Electric cars are all the rage these days. They promise savings to consumers, who can install charging stations in their homes with the help of an electrician and dramatically their gasoline bills. Electric cars also give Americans a way to feel good about helping the environment, since they don't burn up petroleum or contribute to carbon emissions when they are being driven. A recent study, however, showed that we still have a long way to go when it comes to realizing the promise of electric cars – contrary to expectations, electric cars can actually create more pollution than gasoline-fueled vehicles. Read on to learn why.
The Electric Generation Conundrum
When electric vehicles are touted as emission-free, a key part of the equation is being omitted: the electricity to power them still has to be created somehow, and most of the power generation in the United States is based on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. In some areas of the country, it turns out, the pollution created by generating the electricity for electric cars actually outweighs that which would be emitted by traditional gasoline automobiles.
The study, performed by the National Bureau of Economic Research, measured carbon, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen, particulate matter and volatile organic chemicals. Through a complicated formula, they compared the output of those pollutants from regional power grids, measured for the amount of electricity it takes to power electric vehicles, compared to what would be produced by the equivalent gasoline cars.
Gasoline vs. Electricity
What researchers found was sobering – while gasoline vehicles tend to produce a lot of pollution that is concentrated in urban areas, electric vehicles create pollution spread out over entire regions. The effect is particularly acute in the Midwest and Northeastern United States, where power plants don't use as many renewable energy sources compared to those in the West. The upshot? As it stands now, we are currently creating more air pollution for large swaths of the country by driving electric cars than we are saving.
The discouraging results of this study notwithstanding, that doesn't mean that it's time to give up on electric cars altogether. After all, electricity doesn't have to be produced by fossil fuels-- the amount of solar and wind generation is only growing, for example. If you install solar panels on your own roof, you can reassure yourself that you are creating green energy to offset the electricity you use in your car.
Question Your Assumptions
If there's one thing that's clear from the study results, it's that you shouldn't just make assumptions when it comes to energy conservation and pollution – not everything is as simple as it looks at first.
If you need help determining if your home is suitable for an electric car hookup, contact an expert electrician today.