Mass Acceptance Of Electric Cars Would Have Little Impact On US Emissions
    By News Staff | January 21st 2014 04:54 PM | 18 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    What if nearly half of the cars on the road today were replaced by the electric kind, those vehicles that environmentalists and electric vehicle marketing groups claim are "90% efficient" and worth the extra cost? How much better would our emissions scenario be?

    It wouldn't make much difference. Even a sharp increase in the use of electric drive cars (hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric) by 2050, up to as much as 42 percent of passenger vehicles in the U.S., would not significantly reduce emissions of high-profile pollutants like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides.

    At least not unless we switch to nuclear energy. And even then the impact due to cars wouldn't be meaningful. Cars make up a lot less emissions than they are portrayed as emitting.

    The researchers ran 108 different scenarios in an energy systems model to determine the impact of electric vehicle use on emissions between now and 2050. They found that, even 42 percent of vehicles in the U.S. would not be an effective way to produce large emissions reductions. 

    "There are a number of reasons for this,"
    says Dr. Joseph DeCarolis, an assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper on the new model.
    "In part, it's because some of the benefits of EDVs are wiped out by higher emissions from power plants. Another factor is that passenger vehicles make up a relatively small share of total emissions, limiting the potential impact of EDVs in the first place. For example, passenger vehicles make up only 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

    "From a policy standpoint, this study tells us that it makes more sense to set emissions reductions goals, rather than promoting specific vehicle technologies with the idea that they'll solve the problem on their own."

    "How Much Do Electric Drive Vehicles Matter to Future U.S. Emissions?" is published in Environmental Science&Technology. Source: North Carolina State University


    The subtext of the title is: Electric cars are not a magic bullet, so let's forget it.
    This article frames the problem incorrectly. The problem is multi-faceted and so is the solution. Any one component of the solution could be isolated and represented as insignificant, (read: not worth the effort). This article is missing the big picture with such a spectacular air ball, that it looks intentional.

    Thor Russell
    Yes and its making hidden assumptions about the power mix there also: "some of the benefits of EDVs are wiped out by higher emissions from power plants". Solar can power electric vehicles quite happily. If you take the expected additional sources added to power grids in developed countries up to 2050 then little of it is fossil.

    I wonder what they mean by "significant" maybe 10%, is that why the 42% figure comes from so that is just gets under their threshold of "significant". Also  "(hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric)" includes hybrid which is not electric at all. Pretty hard to know what they are trying to say without such details.

    Thor Russell
    Ummm... OK... because you're assuming we'll burn coal to make electricity. Solar cells are getting better all the time... And yes... a modern design on a nuclear plant would be good for energy generation in general (as compared to coal,etc.). And there's always the benefit of not having to drill for oil in pristine areas where an inevitable spill causes lots of problems. Or fracking... And there's always the benefit of not having to fight wars in the middle east to keep them able/willing to sell us oil at whatever price they choose to sell it to us. And there's always the benefit of an automobile that DOESN'T have a zillion moving parts that wear out (granted, hybrids have both the internal combustion part AND the electric part, but hybrids are, hopefully, just a step on the way to better things).

    All I'm saying is that even if electric cars isn't the end all solution for everything, it's a darn good step.

    Well, that is the downside to projections - but both sides use them. Fossil fuel enemies take a static picture and extrude that out to the future, without factoring in any efficiencies at all. No environmentalist predicted that American energy emissions would be back at early 1990s levels without bans or rationing of fossil fuels.

    Solar power has been studied and hundreds of billions of dollars thrown at it for 50 years, with very little improvement. But if it takes another 50 years and the same amount of money for it to be viable, it will be worth it. Then, of course, these metrics all change. Nuclear power could also accomplish the same goal sooner. But the electricity factor does assume current sources. It's not realistic to spend trillions of dollars more for solar, to then spend more for electric cars. America would be a third world country economically long before that came even close to happening.
    I have a hybrid car that goes 5L per hundred Kilometers. There is not only less emissions, there are massive savings for our monthy fuel costs. While others are paying $48-50 to fill up their tanks at $1.24 per Litre, it costs me a total of $33 with tax to fill from empty. Why folks would NOT want to save money with hybrids or electric is beyond me! Electric cars can gather surplus wind/renewable energy from the grid each night. If we had them we wouldn't have to pay for energy storage infrastructure or to sell off surplus energy. Each car could be part of a smart grid system. In Canada, one electrical engineer was able to use his car to power his home during a black out. In this day and age, we could all use something like that to fall back on.

