Forget the title, this is about electric cars.
In my part of Michigan, we get our electricity and natural gas from DTE. While the name suggests a Detroit link, the company is based in Cincinnati and serves 3 states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky) totaling 13 counties. The company traces its origins to 1849 as the Detroit Gas Company, formed to supply the city’s gas streetlights. Streetlighting changed when Thomas Edison came to town at the turn of the century. The gas company survived under various guises, longest as Michigan Consolidated Gas (MichCon). In 1996, Detroit Edison formed a holding company bearing its stock symbol (DTE) and swallowed up MichCon to make a company that allows us to pay one check for all our home energy needs. They count 2,244,950 customers (2 transportation accounts, 2,036,506 residential properties, 207,722 commercial customers and 719 industrial accounts) who purchase their electricity from the company. DTE Energy’s consumers are charged an average residential electricity price of 17.86 cents per kilowatt hour, which is 32.59% more than the average US rate of 13.47 cents. In 2020 the company sold 40,629,495 megawatt hours by way of retail sales to end users. Electricity generation facilities owned by DTE Energy produced 47.60% of the megawatt hours sourced by the supplier and an additional 52.40% was procured on the wholesale electricity market. So, when calculating the key metric CO2 produced per power generated, figure the denominator to be 19,339,640 megawatt hours. Their total revenue for 2020 from electricity related activities was $7,561,877,800, with 27.60% coming from wholesale electricity sales and 68.97% from retail sales to end users (1).
The company generates a total of 23,767,774.34 megawatt hours from the burning of coal, which is the 21st most out of 3510 electric providers in the United States (2). They must be counting coal use by others on the wholesale electricity market from whom they buy electricity to pass on. DTE Energy’s electricity production plants produce 3,220,046.81 megawatt hours from the use of natural gas. DTE Energy produces 92.60% of their total electricity production from non-renewable fuels. The total electricity generated from non-renewable sources is 37,309,896.28 megawatt hours, which is 30th highest out of 3510 providers in the country. DTE Energy generates 2,434,632 megawatt hours of electricity (or 6.04% of their total electricity generation) from wind turbines. Their biggest source is coal, accounting for 58.99% of fuel used, then comes nuclear (!) at 23.25%, natural gas at 23.25, wind 7.99%, other 6.04%.
DTE remains heavily involved in coal processing (3). This portion of the company’s history has been purged from their website, and their mines in Appalachia, which account for DTE’s reach into Kentucky, are dormant. But DTE’s wholly owned subsidiary MERC (Midwest Energy Resource Company) operates 15 train sets of 123 cars each to transport the coal from mines mainly in the Powder Ridge Basin of Montana and Wyoming but also from Colorado, Utah and British Columbia to Superior Midwest Energy Terminal (SMET) on St. Louis Bay in Superior Wisconsin, on Lake Michigan. The unit trains travel the 1,000-mile route in approximately two days carrying 14,500 tons of coal. The coal is primarily for DTE’s coal fired plants but also reaches elsewhere, as stated on their web site “We have sufficient capacity to accommodate the coal transshipment needs of additional electric utilities and industrial firms throughout the Great Lakes region.”
While DTE aims to reduce its emissions to zero by 2050, they have a ways to go (4). I’ve had trouble getting raw numbers on their total CO2 output but did come across their own calculation 2,141.4 lb. CO2/MWh. Figuring 2200#/metric ton, that’s 0.973 metric tons/MWh. That’s almost twice what San Diego Gas and Electric accounts for. Guess all that coal makes a difference, and the nuclear doesn’t quite offset.
But let’s get into the reason for this post. How much does it cost to drive an electric car in Michigan, both what we pull out of our pocket and slap at Mother Earth? Of course, DTE has some plans to ease the pain. 3 all told (5). One requires a new meter on your house and in turn gives you juice for 11¢/kwh at night (11 PM – 9 AM) and 24 ¢/kwh rest of the time. That’s only for the juice that flows through your EV charger. The others charge all juice according to time of day, making it advantageous to stay up late enough to run your dishwasher (and charge your car) at 11 PM. All good deal rates are subject to suspension should a” Critical Peak Event” be called.
