There’s No Power Ready for an All-Electric Car and Light Truck Fleet

Charging battery of an electric car in city

The choice of a new energy source may be far more important than the choice to go all-electric

State governments are legislating the end to sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 to force the adoption of a fleet of electric passenger cars and light trucks nationwide.  Is this practical?  Is it possible?  The analysis here says, “not yet.”

How Much Energy Will We Need for Electric Vehicles

The US would have to increase its national electric power generating capacity by 18% to 45% to replace finished gasoline-powered cars and trucks with electric vehicles, depending on vehicle efficiency assumptions. Finished gasoline has ethanol.  That’s the gasoline you buy at the pump.

Building out new generating capacity will require between 2 to 40 years and an up-front investment of between $32.3 and $297 billion.  The wide variation in both duration and cost depends on the choice of energy source.  That makes the choice of energy source the critical decision, but the reported analysis excludes solar and wind for lack of reliability.  Coal is antithetical to the powerful environmental lobby, leaving only nuclear and natural gas.

The report uses only official data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The additional energy needed for an all-electric fleet is estimated to be 0.74 (best case) and 1.85 (worst case) trillion kilowatt hours per year.

That compares to a current US annual electric power consumption of 4.116 trillion kilowatt hours per year for all uses.   And anecdotal evidence, such as the call to suspend air conditioning and electric vehicle charging in California, shows that there’s no extra capacity to support an all-electric fleet.

Where Can We Get the Needed Energy?

Recent events in California show that our existing electric power, from all sources, is already fully committed.  The heat wave in California compelled the Governor to ask homeowners to turn off their air conditioning and to stop charging their electric cars.

With this understanding, we can assume for our informal estimate here that we’ll need all new energy sources to power our all-electric auto and light truck fleet.

The report discloses that we’d need between 13 and 33 new reactors if the nuclear option is chosen.  New reactors would be co-located at some of the 61 existing nuclear power plants. 

With an estimated cost of 6 to 9 billion dollars per reactor, the number of reactors and total investment required to add generating capacity for the electric fleet would range between $78 (best case) and $297 billion (worst case).

Natural gas is the leading source of electric power in the United StatesWe could consider it to power our all-electric vehicle fleet.  Natural gas plants have an inherent advantage in that they can be turned on or off more quickly than nuclear plants.  

The report shows that 13 to 33 new combined cycle natural gas plants could be developed for between $32.3 billion (best case) and $99 billion (worst case).

Power for electric vehicles would require between 5 and 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, compared to a home heating and annual industrial demand of over 30 trillion cubic feet.

Unfortunately, there is only enough low-cost dry natural gas to last for 10 to 13 years.  After that, another generation of dry natural gas is “technically recoverable”, but the recovery cost for that type of natural gas will be much higher.

Conclusions

Several state legislatures are creating legislation to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. Still, there’s no evidence of any engineering behind the ideology in these legislative proposals.

Renewables may not succeed immediately because wind and solar can’t be counted on to meet peak 12-hour nighttime recharging demand.  Relying on these might require large home storage batteries that draw from solar and wind farms over the grid during the day and discharge into the homeowner’s electric vehicle at night.

Nuclear power would cost 2 to 3 times more than natural gas to build out, but it would not suffer the dramatic cost increase per kWh in 10 to 12 years that may result when easily recoverable dry natural gas is exhausted.

A hybrid solution might be a realistic but expensive solution.  Natural gas could be used in the near term while new reactors are designed, licensed, built, and powered up at existing nuclear plants.

The choice of energy source may well be a more important public policy decision than going all-electric.

References

1.     2021 US Gallons of Finished Gasoline Sold

Source             US Energy Information Administration
Source URL      https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/gasoline/use-of-gasoline.php
Authority        US Energy Information Administration
Value   134.83 billion
Value   134.83E+09
Units   US gallons

2.     2021 US Utility-Scale Electric Power Generated

Source             US Energy Information Administration
Source URL      https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/electricity/electricity-in-the-us-generation-capacity-and-sales.php
Authority        Electric Power Monthly for February 2022
Authority URL https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly
Value   4,116 billion
Value   4.116E+12 That’s 4.12 trillion kWh generated in the US in 2021, all sources
Units   kWh
Note    Data for 2021 is marked as preliminary
All Sources      Includes nuclear, coal, natural gas, oil, hydro, wind, solar, and others
Excludes          Small home solar panels

