe

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking on the greenwashing crap machine that has people believing that buying “green” will save the planet. Are there exceptions? Sure. Those that live off grid and power their vehicles from solar panels are taking the smallest step. However, the key to the whole discussion is that without a significant change in the urban fabric of the US we are trading one drug for another. Living closer to everything we need and do (density) is the only way to reduce the human impact.  

  • VerifiableTruthMattersAlot

    rmi.org, available as an ebook. Lovins also talked to NPR’s Talk of the Nation,
    Science Friday on 10-21-2011 as the book was being released.

    This design is important because it’s how the American People
    are going to stop the Republican Party, aka GOP, particularly the Right Wing,
    from success in murdering 7 BILLION People in the next few decades. So far the
    planet is on a trajectory to become uninhabitable. People under 50 will no
    longer have a future as the GOP-BIG OIl continue to ramp up with processing of:
     tar sands, oil shale, and shipping some 18 train cars of coal from Montana and
    Wyoming to the West Coast, so they can go by boat to be burned in China. They
    put another 30-70% more pollution into an already saturated atmosphere, making
    sure the planet goes over a permanent, irreversible cliff 2015 by continuing to
    lie about the physics that governs this planet, something as basic as The
    Greenhouse Effect. Everyone of these areas are accelerants, just like
    pouring gasoline on highly combustible materials, that are already near ignition
    point.  They will create self-propelling loops we will not be able to
    Everyone  clearly understands the physics, when they park a
    vehicle in the direct sunlight with the windows rolled up. The car doesn’t heat
    up because the “sun is hot”. It heats up because of changes in frequency and
    wavelength called “The Greenhouse Effect”. They’ve used the physics for decades
    to heat passive solar homes. When sunlight reaches our planet  it comes in as
    short wavelength of visible light which is capable of penetrating many things,
    like glass. But once it’s inside of a vehicle or the south facing window on a
    house, it slams into something. A chunk flies off and is absorbed. The rest
    tries to bounce off and get back out. It’s no longer short wavelength of visible
    light. Now what is trying to get out is a much L-O-N-G-E-R  wavelength called
    Infrared. It can’t get back through the glass, so it slams into the glass,
    bounces off and slams back into the seat, or dash, or the brick floor of the
    passive solar house. It will continue bouncing back and forth until the energy
    is absorbed or radiates into the air. In the car we open the windows or turn on 
    the air conditioning, when we open the car door and get blasted by all that
    heat. In the house, the heat is picked up by fluids and transported to other
    areas of the house, released through windows at the ceiling, or redistributed in
    the air by fans. In the atmosphere,  there are no such venting-cooling
    mechanisms. The pollution stands in for the glass, except that “greenhouse
    gases” like carbon dioxide, water, methane or natural gas, among others are very
    chemically interactive. They like to grab onto heat, and in doing so they form a
    thicker and thicker blanket, aka a thicker and thicker piece of glass,  so there
    are no holes. THE RESULT: the heat can not continue to escape back into space.
    Then the oceans reach up and grab 94% of the heat, because water really loves
    heat, and oceans are 70% of the surface area of this planet. Oceans also
    grab 33% of the acidity, which will slowly turn oceans from water to a strong
    acid killing all life forms.
    The GOP-BIG OIL, with their ignorance and their incredible
    dishonestly, have set into motion horrific accelerations that we now have less
    than a decade to stop. These forces are every bit as powerful as gravity, even
    though they aren’t quite as fast. Once they get going and become self-propelling
    loops, we won’t be able to stop them. On their current trajectory the GOP-BIG
    OIL corruption intend to do that by 2015, and things should be kicking into high
    gear by 2020. If…. these accelerants ARE NOT used: tar sands, oil shale, or
    increased burning of large amounts of coal, we will have less than a decade to
    stop these horrific accelerations. If…they are used, we go over an
    irreversible cliff, 2015 and things kick into high gear 2020.
    So while the GOP likes to run around pretending they’re
    PRO-LIFE, the reality is; they are now MASS MURDERERS who need to be INDICTED.
    They’ve murdered TENS of MILLIONS since 2010 with sea level rise, severe weather
    events, and especially with food crop failures from those events that have
    shoved over 500 million people into starvation and malnutrition.
    Every effort is underway to get the FBI, DOJ and others to
    pursue charges for 1) Crimes Against Humanity, 2) Breach of National Security,
    3) Mass Murder, 4) Fraud


