A study came out recently claiming to prove a Hummer has lower lifecycle energy use than a Prius. Because the result was so obviously bogus — and in sharp contradiction with every other major lifecycle analysis ever done — I didn’t spend time debunking it.
But it has made it into the comments of this blog and continues to echo around the internet and the authors keep updating and defending it. A couple of good debunking studies — by the Pacific Institute and by Rocky Mountain Institute — haven’t gotten much attention according to Technorati, so let me throw in my two cents.
The study’s title is revealing: Dust to Dust: The Energy Cost of New Vehicles From Concept to Disposal, The non-technical report, from CNW Marketing Research, Inc. Yes, although life-cycle energy use is probably the most complicated kind of energy analysis you can do, this 458 report is “non-technical” and by a market research company to boot.
Their website says the report “does not include issues of gigajuelles [sic!], kW hours or other unfriendly (to consumers) terms. Perhaps, in time, we will release our data in such technical terms. First, however, we will only look at the energy consumption cost.”
Wouldn’t want to confuse consumers with unfriendly technical stuff such as kilowatt-hours like those annoying electric utilities do every month. No. Let’s put everything in dollar terms so no one can reproduce our results. When you misspell gigajoules on your website — and have for a long time (try googling “gigajuelles”), you aren’t the most technical bunch.
I am mocking this report because it is the most contrived and mistake-filled study I have ever seen — by far (and that’s saying a lot since I worked for the federal government for five years). I am not certain there is an accurate calculation in the entire report. I say this without fear of contradiction because this is also the most opaque study I have ever seen — by far. I defy anyone to figure out what their methodology was.
In this post I’m just going to highlight the most inane claims — and again, they can only be treated as claims because the report omits all the underlying calculations.
Let me first give one rule of thumb. U.S. energy costs have been about 7% to 8% of GDP for most of the last two decades, but were a bit higher during the energy shocks as well as the last couple of years. The Energy Information Administration projects energy costs will be 5.3% of GDP in 2030. As a rough estimate, then, you can figure the dollar value of energy embedded in most products as 5% to 10% of their cost — and that includes all the energy consumed in the product life-cycle, such as manufacturing and shipping .
The CNW study makes the astonishing claim that the Prius has life-cycle energy costs of $3.25 per mile (of which its on-road gasoline consumption is only $0.075 [yes, 7.5 cents] , whereas a Hummer H3 has an energy cost per mile of $1.95 (of which $0.187 is direct fuel consumption). I kid you not.
In direct contradiction with essentially every other life-cycle study ever done, in which direct fuel consumption is typically 70% to 90% of a vehicle’s life-cycle energy use (see here), CNW finds it comprises about 2% to 10%!
This range of energy costs per mile leads to one obvious question about CNW’s results, which many people have raised. Let me quote one Roy W. Spencer — yes, the global warming denyer — from the Report’s Appendix:
Question: I was wondering, how can a car that costs the consumer, say, $20,000 new and uses around $15,000 in fuel over a 100,000 mile lifetime end up having a total energy cost of, say, $250,000 ($2.50 per mile)? (Since this is way more than the consumer has paid, …which is more like $35,000.) If $250,000 really was the true energy cost, wouldn’’t a car be much more expensive to the buyer than it is now?
Duh! Or maybe, Doh! Indeed, since, as noted, embedded life-cycle energy costs are typically 5% to 10% of a product’s total life-cycle costs, CNW’s study implies that the total ownership cost of a family car is, roughly, $2.5 to $5.0 million — or about $400,000 to $800,000 a year! You never knew you were so rich.
How could CNW possibly come up with such absurd results? I can’t say for sure since the report omits any methodology, but CNW’s unbelievable answer to Spencer contains some clues: