Why Battery Electric Vehicles accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy

Why do we drive ICEs today?A brief history of BEV

with text from Wikipedia and other cited sources – work in progress

Irony of history – The electric starter killed the EV

1898 Riker Electric

1898 Riker Electric max speed 40 mph max distance 50 miles
Source: https://electrek.co/2019/07/04/1898-riker-electric-auction/ 

EVs were among the earliest automobiles. In the early 1900s, before the preeminence of light and internal combustion engines (ICE), electric automobiles held many vehicle land speed and distance records. They were produced by Baker Electric, Columbia Electric, Detroit Electric, and others, and at one point in history out-sold gasoline-powered vehicles. In fact, in 1900, 28 percent of the cars on the road in the USA were electric. EVs were so popular that even President Woodrow Wilson and his secret service agents toured Washington, DC, in their Milburn Electrics, which covered 60–70 mi (100–110 km) per charge.[11]

A number of developments contributed to decline of electric cars.[12] Improved road infrastructure required a greater range than that offered by electric cars, and the discovery of large reserves of petroleum in Texas, Oklahoma, and California led to the wide availability of affordable gasoline/petrol, making internal combustion powered cars cheaper to operate over long distances.[13] Also internal combustion powered cars became ever easier to operate thanks to the invention of the electric starter by Charles Kettering in 1912,[14] which eliminated the need of a hand crank for starting a gasoline engine, and the noise emitted by ICE cars became more bearable thanks to the use of the muffler, which Hiram Percy Maxim had invented in 1897. As roads were improved outside urban areas electric vehicle range could not compete with the ICE. Finally, the initiation of mass production of gasoline-powered vehicles by Henry Ford in 1913 reduced significantly the cost of gasoline cars as compared to electric cars.[15]

Dirty Biz paved the road for gasoline cars

In the 1930s, National City Lines, which was a partnership of General Motors, Firestone, and Standard Oil of California purchased many electric tram networks across the country to dismantle them and replace them with GM buses. The partnership was convicted of conspiring to monopolize the sale of equipment and supplies to their subsidiary companies, but were acquitted of conspiring to monopolize the provision of transportation services.

Who killed the electric car?

Who killed the electric car 2006 documentary by Sony Pictures Classics

In January 1990, General Motors’ President introduced its EV concept two-seater, the “Impact”, at the Los Angeles Auto Show. That September, the California Air Resources Board mandated major-automaker sales of EVs, in phases starting in 1998. From 1996 to 1998 GM produced 1117 EV1s, 800 of which were made available through three-year leases.[23]

Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, and Toyota also produced limited numbers of EVs for California drivers. In 2003, upon the expiration of GM’s EV1 leases, GM discontinued them. The discontinuation has variously been attributed to:

  • the auto industry’s successful federal court challenge to California’s zero-emissions vehicle mandate,
  • a federal regulation requiring GM to produce and maintain spare parts for the few thousands EV1s and
  • the success of the oil and auto industries’ media campaign to reduce public acceptance of EVs.

Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_vehicle

What enabled the return of the BEV? Important Innovations

The MOSFET(MOS field-effect transistor, or MOS transistor), invented at Bell Labs in 1959, led to the development of the power MOSFET by Hitachi in 1969, and the single-chip microprocessor at Intel in 1971. The power MOSFET and the microcontroller, a type of single-chip microprocessor, led to significant advances in electric vehicle technology.

MOSFET power converters allowed operation at much higher switching frequencies, made it easier to drive, reduced power losses, and significantly reduced prices, while single-chip microcontrollers could manage all aspects of the drive control and had the capacity for battery management.

Another important technology that enabled modern highway-capable electric cars is the lithium-ion battery, invented in the 1980s, which was responsible for the development of electric vehicles capable of long-distance travel.

The history and innovation of EV battery is beyond the scope and is documented here

Battery weight becomes irrelevant due to regenerative breaking

Further innovations in electric motors and regenerative breaking allow to store kinetic and potential energy back to battery at an efficiency of up to 97%. At such high level of energy transformation efficiency, the weight of the car and battery becomes nearly irrelevant, because of the energy conservation law. Remember: mgh = 1/2mv2 At high energy conversion efficiency, the mass ‘m’ in the equation becomes irrelevant and can be cancelled out. The practical implication is, that it hardly matters if you accelerate or drive a heavy battery uphill; when breaking or driving downhill, the energy is stored back into the battery. This is impossible with conventional fossil cars, where all that valuable energy is lost in excess heat when breaking.

The revenge of the electric car

Revenge of the Electric Car 2011 American feature documentary film by Chris Paine

State of the Art BEV: Efficiency compared to hydrogen & ICE

Battery electric cars reach an energy efficiency from (renewable) power grid to wheel of 73% whereas conventional cars reach 13% and hydrogen cars 22%.

In other words; BEV are currently about 5 times more efficient than conventional cars and about 3 times more efficient than hydrogen fuel cell cars in converting the primary energy into kinetic energy. 

The following chart from transportenvironment.org shows where the energy losses are:

Efficiency of BEV compared to hydrogen & conventional vehicles
Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2020/06/10/this-stunning-chart-shows-why-battery-electric-vehicles-win/

Why Switzerland is ideal for BEV

The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) states following here:

  • The higher CO2 emissions from Battery production are compensated after 50’000 km driving if clean, renewable grid energy is used.
  • If all current 4.6 million vehicles in Switzerland are switched to BEV, the electricity consumption would rise about 20% of total electricity consumption. Source
  • If all current 4.6 million vehicles in Switzerland are switched to Hydrogen fuel cells, the electricity consumption would rise about 50% of total electricity consumption. Source

Source: https://www.energieschweiz.ch/page/de-ch/elektromobilitaet-haelt-einzug-in-den-alltag

But is there enough electricity?

Let’s have a look on the total energy flows in Switzerland reported by Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) “Gesamtenergiestatistik 2019” page 10 (available in DE & FR only)

Energiefluss Diagram der Schweiz 2019
Source: Swiss Federal Office of Energy, Schweizerische Gesamtenergiestatistik 2019 S.10

Source: https://www.bfe.admin.ch/bfe/en/home/supply/statistics-and-geodata/energy-statistics/overall-energy-statistics.html

In the heart of Europe with its unique geographic position Switzerland currently produces nearly 100% of its electricity CO2 free. In 2019 it produced 275’780 TJ from nuclear energy and 146’000 from hydro energy. Switzerland produced in total 421’780 TJ and consumed less than 1/2 of it, exactly 205’910 TJ. Foreign import & export trading and grid balancing is key for the Swiss and European grid stability and energy economy.

Conclusion for BEV transition in Switzerland

As reported, Switzerland is producing and trading its electricity nearly 100% CO2 free. Even without nuclear support a complete transition from fossil vehicles to BEV by producing electricity with gas turbines would result in roughly 5 times less CO2 production than currently produced by burning gasoline & diesel just due to the gross efficiency gains of BEV. However Switzerland has another strategic plan: With its Energy Strategy 2050 and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Switzerland undertook a commitment to halve its greenhouse gas emissions versus the 1990 level by 2030 and follows a zero net emission target by 2050.

The often given argument that there is not enough electricity available in Switzerland to transform all conventional fossil vehicles into BEV is qualitatively and quantitatively wrong.

In 2019 the Swiss fossil transportation system burned net 314’290 TJ. Given a 5x overall efficiency improvement by switching from fossil to BEV and a 3x net efficiency improvement after fuel production and transportation, would result in using only roughly 104’763 TJ of additional electricity in Switzerland. This is roughly 50% additional electricity that would be consumed. Given that Switzerland is currently producing more than double the amount than it consumes there is definitely no shortage of electricity. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) reports even better numbers:

If all current 4.6 million vehicles in Switzerland are switched to BEV, the electricity consumption would rise only about 20% of total electricity consumption. Source

The argument that the grid cannot serve the additional needed amount of electricity is qualitatively and quantitatively wrong; Considering an accelerated transition in a 10 years period, would result in average yearly grid infrastructure expansion of 2-5%. This effort is totally bearable for the Swiss society, especially when considering the massive gains in air and health quality, to reduce the enorme amount of green house gases from fossil vehicles.

Finally it must be stressed that a fleet of distributed, mobile battery electric storage helps storing excess energy from intermittent renewable (eg. photovoltaic, wind & hydro) and therefore helps stabilising the grid.

A complete transition to BEV in Switzerland can be done without any electricity shortage, CO2 free and without further particle pollution from burning fossil.

BEV CO2,  water, raw material, production resources & closed loop recycling

This part is work in progress

CO2 from general battery production

In 2017 a controversial research paper from IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute questioned the environmental damage of CO2 emissions by average battery production. Newspapers and media all around the globe reported these numbers and discredited BEV. 2019 the same research institute updated their research study with more accurate methodology and newer manufacturing data, that now reflects efficiency improvements on production processes and results roughly in 1/3 – 1/2 of the earlier reported CO2 emissions: 61-106kg instead of 150-200kg CO2-eq/kWh as reported before.

Source: https://www.ivl.se/download/18.14d7b12e16e3c5c36271070/1574923989017/C444.pdf

CO2 over car lifecycle


Source: T&E Study

Because Switzerland produces its electricity 100% CO2 free, no CO2 is emitted while driving. In Switzerland an average ICE car emits over its lifecycle about 5x more CO2 than a BEV.

ICCT 2021 Global life-cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions from passenger cars

Source: ICCT 2021 – The International Council on Clean Transportation

Impact report from Tesla

The yearly impact report from Tesla 2019 states following BEV average lifecycle emission in U.S. (gCO2e/mi). Source: https://www.tesla.com/ns_videos/2019-tesla-impact-report.pdf

Average Lifecycle Emissions in U.S. (gCO2e/mi) - Tesla Impact Report 2019

Average Lifecycle Emissions in U.S. (gCO2e/mi) - Tesla Impact Report 2019Average Lifecycle Emissions in U.S. (gCO2e/mi) - Tesla Impact Report 2019

BEV & renewable energy sources


YouTube Channels


Motivation on this Blog contribution

  1. This blog post is the authors summary of facts on current state of BEV
  2. eXception handler Ltd. served Swiss utility companies with ICT engineering and consulting in the field of energy trading and is looking for opportunities to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
  3. eXception handler Ltd. and the author happily use products & services from Tesla.

This blog is a work in progress and will be updated. You are invited to report mistakes or leave a comment for input, feedback, critics or suggestions.

fk 2020

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