Worldview from Franklin County: To electrify, or not to electrify?
Tesla will be the leading luxury automotive brand in the U.S. this year; it might have been in 2021, but that data is still being tabulated.
Tesla sold more than 300,000 cars in the USA during 2021. They are even beginning to be seen in Russellville.
What does this mean for you? Will you buy an electric car?
Do you have range anxiety? What about when the battery goes bad? How much will I save in cost to power the car? Will the fuel savings be great enough to cover the initial cost difference? What happens if I run out of power?
These are the obvious questions, but there are more questions – there are more important questions:
Where is all this material for battery packs? How can we safely harvest this material and dispose of it after the pack has failed? Who will build the charging stations needed along the road?
How will local power grids handle the increased load from charging after returning home from work? How will the additional electricity be generated?
“Wow, Dan, that’s a lot of questions!” Yeah, and there are quite a few more.
Let’s start with the questions that affect your choice of an internal combustion engine or an electric car. I think range anxiety is pretty well addressed by the latest improvements in battery technology, at least for daily driver use. Advertised ranges of 400-500 miles will translate to more than 200 miles of daily stop-and-go traffic, running the A/C and so on – more than enough to do your daily routine and recharge once home for the night.
There are still questions about getting stuck for hours on the highway, such as happened in Virginia in January. It’ll be more than calling road service for a can of gas; a specifically outfitted rescue truck with a generator will have to come and charge your car – a significant expense.
There is a YouTube video of someone in Europe dynamiting his Tesla because the battery replacement was too high; it was cheaper – OK, maybe just more fun – just to blow up the car. However, I found a Tik-Tok of a shop that repairs the Tesla battery packs, so that problem is being worked out.
Will the fuel saving cost outweigh the initial higher cost of the vehicle? In most cases, yes. Remember, most electric cars being made currently are high-end vehicles. As the technology becomes more prevalent, the initial cost will drop, making them more cost effective.
Having a fast charger installed in your home needs to be considered as an initial cost of the car. This will have to be installed by a professional electrician and could require additional service drop from the power company.
As for me, I will consider an electric car for my next car, but it will be in addition to my ICE vehicles.
Now on to bigger questions. Lithium, cobalt and other materials needed will have to be mined from the earth. This will have to be done efficiently and with little environmental impact. Currently China has a hold on the vast majority of these materials; however, there are large deposits of these in North America.
Most of these materials are in environmentally sensitive areas, so planning to mine them safely requires great thought and planning.
Several established and start-up companies are working on this issue. It can and will be done, but it will take time and money. This will delay the cost benefit of electric cars.
Battery recyclers are starting up, and this industry looks to be able to keep pace with the growing use of automotive batteries. Charging station needs will be met by businesses that can profit from them.
Yes, the infrastructure law recently passed has government support for charging stations, so that should help. Hopefully it’ll help more than it hurts.
One of the biggest questions I do not see being answered is how an electrical grid already in distress will be able to meet the demand of hundreds of thousands of individuals plugging in their cars, on fast charge, after returning home from work.
Generating the power is difficult enough; building new power-generating plants is a multiyear project. There are multiple regulating agencies and laws that must be satisfied, and the funding for the generating plant must be acquired. Then the power grid in localities will need upgrading to accommodate the increased demand.
This is not cheap or quick to do.
The shift from ICE to electric cars is much more than choosing one at the dealership.
The stated goal of switching to electric over the next several years is going to cause growing pains, and these pains are going to come out of our pockets. I believe in the long run this will be more efficient; I just don’t believe it will happen as fast as the current leadership in Washington wants it to happen.
It will be up to you.
Dan Mueller is a guest columnist for the Franklin County Times.