With gasoline prices currently on the rise, the popularity of electric transportation will continue to rise as well. While electric vehicles do alleviate problems both at the pump and with the environment, there’s more to consider when looking at the entire cycle of pollution than just the emissions from a vehicle’s tailpipe; China is the focus of a recent study that sheds some light on this issue.
A National Science Foundation funded study from the University of Tennessee shows that electric vehicles in China are charged by electrical grid sources mixed with about 90% coal, which according to Assistant Professor Chris Cherry, makes electric vehicles “more harmful to public health per kilometer traveled in China than conventional vehicles.” The study also adds the disclaimer that China is not the typical location to use as a model for the rest of the world because in China electric vehicles outnumber conventional vehicles 2:1. In China, the health hazards of being exposed to pollution from electricity generating power plants is far greater than in most places in the United States, but doesn’t dilute the fact that power plants in the U.S. may still be subject to similar problems in the future.
In the United States, the study showed an average coal energy mix in power plants to be around 43% (down from 55% over the past 8 years). The U.S. currently has enough clean energy sources to power over 100 million electric vehicles, and this number will continue to rise in the future; as Cherry points out, “electric vehicles are attractive if they are powered by a clean energy source”.
Both the research and Mr. Cherry make the point that this information only reflects a point in time – an intermediate step – while transitioning from old technology to new cleaner and safer ways of power generation and consumption. Cherry points out the importance of trying to “clean up [the] power sector first,” and of being aware of the repercussions that arise from generating electricity via dirty sources and fossil fuels rather than clean, renewable sources. Electric vehicles may ultimately outnumber conventional vehicles on our highways; given that fact, in the future when you plug in your electric vehicle, you may want to ask yourself the question: “Just how clean is the electricity I’m using?”
additional sources: heartland/time.com & environmental news service