Clive Matthew-Wilson, famous for putting together the “Dog and Lemon Guide” to cars has done a detailed study called “The Emperor’s New Car” on the sustainability and environmental friendliness of electric cars. The results are pretty shocking:
Despite their ‘green’ image, electric cars are often less efficient and more polluting than the petrol cars they replace, according to a major report…
Matthew-Wilson, who edits the car buyers’ Dog & Lemon Guide, says:
“The car industry is selling a false image of efficient, environmentally-friendly electric cars powered by ‘green’ energy. In reality, electric cars often aren’t very efficient and aren’t very green.”
The report was highly critical of the iconic Tesla electric sports car, which has become the international symbol of chic, environmentally-responsible motoring.
“The Tesla is actually not very efficient at all. Most of Tesla’s publicity focuses on the efficiency of its electric motor. What they don’t tell you is that its batteries are heavy, inefficient and that Teslas are frequently powered by electricity from highly polluting power stations.”
“Despite what most people believe, a high percentage of the world’s electricity is produced using dirty fuels like coal. This isn’t going to change anytime soon; in fact, the widespread introduction of electric cars will probably increase the world’s reliance on coal in order to keep up with the increased demand for electricity.”
“Claims that electric cars are ‘emissions-free’ are simply a lie; they merely transfer the pollution from the road to the power station. Not only will electric cars not reduce emissions, they may actually increase emissions, because burning coal to make electricity to power an electric car creates more pollution than if you simply powered the same vehicle using petrol.”
“Renewable energy sources may be growing fast, but they’re still a tiny percentage of the world’s electricity supply and they’ll stay that way for the foreseeable future, because renewable energy sources tend to be far more expensive than fossil fuels.”
The report compared the Tesla electric sports car to a petrol-powered Lotus Elise sports car. Because the Tesla is essentially an electric version of the Lotus Elise, it was possible to directly compare the electric and petrol versions of the same vehicle.
“In four of the five countries we surveyed, the Tesla electric car was less efficient and more polluting than its petrol sibling. Only in New Zealand – where the majority of electricity is produced by hydroelectric generation – was the Tesla ‘greener’ than the Elise. However, a New Zealand scientist recently predicted that if the New Zealand car fleet was replaced with electric cars, the country would probably need to build coal power stations to meet the increased demand.”
It certainly is true that New Zealand probably has more potential to gain environmental benefits from electric cars than most overseas countries, but as is hinted at above, in the past 10 years or so we have actually struggled to increase the amount of power generated through hydro and other renewable sources. In fact, the percentage of energy in New Zealand generated by renewables has dropped from around 90% back in the 1980s to less than 70% today I think. Putting a further load on the power grid, from electric cars, would most probably make it very difficult to meet that demand through renewable generation.
In a previous article on the matter, the Dog and Lemon Guide had this to say about electric cars:
It’s incredibly seductive to imagine that you can continue living the dream by switching from one fuel to another and then carrying on business as usual. The fantasy behind electric cars says that it’s going to be possible to continue the Western lifestyle of the twentieth century by changing the form of energy used to power it. That’s a bit like a fat person trying to lose weight by switch- ing from hamburgers to french fries. The basic problem is never addressed.
The argument should never be over electric cars versus petrol cars; it should be over the use of personal cars versus mass transport. Cars are the best form of transport for empty roads and the worst form for busy roads. The entire electric car movement is based around a 1950s American Dream of endless suburbs linked by endless motorways; in the Californian version, the vehicles are powered by electricity, but little else has changed. That’s an unsustainable way of running the planet. Period.
Now I’m not opposed to electric cars. Indeed, in the New Zealand situation if we are able to increase the amount of power we generate from hydro, wind, tides, geothermal and other non-polluting sources, then electric cars could be a very useful way to avoid the worst effects of peak oil, and a useful part of the solution to reduce our transport-sector CO2 emissions. My problem is that we seem to be putting all our eggs in this basket.
Spending $11 billion on motorways over the next decade when oil production is likely to peak within the next few years (if not already) is utter insanity unless you put all your eggs in the electric cars basket. I don’t think that’s a sensible approach, especially now that electric cars seem to be not quite the panacea previously thought.