A Santa Barbara transportation expert this week refuted claims by the oil industry that the growing number electric cars will mean increasing the number of fossil fuel energy plans.
“Electric cars mostly charge at night and have no effect on the (power) grid,” Michael Chiacos told Green Drinks, a monthly gathering of eco-friendly advocates, business owners and nonprofit groups.
Chiacos found kindred spirits in most of the 75 men and women who attended his June 19 free talk at the Synergy Business & Technology Center, entitled “Driving on Sunshine with an Electric Car: The Greenest Way to Get Around Since Riding a Bike.” And, of course, Chiacos rode his bike to Synergy and someone’s car broke down after the event.
“Gas-powered cars get dirtier as they get older,” said Chiacos, energy program transportation specialist for the Community Environmental Council.
He also refuted oil industry and electric car critic claims that the vehicles’ batteries pollute more than fossil fuels when they are used up. The new lithium-ion batteries being used are 70 to 90 percent recyclable an in some new electric cars will provide 10 percent more range, he said.
According to an article by Edmunds.com Senior editor John O’Dell, no signs exist that the batteries in the earliest Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrids are starting to expire, but relatively few of those cars were sold. “Just 19,000 Insights and 33,000 Priuses were sold in the U.S. through the 2003 model year, when the first-generation Prius was retired,” O’Dell wrote. “That’s not enough to feed a commercial recycling industry.”
Chiacos admitted electric cars aren’t perfect. He said a big challenge is their range, which now is only up to 100 miles when fully charged, However, he noted that an increasing number of electric charging stations are being installed up and down the California Coast.
The Santa Barbara transportation expert said the big benefit is that electric cars produce no tailpipe emissions and cut carbon pollution by 75 percent in California, which is the only state preparing to use at least 20 percent renewable energy within the next eight years. “But that could be more like 40 or 50 percent by 2020,” he said.
Chiacos said electric cars still cost in the range of $25,000 to $30,000 when state incentives are factored in, but that is getting closer to the average price of a regular car. He praised the Tesla electric roadster, but did not mention those sporty cars have a sticker price of more than $100,000.
The evening after Green Drinks, the related topic of breakthroughs in energy storage was discussed at the last meeting of the MIT Enterprise Forum Central Coast, which Chiacos attended along with about 75 other folks in the audience at the Cabrillo Pavillion Arts Center.
David Auston, head of the UCSB Center for Energy Efficiency and one of the forum speakers, said less than half the energy produced in the United States “does useful work.” The topic of the Wednesday night discussion was “The Weakest Link in Renewable Energy: Clean Energy Storage.” He too pointed to the internal combustion engine in cars, which is only 25 percent efficient, whereas an electric car is about 95 percent efficient.
Auston also said scores of power plants could be closed if incandescent light bulbs were replaced with LED devices, However, he said, industry and the public have not embraced that type of change.