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President Obama’s administration is pushing electric cars because of claims of high fuel efficiency and a small carbon footprint. The Chevrolet Volt travels on average 35 miles on a 12 kilowatt-hour battery charge. However, you need to trace that charge back to the power plant where it originated.
Two-thirds of the energy is lost by conversion at the power plant and transmission to your home or charging station. Ten percent of the energy is lost converting alternating current to direct current. So it requires 40 kilowatt-hours of energy from the source to charge the Volt’s battery.
Forty kilowatt-hours of energy is equivalent to 1.15 gallons of gasoline. So your Volt is getting 30 miles per gallon as an electric car. If you lived in Hawaii or parts of Florida, electricity is produced with oil. This would be poor gas mileage for a small car like the Volt; similar sized cars would readily get 40 miles per gallon. In the winter with temperatures below freezing, your Volt would only get 20-25 miles on a charge. About half our electricity comes from coal, so it is an easy calculation to show a Volt has a far larger carbon footprint than more fuel-efficient conventional cars.
Other problems not addressed with electric cars are the safety of lithium batteries and extra charges for insurance because losses from minor or major collisions involving electric cars may have greater financial losses. A United Parcel Service cargo plane crashed due to fire in Dubai last September 3. The cause of the fire may be due to lithium batteries which can short circuit and burn hot enough to melt an airplane.
Governments will pay you to buy an electric car such as $7,500 from the federal government and $5,000 by the state of Georgia. This is a terrible waste of taxpayer’s money; in particular during difficult economic times. Individuals like Charlie Sheen will take advantage of these programs.
President Obama’s ability to pick energy winners are as good as his picks for the 2011 NCAA basketball tournament.
(Cross-posted from The Freedom Pub. Sign up and join the conversation!)
UPDATE, APRIL 12: Besides the Volt and Leaf, the Tesla electric sports car is currently available in the United States. The Tesla will sell for prices exceeding $100,000. In 2009, the Department of Energy loaned Tesla Motors $500 million to increase production. Tesla Motors is suing BBC Television program Top Gear for suggesting owners buy two Teslas since the car went only 55 miles on its test track and it took 16 hours to re-charge its batteries. Once again taxpayers are the ultimate loser.
James H. Rust is a policy advisor on environmental policy for The Heartland Institute.