Electricity has been touted for many years as the best alternative to the use of fossil fuels in transportation. Depending on how the electricity is produced, it can be completely renewable or more damaging to the environment than directly burning petroleum products.
Before looking at how electricity can be generated and the impact that each method has on the “greenness” of an electric vehicle, it is important to understand the design, advantages, and limitations of the vehicles themselves.
Electric cars were actually quite popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, electric cars had a number of advantages over internal combustion driven vehicles. They were less noisy, had less vibration, and did not smell. Most importantly, gear changing was not required, which as quite difficult at the time, and they did not require manual cranks to start. The cars were most popular with wealthy city dwellers. Advances in technology for internal combustion engines, such as the electric starter, better transmissions, and growing petroleum infrastructure soon displaced the electric car.
During the 1970s and1980s, when the energy crisis was under way, there was renewed interest in electric vehicles. GM produced the EV1 and S10 EV pickup, Ford produced the Ranger EV, and Honda the EV Plushhatchback. Many of these vehicles were quickly abandoned when the energy crisis abated. All EV1 models were actually taken back by GM and only a few still remain.
Now, in the 21st century, focus on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and limited oil supplies have led to renewed interest in electric vehicles. However, the limited research and scattered investments in electric technology in the past have resulted in electric vehicles that are no more advanced than they were in the last 19th century. Below is a comparison of electric and petrol based cars in the categories that are most important.
Clearly, fuel is the largest factor. In petrol vehicles, it is relatively straightforward that hydrocarbon is burned to produce energy. Hydrocarbons have the disadvantages of creating pollution, being dangerous to extract, and been in the increasingly limited supplies. On the plus side, hydrocarbon based fuels are easy to transport, make refueling a quick and simple process, and are relatively inexpensive.
Electric vehicles are somewhat more complicated. While they clearly run on electricity, where and how the electricity is generated can affect how “clean” these vehicles are and how much it costs to run them. In most cases, the cost of electricity will be approximately half that of gasoline in cars driven over the same distance.
When evaluating the potential for pollution, both the production of the fuel and the utilization must be considered. The production of fossil fuels is inherently messy, accident prone, and has a history of spills and other severe accidents that have led to substantial environmental damage. Burning fossil fuels is known to put pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to acid rain. In addition, internal combustion engines are the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, which are thought to lead to global warming.
In terms of pollution produced when energy is burned, electric vehicles are considered zero emission. This means they produced no emissions at all and thus no pollution. Their contribution to overall air pollution and global warming, however, is impacted by how the electricity used to charge their batteries is generated. Electricity derived from coal produces substantially more greenhouse gases and contaminants like sulfur dioxide than does burning petroleum. Alternatively, the use of energy’s like a wind, hydro, and solar can result in electric vehicles being truly zero emission.
Because refueling time is very rapid and the infrastructure for delivery of hydrocarbon fuels is extensive, internal combustion engines or considered to have indefinite range. Electric cars, on the other hand, are constrained by the fact that recharging a battery can take several hours and there’s very little infrastructure in place for recharging. Under current technology, electric cars generally have less maximum range per charge that internal combustion engines can achieve a single fuel tank.
Some automakers have invested in batteries switch technology. The process is actually cleaner and faster than filling a tank with gasoline and takes an average of 60 seconds. However, there are high investment costs in terms of infrastructure and the unproven economics are of concern to many
In addition to batteries switch technology, there’s also some interest in the DC Fast Charging stations, which allow 100 mile batteries to be recharged to 80% of their capacity inside of 30 minutes. This type of church and would be beneficial in places where people commonly park their cars such as grocery stores and parking garages.
Electric cars are more expensive than most gasoline or diesel powered vehicles. The most significant expense in any electric car is the battery. Because most buyers are reluctant to purchase electric vehicles of the lack of infrastructure and general assumption that range is too limited for electric vehicles to be practical, electric cars cannot benefit from mass production and the economies of size as gasoline powered vehicles do.
A survey by Nielsen for the financial times showed that 65% of Americans and 76% of Britons were not willing to pay more for an electric vehicle above the price of a gasoline car. Similar studies have shown that less than 50% of individuals are willing to spend an additional $5000 on the “green vehicle.”
Electric vehicle motors have roughly 5 moving parts which makes them easy to maintain compared to the hundreds of parts found in internal combustion engines. The major maintenance costs in eclectic vehicles are batteries.
Besides the high initial expense, electric cars are actually cheaper to operate than are gasoline powered cars. Nissan estimates that the Leaf, its electric car offering, will cost about $1,800 to operate over 5 years compared to $6,000 for a gasoline car. This, of course, does not include the purchase of a new battery. Tesla batteries cost $12,000 are said to last for 7 years.