“Taking a charge”(Electric car myths)

Electric vehicle detractors make a number of claims which have a grain of truth and others which lack even this single morsel.

For example, they have pointed out that there is not enough infrastructure to support an explosion in electrical vehicle usage. It is true that if today, magically, the number of such means of conveyance tripled, there would be an insufficient support network. However, when the internal combustion engine was a novelty, there were no auto mechanics, gasoline stations, or AAA. The market adapted and evolved, as would be the case if the number of electric vehicles mushroomed.

The disdain for EVs is comparable to that for veganism. The mythological protestor chiming in with “Meat is Murder” on a beef page is nowhere to be seen. Yet when one posts an animal-free recipe, the majority of replies feature anger, derision, and revulsion. In the same vein, a post about a traditional vehicle will likely merit no negative comments or at least none that condemns the industry in totality. By sharp contrast, information about EVs is met with hostility, mocking, and perhaps even a declaration that they are a plot to conquer and control the population.

One of the least venomous arguments is that they are too expensive. And while EVs do cost more on average than their gasoline counterparts, the price has been steadily declining as they become more common. More importantly, as Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning points out, there is more than retail price at play. When one considers resale, maintenance, fuel costs, and depreciation, EVs come out ahead. Imagine 10 years of no trips to the gas pump and no oil changes, all while having fewer components that can break down, and one can see the long-term benefit.

Next, let’s tackle the notion that charging can take untold hours. Compared to the two minutes it takes to complete a gasoline refueling, this seems like a lot of wasted time. But Dunning noted that most users only charge as much they need to get to their next destination so most don’t spend three hours waiting around for the charge to complete. Dunning reported that he spent a month on an 8,000-mile drive (aided by Tesla’s autopilot), where he averaged about 10 minutes per recharge. While that’s a little longer than one spends pumping gasoline, if you throw in a restroom break and a Snickers purchase that are common on cross-country journeys, it’s the same amount of time. Moreover, an EV can be powered at home, which is where about 75 percent of recharging takes place. There is no gasoline refueling equivalent in most people’s driveway.

Another expense-related criticism is that the batteries need frequent replacement at $40,000 a pop. This is a total myth. Dunning wrote, “EV batteries last just as long as, and are far more reliable than, car engines. You’re no more likely to need to replace an EV battery than you are your V8. And even if you did, federal law in the United States requires EV batteries to be warrantied for eight years or 100,000 miles.”

Moving onto the more fear-based complaints, there is the notion that an EV driver is in a bad way if the battery dies. This is sometimes extrapolated to a dystopian scene where all cars are electric and the duped drivers all remain stuck in a blizzard or backed up traffic, resulting in all the cars transforming into a makeshift coffin. While being stranded is undesirable, poor decision making by a single EV driver is no more a condemnation of the entire concept than a motorist running out of gas is an indictment of the entire oil industry. Dunning wrote that he once was unable to recharge because the power in town went out. Stupid him, right? Well, only if one applies the same distinction to the hundreds of traditional vehicle drivers who were also unable to refuel due to the electrical outage. As to everyone being stuck to die together, this is based partly on the myth that the batteries don’t hold a charge for very long. This is untrue, and would be especially so if the car were idling.

Detractors raise concerns about environmental and humanitarian disasters – isolated concerns from a segment not usually worried about such things. Those who consider the damage that climate change does to Earth and its inhabitants to be mythological now fret over the harm caused by lithium mining. However, we need to do more than to appeal to hypocrisy. We need to look at whether this is a valid worry.

Dunning writes, “Lithium…is more an issue of supply and demand and cost. It creates ugly open-pit mines but is not particularly dirty or destructive. Most lithium mining is in Australia, which complies very well with environmental regulations.”

But that still leaves cobalt, which traditionally has had the worst humanitarian impact. Much of the world’s supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and mining there has often been done in deplorable conditions, sometimes by children.

This is of utmost concern, but Dunning noted that international pressure and increasing demand has tempered the problem. “The picture has changed dramatically,” he wrote. “Demand has surged to the point where child laborers can no longer meet it. About half of Congolese cobalt mines are owned by well-financed Chinese companies, and the vast majority of Congolese cobalt is now produced in mechanized open-pit mines with heavy equipment and not a child laborer in sight.”

This is not to suggest all is well. According to Dunning, there are still 40,000 Congolese children, and it is therefore necessary is to continue to monitor the companies producing cobalt and to snuff out their use of child labor.

As to EVs impact on planet health, when considering the entire production and use cycle, the average electric car generates half as much greenhouse gas as the average internal combustion vehicle.

Finally, there is the myth that the grid is insufficient to support a significant uptick in EVs. In truth, EVs make a modest impact on the grid. An entire electric fleet would add about 10 percent to overall demand. And since any increase would be gradual, proper planning and management could alleviate any trouble.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s