The Biden administration is currently preparing regulations to drastically cut the number of new combustion combustion-powered vehicles sold in the United States. The new regulation being prepared by the EPA would require that by 2032, 64% of all new cars sold in the U.S. would need to be electric vehicles, an elevenfold increase over their 5.8% market share now. According to the administration, this massively costly intervention into the market is necessary to save the world from the “existential threat of climate change.”

Aside from its fantastic costs, which also include building millions of electric vehicle charging stations, the strategic, economic, and environmental consequences associated with vastly expanding our nation’s reliance on Chinese rare earth metal exports, and the question of whether electric cars really do reduce overall carbon emissions, there is a fundamental problem with this initiative.

Electric cars require electricity.

Biden wants to use our grid to drive America’s vehicles. But we don’t have the juice to power them. Not by a long shot.

In 2021 the United States used 26.9 quadrillion BTU’s (or quads) of energy to power its transportation sector. At the same time, it produced 12.9 quads of electricity, over 99% of which went to existing residential, commercial and industrial users.

It’s true that internal combustion engines only have an efficiency of 28% while diesels have an efficiency of 43%, so that between the two, America’s vehicle fleet is about 35% in converting 26.9 quads of fuel into 9.4 quads of motive power. The electrical utility system is also about 35% efficient, outputting its 12.9 quads of electricity from 36.7 quads of raw energy input. That’s why powering an electric car using grid power produced from fossil fuels does little to reduce overall carbon emissions. Furthermore, charging the battery of an electric car is typically around 83% efficient, and the car itself is 90% efficient in turning the electricity in its battery into motive power, for a net vehicle efficiency of about 75%. That means that it would take about 12.5 quads of electricity – roughly equal to the entirety of our current electric power output – to drive the current American transportation fleet.

Of course, Biden is not demanding that we switch our entire fleet to electric vehicles instantly. He only wants two thirds of new vehicles to be electric by 2032, and it would take some time after that before they constituted a large portion of the fleet. This would give us time to expand our power generation capacity. So let’s say we have 20 years to expand our grid enough to power half the current fleet – or about 40% of the anticipated fleet size of the year 2053. To do that, we would have to increase our power output at a rate of 0.337 quads per year. This is equivalent to adding 99 billion kWh of output (or 13.3 GW of capacity operating at 85% full load) to our grid every year for the next 20 years.

In contrast, for the past 15 years, The United States has increased its electric power output at a rate of 3.3 billion kWh per year. To implement Biden’s plan, America would have to immediately start bringing new power plants online at 30 times the rate it now does.

In principle, that is not impossible. From 1957 to 1977, the United States increased its electric power output at an average rate of 70 billion kWh per year, 20 times the current rate, and that was accomplished by a country with (in 1967) one-third of America’s current GDP. Based on orders received during this period, from 1981 to 1991, U.S. nuclear electricity output alone was increased at a rate of 35 billion kWh per year.

But then regulators slammed on the brakes. U.S. nuclear capacity today is no more than it was in 1991, and total electric production capacity, from all sources combined, has barely increased at all since 2010.

If Biden’s program is to be implemented without crashing America’s power grid, what is required is a total reversal of the regulatory state’s War on Energy. Furthermore, if the electrification of transportation is to actually result in a reduction of carbon emissions, the vast amount of new capacity required will need to come from a carbon-free source.

The only way to do that is through nuclear power.

Robert Zubrin @robert_zubrin is president of Astronautics, an aerospace R&D firm. His latest book, “The Case for Nukes: How We Can Beat Global Warming and Create a Free, Open, and Magnificent Future,” was recently published by Polaris Books.
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