Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Converting The US To Electric Vehicles: Priceless

A non-scientific, but clearly well thought-out back-of-envelope calculation by MIT CS professor Philip Greenspun is food for thought: the cost of replacing the entire fleet of U.S. passenger cars with electric ones would be zero.

Here are some of his numbers:

* total spent per year: $1 trillion
* percentage of oil consumed by passenger cars: 40
* total spent per year on oil for passenger cars: $400 billion [refining into gasoline, distributing, and retailing add even more to this]
* at 5 interest, how much we could we borrow and pay $400 billion every year in interest: $8 trillion
* number of registered cars in the U.S.: 250 million (Wikipedia)
* cost of a new electric car, if mass-produced: $20,000
* value of a used car, if exported to Latin America or China: $5,000
* cost to upgrade average existing American car to a brand-new electric car: $15,000
* number that could be converted for $8 trillion: more than 500 million cars (i.e., twice as many as we have now)

And then here is the money quote:

Instead of sending $400 billion each year to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, we could spend it on electric car production in the U.S., Mexico, and China. At current oil prices, it wouldn’t cost us a dime extra to stop importing and burning oil for passenger cars. In fact, if the goal were to end up with the same number of cars on the road, we would have a few trillion dollars left over. One or two trillion dollars would be sufficient to build nuclear, solar, or wind electric power plants to replace all of our plants that currently burn coal and oil (note that less than 1 percent of current electricity generation in the U.S. is from oil).

Now THAT is what I talking about! Let's get on it people... and let's do better than just paying interest only on the bill while we are at it.


Relentless Aaron said...

Hey, Ron. Were you sesrious about wanting to program jazz?

Chris said...

Where does the electricity come from to power all that new demand? I'm guessing coal and oil power plants.

They are more efficient than burning oil in each individual car, but not free.

Ron Evans said...

Good point, Chris. You are correct, in that most US domestic electrical energy production is coal-based.

Dr. Greenspun was not trying to solve the carbon problem, he was trying to address the oil dependency issue.

That said, there are a whole variety of ways to obtain electrical power. There is the existing grid, which could absorb at least part of the additional capacity required for the electric fleet. Since people will be charging their vehicles at night when they are at home, this is off-peak demand. There are also newer ways to generate additional electric power to meet demand, both centralized ones like more efficient coal, biomass like biodiesel or methane, as well as decentralized ones such as solar and wind.