Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Another Reason Green Technology Isn't Ready

Over the past several months I have blogged a lot about the Chevy Volt, the “electric” (actually a Hybrid) vehicle (EV) made by Government Motors. (Mike at Confederate Yankee has also been taking this on) There is also another EV being pushed by the environmentalists as the solution to all of our fossil fuel woes (drive an EV, but don’t exact our own resources). I have focused on the Volt because this vehicle is made in the US, by a US company, and is also a favorite of the environmental crowd. There is one significant difference between the Volt and the Leaf: The Leaf is a pure EV with no gas engine “backup” as with the Volt. Today, I am going to focus a bit on the Nissan Leaf.

A newspaper over in England, The Telegraph, has a short article on the cost of battery replacement for Nissan Leaf. (h/t: Doug Ross at Director Blue and Soylent Green)

Nissan has admitted that owners of a Leaf, which costs £26,000 ($42,486) after the government grant, may need to replace the battery after a few years, depending on how it has been treated, The Times reported.

The battery’s capacity can decrease significantly if the owner repeatedly uses a fast-charge point.

In the latest episode of Top Gear (UK Version) Jeremy Clarkson was shown running out of power and having to be pushed into the center of Lincoln, which has no public charging points (You Tube Video here and here).

Andy Palmer, Nissan GB’s senior vice-president, told the paper that the lithium ion battery is made up of 48 modules. He said that each would cost £404 ($660) to replace, making £19,392 ($31,688) for the entire battery pack. He said that most owners would not need a new battery for at least 10 years because electric vehicles should mainly be used for short journeys. (Source: The Telegraph UK)

Look at the cost of the battery replacement. Almost $32K. For that kind of money I can purchase two Kia Rios, which get about 30 MPG. If a Nissan Leaf owner has to replace the battery “after a few years”, let’s say five years, the cost of this vehicle has now reached $74K. Where is the cost savings? At this rate, there is none. You are talking 15-20 years to recoup your costs.

Going to throw some figures at you here. If you wish, just ignore this. Also, this is not statistically proven. By this, I mean, it was not retested or “peer-reviewed”. But I am confident the numbers are accurate enough to give you an idea of the costs involved with owning an EV. The Nissan Leaf is the comparison model. The numbers are not much different for the Chevy Volt. A couple of assumptions are being made. First, the gas powered vehicle is a decently equipped Kia Rio which is a fairly comparable car to the Leaf. The tank capacity is 12 gallons. We are going to assume 10,000 miles driven each year. The EPA estimates that the Rio will get a combined 30 MPG (city and highway). So we’ll have to fill up about 28 times a year (twice a month, give or take). I also need to add that the increased cost on your electric bill or the charge incurred at the public charging station is NOT included in this comparison.

Click on Image to Enlarge and for Clearer Text

As you can see, even if gas hits $7.00 a gallon, it is going to take more than 10 years to recoup your losses. 10 years has been often quoted as the life span of these batteries (no one really knows for sure). In other words, just when you have your cost recoup target in sight, the battery needs to be replaced and now you have moved over to the far right column where it will take 24 years to recoup your cost. Of course, there will be another battery replacement cost in that time span so you are going to never going to reach the goal. This is at $7.00 a gallon for gas!

Of course, the current socialist-progressive sitting in the White House could try to raise the cost of gas by increasing the gas tax to the point where gas is $10 a gallon. But even at that rate, it will be over seven years before you recoup the costs, and this is only if you treat the battery with kid gloves. And this does not include the increased cost of generating the electricity to recharge your Volt or Leaf.

One thing to note, the Leaf and Volt are sold with a significant number of hi-tech gizmos as standard equipment that would be expensive options on a gas-powered car. I just used a well-equipped Rio (from a local auto dealer’s website), but not overly ostentatious.

Another point, but not mentioned in the article, was the reduced life span of the battery would be caused by folks using the quick charge feature. This opens up another set of questions for our local area. The Washington State Department of Transportation, in partnership with private industry, is starting to install charging stations along the I-5 corridor. Many of these charging points will be of the quick-charge variety. Obviously, the longer trickle charge would be pretty worthless at a public charging point. But if you are going to use your vehicle for more than just going to the grocery store, then you will be using the quick charge stations.

Further point to make on EV charging. Some websites and blogs are pushing these charging stations as opportunities to “top off” your charge. As anyone who owns a Lithium-Ion power tool knows, “topping off” a lithium battery is not always a good idea, rather the battery should be depleted to about 10% before recharging it. Topping off reduces the life span of a lithium-ion battery.

For the emotional side of this argument click here.

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