Thursday, July 2, 2009

Leave the oil in the ground, drive electric with the savings

100 mile trips x million on 0.1% of 2008 oil production
You can leave the oil in the ground and drive in electric vehicles 15% of the distance the gas guzzlers would have gone just on the saved energy that refineries would have used to extract the petrol and diesel from that oil.

With many thanks to one reader, some corrections have been made to the figures in this article. Please accept my apologies for the error.

What these numbers mean is that the long tailpipe argument - that EV's just move their emissions to the power stations - is put to the lie.

It also means that claims EV take up by the public would result in mass over-subscription of power generation capacity are also not supported.

Read on.

As the USA shows its world beating credentials by making billions of dollars available for a range of climate friendly initiatives, inevitably the conservatives are coming back more loudly with complaints that the green spending spree is a "new boondoggle".

I've never really been sure what a boondoggle is. But Mr Carney writing in the Washington Examiner echoes the sentiments of plenty of other better dead than red types, when he compares the recent funding initiatives for battery technologies by the Obama administration to the dreadful corn ethanol initiatives of the previous administration. Lithium, necessary for battery technology being produced in a country like Bolivia has all the McCarthy-ists reaching for their propaganda manuals.

The Obama governments Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program serves up billions of dollars in funding, 5.9 billion for example going to Ford for its new initiatives which include Electric Vehicle (EV) research, as well producing more efficient traditional Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles.

If Mr Carney really wants a boondoggle, he only has to look back at the previous government grants to the big auto companies to make more efficient cars: money which those automakers cynically frittered away without only to arrive today at a financial crisis, and with rising fuel prices, and their caps in hands again.

Like many who are reaching for the handbrake on the clean vehicle charge, Carney is quoting the recent Government Accountability Office's report on Plug-in hybrid usage in the Federal Fleet. The executive summary of the report says in part
For plug-ins to realize their full potential, electricity would need to be generated from lower emission fuels such as nuclear and renewable energy, rather than the fossil fuels - coal and natural gas used most often to generate electricity today.
Sounds familiar doesn't it?

Its the same old FUD that's been going around for some time now.

As we already know, in answer to the GAO report and other "long tailpipe" arguments, the fact is that just replacing ICE vehicles with plug-in Hybrids without changing any of the electricity production would realize a saving of 27% in pollutants. And in California, where a cleaner mix of electricity production is used the figure is 40%.

But the biggest argument against the GAO report and other clean car naysayers is this fact: if you just leave the oil in the ground, your electric car has already done 15% of the journey for free, just on the energy saved by not running the refinery.

Add in the costs either side, of extracting and shipping the crude to the refinery, and then trucking it across the country in tankers - figures that are much more difficult to obtain - then the

Put it another way: that electric power which the naysayers claim electric cars would chew up, causing extra pollution would actually come for free - and actually even more save on pollution - just because the refineries are not pumping out so much of Chevron and Texaco's favourite money-spinner.

I first saw this in a ground breaking article by Doug Korthof. (Note that I now think Mr Korthof's claims are a bit strong, based on the numbers I have been able to produce, but I think the idea is still valid - but you have to include the costs either side of the refinery, just the refinery itself is not enough).

I just had to check the claims he makes for myself. I contacted the US Department of Energy for their take on it, and Paul Hesse of the Energy Information Administration got back to me with references to some of the DOE's figures.

According to the figures in 2008 oil refineries in the USA purchased 42,682 million kWh of electricity.

Another major energy cost is 710,500 million cubic feet of natural gas, which assuming only 50% generation efficiencies is worth another 108,642 million kWh.

Coal is also used - 43,000 Tons (US), which at a typically quoted figure of 2.5MWh/ton electricity generation rate is good for 107 million kWh.

And we'll also include the steam purchased 98,769 million pounds. Assuming 0.3kWh energy content per pound and conversion efficiency of 60% (modern steam turbines are pretty good): 19,600 million kWh.

That's a total of 171, 031 million kWh of electricity.

That is a hell of a lot of electricity being used by oil refineries.

Now that power went to produce 5,119 million barrels of petroleum and oil products.

Lets imagine that green citizens of the USA buy up the electric vehicles that the Obama initiatives are funding, and that 0.1% of the production capacity of USA refineries is saved as a result.

Just imagine how good it would be if 5.12 million barrels of petroleum and oil products don't have to be produced, and 0.1% of energy costs at refineries is saved as a result.

What could that 0.1% produce?


The answer is - according to the DOE figures (their diagram left) that one 44 gallon barrel produces around 19.15 gallons of gasoline for ICE cars, and around 9.21 gallons of diesel fuel.

The gasoline - around 98 million gallons of it from the 5.12 million barrels - would make for 24 million trips of 100 miles in internal combustion engined cars, and another 16 million trips of 100 miles in diesel vehicles - that's assuming an average of 25mpg EPA mileage for the cars and 35mpg EPA mileage for the diesels.

But since the 5.12 million barrels of production didn't happen, and the USA saved that money - the refineries also saved the energy costs involved 151.3 million kWh worth.

Turns out that is enough to do 6.1 million 100 mile trips in an electric vehicle, like a Tesla, which uses just 28kWh to do 100 miles on EPA figures. See my bar chart at the top of this article for a graphical representation of these figures.

What that means is that if 40 people took their fossil fuel powered vehicles off the road, 6 of them could travel for free just on the power saved by not running the refineries.

The other 34 people would just be travelling at the 27% pollution saving, and at a fraction of the cost to the hip pocket compared to the fossil fuel powered vehicles.

These same figures work for Australia too, and for other countries, although here we have slightly better average fuel consumption in our vehicles, and less nuclear power stations, so the figures are a little different - but the general message is just the same.

Now I'm sure there's some play in my figures - for example critics might say there's line loss in the transmission of the electricity, and there are extra products in the barrel of oil, such as aviation gas.

But I haven't yet counted the costs of extracting and shipping the crude oil, or the cost of trucking of refined petroleum to gas stations.

Petro-politics and the energy security implications are difficult to evaluate, but the costs of wars and military protection for oil shipping also should be factored into these numbers.

I'll say it just one more time in case it didn't stick first up: leave the oil in the ground, put the petro-dollars back into education or something useful, and the power saved by winding back production at the refineries will run 15% of your EV's.

When you add the other costs, the figure is probably close to 100%. Anyway - its got to be better than the damage we're doing now, and the only way to know how much better for sure it is to start making the changes.

Every way you look at it, EV's are a much better choice for the world - its time for the oil men and their cronies to say uncle - the game is over guys, its been a great century for you.

Now its time to join the 21st century, stop burning fossils and join the technical revolution.