Magic Cars

Politicians praise electric cars. If everyone buys them, they say, solar and wind power will replace our need for oil.

But that’s absurd.

Here is the rest of my list of “inconvenient facts” about electric cars.

“The future of the auto industry is electric,” says President Joe Biden. He assumes a vast improvement in batteries. Better batteries are crucial because both power plants and cars need to store lots of electric power.

But here’s inconvenient fact 3: Batteries are lousy at storing large amounts of energy.
“Batteries leak, and they don’t hold a lot,” says physicist Mark Mills.

Mills thinks electric cars are great but explains that “oil begins with a huge advantage: 5,000% more energy in it per pound. Electric car batteries weigh 1,000 pounds. Those 1,000 pounds replace just 80 pounds of gasoline.”

But future batteries will be better, I point out.

“Engineers are really good at making things better,” Mills responds, “but they can’t make them better than the laws of physics permit.”

That’s inconvenient fact 4. Miracle batteries powerful enough to replace fossil fuels are a fantasy.

“Because nature is not nice to humans,” explains Mills, “we store energy for when it’s cold or really hot. People who imagine an energy transition want to build windmills and solar panels and store all that energy in batteries. But if you do the arithmetic, you find you’d need to build about a hundred trillion dollars’ worth of batteries to store the same amount of energy that Europe has in storage now for this winter. It would take the world’s battery factories 400 years to manufacture that many batteries.”

Politicians don’t mention that when they promise every car will be electric. They also don’t mention that the electric grind is limited.

This summer, California officials were so worried about blackouts they asked electric vehicle owners to stop charging cars!

Yet today, few of California’s cars are electric. Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered that all new cars must be electric by 2035! Where does he think he’ll get the electricity to power them?

“Roughly speaking, you have to double your electric grid to move the energy out of gasoline into the electric sector,” says Mills. “No one is planning to double the electric grid, so they’ll be rationing.”

Rationing. That means some places will simply turn off some of the power. That’s our final inconvenient fact: We just don’t have enough electricity for all electric cars.

Worse, if (as many activists and politicians propose) we try to get that electricity from 100% renewable sources, the rationing would be deadly.

“Even if you cover the entire continent of the United States with solar panels, you wouldn’t supply half of America’s electricity,” Mills points out.

Even if you added “Washington Monument-sized wind turbines spread over an area six times greater than the state of New York, that wouldn’t be enough.”

This is just math and physics. It’s amazing supposedly responsible people promote impossible fantasies.

“It’s been an extraordinary accomplishment of propaganda,” complains Mills, “almost infantile … distressing because it’s so silly.”

Even if people invent much better cars, wind turbines, solar panels, power lines and batteries, explains Mills, “you’re still drilling things, digging up stuff. You’re still building machines that wear out … It’s not magical transformation.”

Even worse, today politicians make us pay more for energy while forcing us to do things that hurt the environment. Their restrictions on fossil fuels drive people to use fuels that pollute more.

In Europe: “They’re going back to burning coal! What we’ve done is have our energy systems designed by bureaucrats instead of engineers,” complains Mills. “We get worse energy, more expensive energy and higher environmental impacts!”

I like electric cars. But I won’t pretend that driving one makes me some kind of environmental hero.

“There’ll be lots more electric cars in the future,” concludes Mills. “There should be, because that’ll reduce demand for oil, which is a good thing. But when you do the math, to operate a society with 5 or 6 billion people who are living in poverty we can’t imagine, when you want to give them a little of what we have, the energy demands are off the charts big. We’re going to need everything.”

That includes fossil fuels.


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John Stossel is author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed."