So you have an electric car.

One myth I hear often is “I use an electric car and i have no environmental impact“.

I can’t believe people fall for this one. It seems clean as long as you look at the back side of the car and see no emissions coming from the back. But it takes the some energy to carry you from point A to point B except in this case it comes from electricity stored in the Lead Acid batteries. This electricity has to be produced from somewhere.

In  2004, 83% of electricity produced comes from burning Natural Gas, Coal and other hydrocarbons. Assuming no production, transmission or storage losses (which is a very big assumption), and assuming other forms (Nuclear – 4% and Hydroelectric -14%) are more environment friendly, the electric cars are still only marginally better.

And there is the issue of Coal, We get 70% of all our energy from Coal, Coal is extremely inefficient and hands down the most polluting fuel. It creates not just Co2 pollution but So2 and particulate pollution. If you saw the sky in Beijing during or before Olympics, that’s what pollution from burning coal does to a city.

If we consider the big picture, I am sure there is no significant benefit to using an electric car. I actually suspect environment is worse off.

It does save a ton of money for the owners, because electricity in India is subsidized much more than the Petrol and diesel.

It also makes the electric car companies like Reva sell a lot more cars by exaggerating it’s perceived benefits.

And considering India has a lot of coal reserves and almost no crude reserves, it’s definitely good for India’s foreign exchange reserves.

It’s good to see green, but that doesn’t mean you turn blind.

Citations:

http://www.cslforum.org/india.htm

http://www.iaea.org/inisnkm/nkm/aws/eedrb/data/IN.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20071104/coal-the-dark-side/

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3 responses to “So you have an electric car.

  1. intuitively it seems like electric cars should be improving the environment though. The reasons that I know of are
    1) electric vehicles use power produced by powerplants which can use economies of scale to produce energy much more efficiently (hotter furnace etc). The energy efficiency of a battery is much higher than of a gasoline engine. So overall the energy efficiency should be higher.

    2) electric vehicles dont produce emissions. The powerplant emissions are produced at safe places where they can now be treated and processed. A car is too small to do too much processing on fuel emissions. So powerplants should in theory be able to produce safer emissions.

    3) The battery of an electric vehicle is lighter than fuel and a gasoline engine. So the electric vehicles are carrying less dead weight around.

    4) electric vehicles do regenerative braking. So they can save you power since they convert braking back into electricity.

    • I may be wrong, i never studied my Engineering properly, There is a 37% limit on the steel IC Engines efficiency, The indian coal based plants have an average energy efficiency of 29%(reasons are manifold, they are old, they are based on low grade coal), and taking the transmission and distribution losses into account, i think they are still worse off. In other countries the energy efficiencies are higher and they rely less on coal and more on gas, so it does make sense in other countries, in india with 75% coming from coal. It is definitely not more energy efficient.

      About emissions, 1) The point is there are emissions. Period. It’s not on the roads in the cities where the usage is but i rural areas where it can’t be observed is still worse.
      2) Coal pollution is horrible, In China where coal based electricity is prevalent, there is smog and soot in the air, you can literally see it and feel it in the throats. Worst form of pollution, AFAIK.

      About the dead weight i buy your arguments, Does that make significant difference, i am not sure.
      Regenerative breaking has nothing to do with electric vehicles, It’s there on Hybrids as well, and Reva definitely does not have it

      The only point is don’t get fooled by companies selling you cars because they have low environment impact. Buy it because it is cheaper to operate it.

  2. no let me rephrase. While in practice because of a lot of problems in india they might have a greater environmental impact, electric cars have the potential to have a very low impact for the points I mentioned above.

    Those concerns can be dealt with over time. Treating emissions should make a huge difference. And coal based plants having a lower energy efficiency than engines is just horribly shoddy. Having one big furnace makes a dramatic difference. Besides, we could always as a country start moving away from coal to nuclear.

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