EV Haters Don’t Get Scale

What if all your power was generated from fossil fuels? Would it then be more environmentally friendly to drive a car with an internal combustion engine? No, and here is why.

A major obstacle to get people to get behind electrification of our transportation sector is that they are easily tricked by propaganda from the oil lobby. The argument is simple: Until all power is generated from wind and solar, you can carry on driving a gasoline car, because it makes no difference. Those EVs are just going to be charged up with power from fossil fuel plants, right?

This argument, however, is a cheap trick that relies on the fact that most people don’t grasp the importance of scale in an industrial setting. But the logical fallacy is actually not that hard to poke holes in.

What do you think is more energy efficient? Everybody has their home attached to a diesel generator to produce power or gets it from a large oil power plant? Shouldn’t the former be more environmentally friendly? It eliminates the transmission line power losses that you get when power travels far from a large power plant. With a diesel generator the power has a short way to travel. Way more efficient, right?

No, you don’t buy that argument, right? Yet that is basically the argument lots of people buy regarding electric vehicles. We are told that there are losses in power cables, in the batteries, etc.

However, what they don’t take into account is that power generation at scale has massive advantages. Almost everything in an industrial setting is far more efficient when you scale things up. Engines are the same. If car engines were efficient, then you could have powered your house with a car engine. Nobody in their right mind does that, because a large centralized power station is far more efficient.

In your car, you get efficiencies of around 20–30%. That is not a lot. There are many reasons for this:

  1. The engine is relatively small.

A centralized power plant has many advantages. Because there are no limitation on weight and size and you can run them at a steady number of rotations, you get far higher efficiency. Gas power plants have efficiencies around 60%. You can get coal plants of efficiencies around 45%.

What if we used oil in power plants instead of in cars? That is actually far better use of the oil. When refining oil to gasoline you lose 15% of the energy. If you refine it for power-plant usage, you only lose 8%.

And if you use waste heat to heat up homes, provide hot water for showers, laundry, etc., then you get up to 93% efficiency from a centralized power-plant.

Thus, directing oil towards car usage is a huge waste of a valuable resource. You waste it on inefficient refining. You waste it on inefficient engines. You cannot use waste heat. You waste energy on transporting the fuel to numerous gas stations.

It is far greener to use fossil fuels for power generation and then use that power to charge electric cars. Losses of power in charging and transmission lines are actually very minimal. Thus the fact that you live a country dominated by fossil fuel power generation is not a reason to avoid EVs.

And don’t forget that sooner or later those fossil fuel plants will be replaced by wind and solar power. In that case your carbon footprint will become even smaller.

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store