Reality Check: Are Electric Cars Really the Answer
Hybrid vehicles—and electric cars, in particular—enjoy a happy buzz of public opinion these days. But some recent reports warn that, without a critical look at the facts, Americans could end up getting burned.
Everybody wants cleaner cars, but no one is absolutely certain where the zero-emission bandwagon is heading. Is the answer in hydrogen, ethanol, electricity, or some other technology yet to be discovered?
Electric-powered vehicles are arguably getting the best traction with the public, because electricity is something most Americans think they understand. Electricity is everywhere. It's cheap, invisible, wonderfully convenient, and doesn't even smell. So what could possibility be wrong with one day owning a car that, like a lamp or a toaster, you can power by simply plugging it into the wall of your home?
Do electric vehicles pollute?
"Zero-tailpipe emissions unfortunately don't necessarily mean zero emissions," Dennis Ruez Jr. an environmental studies department chair at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said in a recent, online Discovery News report.
"The well-known issue here is the source of the electricity. If the electricity is from a coal- or gas-fired power plant, then there are still carbon emissions from that vehicle's use."
To make an honest determination of just how much, you need to look back at how the vehicle was created—every facet of the vehicles production, from the earth-moving machines used to mine the lithium for the car's batteries, to the plant where the car was built, to the power plant that feeds the electrical source the car is ultimately plugged into—according to Discovery News.
Right now, electric vehicles promise a lot of things but, given that there's a 50-percent chance that the electricity used to charge the batteries of electric cars come from coal, carbon-neutrality isn't one of them. This hard reality was echoed in the same article by Paul Denholm, a senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.
"The general consensus is that if you power an electric vehicle from coal, the net carbon emissions are about the same as a gasoline vehicle," he said. "But that's the worst-case scenario; anything that is a cleaner source is an improvement."
In the end, the take-away points are this: First, we have a long, long way to go before a truly carbon-neutral vehicle is anywhere close to being a reality and, second, energy researchers looking to make improvements on net carbon dioxide emissions must approach the issue honestly to provide "a clear picture of their point of attack."
Click here to read the Discovery News article in its entirety.