    America’s public energy conversation boils down to this question: Would you rather die of A) oil wars, or B) climate change, or C) nuclear holocaust, or D) all of the above? Oh, I missed one: or E) none of the
    above? That’s the one we’re not normally
    offered. What if we could make energy do our
    work without working our
    undoing? Could we have fuel without
    fear?Could we reinvent
    You see, fire made us
    human; fossil fuels made us
    modern. But now we need a new
    fire that makes us safe, secure, healthy and
    durable. Let’s see how.
    Four-fifths of the world’s energy still comes from burning each year four, cubic miles of the rotted
    remains of primeval swamp goo. Those fossil fuels have built our civilization. They’ve created our wealth. They’ve enriched the lives of
    billions. But they also have rising costs to our security, economy, health and
    environment that are starting to erode, if not outweigh their
    So we need a new
    fire. And switching from the old fire to the new
    fire means changing two big stories about oil and
    electricity, each of which puts two-fifths of the fossil
    carbon in the air. But they’re really quite
    Less than one percent of our electricity is
    made from oil – although almost half is made from
    coal. Their uses are quite
    concentrated. Three-fourths of our oil fuel is
    transportation.Three-fourths of our electricity powers
    buildings. And the rest of both runs
    factories. So very efficient vehicles, buildings and
    factories save oil and coal, and also natural gas that can displace both of
    But today’s energy system is not just
    inefficient, it is also disconnected, aging, dirty and insecure. So it needs refurbishment. By 2050 though, it could become
    efficient, connected and distributed with elegantly frugal autos, factories and buildings all relying on a modern, secure and resilient electricity system.
    We can eliminate our addiction to oil and coal
    by 2050 and use one-third less natural
    gas while switching to efficient
    use and renewable supply. This could cost, by
    2050, five trillion dollars less in net present
    value, that is expressed as a lump sum
    today, than “business-as-usual”
    – assuming that carbon
    emissions and all other hidden or external costs are
    worth zero – a conservatively low estimate, since they
    actually are not worth zero. Yet this cheaper energy
    system could support 158 percent bigger U.S.
    economy all without needing oil or
    coal, or for that matter nuclear
    energy. Moreover, this transition needs no new
    inventions and no acts of
    Congress and no new federal taxes, mandate subsidies or
    laws and running Washington
    Let me say that again. I’m going to tell you how to get the United
    States completely off oil and coal, five trillion dollars
    cheaper with no act of Congress led by business for profit. In other words, we’re going to use our most effective
    institutions – private enterprise co-evolving with civil
    society and sped by military innovation to go around our least effective
    institutions.And whether you care most about profits and jobs and competitive
    advantage or national security, or environmental
    stewardship and climate protection and public
    health, reinventing fire makes sense and makes
    General Eisenhower reputedly
    said that enlarging the boundaries of a tough
    problem makes it solvable by encompassing more options
    and more synergies. So in reinventing
    fire, we integrated all
    four sectors that use energy: 1) Transportation, 2) Buildings, 3) Industry and
    4) Electricity – and we integrated
    four kinds of innovation,: not just 1) Technology & 2)
    Policy, but also 3) Design and 3) Business
    Strategy. Those combinations
    yield very much more than the sum of the
    parts, especially in creating deeply disruptive
    business opportunities.
    Oil costs our economy two billion dollars a
    day, plus another four billion dollars a
    day in hidden economic and military
    costs, raising its total cost to over a sixth of
    GDP. Our mobility fuel goes three-fifths to
    automobiles. So let’s start by making autos oil
    free. Two-thirds of the energy it takes to move a
    typical car is caused by its
    weight. And every unit of energy you save at the
    wheels, by taking out weight or
    drag, saves seven units in the
    tank,because you don’t have to waste six
    units getting the energy to the
    Unfortunately, over the past quarter
    century, epidemic obesity has made our two-ton steel
    cars gain weight, twice as fast as we have. But today, ultralight, ultrastrong
    materials, like carbon fiber
    composites, can make dramatic weight savings
    snowball and can make cars simpler and cheaper to
    build. Lighter and more slippery autos need less force to move them,so their engines get smaller. Indeed, that sort of vehicle fitness then makes electric propulsion
    affordable because the batteries or fuel cells also get smaller and lighter and
    cheaper. So sticker prices will ultimately fall to about the
    same as today, while the driving cost, even from the
    start, is very much lower.
    So these innovations together can transform
    automakers from wringing tiny savings out of Victorian engine and seal-stamping
    technologies to the steeply falling costs of three linked innovations that strongly reenforce
    each other – namely ultralight materials, making them into
    structures and electric propulsion. The sales can grow and the prices fall even
    faster with temporary feebates, that is rebates for efficient new
    autos paid for by fees on inefficient ones.
    And just in the first two years the biggest of Europe’s five feebate
    programs has tripled the speed of improving automotive
    efficiency. The resulting shift to electric autos is going to be as game-changing as shifting from typewriters to the gains in
    computers. Of course, computers and electronics are now America’s biggest industry, while typewriter makers have vanished. So vehicle fitness opens a new automotive competitive
    strategy that can double the oil savings over the next 40
    years, but then also make electrification
    affordable,and that displaces the rest of the oil.
    America could lead this next automotive
    revolution. Currently the leader is
    Germany. Last year, Volkswagen
    announced that by next year they’ll be
    producing this carbon fiber plug-in
    hybrid getting 230 miles a
    gallon. Also last year, BMW
    announced this carbon fiber electric
    car, they said that its carbon fiber is paid
    for by needing fewer
    batteries. And they said, “We do not intend to be a
    typewriter maker.” Audi claimed it’s going to beat them both by a
    Seven years ago, an even faster and
    cheaper American manufacturing technology was used to make this little carbon fiber test
    part, which doubles as a carbon cap. (Laughter as he puts it on his head and then tosses it
    into the crowd.) In one minute — and you can tell from the
    sound how immensely stiff and strong it is. Don’t worry about dropping it, it’s tougher than
    titanium. Tom Friedman actually whacked it as hard as he could
    with a sledgehammer without even scuffing it.
    But such manufacturing
    techniques can scale to automotive speed and
    cost with aerospace
    performance. They can save four-fifths of the capital
    needed to make autos. They can save lives because this stuff can
    absorb up to 12 times as much crash energy per pound
    as steel. If we made all of our autos this
    way, it would save oil equivalent to
    finding one and a half Saudi Arabias, or half an
    OPEC, by drilling in the Detroit formation, a very
    prospective play. And all those mega-barrels under
    Detroit, cost an average of 18 bucks a
    barrel. They are all-American,
    carbon-free and inexhaustible.
    The same physics and the same business
    logic also apply to big
    vehicles. In the five years ending with 2010, Walmart saved 60 percent of the fuel per
    ton-mile in its giant fleet of heavy trucks through better logistics and design. But just the technological savings in heavy
    trucks can get to two-thirds. And combined with triple to quintuple efficiency
    airplanes, now on the drawing board, can save close to a trillion dollars.
    Also today’s military revolution in energy
    efficiency is going to speed up all of these civilian
    advances in much the same way that military
    R&D has given us the Internet, the Global Positioning
    System and the jet engine and microchip
    industries. As we design and build vehicles
    better, we can also use them smarter by harnessing four powerful techniques, for eliminating needless driving. Instead of just seeing the travel
    grow, we can use innovative pricing, charging for road infrastructure by the mile, not by
    the gallon.
    We can use some smart IT to enhance
    transit and enable car sharing and ride
    sharing. We can allow smart and lucrative growth
    models that help people already be near where they want to
    be, so they don’t need to go somewhere
    else. And we can use smart IT to make traffic free-flowing. Together, those things can give us the same or better
    access with 46 to 84 percent less driving, saving another 0.4 trillion dollars, plus 0.3 trillion dollars from using trucks more
    So 40 years hence, when you add it all
    up, a far more mobile U.S. economy can use no oil.Saving or displacing barrels for $25
    bucks rather than buying them for over a
    hundred, adds up to a $4 trillion net saving, counting all the hidden costs at
    zero. (As noted above the HIDDEN COSTS are NOT
    So to get mobility without
    oil, to phase out the oil, we can get efficient and then switch
    fuels. Those 125 to 240 mile-per-gallon-equivalent
    autos can use any mixture of hydrogen fuel
    cells, electricity and advanced biofuels. The trucks and planes can realistically
    use hydrogen or advanced biofuels. The trucks could even use natural gas. But no vehicles will need oil. And the most biofuel we might need, just three million barrels a day, can be made two-thirds from waste without displacing any cropland and without harming soil or climate.
    Our team speeds up these kinds of oil
    savings by what we call “institutional
    acupuncture.”We figure out where the business logic is congested and not flowing properly, we stick little needles in it to get it
    flowing, working with partners like Ford and Walmart and the
    And the long transition is already well under
    way. In fact, three years ago mainstream analysts were
    starting to see peak oil, not in supply, but in demand. And Deutsche Bank even said world oil use could peak
    around 2016.
    In other words, oil is getting uncompetitive even at
    low prices before it becomes unavailable even at high
    prices. But the electrified vehicles don’t need to burden the electricity
    grid. Rather, when smart autos exchange electricity and
    information through smart buildings with smart
    grids, they’re adding to the grid valuable flexibility and
    storage that help the grid integrate varying solar and wind power.
    So the electrified
    autos make the auto and electricity
    problems easier to solve together than
    separately. And they also converge the oil
    story with our second big
    story, saving electricity and then making it
    differently. And those twin revolutions in
    electricity will bring to that
    sector more numerous and profound and diverse
    disruptions than any other
    sector, because we’ve got 21st century technology and
    speed colliding head-on with 20th and 19th century institutions, rules
    and cultures. Changing how we make electricity
    gets easier, if we need less of
    it. Most of it now is
    wasted and the technologies for saving
    it keep improving faster than we’re
    installing them. So the unbought efficiency
    resource keeps getting ever bigger and
    But as efficiency in buildings and
    industry starts to grow faster than the
    economy, America’s electricity use could actually
    shrink, even with the little extra use
    required for those efficient electrified autos. And we can do this just by reasonably accelerating
    existing trends.
    Over the next 40 years, buildings, which use three-quarters of the
    electricity, can triple or quadruple their energy
    productivity, saving $1.4 trillion dollars, net present
    value, with a 33 percent internal rate of
    return or in English, the savings are worth four times what they
    cost.And industry can accelerate too, doubling its energy productivity with a 21 percent internal rate of
    return. The key is a disruptive innovation that we call integrative design that often makes very big energy
    savings cost less than small or no savings. That is, it can give you expanding
    returns, not diminishing returns.
    RETROFITTING THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING IN 2010–all the places to save
    MILLIONS– windows, pumps, pipe design
    That is how our 2010 retrofit is saving over two-fifths of the energy in the Empire
    State Building – remanufacturing those six and a half thousand windows
    on site into super windows that pass light, but reflect
    heat. Plus better lights and office equipment and
    such, cut the maximum cooling load by a
    third. And then renovating smaller chillers instead of adding
    bigger ones saved $17 million dollars of capital cost, which helped pay for the other
    improvements and reduce the payback to just three
    years. Integrative design can also increase energy savings in industry. Dow’s billion-dollar efficiency
    investment has already returned nine billion
    But industry as a whole has another half-trillion
    dollars of energy still to save. For example, three-fifths of the world’s electricity
    runs motors. Half of that runs pumps and fans. And those can all be made more
    efficient, and the motors that turn them can have their system efficiency roughly
    doubled by integrating 35 improvements, paying back in about a
    But first we ought to be capturing bigger, cheaper
    savings that are normally ignored and are not in the
    textbooks. For example, pumps, the biggest use of
    motors, move liquid through pipes. But a standard industrial pumping loop was redesigned to use at least 86 percent less
    energy, not by getting better pumps, but just by replacing long, thin, crooked
    pipes with fat, short, straight pipes. This is not about new technology, it’s just rearranging our metal
    furniture. Of course, it also shrinks the pumping
    equipment and its capital costs.
    So what do such savings
    mean for the electricity that is three-fifths used
    in motors? Well, from the coal burned at the power
    plant through all these compounding
    losses, only a tenth of the fuel
    energy actually ends up coming out the pipe as
    flow. But now let’s turn those compounding losses
    around backwards, and every unit of flow or friction that we
    save in the pipe saves 10 units of fuel cost,
    pollution and what Hunter Lovins calls “global
    weirding”back at the power
    plant. And of course, as you go back
    upstream, the components get smaller and therefore
    Our team has lately found such snowballing
    energy savings in more than $30 billion dollars worth of
    industrial redesigns – everything from data centers and chip
    fabs to mines and
    refineries. Typically our retrofit
    designs save about 30 to 60 percent of the
    energy and pay back in a few
    years, while the new facility designs save 40 to
    90-odd percent with generally lower capital
    Now needing less
    electricity would ease and speed the shift to new sources of electricity,
    chiefly renewables. China leads their explosive growth and their
    plummeting cost. In fact, these solar power module
    costs have just fallen off the bottom of the
    chart. And Germany now has more solar workers, than America has steel workers. Already in about 20 states private installers will come put those cheap solar cells on your roof with no money
    down and beat your utility bill. Such unregulated products could ultimately add up to a virtual
    utility that by-passes your electric company just as your cellphone bypassed your wireline phone
    company. And this sort of thing gives utility executives the
    heebee-jeebees and it gives venture capitalists sweet
    Renewables are no longer a fringe
    activity. For each of the past four
    years half of the world’s new generating
    capacity has been renewable, mainly lately in developing
    countries. In 2010, renewables other than big
    hydro, particularly wind and solar
    cells, got $151 billion dollars of private
    investment, and they actually surpassed the total
    installed capacity of nuclear power in the
    world by adding 60 billion watts in that one
    year. That happens to be the same amount of solar cell
    capacity that the world can now make every year
    – a number that goes up 60 or 70 percent a
    year. In contrast, the net additions of nuclear capacity and
    coal capacity and the orders behind those keep
    fading, because they cost too much and they have too much
    financial risk. In fact in this country, no new nuclear power plant has been able to raise any private construction
    capital, despite seven years of 100-plus percent
    So how else could we replace the coal-fired power
    plants? Well efficiency and gas can displace them,
    all at just below their operating cost and, combined with renewables, can displace them more
    than 23 times at less than their replacement cost. But we only need to replace them once. We’re often told though that only coal and nuclear plants can keep the lights
    on, because they’re 24/7, whereas wind and solar power are
    variable, and hence supposedly unreliable.
    Actually no generator is 24/7. They all
    break. And when a big plant goes down, you lose a thousand megawatts in
    milliseconds, often for weeks or months, often without
    warning. That is exactly why we’ve designed the
    grid to back up failed plants with working
    plants. And in exactly the same way, the grid can handle wind and solar
    power’s forecastable variations.
    Hourly simulations show that largely or wholly renewable
    grids can deliver highly reliable power when they’re forecasted, integrated and diversified by both type and location. And that’s true both for continental areas like the
    U.S. or Europe and for smaller areas embedded within a larger
    grid. That is how, for example, four German states in 2010 were 43 to 52 percent wind powered. Portugal was 45 percent renewable
    powered, Denmark 36.And it’s how all of Europe can shift to renewable electricity. In America, our aging, dirty and insecure power
    system has to be replaced anyway by 2050.
    But those four futures at the same
    cost differ profoundly in their
    risks, around national
    security, fuel, water, finance,
    technology, climate and health.The rest of this interview is available at TED TALKS, May 2012.TRANSFORMING THE ENTIRE ELECTRICAL SECTOR BY EFFICIENT USE AND RENEWABLE

