Electric Cars

Can the electric car save us? Their sellers certainly want us to think so. And we know that ready transportation has become an essential enabler of our technological society. With it only little training and a slight twist of a wrist and a press of a foot can move ourselves prodigious distances. Given the coffee and sweets we typically bring along on the ride then not only do we use little body energy to move, we may actually gain stores of body energy. Yes, cars together with their associated infrastructure have been a boon to the individual. They may have saved many of us figuratively and literally.

But will they save our civilization? To propel themselves, traditional cars burn gasoline and translate some of the released energy to kinetic energy. On the other hand electric cars have batteries that store energy. They move when the battery’s stored energy is allowed to translate to kinetic energy. How much energy are we talking about? Assume all car petrol produced is used for cars. Then worldwide they consume 1.2E+17 Joules per day or 4.39E+19 Joules per year. If electric cars are to save us then all their batteries must be imbued with 1.2E+17 Joules every day because batteries are not a source of energy. They are simply an energy storage device. I leave it to you to calculate if solar collectors on your rooftop and everyone else’s would be enough to provide this amount of energy every day to save our civilization.

I consider it unlikely that solar collectors will provide enough energy for our civilization to continue with ready transportation for so many. But if not solar then from where? We know that 66% of all electricity today comes from non-renewable resources; coal, gas and oil. So, by using electric cars then we aren’t replacing the energy source. We’re simply changing its delivery mechanism. While electric transportation is cool and probably more efficient than gasoline powered transportation, on its own it won’t save civilization. We need other sources of safe reliable energy.

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