    Replacing 75% of my families driving with an electric vehicle made a significant difference. It clearly reduced my monthly expense for fuel and vehicle service. It also reduced my contribution to our toxic emissions problem. Instead of oil we use sunlight. Instead of coal we use sunlight. Instead of natural gas we use sunlight. The solar collectors on my garage roof power my home and charge the car. One would need to make some very unrealistic assumptions to find electric vehicles produce only minimal reductions in toxic emissions.

    Sure, but that does not scale to everyone. Finding an example of someone who can survive on solar and claiming that an electric car would therefore make a difference in American emissions isn't evidence-based, because most people can't actually do that. Unless you want 42% of America living in your house.
    There is difference between "everyone" and "significant change". If "evidence based" includes first hand experience over many years then I have seen what works while the author is only guessing. A majority of EV drivers are now using solar power as their transportation fuel source. It is unrealistic for the author to assume future EV drivers will ignore such a well traveled road.

    So your anecdote trumps an energy systems model using over 100 difference scenarios? Oh, okay, I guess it's settled then. Unless you figure out that your car was designed using models and not the anecdotes of people.
    I would say that reality is more credible than a simulation. Electric vehicles are growing more popular primarily in regions where their adoption will have the greatest positive impact. Grid power in these regions is much cleaner than the national average and still improving. Solar power is another viable option that many electric vehicle owners continue to adopt for their homes. There is no reason to expect this trend to change. The real comparison is between fourteen pounds of CO2 created by every gallon of gas burned versus zero CO2 created by renewable energy powered pure electric car. Drive ten thousand miles in a year and that becomes seven thousand pounds of CO2 versus zero. At what point does this become worthwhile or significant? I think we are beyond that issue and those who imagine something different are simply not paying attention.

    The author assumed all vehicles that feature an electric drive component are electric, which tends to include a geat number of vehicles that show no real improvement. If his assumption was that sales would continue with roughly the same mix of vehicle drive trains we have in new vehicles today then his conclusion is no surprise. The author assumed that those vehicles which plug in will use fossil fuels for power generation, probably in the same proportion as is the national average. There are very few regions of this country where the best available hybrid is as clean as a pure electric vehicle. And those few regions show light adoption of electric vehicles. That is strange, while pollution reduction is only moderate, fuel cost savings can be significant.

    The real conclusion of this study was that we need to do more than just sell some new cars with a bit of electric drive technology. We need to replace fossil fuels, for transportation, industry and electricity generation. 

    "would not significantly reduce emissions of high-profile pollutants like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides."

    I did not realize that CO2 is a pollutant.

    Everything is a pollutant when there is too much of it. You can die from too much water also.
    This guy see the problem through a focused lense, ignoring many external factors, mainly the rate of technological evolution. Who paid him to write this?

    North Carolina State University, just like it says. 

    And I agree with you that academics are biased, just like corporate scientists and government scientists and Republicans and Democrats and short people and tall people. Basically, if a paper disagrees with my predetermined beliefs, I allege they must have been paid to lie and manufacture a predetermined result. I know you agree, since that is essentially what you just wrote.
    Oil burning motors run at, perhaps, 27% efficiency. Electric motors are at least twice as efficient. The oil products to fuel gasoline engines must be moved physically to gas stations. Electricity is distributed via wires that are already in place. So, inefficient engines degrading roads & bridges & needing specialized petroleum carrier vehicles & trained drivers, or electric wires to deliver the fuel to our cars? EV charge stations are unmanned and unattended. Gas stations must be physically supervised. Plugging in an EV for the night takes ten seconds. Driving to a gas station involves risk and expense.

    Electric motors are more like 3- and approaching 4X the efficiency of a combustion engine but that is a marketing metric rather than a valid technology one. 

    After all, the Holy Grail of energy research is viable synthetic photosynthesis. And the efficiency of plants is a measly 5% - electric motors are 16X as efficient as plants but no one wants to replace plants with electric motors.

    Gasoline engines are not only far more 'efficient' than plants, they are also more efficient than the human body. So you can easily see why 'efficiency' is a metric only used when you are being sold something. In the real world, the energy density of gasoline is really, really high, especially for the cost. Gas is still around because the cost/energy density/efficiency ratio can't be touched by anything else yet. 
    There's the rub. The cost. The cost in lives lost, people poisoned, sick days per person per year. If oil cars paid their share of those costs, we would be compensated but still be suffering.
    Gas is still around because it does not pay all of its bills.

    Looks like a propaganda article from the oil companies.
    Please come visit Indian (or any Asian) traffic , you wont need any scientist to find out vehicles are polluting. During my travel to office I always wonder what if all these gasoline engines are replaced by electrics. We are dying slowly here because of these pollution.
    always fascinated by Tesla's success and looking forward for a better future where there is no Gasoline vehicles and a cleaner atmosphere on the roads.