This is how Big Oil will die
Seth Miller

Mr. Miller, you explore a litany of the issues surrounding the internal combustion engine and drive train, compared to vehicles powered by electric motors. Fair enough.

But the rapid wind-up of the use of petroleum for transportation is not in the same category of the disruptive scenario that spelled the (fortunate) demise of the whaling industry brought about by the introduction of electrical lighting, which displaced the demand for the cleanest burning of oils that was used for oil lamps in the 19th century.

Setting aside the as yet not fully appreciated issues with the life cycle and costs of large, chemical batteries, those batteries obviously must be constantly recharged with electrical power. I recently photographed a Tesla car in front of me with a license plate that incorrectly bragged “zero emissions”. Notwithstanding all of the advantages and benefits of electrically powered vehicles, that particular claim avoids a clear reality, certainly for the next few decades at a minimum. Namely: power plants that generate sufficient power (current, amperage) to recharge hundreds of millions of electrical vehicle batteries on a nightly basis are still necessary, and alternative sources of such power as solar and wind are insufficient to provide this additional power .

Consider in particular that simply replacing existing energy demands of terrestrial infrastructure (phasing out gas, oil and coal-powered generating plants with the substitution of renewable sources) is going to fully consume any and all alternative sources as they come online, and will not provide the additional capacity needed to add the charging of such a large number of new electrical vehicles on a massive scale. The expectation (hope, claim, etc) that alternative sources can completely replace conventional electrical generation technologies in the short term (short term = in the next 5–10 years) is still highly speculative and — in my view — unrealistic. So where exactly is all the energy to power the additional demand needed to power a complete replacement of internal combustion engines ?

Electrical vehicles are quite convenient (and clean) in urban areas, but still limited by relatively limited range sizes. However, driving long ranges across the large distances between major urban centers in the U.S. is still an issue for electrical vehicles owing to the dearth of recharging stations along all of those routes, the efforts and plans of Elon Musk notwithstanding. Ok, that is admittedly a manageable problem, you would likely, and reasonably assert. But the tradeoff between battery range and the need for fast recharging stations is not a trivial replacement economy just yet.

But the main fallacy in your argument is that you focus only on the automobile. The need for petroleum in the global economy has several other important sources of demand that substitution of internal combustion engines by electrically powered automobiles does not address:

1. Industrial-strength, manufacturing demand for electrical power (smelting in particular, but also electrolysis, and robotic factory automation, etc).

2. Need for hydrocarbons for the production of a wide variety of other materials (e.g., plastics of all kinds — which are still quite useful for several applications, even with the elimination of the use of plastics for disposable packaging that is causing environmental problems)

3. But, in the transportation industry alone, there is one mode of transportation that electrical motors will never satisfy: airplanes ! The combustion of volatile fuels is necessary for jet propulsion, and large batteries capable of powering propeller engines are too heavy to power planes for anything other than the single-pilot, concept glider-plane.

In short, the 7-year time frame for the demise of the oil industry that you predict is, I would argue, overly “optimistic” by a wide, and unrealistic, margin.

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