Most of it comes from coal, natural gas and…petroleum.
Where does electricity come from?
The subject comes up occasionally when the CEO of a car company is asked about their plans to sell the world on electric cars.
The exchange often goes something like this:
Reporter: “Tell us about your new electric car.”
Auto Company Exec: “Well, it’s really exciting Bill. This car gets a bazillion miles per gallon, and charges in a fraction of the time it took earlier models. Taking out the V-8 left plenty of room for a second trunk in the front, we’re going to call it a “frunk”. It’s our easiest EV yet to own.”
Reporter Bill: “And how does it charge?”
ACE: “It charges using the electricity already running through the homes, office buildings and schools of our customers! You just plug it in, no more gross fossil fuels. That’s the beauty part!”
RB: “So the car is charged from the city’s electric power grid?”
ACE: “That’s correct.”
RB: “And where does the grid get its power?”
ACE: “I believe it is produced in this area by…burning coal and natural gas.”
The sheer awkwardness of the preceding exchange is why most journalists never ask that final question.
Where does electricity come from? The answer to that question is that most people don’t want to know the answer to that question.
“According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, most of the nation’s electricity was generated by natural gas, nuclear energy and coal in 2020,” admits the U.S. Department of Energy.
Upon closer examination, the U.S. Energy Information Administration breaks down energy production as follows: “In 2021, about 4,116 billion kilowatthours (kWh) (or about 4.12 trillion kWh) of electricity were generated at utility-scale electricity generation facilities in the United States. About 61% of this electricity generation was from fossil fuels — coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases. About 19% was from nuclear energy, and about 20% was from renewable energy sources.”
Decades after Al Gore’s seminal book, “Earth in the Balance,”- which was in many ways more compelling than his later, more famous opus- the ultimate “Inconvenient Truth” seems to be that we need fossil fuels as much as ever.
The answer to that pesky question about where electricity comes from isn’t much of a sales pitch for EVs, either, as car company execs know only too well. Journalists have their own reasons for wanting everyone to embrace electric cars, even if not everyone is ready (or at all able) to embrace the $60,000 average price tag that goes with them.
If you can even find one.
Electric cars may reduce our overall dependence on petroleum; but they will increase our dependence on coal and natural gas. And that isn’t all.
EVs need far more rare earth minerals and metals to produce than gasoline-powered machines do; and, unfortunately for U.S. automakers and American car buyers, the Chinese Communist Party has cornered the market on rare earth minerals and metals.
EVs also need a certain type of computerized microchip- of which we are experiencing a critical shortage. Guess what else the CCP has come to dominate?
In moving to electric vehicles, the U.S. might not be as beholden to nations like Saudi Arabia anymore; instead we would be more beholden to China.
That would be bad for any number of reasons, not least of which has been demonstrated over the past interminable pandemic years. Who can forget PPE shortages, critical supply chain snarls, factory shut-downs. A dearth of toilet paper may be somewhat amusing; a shortage of baby formula, as we are learning to our shame, is not.
We are vulnerable, as COVID19 proved without a doubt.
For the U.S. to contemplate a rosy future without fossil fuels- and for some reason without nuclear power, too- is to contemplate a global future without fossil fuels. After all, what good is it to force consumers in the U.S. to give up the cheap, plentiful energy sources they’ve used without a second thought for most of their lives when one of the world’s largest brand-new coal mines just successfully completed its first shipment of coal in December of 2021?
Given the global constraints, and plenty of others, this isn’t a problem we are going to be able to legislate or tax away. All the nations on earth will never submit to a centralized, ultimate global authority or governing body on the subject of petroleum use or anything else. And as long as someone’s producing fossil fuels somewhere, U.S. consumers will still be buying them for a very simple reason:
We still need them, very badly.
Luckily, there is an easy way out. It’s an escape-hatch humanity has used a billion times, more; though it isn’t anything as simple as everyone switching to electric cars.
We have to innovate our way out of this mess.
The dream is clean, renewable energy. The reality is Adani Carmichael. If wind, solar, hydroelectric, or any other of the currently available alternative energy sources were truly viable, Adani Carmichael would be making solar panels or ice cream.
In truth, all of the above- even put together- aren’t enough to fuel the world- affordably, efficiently or otherwise.
And we all know what happens to impoverished people the world over when there isn’t enough fuel to go around.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)