Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer re: the all-electric car

Subject: "Do the Math" to Reveal Faulty Logic behind the Electric Car
Date: Sun, 5 Sep 2010 10:10:17 -0400

Re: "Leading the Charge", Business Section for Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dear Sirs:
One need only a grade school knowledge of mathematics to understand why the electric car is not commercially feasible at this time. Take your article, Leading the Charge, about Mr. David Sandalow, a U.S. Department of Energy assistant secretary and an avid advocate for the all-electric car. He has converted his Toyota Prius into an all-electric car at the cost of $9,000. He travels five miles to work each day (a ten mile round trip) and needs to refuel only "about once every month or two", but his car needs to recharge after only 30 miles of travel. He estimates that his electricity cost is equivalent to buying gasoline at $.75 per gallon. He is enthusiastic in advocating that the government pursue developing a battery that will allow 100 miles between rechargings. The cost of such a battery is estimated by the government to be around $33,000 per battery. (Government subsidies do not lower costs; they only change who pays. So it is disingenuous to say that government subsidies will lower the cost of such a battery.)

OK, let's do the math, and one does not need to be a Brookings Institute scholar like Mr. Sandalow, specializing in energy, to see why no one will willingly purchase an all-electric car. First of all the cost of anything is that which is foregone by the purchase. In other words, when we buy something, we do not spend this money on other things. That is what our cost is. In the case of Mr. Sandalow, his $9,000 investment cost him 3,000 gallons of gasoline at the current price of roughly $3 per gallon. Assuming Mr. Sandalow's Toyota Prius gets only 20 miles per gallon, he could have driven his car for 60,000 miles. Since his commute is 10 miles per day, Mr. Sandalow's conversion cost is the amount of gasoline he could have purchased to drive to work for 22.7 years. But, Mr. Sandalow's electric cost of $.75 per gallon has yet to be considered. This expense adds an additional $2,250 to his commute. Stated another way, he could have purchased another 750 gallons of gasoline and commuted to work for another 5.7 years, or 28.4 years total.

Now lets move on to the $33,000 battery. Hold onto your hats! At $3 per gallon, Mr. Sandalow could have purchased 11,000 gallons of gasoline and driven his Toyota Prius for 220,000 miles. But, again, he would have had to buy electricity at the equivalence of $.75 per gallon, which would have cost him another $8,250. With this additional money he could have driven another 55,000 miles, or 275,000 miles total. Of course, this cost assumes that one $33,000 battery will last for that many miles.

Now, how many want to buy an all-electric car? If you raised your hand, please return your grade school diploma.

Patrick Barron

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