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Power Transportation

Electric Car Environmental Impact: Power Source Matters 341

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-not-easy-being-green dept.
another random user writes with news of a study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, which looked into the environmental impact of electric vehicles — not just how they do when driven, but how they are produced and by what means they are charged. The study pointed out that the production of EVs has twice as much of an environmental impact as the production of typical gas-powered cars, which must be taken into account when comparing the two. Also, they say it's important to consider the source of the electricity used to charge the vehicles. In places like Europe, where a good chunk of the electricity comes from renewable sources, EVs do indeed provide a benefit to the environment. However, "In regions where fossil fuels are the main sources of power, electric cars offer no benefits and may even cause more harm." The study says, "It is counterproductive to promote electric vehicles in regions where electricity is primarily produced from lignite, coal or even heavy oil combustion."
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Electric Car Environmental Impact: Power Source Matters

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  • Captain Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wbr1 (2538558) on Friday October 05, 2012 @09:55AM (#41558105)
    We knew this. All it does is move the pollution. It may alleviate smog and guilty consciouses, but that's about all. The same is true of hydrogyen vehicles and how the fuel is produced. The answer is thorium reactors for electricity production and cracking water to hydrogeb, but we won't do it.
  • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:00AM (#41558153)

    The answer is to tax pollution. I'm sure manufacturers could produce a cleaner car if there was money in it.

  • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rmstar (114746) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:06AM (#41558213)

    Less moving parts - I think you are onto something here.

    I believe that he future of mobility is people moving less from one place to another, or more of them moving at once in one vehicle. That is, a drastic reduction of mobility, and whatever mobility there is must come from public transportation.

    Just substituting our current cars with electric ones will neither work from a technical point of view, nor will it solve the pollution and energy consumption problems.

  • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sls1j (580823) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:09AM (#41558249) Homepage
    One possible unintended consequence to taxing pollution is that the government will become dependent on the tax revenue. Which may well cause the government to encourage pollution blocking manufacturer's efforts to reduce pollution.
  • by j-beda (85386) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:18AM (#41558359) Homepage

    it'll be easier to upgrade and eventually replace a handful of coal-fired power stations than to replace potentially millions of cars.

    Too true. Electrical power is "fungible" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fungibility [wikipedia.org] - ok, the generation of power is fungible) in that from the car's point of view it doesn't matter how the electricity was generated. A gas-powered vehicle is pretty much stuck running on gasoline. The option to switch the generating system from "bad" systems like coal or burning puppies and children, to "good" systems like wind, solar and angle farts is really worthwhile.

  • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:20AM (#41558365)

    "Also, it puts all the pollution in one place - easier to handle, yes? And better yet, it's in a place where I am not. And if I can breath more easily, I might ride my bike more. That'll reduce pollution."

    Not only that, but getting lots of people to drive electric cars will help to create a support infrastructure (such as lots of charging stations everywhere) for them that will make the eventual switch to renewables a lot easier.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:20AM (#41558385)

    If your goal is to reduce air pollution TODAY, then quite probably electric vehicles don't help.

    If your goal is to shift the technology base of the entire transportation system toward renewable energy sources, then electric vehicles are necessary.

    In other words, don't blame the electric vehicle. Blame the lack of wind turbines. Electric vehicles will run just fine whether the generators the powers them is driven by coal or by wind. In contrast, gasoline and diesel vehicles tie us down to fossil fuels indefinitely.

    If you have a better plan for long-term control of carbon emissions than cutting our dependency on the internal combustion (and diesel) engine, I'd love to hear it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:21AM (#41558391)

    When judging electric vs gas vehicles I feel that electric cars rarely get a fair shake.
    The institution of gas powered vehicles has very many externalized costs that people take for granted because, well, it's always been that way.

    Fuel transportation - This is a huge hidden cost. The amount of hydrocarbons burned to provide the massive infrastructure to move fuel is staggering. It's often one of the highest costs of fuel production itself. Do studies take in account the energy cost to move oil, refine it, then move the refined fuel? I really think this is one of the biggest benefit of electric cars is that an electric energy distribution could be a lot more environmentally friendly. Granted, we'd need to beef up our electrical grid too.

    Even if you're burning hydrocarbons to produce power, I still think electric vechiles are a lot more forward thinking. What is more efficient: Having lots of cars carry little powerplants around with them, and pay for the fuel to be moved out to service stations where they can access it? - Or move power production to a few large production centers (power plants) where efficiencies of scale can be captured. Not to mention that, in theory, you could capture and sequester carbon emissiosn at a powerplant. They're large and stay in one place. You can't realistically sequester carbon emissions from millions of tiny cars that move around all the time.

  • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bonehead (6382) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:23AM (#41558401)

    Would anyone seriously bet against electric cars on a ten year time-span?

    Yep, I would. Up until now they've basically been nothing but a feel-good novelty, and I've seen no real signs of that changing.

    And then there's the fact that the people who can afford a new electric vehicle are already driving newer, well-maintained, low-pollution vehicles anyway. The old, unmaintained, clunkers, driven by people who can't just run to the dealership and buy a new car on a whim, will continue to be driven and continue to pollute for a long time to come.

    Add in the severe range limitations of electric vehicles, and the lack of progress on addressing that issue, and I think 10 years is FAR too short of a time frame to bet on electric vehicles becoming mainstream. Plug-in hybrids? Maybe. Pure electric? Zero chance.

    If you want a practical, low-pollution alternative, the best bet would be a plug-in hybrid that burns propane in the internal combustion engine. Much cleaner than gasoline/diesel, and I can swap an empty 20# propane tank for a full one in any populated area nationwide.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:29AM (#41558443)

    That idea was propagated by CNW Marketing. They published a study in 2007, stating that a Prius' environmental impact was worse than a Hummer. Unfortunately, they made three critical mistakes:
    The first was assuming a Hummer would drive several times as long as a Prius would (378,000 lifetime miles for an H1 Hummer, and 109,000 for a Prius). The second was wrongly distributing lifetime energy costs, by estimating the vast majority of a car's energy usage is in production, when in fact it's in operation (and there are half a dozen references in the linked article that contradict CNW Marketing's assumption). The third was explicitly penalizing new cars by dividing the costs R&D plus factory construction over the number of cars produced (at the time, the number of Priuses produced was relatively small).

    http://www.evworld.com/library/pacinst_hummerVprius.pdf

    Long story short, the idea that you got got its origin from misinformation propagated five years ago that refuses to die because it's long on truthiness, but short on actual truth. For a more realistic assessment, you should read up on the Argonne National Laboratory's GREET Transportation Vehicle Cycle model (specifically, the graph on Page 84 in response to your post):

    http://www.ipd.anl.gov/anlpubs/2006/12/58024.pdf

  • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:29AM (#41558453)

    Like smoking? Been a long time since I've seen governmental policy that makes it easier to smoke. For the past 20 years, the government (state/fed) has been making it increasingly more difficult for themselves to colllect that bag of money.

  • by characterZer0 (138196) on Friday October 05, 2012 @10:35AM (#41558503)

    Don't blame the electric vehicle. Electric trains and buses are great. Blame the car. We haul around a ton and a half of vehicle, starting and stopping all the time, for a person or two and a bit of luggage, and we design our cities and infrastructure to space stuff out and increase reliance on the car. If your goal is to reduce air pollution today and into the future, get rid of the car as the primary mode of transportation.

  • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Troyusrex (2446430) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:05AM (#41558841)
    It meant abandoning all my mods on this story but this intrigued me and I had to look up it up. In fact, while the number of smokers may have dropped the TAX REVENUES [taxpolicycenter.org] from smokers has been increasing steadily and at pace far faster than inflation. I think that lends some good evidence to sls1j's assertion that taxing pollution will lead to government dependence on that taxation. Obviously smoking and pollution aren't exactly the same but I think there's a good point made there.
  • Re:Captain Obvious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:22AM (#41559031) Homepage

    Little note: if you find yourself getting any significant amount of energy from regenerative braking, then you are an awful driver who is a hazard to yourself and others.

    Granted there's a lot of such drivers out there, but education and training should have a better ROI then chasing the latest idiocy-compensation technology.

  • by characterZer0 (138196) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:43AM (#41559307)

    We could start fixing the design of our cities. Build public transit instead of ever wider freeways. Build pedestrian and bicycle infrstructure instead of more parking. Add congestion charges to urban centers. Stop rezoning land so developers can build even more malls and retail strips a few miles farther out of town than the ones they are abandoning. Stop giving tax breaks to developers building on the fringes of the suburbs. Reduce speed limits in cities. Add traffic calming devices.

    Car traffic in this country is heavily subsidized. In short, we just need to stop subsidizing it.

    Of course, this is politically infeasible, because the auto instustry and oil industry have already paid for the politicians and the voters are not paying any attention. But it is technically and financially feasible.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:52AM (#41559479)

    This is a great idea, and it's been mentioned before. The problem is that it's an accounting nightmare. Keeping track of which potion of tax money goes towards which cleanup projects, how to nominate projects for specific tax money buckets, etc. they'd have to maintain an army of accountants to keep track of it all.

    I think it's still worth doing, but it's definitely not easy.

  • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:04PM (#41559633) Journal

    It's dumb to tax pollution as a punitive measure, or to encourage/discourage the use of certain technologies or behaviors, or to raise general revenue.
    It's smart to tax pollution to offset the public-born costs of the thing which is taxed.

    That's crazy talk!
    Luckily, elected representatives everywhere know the purpose of taxation is to raise revenue for boondoggles, pork barrel projects, bribery, civil service bloat, and other wastrel activities.

    Just look at the taxes on fuel in Europe as an example. The high taxes are ostensibly to promote economy, but the more economical vehicles become, the higher the taxes must be. It's the tax revenue that must be preserved [guardian.co.uk].

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