July 17, 2013, 11:32 a.m.
By Robert Duffer, Chicago Tribune
Editor’s note: “Green with anger” is a new series showcasing the myths and merits in the debate over vehicles and the environment.
Earlier this week we reported on Ozzie Zehner and his article, “Unclean at any Speed,” which posited that electric vehicles are not the most environmentally friendly car when you consider the full product life cycle, also known as cradle-to-grave in environmental circles. Our coverage elicited a host of responses debunking Zehner’s debunking.
Today we introduce a Zehner debunker, Bob Bruninga, a senior research engineer at the US Naval Academy. He’s been an EV owner since 1980 and, like Zerner, built his own EV. He’s built several, in fact, dating back to 1970. A member of one of the oldest EV car clubs in the country, the EV Association of Greater Washington, DC(EVADC), Bruninga is also on the committee of the Transportation and Aerospace Policy at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the “world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology.”
The IEEE publishes the trade magazine that ran “Unclean at any Speed” on June 30. What follows is a Q & A between Bruninga and the Green Guide based on his response to the inciting article.
Green Guide: What is the relationship between electric vehicle owners and their power source? Can you explain the “selection effect”?
Bob Bruninga: This is the most important point. Those who buy EV’s do so because they want to clean up the environment, and so more than half of those buy clean power (either solar or wind) as well. One cannot ignore the selection effect of who buys EV’s and where they get their power. A point overlooked in EVERY dirty-EV study to date.
The selection effect means that green people buy green cars and green electricity for the future. Zehner ignores the fact that EV owners mostly charge their cars from clean renewable energy either from their own solar arrays or purchase agreements from solar or wind.
GG: You wrote that “Renewables have grown to provide more than 5% of our total electric capacity in the U.S. today.” Seems like a direct consequence of the EV industry.
BB: At least 56 percent of all EV owners in California, who make up 35 percent of EV owners in the U.S., either have or are installing solar panels in their homes, according to the Center for Sustainable Energy, California.
In other states with deregulated utilities, again, most EV purchasers value clean energy and have opted to purchase their electricity from renewable sources. In Maryland 73% of EV owners surveyed use 100% renewable energy and even utility power is only 29% coal, yielding an EV net usage of only 8% coal energy. (Based on EVADC survey respondents.)
GG: You wrote that one of the biggest things Zehner overlooked is the value of energy independence.Why is energy independence important for our national vehicular infrastructure?
BB: We currently spend $1 Billion dollars a day overseas for foreign oil. This is very well published even by the previous head of the CIA James Wosley in his book, “Turning Oil Into Salt.” He shows how our entire national policy and future rests on a dependence on oil. We wonder what is fueling unrest in the world and most of it you can drill down and see that it is our quest for oil and many unstable regimes that have it.
Although an EV driven in the dirtiest utility area of the country (with no solar) may only break even with respect to emissions (today), again, Zehner ignores the very important value of that EV to our national security by 100% elimination of its dependence on foreign oil (our #1 national security issue).
GG: The growing EV industry is responsible for a lot of alternative transportation options, ranging from electric bikes to electric buses. Given the governmental incentives in promoting the EV industry, how much of this has to do with job creation and economic stimuli compared instead of environmental concerns?
BB: All of the above. People are going to make cars, why not clean ones. People need jobs, why not making things for our future instead of legacies to the past.
GG: Mr. Zehner’s assertion is that EVs are currently not any more environmental than gas cars. Your assertion is that they are in certain areas, and will continue to be so at a much greater rate. What is the basis for this expectation? If the government pulled support or rolled back CAFE targets, would the EV industry live?
BB: Not well. Many people only focus on the here-and-now bottom line. The government hopefully leads us, and does not let us fall prey to our natural instincts to consume, deplete, destroy and move on to the next field. In a century we have pretty much consumed a large chunk of fossil fuels that took billions of years to create. If we assume that we are going to get to a clean future by waiting until alternatives are the cheapest thing to do, we will never get there. If the only thing that matters is the bottom line, we would still be dumping our trash in the street, we’d be flushing our sewage into the nearest stream, we’d chop down all the trees for now and we’d burn every last drop of oil and burn every last ton of coal until there are no West Virginia mountains left.
We need CAFE targets and incentives so that at least the small percentage of people that want to go in the right direction have a target and can see where we are headed.