    • Mick Mann

       U cut and pasted way too much for the average reader to be interested in.

    • Anasasi

      You can’t win
      You can’t break even
      You can’t get out of  the game

      The three laws of thermodynamics toned down for the rest of us.

  • Clista

    The only negative result to the environment that I see about having an electric vehicle is dealing with the battery once it has lived its life cycle. I am hoping that by the time the battery to my EV needs replacing the technology will have improved to counter Zehner’s concerns.

    My Smart for Two EV is made from recycled materials and I have a solar array on my house, to minimize my energy foot print. Gasoline vehicles and hybrids can’t do that, nor are any of the gas vehicles, that I know of, made with recycled materials.  

  • Audenschendler

    There’s a ton of sleight of hand going on here coming from Zehner. For example: lifecycle assessment an electric vehicle says batteries have impacts. Sure, but we have a climate problem, not a battery disposal problem. Electric cars still pollute: sure, but even if fueled entirely by coal fired electricity, they are cleaner than inefficient internal combustion engines. Solar panels take energy to make: correct, but they pay their energy debt off in the first eight months. The problem with bringing a guy like Zehner on the show without a knowledgeable counter argument is that he seems to really know what he’s talking about. But the strategy, and it is successful, is to leave at least have of the facts out of the conversation.

  • Dan Wolfson

    How about inviting someone from http://www.pluginamerica.org/ to debate “conservationist” Ozzie Zehner so your listeners can hear both sides of this topic? As an author, one of his agendas is most likely selling more books, and controversy sells. More recent research disputes some of his claims. 

    I have been riding a freeway-legal Vectrix electric motorcycle since 2007. Not only does it not burn gas or use engine oil, its regenerative braking is so effective that I rarely need to use the disc brakes, which means less brake dust and pollution. The brake pads may last for the life of the vehicle. 

    By the way, another benefit of riding a two-wheeler is easier parking. I can get in and out of Costco while other people are busy circling the parking lot or idling their internal combustion engines while waiting for someone to pull out of a parking space. 

    We have 3KW of solar panels on our roof and on sunny days, our meter spins backwards, even while charging the Vectrix. 

    Cleaner energy is here today and ongoing research is making it cleaner and more affordable. NPR can help by presenting a balanced discourse.

  • Jmschlife

    People who endorse electric cars as a viable and sustainable transit source (and judging by these comments they are legion) really need to chill out. Great, way to go if your electricity source is solar, but most people’s power isn’t. Collect as much solar as possible, but if you think that the 2 car family ideal can continue, even if they’re electric, then you are delusional. Failing to grasp what this guy is saying, about the phoney-green purchase your way to environmentalism consumer mentality, is a shame and damaging.

    • Ebikeguy

       ”Failing to grasp what this guy is saying, about the phoney-green purchase your way to environmentalism consumer mentality…”

      The reason people fail to grasp this element of Zehner’s writing is that he buries it in the back of his book and behind the headlines of articles he publishes.  What everyone sees is his message that EVs are evil.  95% of readers never get to the parts where he writes that we need to be more energy-efficient.  If Zehner really wants to do good in the world, he should promote his position that living and working close to each other and aband0ning personal automobiles is the course we need to take.  Instead, he shouts about how much damage EVs do, which is a message that the oil industry is only too happy to broadcast.

    • orenyny

      You need to get some facts, and I am happy to provide them to you. Did you know that our two Nissan Leaf (yes we have 2 cars in the family both are electric) consume roughly the same electricity as… my window AC unit? Overall the 2 cars use about 15% of our electric bill.
      Now how many millions of window AC units do you think we have in this country?

    • PaulScott58

      Jmschlife, I’m willing to be good money that you waste more electricity in your home than you’d use to drive an EV for your daily commute. I’ve been selling solar for over a decade and I’ve seen lots of energy bills from Americans like you who fail to grasp the basics of energy efficiency. You’re quick to criticize people who are actually doing something about their energy use, but you fail to take action yourself.

  • Bill Barker

    I think this author comes up with these things just to sell books.  Our long-term oil situation demands that we develop alternatives, and electric cars provide a reasonable and feasible alternative to transportation by fossil fuel.

  • TyroneJ

    Ozzie Zehner (and the National Academy of Sciences) look at electric cars systemically over their entire life cycle, and rightly point out their environmental “positives” during operation are largely negated by their environmental “negatives” during manufacture and end-of-life disposal. Respondents like Don Anair (and commenters like Dency Nelson) restrict their responses to the environmental “positives” during operation. This is akin to talking about the environmental damage cause by eating meat by only looking at the method used to cook the meat, rather than looking at the environmental cost of breeding & raising the animal, slaughter & transportation, etc. If you only look at a tiny part of a problem, it’s easy to delude oneself.

    • Ebikeguy

       The National Academy of Sciences also concluded that EVs were better for the environment than gasoline-powered cars – not perfect, but clearly better.  Authors like Zehner who restrict their research by cherry picking whichever elements of a study support their argument, rather than looking at the conclusions of the study as a whole, are hacks who place more value on selling their books than they do on publishing truth.

  • Mick Mann

    Until mankind gets his act together and realizes that the only fuel that should be being used to power transportation needs and power needs is the most abundant element in the universe, HYDROGEN, and puts all of his time, energy and research to harnessing  HYDROGEN, mankind and our planet Earth are doomed. The only elements produced by the burning of hydrogen and hydrogen in its liquid form are water H2O and oxygen O2. Can’t get any cleaner than that.

  • James

    How many of your people have an engineering degree? What Zehner says make perfect sense if you actually read his article.
    Here in Austin, the majority of our electric power comes from a coal fired power plant in LaGrange,  Texas. Thus most plug-in hybrids or pure electrics in this town are “coal powered” in reality. Now if you Greenies would actually advocate charging your cars from a Nuke plant, then I could see your point.
    Those of us with real jobs can’t charge our car from a home solar array – and the sun doesn’t shine at night. Even if we were home, the majority of the solar array power is going to be consumed by the home AC system.
    Let’s have a quick engineering quiz: What’s a more efficient energy conversion chain?
    A. Gasoline/Diesel (chemical energy) to Thermal/Mechanical energy in a very efficient modern car engine? OR
    B. Coal burned in a power plant (chemical energy) converted to thermal energy (heating steam) that is used to turn a turbine (mechanical energy) that is used to turn a generator (creates electrical energy) that is then stepped up/down in voltage several times by the grid (transformer and line losses) that eventually end up an electric vehicle charger (another loss) that converts it to DC to charge the EV battery (chemical energy) that is used to make DC voltage for the EV’s drive motor (Chemical back to electrical energy) then electrical back to mechanical in the Drive motor…. Whew !!! Every step has an efficiency loss… I think I’ll stick with Method A.
    If you really want to impact imported oil – buy or convert your gasoline car to run on Natural gas – cheap and plentiful – and burns cleaner than gasoline.

    • guest

      Our neighborhood has a high concentration of engineering degrees. The majority of households own either a Volt, EV Leaf, or Toyota Prius. 

    • Jim Montgomery

      You left out a few steps in both A and B. 

      A. Drill for oil, transport the oil to a refinery, refine the oil into gas (very energy intensive!), transport the gas to a retail gas station, pump the gas into your vehicle and now burn it.  And burning gas is not very efficient way to create motive power, most of the energy is lost as heat.

      B. Dig up the coal, transport the coal to a power plant, burn the coal.

      Or C.

      Generate the electricity via renewables, such as wind and/or solar.  And solar is affordable for the masses.  If you cannot afford the capital outlay for a solar PV system (which in our case was $11K for a 4KW system that will pay for itself in 7-8 years and last many decades after that saving us tens of thousands of dollars in that time), you can now lease a solar PV system. With little to no capital outlay companies will install a solar PV system on your roof and you now pay them a fixed cost, that is cheaper than what you pay the electric companies.

      And google “smart grid”.  It will address many of the issues you bring up about the sun only shining at night or the wind not always blowing.

      So, I have a real job to and I want to save my money instead of giving it to Exxon Mobil and OPEC.  So, I went “green” and am saving “green.”  And yes, I have an 3 engineering degrees, B.S., M.S. and Ph.D.  Not that anyone needs an engineering degree to see the inherent superiority of driving on unlimited sunshine instead of a limited resource like fossil fuels that will only be going up in price and wreak havoc on the environment and our health.     Feel free to stick with A and give your money to Big Oil and OPEC.  I choose C.  :)  Take care.

    • Ebikeguy

      Hi James.  Degreed engineer here, with more than two decades of experience in power processing technology.  You may find it interesting to know that, in my personal experience at least, degreed engineers tend to buy and drive electric vehicles in far greater numbers, percentage-wise, than the population at large.  We understand the technical issues and so are more likely to make the more rational choice based on available data.

    • PaulScott58

      James, if you have a good roof for solar, you are losing money every day you don’t take advantage of it. You mentioned that most of the energy in Austin comes from coal, but you haven’t made any effort to change the energy that piowers your home, Why is that? Do you not care that your use of coal energy causes harm to others? 

      You, like most Americans, waste more electricity in your home than you would use to power an EV for your daily commute. All you need to do is stop wasting energy and use it instead to replace 100% of the oil you use for driving. This is simple to do and cost effective as well.

      For less than $10,000, you can install enough solar to power an EV for 12,000 miles per year, and the system will keep generating clean energy for 40-50 years. If you were to buy gasoline, at today’s prices, to drive 12,000 miles/year for 40-50 years, you’d pay $60,000-$80,000, and that’s if gas prices don’t go up for 4-5 decades. Not bloody likely!

    • jeffhre

      The answer: coal burned in a central powerplant at 60% efficiency and sent by wires at a 7% loss to a home with solar panels that offset fossil fuels that would have been burned during the day, which costs the owner less than the equivalent utility power each month. And powers a 95% efficient electric motor instead of a 22% efficient gas or 25% efficient diesel engine that requires 6KW of energy to refine and deliver each gallon of fuel. Whew!!! I’ll stick with method B.

  • VeganVeteran

    Not discussed in all this is *policy* and how the public’s tax dollars are used to promote EV tech over other cheaper enviro options, such as biodiesel. In San Francisco, we had the Biodiesel citizens committee which met monthly to discuss how best to make biodiesel and waste oil available to the public. This group was featured on one of the City of SF’s official  websites, the SF Dept of the Environment. As a member of the group, we were rebuffed when we asked that a biodiesel car be included in San Fran’s alternative vehicle public events. Sad to say, only EVs were allowed to be promoted at these. The Dept of Environment turned a deaf ear to us, even though we were featured on the front page of their official site. And when I write that they “turned a deaf ear”, I literally mean they would not return our phone calls or emails! 
    When such ‘policy blindness’ occurs, science, logic, and most importantly, the public loses out (and continues to do so). EVs can cost $20,000 and up. While old diesel cars selling for $3000. or so, can be repurposed to burn cleaner fuel.  Consider all the people who cannot afford to ‘go green’ when such an elitist policy, favoring those who can buy new EVs, is promoted by government. The environmental movement was built from many ideas – a diaspora, if you will. Nurture that rather than pushing (selling, really) whatever policy is in vogue.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1335691560 Claudine Marie Elizabeth Jones

    Once again, may I point out that our reliance on vehicles (see Helen Caldicott–she will rip you a new one) is bad, bad & bad. This does not however make an all Electric Vehicle bad (see Rhetoric 101)
    The combination of PV, EV, whole house TOU meter (smart or not), hypermiling to conserve range, and adding walking, bicycles, carpooling & transit at will, makes my lifestyle suit my worldview.  I have not owned or driven an ICE vehicle other than rare rentals on vacation, since 1998. My favorite reposte to someone with a gas-fueled vehicle is ‘I can eat my lunch sitting on the pavement behind my car, while it’s running. Can you?’
    I have had occasion to ‘argue’ over my choice of car a very few times over the years; it has always been with someone who has zero real world experience with an EV.  Most of the time my interactions with other people have been to answer their questions: how far can you drive? how do you charge? etc. The most frequently asked question is: WHERE CAN I GET ONE?!
    Finally, when I am asked how much I pay for fuel, I say that is hard to tell; my electric bill averages >$10, which includes taxes and miscellaneous fees, (and also ‘fuels’ the house).  There are no other costs associated with my car besides tires. And carwash.

  • Andrew Glover

    This is a copy of a letter I sent to President Barack Obama last November about photovoltaic compounds and have not yet had a reply. These would be far better for use than what we have now.

     Do you know there are two photovoltaic compounds that are more efficient at lower light levels than silicone is in full sun light?

    I was first convinced that these existed when I did my degree, Botany, with marine botany. When being taught about marine macro algae I was told about the kelp Laminaria hyperborea, where the new blade grows from the old one from November onwards and it is called “dark fixation” as the light levels are to low for normal photosynthesis. I queried it and said it must be photosynthesis and that there is an accessory pigment that they do not know about. When L. hyperborea is exposed to strong light there is a 50% reduction in photosynthesis.

     I was also told about algae like Verdigellas growing at depths of 200m where light levels got to that of about twice that of bright star light. I also thought that this must be photosynthesis using an unknown accessory pigment.

     A number of years later I was reading the Newscientist magazine and there was the answer, discovered by some scientists doing work looking for photovoltaic compounds. I immediately knew that what they had discovered was the answer to “dark fixation” and very low light level photosynthesis. One was twice as efficient as silicone at a light level equivalent to a dull winters day in Britain and the other was three times more efficient at a light level equivalent to bright star light. The scientists were surprised at what phase both compounds were in and that when put into full sun light they stopped working. The fact that full sun light stops them working stopped the scientists from looking at them further and not developing them to there full potential.

     I have been trying to find the article in the Newscientist again but their archive on line does not have articles for all back issues due to technical difficulties, so I may have to go back to Britain where I came from and look through my old copies of the magazine that I gave to a friend, who still has them.

     These compounds if used correctly can be used to power a house or a car or a factory or a train or an aluminium plant and could even power a NASCAR to victory. The power would not be just generated during the hours of daylight but at night as well.

     I hope you keep this in mind when looking for new ways of producing electricity from renewable sources as this will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, help the economy and help provide power when storms cut power lines.

  • rattmoth

    Is this story part of some lobbying effort against electric cars?  Surprising to see this on npr, disappointing actually.  I’m glad to see how many people have commented and made a stand against this biased article.  Next time you try to refute green technology, try to back it up with some evidence, thanks!      

  • Jay Donnaway

    A crock from a crank- NPR needs to do some fact-checking before going on air.  Even if running on coal-fired electricity, my EV is only 90% cleaner than the well-to-wheels emissions of a gasoline burner.  It takes at least 5 kWh to refine a gallon of gasoline, meaning that my EV has traveled 16 miles before a gasser has even cranked up.

  • JoeLado

    The real reason for the hatchet job above. Plug-in electrics are catching on!!!

    J.D. Power and Associates survey, “Customer experiences [with Electric Cars] … extremely positive,”

    Three Reasons Why Plug-in Cars Are Here to Stay
    1. Electric cars are increasingly affordable and reliable.
    2. EVs are much cheaper to drive than gas-powered cars.
    3. The infrastructure, where you power up your EV, is expanding. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/russ-blinch/three-reasons-why-plugin-_b_3659931.html

    Electric cars could be cost-competitive with gas-powered in 2017

    Electric cars have sold at twice the rate that hybrids did in their first few years of availability…

    Electric car sales have doubled thanks to high gas prices

    Six New Plug-In Electric Cars Coming For 2014 (This is on top of over a dozen choices now)

    Come celebrate plug-in electric vehicles at an event near you on National Plug In Day,
    September 29, 2013.

  • Guy Hall

    If NPR’s goal is to stir up controversy and get attention, you’ve succeed, though at the cost of misinforming and supporting environmentally damaging but established interests as oil companies and many of the car companies.   What’s next?  Hey, how about the articles about the intellectual differences between different races?  Oh, don’t forget to throw in some sex somewhere as that always helps.

    So disappointed in NPR for not having done your homework on this beforehand.

  • Daphne Lin

    If Here and Now is providing a forum for anti-EV speech, it should at least provide equal time for pro-EV opinions to be expressed.  I am very disappointed that NPR discontinued Talk of the Nation, and more disappointed that the show replacing it, Here and Now, does not live up to the standard of non-biased reporting.  The truth is, unless we begin to move from gasoline-powered vehicles and start using alternative energy to power our vehicles, it’s not just air pollution or climate change that we have to be concerned, we will be running out of petroleum in perhaps less than 50 years.  What alternative does Mr. Zehner have?  And can he swear that he does not receive any corporate sponsorship directly or indirectly?

  • Garyscott

    Fear of running out of oil makes people and governments crazy.  The price jumps up and down with every crisis. In contrast,  electricity prices stay pretty much constant because we have multiple sources.  
    I bought my LEAF because I think it makes an incremental difference to the stability of the world.  No armies were needed to protect my source of fuel.  The redundancy built in to the electrical grid prevents huge source fluctuations.  In Iowa, where I live, over 20% of our electric kWh come from wind.   Eventually I hope solar will reach price parity with other sources and then all transportation energy can be made locally.
    Look to the future. Oil will become too expensive to burn it in an engine.  Electric cars offer a sane path to future personal transportation. 

  • PaulScott58

    I want to know how Mr. Zehner powers his home and what kind of vehicle he uses. If he’s not using 100% green energy in his home, and if he’s using any internal combustion engines to propel him in any way, then he’s just one giant hypocrite.

