Are Electric Vehicles Bad for the Environment?


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Over the last 18 months, several studies have begun a fresh debate about whether battery-powered electric vehicles are really better for the environment than gas-powered ones. The key point is asking how much the source of the electricity that powers an EV contributes to its green credentials. The answer: significantly.

Christopher Tessum, author of a November 2015 University of Minnesota study on how the various ways to power a car affect human health, told Popular Mechanics that many alternative fuel vehicles don’t end up leading to significant decreases in “air quality-related health impacts.”  

Tessum added, "The most important implication is that electric vehicles can cause large public health improvements, but only when paired with clean electricity. Adapting electric vehicles without taking steps to clean up electric generation would be worse for public health than continuing to use conventional gasoline vehicles."

A working study on the environmental benefits from driving EVs published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in June 2015 came to a similar conclusion, with more of a focus on geography. “What we find is that the benefits are substantially different depending on where you are in the country,” Stephen Holland of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, who co-authored the study, told CityLab. “The real big take-home message is: location, location, location.”

Why Does It Matter Where I Live?

The key problem is that many parts of the United States still rely on electricity generated by fossil fuels. According to the EPA, the electrical power sector accounted for 32 percent of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, with fossil-fired power plants being the largest source of CO2 emissions. The worst offenders are coal- and gas-fired power plants. According to Tessum, without the continued development of cleaner electricity, EVs powered by fossil fuels would eventually be worse for public health than conventional gas-powered cars.

10/16/2017 2:20:17 PM

First of all in your paragraph 'Why does it matter where I live' you have facts wrong and make a common mistake that many do. First of all I assume you are talking about Natural Gas fired power plants which are the cleanest in existence if they have been built in the last 20 to 25 years, Oil would be the next cleanest and unless the coal plant was less than 10 years old it would be way dirtier. You also use the word gas to mean gasoline and natural gas. I addition there are natural gas powered cars and trucks which are very clean, but no gasoline powered generation unless you count small intermittently used home generators. This makes your article confusing to the unknowing as well as inaccurate. One of the biggest sources of CO2 by the way is released from cow poop from our many industrial sized food factory farms. EV's are nice if you live in the city and do not go far, and though they have come down in cost, for most people they do not justify the cost. Most people just do not have the funds to buy and maintain on. As of today, the longest range you can expect is 220 miles and they are not family sized. As with anything electric, unless it is hydro, solar or wind generated electricity, it does increase pollution at the generation site. If we really want to make some progress, Electric generators should be putting in solar and wind on their own to mitigate their peaks if nothing else, and as you see, none of them are jumping at doing that. Unless solar is done commercially, it still is a rich man's game no matter how much the solar panel cost has come down. Solar and wind for a residence only make sense off the grid where they are a great boon.

10/16/2017 12:14:19 PM

Electric motors are greater than 90% efficient. Fossil fuel engines are less than 30% efficient! Even if all the electricity for an electric car is made from coal, the electric car will pollute less than the fossil fuel car. It takes a fossil fuel motor at least 3X the energy to move a car the same distance as an electric motor. Hands down there is no comparison between electric Cars and fossil fueled cars. Electric is cleaner under any conditions you make.

10/16/2017 12:14:18 PM

Even if all the electricity is made with coal or fossil fuels electric cars will still generate less CO2 than gasoline or diesel engines. Electric motors are greater than 90 % efficient while gasoline engines are 30% efficient. When you use fossil fuel car you are throwing away more energy than you are using to propel the car. I cannot believe Mother Earth published this garbage!

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