Did You Know? Gas Cars Use More Electricity Than EVs 7

Quick-draw critics of the electric car often criticize EVs because, in their words, “Electric cars simply replace a tailpipe with a smokestack.”

The gist of their argument is that emissions still occur, not at the tailpipe but at the electric power plant. That observation is usually followed by the statement that 45% of our grid electricity is powered by coal and coal is dirty. Thus, the EV supposedly provides no net gain.

The critics may want to look in the mirror — or in their garage.

In California, oil refineries are the second largest users of electricity. Moving water around the state via water authorities is the single largest contributor to state electricity use. And, you guessed it, refining crude also takes a tremendous amount of water!

6 kWh to refine gallon of gas
It is a simple fact that the refining of gasoline requires approximately 6 kWh of electricity per gallon of gasoline.

In fact, electricity and natural gas cost are estimated to comprise 43% of the U.S. oil refineries’ total expenses. If you tack on the energy required to extract and transport the oil to the refinery and then to the gas stations as well as the energy cost of the gas station, I’m sure that number jumps a few more kWh per gallon.

So, let’s be conservative and cut the oil guys a break and say it takes 8 kWh to extract, ship, refine and transport each gallon of gas.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Drum roll: It takes more electricity to drive the average gasoline car 100 miles than it does to drive an electric car 100 miles.

Gas cars & electricity use
A gas car that runs at the U.S. fleet average of 21 mpg will consume approximately five gallons of gasoline to travel 100 miles. Using our 8 kWh of electricity per gallon figure, this means that gasoline car uses approximately 40 kWh of electricity to drive 100 miles. An electric car will use approximately 30 kWh of electricity (3.3 miles per kWh) to drive the same 100 miles.

In sum, gas cars use more electricity than EVs, thus polluting at the smokestack. And they burn refined gasoline in a very inefficient engine, thus polluting at the tailpipe. In our large urban cities in the U.S., the emissions caused by our transportation fleet account for 70% or more of our man-made emissions and visible particulate matter (smog) and related health care costs. Think of that as smoking two packs of cigarettes.

Electric cars run on electricity created by a mixture of energy sources. Many electric car drivers such as myself quickly discover that making your own electricity via solar PV is the best and cheapest way to fuel (about $0.40 per gallon of gas equivalent). Think of that as cleaning up the air in our major cities, saving money and as not smoking.

Peder Norby is a long-time solar-charged driver from Carlsbad, Calif. SolarChargedDriving.Com would like to thank him for allowing us to re-publish this column, which originally ran on Peder’s Electric Mini Blog.

U.S. Energy Information Administration:

Davis, S., Susan W. Diegel, and Robert G. Boundy. (2009). Transportation Energy Data Book, Edition 28. National Transportation Research Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory. https://cta.ornl.gov/data/

NAS. (2009). Hidden Costs of Energy: Un-priced Consequences of Energy Production and Use. The National Academies Press. https://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12794&page=1

Wang, M. (2008). “Estimation of Energy Efficiencies of U.S. Petroleum Refineries,” Center for Transportation Research, Argonne National Laboratory. https://www.transportation.anl.gov/modeling_simulation/GREET/pdfs/energy_eff_petroleum_refineries-03-08.pdf


Original Article on SolarChargedDriving.com

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  1. Utter nonsense! Sorry folks, but there has to be a decimal point misplaced in that analysis. While I’m certain that refineries do use a lot of electricity and water too, a lot of that power is for plant lighting, and a lot of that water is to rinse salts out of the crude.

    There are lots of different analyses possible, but a *thorough* well-to-wheels will demonstrate that gasoline brings a low more energy to the vehicle. And until quite recently it was impossible to store enough energy in batteries to make electrics possible. One last thing to consider is the energy it takes to isolate the lithium, produce the PVDF, PVC, and all the rest of the battery components.

    Electrics also use a lot more copper wire than gasoline vehicles do. That copper is mined from ore that contains 0.6% copper whereas iron ore is 40% iron; that is why copper is $4/lb and iron isn’t.

    Once again, I’m put in the role of criticizing technology I’m in favor of because some fool makes a bizarre claim that has little or no basis in fact! Or in the case of Norby’s article, butchers the data.

    Sorry folks but the truth has no agenda.

  2. According to the link below, the 6 kWh number is correct:


    “Thus, using an 85% refinery efficiency and the aforementioned conversion factors, it can be estimated that about 21,000 Btu—the equivalent of 6 kWh—of energy are lost per gallon of gasoline refined”

    – Jacob Ward, Program Analyst, DOE

    However, other products are also yielded from the refining process, and as far as I can tell, only about 50% of the crude actually becomes gasoline. Still, this isn’t accounting for any electricity usage for transport, water usage, etc., so the absolute minimum realistic estimate seems like 4-5 kWh per gallon of gas, which would mean that gas cars merely use about the same amount of electricity as EVs (on top of burning the fuel).

  3. “A gas car that runs at the U.S. fleet average of 21 mpg”

    That invalidates your whole comparison right there. The “U.S. fleet average” includes full-sized Hummers, delivery vans, large pickups, and other heavy vehicles that skew that average mpg severely downward. This would only be a valid comparison if you compare the average consumption of current EV’s to the average consumption of **equivalently sized and equipped** conventional vehicles (compensating for variations in the composition of each group).

    Are you using city, highway, or combined gas mileage? That’s going to make a difference, too.

    I would bet that if you compared a common EV (say, the Nissan Leaf) to a comparable common conventional vehicle (say, a Ford Focus) you’re going to see the conventional vehicle come out ahead on electricity consumption. In fact, I’ll show it right now.

    Using your figures for electricity cost per gallon of gas (8 kWh/gal), and your 3.3 m/kWh cost per mile for the Leaf (actually a little optimistic if you go by the figures shown on Wikipedia (3.1 m/ kWh)), we find that the Leaf still uses ~30 kWh to travel 100 miles, while the Focus (at 31 mpg combined, per Wikipedia) uses 3.2 gallons of gas to travel the same distance, resulting in a consumption of only **25 kWh.**

    If we use the city figure of 28 mpg, we get 3.6 gallons for an electrical consumption of 28 kWh. The conventional car still uses less electricity. It only draws even if you go with the manual transmission and the lower city mileage (3.8 gal, or 30.7 kWh).

    Not only are you not stating which figures you’re basing your argument on, your conclusion doesn’t hold up if you actually compare similar vehicles.

    If you’re going to make a pitch in favour of electric vehicles, please at least use an honest and logically defensible argument.

  4. This is nonsense. While the energy lost as heat and noise totals roughly 21000 btus of energy, this is not electricity, and oil refineries are not large consumers of electricity. They use the energy and heat from the processing itself to generate what electricity they need.

    This argument keeps coming up and is constantly and consistently debunked, it’s just wrong. Waste heat is not fungible as electricity

  5. Sure would be nice if SolarFeeds would not publish articles from authors when they fail to cite sufficient references and relevant calculations when they make bold claims.

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