Electric vehicles, solar power are here to stay

In his Dec. 15 column, “Why electric cars are inefficient polluters,” Seth Grossman made provocative, yet erroneous allegations.

He claimed that an internal combustion engine wastes very little energy. The truth is that in such an engine, 80 to 85 percent of the chemical energy of gasoline is lost to heat and not converted to work. In contrast, an electric car engine is about 80 percent efficient in transforming the electron flux into useful motion energy.

He further claims that electric car batteries must be replaced every two or three years. In reality, they are expected to last five to 10 years, do not contain harmful chemicals and can be recycled. Although he was right in pointing out that a substantial amount of energy is wasted to generate and transfer electric power, it’s not as bad as he claimed. In the worst case scenario of an antiquated coal-fired power station, about 35 percent of the fuel energy is recovered as electric power, 93 percent of which then reaches our outlets through the power grid.

That 93 percent initial energy content will charge the electric car battery with about 75 percent efficiency, meaning that the engine will receive nearly 24 percent of the fuel energy, of which it will utilize about 80 percent to perform mechanical work.

Thus, at worst, an electric car is no less energy efficient (20 percent) than a regular gasoline powered car (15-20 percent). With newer generations of power plants achieving 60 percent efficiency, the electric car would be almost two-fold more efficient than the gasoline one.

In any case, Mr. Grossman conveniently forgot that feeding our cars with this magic potion we call gasoline incurs considerable societal costs. Plenty of energy is required for petroleum to be extracted, transported, refined and delivered as final product to local gas stations, all the while making the oil industry richer and more politically influential.

Moreover, besides being held hostage to the oil industry, we devote a significant part of our $600 billion annual military budget to keeping the magic potion flowing. Our thirst for oil has been responsible for perpetual conflict in the Middle East, and for recurrent wreckage of the environment, with associated human misery. In addition, petroleum is a finite resource, which can only become increasingly risky and expensive to obtain.

The virtue of electric power is thus evident: it can be generated from diverse domestic sources, including renewable energy, a concept that Mr. Grossman seems to despise. In this respect, let’s not comment on his derogatory remarks on solar energy; they again reflect his bias against technological innovation.

The electric car and solar energy are here to stay and expand; they are the way of the future. Meanwhile, let’s hope that, having denounced the inefficiency of electric power, Mr. Grossman replaced his incandescent light bulbs with candles and ditched his big-screen TV.

Francis Dumont, Egg Harbor Township, www.shorenewstoday.com