3.     Nuclear Power Plant Capacity

Source             American Geosciences Institute
Source URL      https://www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues/faq/how-much-electricity-does-typical-nuclear-power-plant-generate

4.     Operating Nuclear Power Reactors by Name and Location

Source             United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Source URL      https://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactors/index.html

5.     Nuclear Explained – Generating Capacity

Source             US Energy Information Administration
Source URL      https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/nuclear/us-nuclear-industry.php
Parameter       Number of reactors operating at the end of 2021
Value               93
Parameter       the Combined capacity of these reactors
Value               95,492 MW (million watts)
Units               Megawatts (10E6 Watts)

6.     Nuclear Power Plant Cost

Source             Synapse Energy
Source URL      https://www.synapse-energy.com/sites/default/files/SynapsePaper.2008-07.0.Nuclear-Plant-Construction-Costs.A0022_0.pdf
Plant Cost       6 to 9 billion dollars for an 1100 MW reactor

7.     Energy Efficiency of Electric and Gasoline Powered Cars

Source             US Department of Energy – Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Source URL      https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/evtech.shtml
Parameters     Fraction of energy converted to “power at the wheels”
Values             77% average electric vehicle efficiency
                       12% lowest gasoline-powered car efficiency
                       30% highest gasoline-powered car efficiency

8.     Natural Gas Generators Make Up the Largest Share of Overall US Generation Capacity

Source             US Energy Information Administration
Source URL      https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=34172

9.     Capital Cost for Natural Gas Generating Plants

Source US Energy Information Administration
Source URL      https://www.eia.gov/analysis/studies/powerplants/capitalcost/
PDF                  Capital Cost and Performance Characteristic Estimates for Utility Scale Electric Power Generating Technologies, February 2020, Independent Statistics  &                                   Analysis, US Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy, Washington DC 20585
Case                COMBUSTION TURBINE H CLASS, COMBINED-CYCLE SINGLE SHAFT WITH 90% CO2 CAPTURE, 430 MW
Parameter       Capital Cost
Value               2481
Units               $ per kW
Note that an alternate reference shows a reduced value of 948 $/kW (with citation of authority hidden behind a paywall): https://www.statista.com/statistics/557322/installed-natural-gas-generator-construction-cost-in-the-us-by-type/

10.     Economics of Nuclear Power

Source             World Nuclear Association
Source URL      https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-aspects/economics-of-nuclear-power.aspx

11.     Natural Gas Energy Content Per Cubic Foot

Source             US Energy Information Administration
Source URL      https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/units-and-calculators/british-thermal-units.php
Parameter       BTU per KWH (theoretical)
Value               3412 BTU
Parameter       BTU per Cubic Foot of Natural Gas
Value               1039 BTU (theoretical)
Calculated      KWH Per Cubic Foot
Value               0.304513482 (theoretical)
Calculated      Cubic Feet Natural Gas Per KWH
Value               3.283926853 (theoretical)

12.     Natural Gas-Fired Electricity Conversion Efficiency

Source             US Energy Information Administration
Source URL      https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=32572
Parameter       Efficiency of Newer Natural Gas Generation Plants
Value               7029
Units               BTU / kWh actual
Calculated      Efficiency
Value               3412 / 7029 = 0.485417556

13.     Proven US Reserves of Natural Gas

Source             US Energy Information Administration
Source URL      https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/how-much-gas-is-left.php
Parameter       Proven reserves of dry natural gas
Value               445.3
Units               TCF (trillion cubic feet)

14.     Natural Gas Utilization in the United States

This includes all uses, including residential, industrial, and electric generation.
Source             US Energy Information Administration
Source URL      https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/use-of-natural-gas.php
Parameter       Natural Gas used for all purposes in the US in 2021
Value              30.28
Units               TCF (trillion cubic feet)

15.     Technically Recoverable Dry Natural Gas (TRR)

This is natural gas that could feasibly be recovered.  This value exceeds the proven reserves.
Source             US Energy Information Administration
Source URL      https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=58&t=8
Parameter       Technically Recoverable Dry Natural Gas
Value               2,926
Units               TCF

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