For our analysis, I’d hoped to pull in an electric car more suited to the modest sensibilities of us Michiganders. True, Teslas are the best-selling electric cars nationwide, but I haven’t seen many even around A square, which has enough well-heeled old hippies to fork over Elon’s tariff. I’ve been unable to acquire a list of the 10 best selling EVs in Michigan. So, I’m going completely arbitrary here. I pulled Car and Driver’s best 12 EVs (6). Some pretty fancy cars on this list. Detroit boy that I am (my mom was raised in Detroit, my adoptive dad put in 31 years with Fisher Body, as did I for 4 college summers) I picked the Chevy Bolt, which sold 24,803 units in 2021, despite supply problems that limited inventory. It’s a pretty and sexy car, if pretty compact. Although Josh Tavel was titular chief engineer for the original Chevy Volt, its predecessor, Bob Lutz, legendary engineer and GM Vice Chairman then, stood solidly behind the project (7), even though he had called global warming a “total crock of sh**” (8), praising the product as a “magnificent piece of engineering”. When the car was in concept stage, he pushed for a full electric vehicle, but was overruled by GM’s president John Laukner, who thought that by having a gas engine to charge the lithium battery, “people would not be on a tether” (9). This more than doubled the complexity of the project and engineers had to design systems both for the internal combustion engine and the electric motor, plus the means by which they would interact. Toyota managed this with the Prius in 1997, releasing it on the US market in 2001. Lutz, in an interview several years after he retired from GM, offered that he thought the Volt should have been a pickup truck (10).
So, the power used for charging is 11.5 kw applied for 7 hours, or 80.5 kwh. That gets you 247 miles, or 3.07 mi/kwh. With DTE charging an average of 17.86¢/kwh, you’ll be paying 5.82¢/mile. Could be less if you’ve got one of those fancy plans. With 0.973 metric tons CO2/MWh, each fill-up generates 0.0841 tons/fill-up. Taking 40 fill-ups to get you 10,000 miles, that’s about 3.9 metric tons/year.
Let’s bring those Teslas into a Michigan environment for comparison
While I didn’t mean to go all “Car-and-Driver” with this, it’s only fair I show the competitors I’m writing about the two Teslas.
Here’s the luxurious top-of-the-line S model:
And here’s the more modest Y model my friend Ken owns:
Since you seldom base your car purchase on the stat sheet. I’m sure you’ll agree, both have plenty of “curb appeal”. Let me tell you, it gets even better up close.
Let’s bring back in our Tesla Y for some comparisons using Michigan numbers (15). Recall that fill-up takes 8 hr. 15 minutes, pushing 11 kw. That’s 90.75 kw-h/fill-up. Figuring 303 miles/charge, that’s 3.33 mi/kw-h. At Michigan prices, that’s 5.3¢/mile. With those 33 fill-ups per year to reach 10,000 miles, the CO2 belch comes to 2.91 metric tons/year. The S has a slightly bigger battery. But also is a slightly heavier car, so numbers are similar. I don’t think you fork over the extra $40K to save 0.6¢/mile. Those pennies do add up. If you drive 1,044,386 miles, you’d make up the difference. That’s a lotta charges.
If you like your car stats all in a row, here ya go:
Transmission of electricity over power lines is not 100% efficient. DTE reports that energy lost through electricity transmission as 4.18% of their electricity production total. I was going to factor this in just for yucks, but you can just bump up the CO2 and cost numbers accordingly.
It’s just not electric cars coming, but trucks and busses too. Elon Musk has put out the sexiest, sleekest semi I’ve ever seen (16).
