The End of the Internal Combustion Engine? Really?

There is an article in this month’s (January 2020) Fortune magazine, an opinion piece by Christina Figueres, that is titled “WE’LL WITNESS THE END OF THE INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE ERA” in the 2020s ( That’s a pretty bold statement. And it’s not one I agree with.

First let’s look at some facts –

Only eighteen percent of all electricity in the United States was produced by renewable sources in 2017, including solar, wind, and hydroelectric dams. That's up from 15% in 2016, with the shift driven by new solar and wind projects, the end of droughts in the West, and a dip in the share of natural gas generation.

Renewable sources (solar, wind, and hydroelectric) provided 26.2 percent of the global electricity generated in 2018. That's expected to rise to 45 percent by 2040.

Parts of the United States’ electric network are more than a century old and 70 percent of the grid's transmission lines and power transformers are over 25 years old and the average age of power plants is over 30 years old. Today, our electricity needs are more intense and sophisticated, and the strain on the grid is higher than ever yet our generating facilities and infrastructure are in the past not the future.

There are over 1.2 billion vehicles on the road globally. Only three million plus are electric vehicles an expansion of over 50% from 2016.. There are over 14.5 million registered vehicles in California alone. This doesn’t include the huge number of unregistered vehicles used daily in the world.

All of these facts fly in the face of the internal combustion engine becoming extinct anytime soon or the rise of all electric vehicles to dominance.

The average house in the US uses 900 kWh (kilowatt hour) per year. It takes between 15-20 kWh to recharge an electric vehicle after a drive of 60 miles (this varies by vehicle and no doubt will improve). In the US the average commute is about 32 miles per day. That means an electric vehicle would use 15-20 kWh 2.5 times per week (37.5-50 kWh per week) more than doubling the average household’s usage. (Admittedly not all vehicle charging is done at home but regardless of where it is done the usage remains the same.)

Where is all this extra electricity going to come from? Unless we go 100% renewable in this decade (2020-2030), which is highly unlikely and would require a massive investment in wind and solar, the majority of electricity will be generated by old, dirty means. (Let's not ignore that hydroelectric generation is on the wane as rivers are being returned to their natural state.)

Then we have to deal with the infrastructure. Here in California we are acutely aware of how fragile, out of date, and vulnerable our electric infrastructure is – we have the burned out towns and deaths as proof. The rest of the nation is no different. The cost of updating the electric infrastructure will most likely be in the trillions of dollars.

Infrastructure wouldn’t be as much of a problem if every building had solar power. California has mandated solar for all new houses. That’s a good start except there are over 11-million existing homes in California. The cost to install solar runs up to about $15,000 per house. Who is going to pay for all the existing homes to be converted? Add in the cost of a new roof - between $5,000-$25,000 - and the cost of adding solar to an existing home is out of the reach of many families.

Another problem for electric vehicles is their batteries. The batteries are the weak point. And the dirty point. The materials used in lithium-ion batteries are most often mined in countries less concerned with environmental issues than profit. Here is one article on the problem -

Mandating an all-electric fleet is pie-in-the-sky. Not everyone can afford a new vehicle let alone a new electric vehicle. About 40-million used cars were sold in the US in 2018. Is the government going to ban used car sales and force everyone to buy a new electric vehicle? Of course not.

Here in the US, and in many other countries, we cannot even deal with clean recycling of the millions of vehicles that are scrapped each year. Think about the toxic waste if hundreds of millions of used vehicles are suddenly taken off the road.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-electric vehicles. It’s just that we aren’t there yet. And I doubt that we will be in ten years either. Pushing electric vehicles is putting the cart before the horse. We tend to do that often. Here in California the current governor wants 3.5-million new homes built by 2025. There is no mention of improving transportation, or where the water and energy for these new homes will come from.

So let's invest in improving power generation and distribution before we force electric vehicle on the masses. 

All of my facts and figures are taken from articles in reputable online sources. You may find different, or more up to date information but it will not change the overall picture.
Bruce Hotchkiss


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