Electricity storage is the boogie man stalking EVs and our portable device (ie convenience) culture. For the time being, cobalt is an essential element in making the current generation of high-efficiency batteries. But this comes at a high price. In fact, it looks like a deal with the devil. Most of the cobalt we use comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and much of it is mined using child labor. Many of whom pay with their lives.
This week, International Rights Advocates filed a lawsuit against Tesla, Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and Alphabet for knowingly benefiting financially from child labor in the DRC. A deal with the devil, indeed. Selling children’s lives as cheap labor to keep the cost of electric car batteries and mobile computing devices low-ish.
Read more here. And the next time you or someone you know wants to virtue signal how much they are helping the environment by buying an EV, think about whose life it probably cost.
And to further deflate any virtue signalling about the use of EVs, it is pretty conclusive there is a high hidden environmental cost to actually making the batteries. A two year old study out of IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, which was commissioned by the Swedish Transport Administration and the Swedish Energy Agency to investigate the climate impact of litium-ion batteries from a life-cycle perspective, found that Tesla car battery production releases as much CO2 as 8 years of gasoline driving. Hmm. Math doesn’t look so good from that perspective, either.
So, what are we saying here. Given that science supports that CO2 does not impact the climate (read elsewhere on this blog), when we net climate change cost out of the equation, since it equals zero, on the cost side, EVs are expensive to buy, inconvenient to drive over distances and recharge, and they exploit child labor. Tesla batteries are warranted for 8 years, but outside of warranty, replacement costs are estimated to be as high as $20,000, though the range is likely $7-10k. As of this writing, there is not a precise answer on this, probably because EV builders don’t want to scare off potential buyers. Tesla is deliberately vague, but Elon Musk insists it will be on the lower range. Notwithstanding, at some point, older EVs will need a battery replacement, and it is reasonable to put this cost at about $10k. Ouch. This expected expense, plus rapidly outdated technology will crater used EV prices.
On the benefit side, they are easier to maintain and the cost to recharge them is less than the equivalent cost of gas, by some estimates less than half. But where does that electricity come from? Coal? Natural Gas? Nuclear? Hydro? Its unlikely that it is renewable, wind or solar.
So, pick your poison. Internal combustion engines or EVs. Both have costs. CO2 emissions is a red herring and irrelevant in the cost-benefit assessment. EV exploits child labor, so negates any virtuous signalling. You can guess what I will keep driving.
update: “Why Calling Electric Cars ‘Zero Emission’ Is Blatantly False Advertising” — from 2017. While plug-in electric cars don’t emit pollutants from their tailpipes, when electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, the CO2 emissions are shifted from the vehicle to the power plants.
A study from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute calculated the CO2 emissions from plug-in electrics, depending on the energy sources used to generate electricity in various countries, and then translated that into miles per gallon. The report, authored by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, notes that an electric car recharged by a coal-fired plant produces as much CO2 as a gasoline-powered car that gets 29 miles per gallon. (For context, the average mpg of all the cars, SUVs, vans and light trucks sold in the U.S. over the past year (2016) is 25.2 mpg.) A plug-in recharged by a natural gas-powered plant is like driving a car that gets 58 miles per gallon.
The report — authored by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle — notes that an electric car recharged by a coal-fired plant produces as much CO2 as a gasoline-powered car that gets 29 miles per gallon. (For context, the average mpg of all the cars, SUVs, vans and light trucks sold in the U.S. over the past year is 25.2 mpg.) A plug-in recharged by a natural gas-powered plant is like driving a car that gets 58 miles per gallon.
So, all this virtue signalling about the non-polluting of electric cars is hokum unless the electricity generated is from clean sources. Not gonna happen soon.