But with that 500-mile range, that poor trucker driving it will have to down a lotta cups of coffee while he waits for his rig to recharge. You can reserve one for a mere $20K (17), paying the remaining $130K or so upon delivery sometime next year. Thanks to the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022”, Uncle will knock $40K off that (18). You can get an almost new 2022 diesel Peterbilt for $160-230K. Watch 8 and a half minutes of Tesla truck porn here (19). Not all those big EVs are Teslas, and sometimes the electrons just don’t provide the needed oomph (20).
New owners of electric cars can expect a few idiosyncrasies that weren’t there with their trust gas-guzzlers. The biggest of course concerns the juice: getting it, getting enough of it, what to do when it runs out, and realizing what it really came from. I’ll cover all that a little later, as those concerns confront every driver. Of the less common happenings, the most common is repair. Even EVs require maintenance, tho’ much less than a traditional car with more moving parts and fluids to be kept going and flowing. Although regular EV maintenance is touted as less expensive than that for cars with internal combustion engines (ICE) (21), the reality is somewhat different (22). The mechanic adept with the internal combustion engine must completely retrain to work on EVs, so just finding someone to fix your car might be a challenge. Collision repairs are more costly, and the heavier battery laden EVs collide with greater impact. EV electronics are more complex than in ICE cars, hence more expensive to repair. And God forbid if you have to replace the battery (23). Repair shops must extensively retool to serve EV owners, and need to recoup those costs somewhere. And it can’t help that the after purchase service for Teslas not only sucks be seems malignant (24).
An electric car is basically a rolling computer. Engineers at Tesla especially, but also other EV makers, are fond of frequent upgrades so the owner is constantly faced with new bells and whistles to master. The computer display that replaces the dashboard consumes a wide swath of the driver’s field of view. I thought you were supposed to keep your eyes off the electronic devices while driving! And, like any computer, EVs can he hacked (25). Of course, computer communications go two ways. Mr. Musk keeps a close eye on your driving in turn for offering you his own insurance, far cheaper than conventional insurance provided you drive like Elon wants you to (26).
There have always been car fires. Gasoline burns, of course. But boy do those lithium batteries burn! Everybody likes hot cars, and Jags used to be near the top of the list, but this might not be how to go about it (27). Here’s a measured and detailed article on the whole EV flambé problem (28). Yes, it’s real (but gas guzzlers catch fire too), has a known basis from those darned lithium batteries, and is worse with older cars.
flames, but charging affects all drivers. There aren’t enough charging stations, and at 30¢-60¢/kW-h public charging costs 3 to 5 times more than home charging. Even the more expensive level 3 chargers take way longer to “fill up” than the time you used to spend at the pump. Some writers see this problem as the biggest hurdle to wider demand for EVs (29). Although in reality, it’s the number, not performance, of charging stations that really matters. If enough drivers convert to make half of all vehicles on the road electric by 2030, 30 million more charging ports will need to be built – 478 per day – a venture that will cost upwards of $35 billion (30). Right now, the country has over 128,000 public EV charging outlets and at least 4,500 private charging stations – in comparison with about 150,000 gas stations. It is estimated that the new units will be mostly private 48 million versus 1.2 million public. An attraction of private chargers is that electricity bought at public chargers is much more expensive, as noted above. Where all that juice will come from remains an unsettled issue. Finally, those who want to take their EVs on the great American road will find that freedom shackled by charging issues (31,32).