    And if he IS using clean energy in his home, then why doesn’t he take into consideration that others can do the same, as numerous commenters have already stated they do.

  • Ed

    Not sure if the problem is the article or Ozzie Zehner’s book , but the article isn’t telling us *WHY* electric cars are bad for the environment.  Conventional cars get a*ALL*their energy from fossil fuels, electric cars get *SOME* of their energy from fossil fuels.  There may be some factor we are missing, but the article doesn’t tell us that.  Also, what does he propose as an alternative to electric cars?  It’s easy to find drawbacks to any action, finding a better action is what is hard.  A tendency to object to everything just maintains the status quo. 

  • Dency Nelson

    90% of my charging is done at home.  Rarely do I charge at work or in the public infrastructure as my 50-mile round trip commute is well within my range.  As for my solar, I do not have battery storage, my storage is the grid.  I sell back far more electricity to my utility during the day during peak hours, and I charge from the grid over night at super-off-peak rates.  And, my utility, Southern California Edison, besides benefitting from my sustainable, renewable energy that I offer them daily from my rooftop, has one of the cleanest mixes of renewable (over 20%) electricity from hydro, wind and solar of any utility in the country.  It is true that most of their mix comes from Natural Gas, but they just shut down their San Onofre Nuclear facility and they get none of it from Coal.  As the years go by, that mix will get greener and cleaner, and thus my electric cars will get cleaner and cleaner.

  • Tom Phillips

    To me this electric car debate illustrates the anxiety over our energy future and climate impact. Production and recycling of materials used for manufacturing saves resources but not energy.

     I love aluminum but it does require huge amounts of electricity to recycle or produce. Solar panels take a lot of power to manufacture too. Super efficiency and renewables will help offset the rate of energy demand increase but it cannot make a dent in the total daily hydrocarbon consumption even in just the US much less the world.     

    Our economy and the middle class depend on manufacturing. Manufacturing depends on energy.  If we want to get off hydrocarbons, cut co2 and re-energize the middle class way of life we will need truly VAST amounts of clean electrical power.  We have to face this fact. We ARE GOING TO CONSUME huge amounts of energy one way or the other.

     A possible source Ive heard of that give me some hope was the molten salt thorium reactor prototype developed at Oak Ridge National Labs back in the 70s. Apparently it worked very well and inherently could not melt down but, it produced no plutonium, a key reason for the government funding of nuclear power, so funding was diverted to uranium reactor projects.

    It would be monumental undertaking to bring these online within 5-10 years but then, we went from zero to the moon in about 8 and had no prototypes to start with either.

     If we really had vision we would develop hydrocarbon synthesis plants (using co2/h2o ) in parallel to feed stock into our existing refineries.

    The US has a gigantic mountain of thorium left over as a byproduct of rare earth manufacturing. Enough for hundreds of years of power. That may also explain China’s intense interest in the ORNL thorium project since they are working on their own mountain :)

    • jeffhre

      Experimental molten salt reactors of Alvin Weinberg produced at Oak Ridge were terminated by the mid sixties when Admiral Rickover decided there was no need for them. We cannot bring them online in 5 years because it takes eight to ten years to put new nuclear, or thermal fossil fuel based plants for that matter, online. And there is little to no support for LFTR based thorium in the US, which is still considered experimental at utility scale and requires years research and development to get it to the prototype stage. A shame it was not developed first but uranium based reactors were a cold war priority

      Efficiency measures have produced more NEW energy (negawatts) than any other source in the last 10 years.

      Look at the growth of renewable power in the last three years. It is nothing short of remarkable.

      Hydrocarbon synthesis plants are being built at a prototype scale in parallel with coal powered plants.

      • Tom Phillips

        Alvin Weinberg’s generation went from zero to the moon in less than eight years. And they had no prototype. That generation saw every problem as an opportunity for a solution. The critical problems is not efficiency, it is CO2. To offset the total carbon footprint of the biggest industrial power the world has ever seen will require equally vast amounts of “clean” power. There is only one way to do that within ten years and that is some variant of the LFTR. This is a very entertaining and educational look at the whole nuclear power issue by a 7th grader on youtube:

        Nuclear Energy – LFTR – Katie and Caysie

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.gary.33821 Michael Gary

    When someone uses the word “sorcery” to explain the enthusiasm that the public and scientists have for electric vehicles…..I have to say to NPR….. Really ?
    When we can produce electricity from the sun with solar panels, and electricity from the wind with wind generators, and hydro power from dams, and now tidal energy, wave energy, both from the ocean, then we will make HUGE strides to clean up the planet, reduce carbon emissions that are making species go extinct now every year….and “ditto” to Dency Nelson’s comment here below ! !  Whoever is paying Zehner’s salary needs to be examined….

  • Benjamin

    Ozzie does one remarkable thing: he goes beyond looking at the life-cycle environmental impact of electric cars to challenge the life-cycle cost of the personal automobile. It is well documented that electric cars offer at best minor improvements over gas powered cars of similar size. What is remarkable is to look at all the disadvantages of personal automobiles and propose walking, cycling and transit as the alternative. More efficient personal automobiles, electric or not, solve one or two social problems, pollution and, to the degree of their efficiency, fuel. Livable cities redesigned around walking, cycling and transit solve many of our societal problems in one go. That is the revolutionary part. Ride your bike to the bus stop and here’s what you give the world:

    1) Reduced fatalities and disabilities due to reduced auto collisions. (Now at 37,000 killed in the USA by year.)
    2) Increased preservation of farmland and wild lands due to increased attractiveness of higher-density living.
    3) Increased community interaction due to less automobile traffic and more free-time in transit.
    4) Increased mobility for the young, old and disabled due to increased transit, pedestrian and cycling options.
    5) Increased individual lifestyle options due to reduced expenditure for transport.
    6) Increased national security due to reduced reliance on imports from unstable regions, unfavorable balance of trade and political and military interventions overseas, and increased efficiency of use of domestic resources and labor.
    7) Reduced asthma and lung illness due to reduced air pollution.
    8) Reduced climate change due to reduced air pollution.

    You can’t buy a better community with walking, cycling and transit options… but you can help create it. :-)


    Listening to Zehner’s arguments about electric vs gas cars is basically the same is listening to the tobacco companies telling us how smoking cigarets absolutely will not give us cancer nor cause us to die at a younger age than if we don’t smoke.  Zehner uses skewed and phony data just as the tobacco companies did with their pet “researchers”.

  • juliviel8

    Here and Now is soon to become Here and Gone! No real evidence in these statements. The messaging purpose of the “show” is to put doubt in people’s minds about electric/battery cars being green. An old climate deniers trick. So sick of the tricks.

  • evkid

    The quoted “proof” research has been discredited. Plug in EV’s using solar are taking over! (Think Free Gas) It scares the hell out of them….Biggest crime of the century Ni-MH license revoking for plug -in EVs. OK for Prius ’cause electricity is made from Gas….

  • anderlan

    Yesterday: “Electric cars are expensive. Anyway, climate change is a socialist hoax!”
    Today: “Electric cars can save you money, sure. But they don’t help climate change!”

    I smell liars!

  • anderlan

    Where is the other side? Any one in this forum could take down this guy about 10 notches, in dramatic, crowd-pleasing, and yet technically precise fashion! This is infuriating! I am outraged!

    So much time given to this toad. He drones on and on with fallacious point after psychobabble after fallacious point. I’m sick. 15 minutes with no counterpoint? ANY ONE of us could tie this guy in the ropes and bounce him out of the arena.

