The Real Cost of Electric Vehicles

Wild and wacky California has done it again. Beginning in 2035, the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and light trucks will be prohibited in the once Golden State. They will be replaced by electric vehicles (EVs), which, of course, have batteries that must be charged regularly. Meanwhile, the San Onofre power-generating nuclear plant has been shut down, and the San Luis Obispo Diablo Canyon plant is on the chopping block. Together, the two plants generated enough power to supply the needs of more than 6 million people. More demand for electrical power and less generation of that power is an equation that could only make sense to the delusional folks who run the state.

California has made up for some of the San Onofre shutdown with wind and solar but more so with the importation of power from out of state, which now accounts for roughly a third of California’s power. Some of the imported power comes from hydroelectric plants in Oregon and Washington, but most of it from coal-fired plants in Utah and coal-fired and nuclear plants in Arizona. Could the irony be any greater—California shutting down its own nuclear plants only to rely on out-of-state nuclear and emission-spewing coal-fired plants?

In anticipation of the electric vehicle revolution, California’s green cultists claim wind turbines and solar panels will take care of the state’s growing energy needs. However, wind and solar account for only about a quarter of California’s power now. When Diablo Canyon is taken offline, wind and solar would have to account for a third of California’s power needs just to keep even; and, of course, both methods of power generation are highly erratic and therefore cannot be relied upon for an around-the-clock, steady flow of electricity. Moreover, if gasoline-powered vehicles are replaced by electric ones, the power demand will increase dramatically.

This prospect has caused even Gov. Gavin Newsom to have second thoughts about the shutting down of Diablo Canyon, scheduled for 2024-25. His ambivalence may reflect a recent Los Angeles Times poll, which found that 39 percent of voters support the continued operation of Diablo Canyon, 33 percent oppose, and 28 percent are undecided. The Times also found that 44 percent of voters support building more nuclear plants, 37 percent oppose, and 19 percent are undecided. These numbers suggest that the brownouts and blackouts of the last several years in California have made at least a substantial portion of Golden State residents acutely aware of our growing power problems.

Several times in the last few years, those of us living in Thousand Oaks have lost all electrical power, one time for more than three days. As food in refrigerators and freezers began to spoil, dry ice became impossible to get locally, and residents began driving long distances to purchase the suddenly valuable commodity.

Last Thanksgiving, our power was off for 24 hours, destroying the holiday for most residents in the area. Our household was saved only because I rolled out my trusty gasoline-powered generator and fired up the 12,000-watt-producing beast, sending juice flowing through the house and enabling 20 family members and guests to fill themselves with two turkeys and all the fixings. But power outages have become so common that a couple of months ago, I finally coughed up the money for a permanently situated generator—made in Wisconsin, by God!—that runs off natural gas (or propane) and comes on automatically whenever a loss of power is detected.

Already, California is issuing warnings about rolling blackouts for peak power-consumption hours this summer. Those hours are typically early afternoon through early evening. Residents are told not to use the washer or dryer during that time and to limit the use of the air conditioner. They are also now being told not to charge their EVs during those hours—and this is at a time when there are, as Bloomberg News reports, only a little more than 660,000 all-electric vehicles registered in California. What about when there are millions?

In September 2020, Gov. Newsom signed executive order N-79-20, which requires that

100 percent of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks will be zero-emission by 2035. It shall be a further goal of the State that 100 percent of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in the State be zero-emission by 2045 for all operations where feasible and by 2035 for drayage trucks.

The California Air Resources Board is currently finalizing rules for implementation of Newsom’s executive order. “Other countries and other states, they watch what California does,” Air Resources Board member and University of California, Davis, Professor Daniel Sperling said. “And so this will reverberate around the world.” Unlike in Las Vegas, what happens in California does not stay in California.

There are currently some 30 million cars and light trucks registered in the state. It’s unimaginable what would happen to the California electrical grid in 15 or 20 years hence if all these vehicles were electric and plugged in for charging during the evening hours. Actually, it’s unimaginable right now if we had a mere two or three million EVs plugged in at any given time of day. There are already farsighted authoritarians suggesting that charging hours be restricted and assigned.

