As time passes, more and more options become available to consumers for “clean energy” appliances. With hybrid and electric cars, something exists that consumers who are looking to be environmentally friendly may not consider. Although gas powered cars emit pollution while driving, there are other ways hybrid and electric vehicles can cause pollution. Both Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles (PHEV) and Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) require plug-ins, which take electricity generated from an electric grid. Since electric grids have coal and natural gas sources of energy (along with nuclear energy and other renewable sources), then there is still a drawback in terms of causing pollution and greenhouse gases. Let’s consider whether or not Plug-In Vehicles can cause as much pollution as conventional Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles.
According to a 2008 study at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the effects of electric cars on the grid changes depending on the grid’s region. Looking at the East Central Area Reliability Coordination Agreement (abbreviated ECAR: the region which Ohio is located), the 2030 demand for electric energy will be very high compared to other regions. From 2020 to 2030, the expected use of electricity for PHEV’s that stems from coal burning will range from 50-70%. This range is expected to go down towards 30-50% by 2030. The implication is not in the idea that we will find a suitable replacement for coal, but that by 2030, more greenhouse gases will be emitted into the atmosphere. We are already on the brink of gases emitted, but by 2030, the damage may reach its climax (although reports show the hole in the ozone is closing). This also means that, even more than a conventional ICE vehicle, a car which plugs in to charge the electric car battery will exhaust more carbon emitting sources for the energy it needs.
More recently, a new study has surfaced explaining that BEV cars do not produce as many greenhouse gases as ICE powered cars, even with the power plant effects considered. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists says BEV cars produce less greenhouse emission throughout its entire lifespan than conventional cars. This study included the emissions from manufacturing the car, emissions from driving (including charging from the grid) and emissions from disposal of the car. In terms of emissions from driving, a typical BEV will produce on average 28 metric tons of carbon emissions. This is significantly less than the 57 metric tons of emissions from conventional cars. With regards to geographic location, the Union of Concerned Scientists also provided an interactive application that allows visitors to the site to determine how clean a particular electric vehicle is in a certain location. Users can type in a zip code and an electric vehicle make and model and receive results which show the grams of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) produced by gasoline-only, plug in hybrid electric and electric vehicles. I personally typed in a zip code for Columbus (43229) and compared it to four other cities: Beverly Hills, Atlanta and New York:
|*Grams Per CO2e Based on How Clean Is Your Electric Vehicle App|
|Car Type||Location (by Zip Code)|
|Columbus (43229)||Beverly Hills (90210)||Atlanta (30303)||New York (10007)|
|Plug-In Hybrid Electric||255||190||237||197|
Without considering the make and the model of each vehicle, the regions were all the same in terms of ICE (gasoline only) car pollution. The real difference is when introducing vehicles that use some form of electric power. PHEVs BEVs were best in Beverly Hills, followed by New York City, Atlanta and finally Columbus. The ECAR region which Ohio lies within apparently does not use as many clean, renewable energy sources as the other three cities in different regions. For green Ohioans and Columbusites, this is an issue. The aggregate rate of emissions from the entire lifespan of the car becomes less when manufacturing the car is considered.
When looking at the manufacturing of the cars themselves, the efficiency is further shown for BEVs. As the Union of Concerned Scientists reported, it takes one metric ton more in production to produce a BEV vehicle than it does a conventional vehicle. After its lifespan, the battery of an electric car can be recycled or reused. In the long run, this can definitely lessen the impact of emissions produced from manufacturing. The US Department of Energy states that electrical engines in hybrid, PHEV and BEV vehicles are mostly created with the use of lithium ion batteries. There are three other forms being used and being considered as well: Nickel-Metal Hydride, Lead-Acid and Ultracapacitor batteries. The Lithium-Ion batteries are the most efficient in terms of its power-to-weight ratio, energy efficiency (electric energy isn’t loss to heat energy as much), as well as being able to perform in better environmental conditions. Just like in cell phones and other appliances, lithium batteries do have toxic effects. On the scale of a car battery, those effects grow a great deal. The consideration of these toxic effects, especially in terms of investigating hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-air batters, could be carried out in future studies to enhance consumer knowledge of products. Future studies will be important, especially if more consumers are expected to buy electric cars.
The future is expected to have more drivers of cars which utilize electric energy. The Electric Drive Transport Association reported that in 2010, the amount of total Plug-In Vehicle sales was 345, whereas in 2015, the total is at 90,941 cars sold to date. Although there was a drop-off in that total from 2013 to 2015, it isn’t indicative of a continuous trend. A study done for the Global EV Outlook shows that U.S. electric car sales are targeted to reach 3,000,000 by 2020. That exponential increase means more advertisement and most importantly, more options for alternative energy cars. This also implies more affordable alternative energy cars for consumers to choose from. There are many economic studies which could be done and researched to measure projections too. For example, company practices, as some companies will compromise for the sake of financial risk analysis instead of investing in a larger problem. This is true for the consumer too, since those who travel great distances may not feel that plug in vehicles are sound choices. The mileage on one charge is expected to improve in the future, as better technology is forwarded to the automotive industry. In the mean time, Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles offer the best compromise for everyday consumers who may want to make a better decision, but cannot afford to invest in an electric car. Battery Electric Vehicles would be best for those who can either afford the higher price and/or would like the extra mileage it can provide per charge. It would also be best for the most conscientious consumer. Future studies such as into hydrogen fuel cells, lithium-air batteries and other alternatives will only enhance the conversation.
The future of our environment however has no compromise, as we are already on a fast track for global warming. We also have to support renewable energy grids. This means wind energy, solar energy, and even nuclear energy amongst other forms. For any green or conscientious consumer, each component, both car and electric grid, affects long term considerations. If we want any chance of preserving our natural habitat, we have to invest into the world we inhabit.