  • David Hrivnak

    This is very frustrating as the author did NO research. I fully agree an electric is not 100% clean but it is cleaner than a gasoline powered car. Just a little research would show that Tesla uses no rare earths and the only rare earths used in the Chevy Volt are in the catalytic converter. He also conveniently ignores the fact that gasoline does not magically appear. The third biggest greenhouse producer in the USA is refining. With more than 6 KW of energy used in the refining process an electric car will go 24 miles, more than the average car would go on that gallon of gas.

  • David Hrivnak

    The one study the Ozzie referred to about showing EV dirtier than gasoline was actually done at UT. They compared an EV powered by 100% coal in China made in a power plant with NO emission standards and compared to the EU 2016 standards of which no currently shipping car meets. If one were even to put the most modest of pollution controls on the coal plant or compare to shipping cars, even the Prius the EV wins. China by the way has seen the light and IS putting emission controls on their power plants. I really thought public radio would do at least some basic reporting.

  • RenewAmericaRoadtrip

    It is always important to reevaluate conventional wisdom. However, Zehner seems to be the master of hyperbole. For example, he states “building enough solar capacity to fuel electric cars would bankrupt the U.S. government.” Assuming for the moment that the US govt. is not already bankrupt, the reality is that at the steepest rate of adoption of EVs anticipated or mandated by the US government efficiency standards, the incremental increase in solar adoption required would be almost unnoticeable relative to the ramp in adoption across the board that is occurring from private industry and utilities for EV- independent reasons – primarily long term cost savings. In essence, renewables are being adopted aggressively for mostly the right reasons and the impact on the economy, ignoring the health and global climate potential benefits, are enormous. Meanwhile, EV usage of that renewable energy is, unfortunately in fact, still and will continue to be in the noise. There is no justifiable fear that the grid will be instantly overwhelmed by the instant drain of electric vehicles put on it as unfortunately the transition will take some time and the renewables are coming on-line at least in tandem with the EV adoption rate.

    Paulo Correa, in agreeing with Zehner’s position, cites a 20-year old MIT grad course stating EVs will concentrate pollution at power plants. Well, while this is still somewhat true, it is not really a negative, since power plants are increasingly being forced to be more efficient and environmentally friendly 20 years later, it is better concentrated there than distributed to our homes and workplaces. Further, power plants in general burn locally produced fuels or include a mix of renewables. In addition, distributed renewable generation is also increasing, taking the burden off centralized plants and further reducing pollution. It may be helpful for Paulo to take an updated grad course, or access the Internet for more updated information.

    As an example of distributed/renewable generation at least tracking EV adoption, Tesla Motors is building out an EV-charging network in the US where each charging station is a solar grid-tied power generation station that is (a) privately funded and (b) a net producer, even after giving away free charging electricity to all Tesla Model S vehicles. Here is a case where EV adoption is directly outpaced by renewable adoption and signs of this contributing to the bankruptcy of the government are somewhat difficult to find.

    There are diminutive subsidies on solar that the government is providing, and solar panels do have an environmental impact for construction but have 30 years of useful production following that construction and produce enough energy in the first 9 mos to fuel that construction – a 30:1 net energy return on investment. Additionally, however, the the economic benefits of these incentives, without considering all the secondary indirect benefits (e.g., reduced health care, environmental and national security costs), are enormous.

    Zehner claims “electric vehicle marketers sell the promise of refueling with alternatives like solar cells, but this ends up being a slight of hand. First of all, solar cells supply less than one-tenth of one percent of the electrical grid in the United States.”

    While it is true that solar is a small percentage of the grid mix, this is exactly the problem that needs fixing. Zehner invokes his own slight of hand by glossing over the fact that EVs also represent a similarly small fraction of all vehicles on the road and so in reality the scope of renewable sources is commensurate if not significant greater than the demand of all the EVs on the market today, and the adoption of solar and EVs can easily keep pace with each other.

    As an EV driver who is involved with multiple networks of other EV drivers, I can vouch for the fact that myself and others who drive EVs are almost 100% solar powered – cars and homes. The “slight of hand” marketers are in fact selling is a practical and realizable promise of an energy independent future.

    As a senior IEEE member, I am embarrassed that the Spectrum would publish the unqualified misquotes and dangerously misleading commentary by Zehner as a feature article in what I have until now considered a reputable publication.

    While I agree with the idea that we should build more bike and walking paths and encourage conservation, the reality is that commuter transportation will continue to utilize individual transportation means. Clearly some cultural changes will have to happen to counter our romance for dinosaur-fueled vehicles. But standing still and arguing that power plants will continue to be as polluting as 20 years ago, and we can never adopt enough renewables to make EVs practical is stagnant backward thinking.

    The plants ARE getting greener, renewables ARE being adopted, and EVs are simply a more superior, efficient means of utilizing, and through Vehicle to grid technology, supporting a next generation power generation and distribution system.

    Gasoline powered vehicles are and should be accepted to be a thing of the past, gone the way of the horse and buggy. In my opinion, they have well overstayed their welcome on the technology transportation timeline.

    (15.75kW of home solar for net positive solare-electric generation, two electric cars)

  • cautious_guy

    I am disappointed with NPR for giving this guy so much unrebutted air time. I would love to walk or ride my bike on my errands to buy groceries, visit my doctor or pharmacist, etc. It is not possible for me to do so safely in the city where I live. If Mr Zehner would suggest some places where I could walk and bike safely, I would consider moving and giving up my car. We must all move toward a very different way of living to achieve harmony with our planet, but such a change will be many decades in the making. Meanwhile, I need a car. Most people don’t realize that even the best ICE vehicles are only able to convert about 20% of the energy stored in the gasoline to mechanical energy at the wheels. 80% of the energy is WASTED as heat to the environment. An EV can convert about 80% of its fuel to turning the wheels. True, there are energy losses in the electric grid, but as the grid sources becomes cleaner and closer, as they must, my car will become ever cleaner and more efficient. Furthermore, my EV is a joy to drive, my fuel costs are only about 1/5th of that for a comparable gasoline fueled car, and my maintenance costs are minimal. I will never buy another gasoline powered car.

  • Kevin

    What keeps alectric cars from having a generator from running off of the drivetrain and producing the electricity needed to run the car instead of the batteries?
    A generator can be 75% efficient and give little drag on the electric motor.
    If done properly, an electric car can increase it’s range 4 fold. I can’t be the first to think of this????

  • DanDiego

    Kevin — It’s called the Chevy Volt. The gas engine runs a generator that powers the electric drive train when the battery has been depleted. The Volt is an electric car with a gasoline-powered range-extender.

  • Physicz Headquarterz

    Mark Goldes’ proofless claims regarding his make-believe strictly ambient heat engine do not represent any new technology, or even a new pretense – they merely represent a rather old pretense.

    “Before the establishment of the Second Law, many people who were interested in inventing a perpetual motion machine had tried to circumvent the restrictions of First Law of Thermodynamics by extracting the massive internal energy of the environment as the power of the machine. Such a machine is called a “perpetual motion machine of the second kind”. The second law declared the impossibility of such machines.”

    “A perpetual motion machine of the second kind is a machine which spontaneously converts thermal energy into mechanical work. When the thermal energy is equivalent to the work done, this does not violate the law of conservation of energy. However it does violate the more subtle second law of thermodynamics (see also entropy). The signature of a perpetual motion machine of the second kind is that there is only one heat reservoir involved… This conversion of heat into useful work, without any side effect, is impossible, according to the second law of thermodynamics.”

    Goldes’ make-believe strictly ambient heat engine would be a perpetual motion machine of the second kind, as defined above. Goldes is not developing any such engine; he is merely developing a pretense – as usual.

  • Physicz Headquarterz

    The Kelvin-Planck formulation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics may be stated as follows:

    “No cyclic process driven simply by heat can accomplish the absorption of the heat from a reservoir and the conversion of such heat into work – without any other result (such as a transfer of heat to a cooler reservoir).”

    Now, as you will see, the Clausius formulation of the Second Law may be stated with fewer words:

    “No process is possible whose sole result is the transfer of heat from a cooler to a hotter body.”

    In fact, we can show that the Kelvin-Planck formulation may be deduced from that of Clausius. In the words of Enrico Fermi:

    “Suppose that Kelvin’s postulate were not valid. Then we could perform a transformation whose only final result would be to transform completely into work a definite amount of heat taken from a single source at the temperature t1. By means of friction we could then transform this work into heat again and with this heat raise the temperature of a given body, regardless of what its initial temperature, t2, may have been. In particular, we could take t2 to be higher than t1. Thus, the only final result of this process would be the transfer of heat from one body (the source at temperature t1) to another body at a higher temperature, t2. This would be a violation of the Clausius postulate.”

    Can anyone make a teapot that boils water by absorbing heat from blocks of ice?

  • Physicz Headquarterz

    In Mark Goldes’ patent application for his ludicrous “POWERGENIE” horn-powered tuning-rod engine, he described the tuning-rod as “an energy transfer and multiplier element.”

    But of course, for the tuning-rod to “multiply” energy, it would need to disprove the law of conservation of energy.

    Goldes’ use of the term “energy multiplier element” reflected his pretense that the “revolutionary breakthrough” of the amazing “POWERGENIE” could disprove the law of conservation of energy, by presenting the world with a working “energy multiplier.”

    Goldes even claimed in 2008 that the POWERGENIE had been demonstrated already in an electric car, driven 4800 miles by his energy-multiplying horn-powered tuning-rod.

    But it seems that most people, for some reason, had difficulty accepting the notion that the law of conservation of energy could be proven false.

    And Goldes no doubt noticed that the Second Law of Thermodynamics – that “the entropy of an isolated system tends to increase with time and can never decrease” – is much less clear to most people than the conservation of energy.

    So now, after leaving aside the pretense that he could somehow “multiply energy” with a magnetized tuning-rod, Goldes has chosen to focus, instead, on the pretense that he can disprove the Second Law with an engine powered only by ambient heat.

    There is no “new science” in any of Goldes’ “revolutionary breakthroughs.” There is only pseudoscience and pretense – and nothing new, at all.

  • Physicz Headquarterz

    Let’s look at another example of Mark Goldes’ wonderful offerings in “revolutionary new technology:”

    The amazing “POWERGENIE!”

    One of the most laughable of Mark Goldes’ many pseudotypes is his “POWERGENIE” horn-powered generator. The brilliant idea of this revolutionary breakthrough is to blow a horn at a magnetized tuning rod, designed to resonate at the frequency of the horn, and then collect the electromotive energy produced by the vibrations of the rod.

    We’re not making this up.

    POWERGENIE tuning rod engine explained – from the patent:

    [The device incorporates] “an energy transfer and multiplier element being constructed of a ferromagnetic substance… having a natural resonance, due to a physical structure whose dimensions are directly proportional to the wavelength of the resonance frequency…

    “In this resonant condition, the rod material functions as a tuned waveguide, or longitudinal resonator, for acoustic energy…

    “Ferrite rod 800 is driven to acoustic resonance at the second harmonic of its fundamental resonant frequency by acoustic horn 811…”

    - But the patent doesn’t tell us who will volunteer to blow the horn at the rod all day. Perhaps it will come with an elephant.

    Mark Goldes claimed in 2008 that this wonderful triumph of human genius would bring his company, Magnetic Power Inc, one billion dollars in annual revenue by 2012. Magnetic Power is now defunct, having never produced any “Magnetic Power Modules” – just as Goldes’ company called “Room Temperature Superconductors Inc” is also now defunct, having never produced any “room temperature superconductors.”

  • Physicz Headquarterz

    Mark Goldes’ “Aesop Institute” has engaged for many years in the very dishonest and unscrupulous practice of soliciting loans and donations under an endless series of false pretenses, that it is developing and even “prototyping” various “revolutionary breakthroughs,” such as “NO FUEL ENGINES” that run on ambient heat alone – or run on “Virtual Photon Flux” – or on “Collapsing Hydrogen Orbitals” – or even on the acoustic energy of sound from a horn.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe strictly ambient heat engine is ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This has been understood by physicists for at least 180 years. There is no “new science” that has ever determined such an engine to be possible.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe “Virtual Photon Flux” engine is based on the idea that accessible electric power “is everywhere present in unlimited quantities” – which we know to be false.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe “Collapsing Hydrogen Orbital” engine is based on Randell Mills’ theory of “hydrino” hydrogen, which every scientist knows to be false.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe horn-powered engine is based on the pretense that a magnetized tuning rod could somehow “multiply energy” – a ludicrous notion, which is obviously ruled out by the law of conservation of energy.

    Aesop Institute has never offered the slightest shadow of evidence that it is actually developing or “prototyping” any of these make-believe physics-defying “revolutionary breakthroughs.” All it has ever offered are mere declarations that it is doing so – unsupported by any proof whatever, of any kind whatever.

  • Physicz Headquarterz

    Mark Goldes, starting in the mid-seventies, engaged for several years in the pretense that his company SunWind Ltd was developing a nearly production-ready, road-worthy, wind-powered “windmobile,” based on the windmobile invented by James Amick; and that therefore SunWind would be a wonderful investment opportunity.

    After SunWind “dried up” in 1983, Goldes embarked on the long-running pretense that his company Room Temperature Superconductors Inc was developing room-temperature superconductors; and that therefore Room Temperature Superconductors Inc would be a wonderful investment opportunity. He continues the pretense that the company developed something useful, even to this day.

    And then Goldes embarked on the pretense that his company Magnetic Power Inc was developing “NO FUEL ENGINES” based on “Virtual Photon Flux;” and then, on the pretense that MPI was developing horn-powered “NO FUEL ENGINES” based on the resonance of magnetized tuning-rods; and then, on the pretense that his company Chava Energy was developing water-fueled engines based on “collapsing hydrogen orbitals” (which are ruled out by quantum physics); and then, on the pretense that he was developing ambient-heat-powered “NO FUEL ENGINES” (which are ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics).

    But of course, the laws of physics always make an exception for the make-believe pretenses of Mark Goldes.

    Goldes’ forty-year career of “revolutionary invention” pretense has nothing to do with science, but only with pseudoscience and pseudophysics – his lifelong stock-in-trade.

  • jeffhre

    Red Town, the suggested course of action is then to eliminate cars? When, tomorrow? In the mean time, adopting EV’s for personal transport is a vast improvement over extracting, refining and delivering gasoline, only to be burned in millions of inefficient mobile power plants. It takes a little effort to see, but the numbers are all available.

    David Hrivnak makes a good start on showing the energy costs of refining gasoline. Multiply his 6KW of energy per gallon by billions of gallons of refined gasoline. And add the energy of industrial inputs plus the requirements of retail delivery and you have some idea of the magnitude of where we are starting from.

    Then begin to subtract the benefit of millions of cars running on wind and solar plus millions more trips on foot, bicycles and public transport, by designing walkable, transit oriented neighborhoods, and you get some idea of where we could be moving towards.

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