Despite the inconvenience, negligible net effect on the environment, plus safety issues, you still want one of these coal burners? Will you be able to afford one? They cost way more than a gas car to make, and prices are climbing rapidly (33). Many little companies are jumping into the fray to make EVs, seeing rising demand (34). While increased competition should mean falling prices, the trend is in the other direction as battery prices skyrocket. In response Uncle ($7500) (35) and others (e.g., up to $7000 in California, just not on Teslas) (36) have jumped in with tax incentives and rebates for buyers. As most buyers of EVs are affluent, these programs amount to yet another of those “tax breaks for the rich” one side always rails against. Those on the lower economic rungs are screwed if they want to virtue signal, when all they can really afford is a used Civic. California rolled out a program aiming to help these people into a nice EV, but it’s been a horrible mess, with long wait lists and some local programs having to shut down, some running out of funds as early as April (37). Once again, California shows the nation the way. Come 2035, you won’t be able to buy a new gas guzzler in the Golden State (38).hhyub
With much of the demand for EVs driven by a concern for the environment, it’s worthwhile to examine the impact of making and driving these vehicles. I think I’ve already made the point that EVs generate plenty of CO2. It’s just done at the generating plant and not the tailpipe. Just as you gotta pull stuff out of the ground to run a gas guzzler, you gotta pull several kinds of stuff out of the ground to keep an EV going. Digging for the lithium to stock all those batteries is very dirty business, at least as bad for the environment as drilling for and burning hydrocarbons (39). But it happens halfway around the world, so who cares? Then ya need that cobalt, and nickel, too. Ya don’t pick those up by the side of the road. And who sits on most of the world’s stuff? Why, our good friends the ChiComs. Then of course all batteries go dead, and lithium units are no exception. Ya know how you’re told to take care how you toss your flashlight batteries? Well, it’s Godzilla versus gecko talking about Li++ batts (40). A little bit can be recycled, but they take up huge amount of space in landfills, leech toxic compounds, and never lose the chance to catch fire. And as we must never lose sight of the human angle, where are those mobs of angry bipolars, holding signs “Hands off my lithium!”?
As California continues its manic dash to an all-electric future, it behooves us to take a close look at what’s going on out there now (41, 42). Even the king of EVs, Mr. Musk, cautions that we not transition from oil and gas too quickly, as we risk rending the very fabric of civilization (43). He’s even calling for an increase in oil and gas production to make up for Russian shortfalls poised to plunge Europe into a frigid winter. The recent California heat wave has taxed their fragile power grid so severely that EV owners have been asked to back off from all that charging, although it’s still o.k. to juice up if that’s your only way to bug out (44). Seems those EVs fight global warming best when parked in the driveway, a symbol of the owner’s commitment. What’s that we call it when something is offered to a cause? An oblation? And if you still have some juice in that parked EV, it can come in handy for other things (45). Unfortunately, an appreciation of irony is not deeply embedded in the typical Californian’s soul, particularly the self-righteous EV drivers. More than 15 years ago, Trey Parker and Matt Stone at South Park pointed out the insufferable smugness of Prius drivers (46). Can you imagine how much worse todays’ EV drivers must be? Hey, I’m savin’ the f*ckn’ planet, man! Few Californians would wish to be in West Virginia, but at least there you can get come coal miners to push you to the next charging station when you run out of juice (47).
California has the reputation as the birthplace of trends that eventually sweep the country. Some, like their Governor Reagan, turn out pretty well. Could the chaos currently sweeping the Golden State turn into a lesson that might bring sanity to the rest of us who may not possess it already (48)? There are about 2-3 million electric cars in California, which their grid can’t support in a time of mild crisis. Should their 2035 mandate play out, there will be at least 10 times as many electric cars. Is this even, in one of the favored words of the left, “sustainable”? Or might it be time to take a deep breath and ask where all this madness is going? Whether the rest of the country should follow California’s suicide pact energy policy is highly debatable, even if Michigan’s previous Gov. Bimbo, currently drawing a government check as Energy Secretary, kinda likes it. It’s been said that our Constitution is not a suicide pact. Can we say the same about the fervor to mitigate “climate change”? Stay tuned, and fill ‘er up!
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48. I&I Editorial Board. California’s Net-Zero Energy Model Is Already A Disaster — So Why Should The Rest Of The U.S. Copy It? Issues & Insights 9/9/22. https://issuesinsights.com/2022/09/09/californias-net-zero-energy-model-is-already-a-disaster-so-why-would-the-rest-of-the-u-s-copy-it/