Besides demanding great amounts of power for battery charging, electric vehicles also require large quantities of mined resources and fossil fuels to manufacture their batteries. Disposal of the highly toxic batteries, which have a relatively short life, also requires gobs of energy from fossil fuels.

A midsize EV requires a battery pack that weighs at least 1,000 pounds, which typically includes about 30 pounds of lithium, 60 pounds of cobalt, 130 pounds of nickel, 90 pounds of copper, 190 pounds of graphite, and roughly 500 pounds of steel, aluminum, manganese, plastic, and other materials. Supplying these materials for the battery pack in this example requires processing—using fossil fuels, of course—of at least 50 tons of ores. Multiply all the above by 30 million for California’s cars and light trucks—900 million pounds of lithium, 1.8 billion pounds of cobalt, 3.9 billion pounds of nickel…. The numbers are staggering. And this is for midsize EVs. For those who want to go big, GM has the Hummer, for which the battery pack alone weighs 3,000 pounds—twice the entire weight of my first car, a VW bug.

While the United States is rich in petroleum, natural gas, and coal, we are relatively poor in lithium and cobalt. Most of the world’s supply of lithium comes from Australia, China, and Chile; and the bulk of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Lithium mining has harmed agriculture and contaminated soil. In the Congo, cobalt mining is an unmitigated environmental disaster. Worse, though, of the 255,000 Congolese miners, 40,000 are children, some as young as six years old, according to the Wilson Center, a policy forum for global issues. Congolese adults are paid $3.50 a day, while the children earn $2 or less.

None of this matters to the 15 Chinese companies that dominate the industry. All but one of the companies are state owned, and all but one are subsidized by the Communist government of China. Over the last several years, Chinese companies have accounted for the vast majority of the cobalt ore and concentrate exported by the DRC. In all this, the Chinese don’t seem particularly inscrutable—they clearly intend to control the cobalt needed for the production of EV batteries.

But they are also trying to do the same with the production of the batteries themselves. Right now China accounts for nearly 80 percent of global production capacity for EV batteries. As a 2021 article in The Guardian explains, the Chinese understand the strategic consequences of what has become a battery arms race and are building new battery factories at the rate of one a week. The U.S. builds one every four months.

Initially, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk relied solely on China to produce the batteries for his cars, but, seeing the danger in Chinese control over the industry, he has begun manufacturing more and more of his own batteries in the United States. He is also developing batteries that use less or no cobalt. However, the new battery technology that uses less cobalt requires more nickel, and China is positioning itself to dominate the nickel supply chain as well. About a quarter of the world’s nickel ore reserves are in Indonesia, where Chinese companies, again subsidized by China’s Communist government, are heavily invested in nickel mining. In 2017, Indonesia produced 345,000 metric tons of nickel, but in 2021, spurred by Chinese investment and the growing need for nickel, the island nation produced 1 million metric tons. China is also the principal market for Philippine and Australian nickel.

The United States is far down the list of countries with the largest nickel ore reserves, and we have but one operating nickel mine, the Eagle Mine, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Because of the increasing demand for nickel in EV batteries, the U.S. has added nickel to the “critical minerals” list.

When Gov. Newsom signed his executive order requiring that only zero-emission new passenger vehicles be sold in California beginning in 2035, was he aware of the real cost of electric vehicles? Of the threat to California’s already tenuous power grid? Of the reliance on coal-fired, emission-spewing, out-of-state power plants? Of the great quantities of resources and fossil fuel energy it takes to produce an EV—and to dispose of the highly toxic batteries? Of the related environmental destruction and human exploitation overseas? Of the strategic weakening of the United States and the concomitant strengthening of Communist China?

Whether he considered all this I don’t know, but I do know that ever since signing his executive order, he has gasconaded about it. Green virtue-signaling über alles.

Image: Teslas at a recharging station (Urs Widmer / via Pixabay)

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