Myths/electric cars pollute more than standard cars

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Myth: Electric vehicles (EVs) cause as much or more pollution than petrol-only cars.

Myth

Example

  • 2015-07-01 Here's Where Electric Vehicles Actually Cause More Pollution Than Gas Cars: "The EV that caused no environmental damage on the road during the day still needs to be charged at night. This requires a great deal of electricity generated by a power plant somewhere, and if that power plant runs on coal, it’s not hard to imagine it spewing more emissions from a smokestack than a comparable gas car coughed up from a tailpipe." (reporting on the June 2015 NBER study)

Origins

While this myth had surfaced earlier, it was given a major boost by a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research released in June 2015.

Related

Reality

This argument basically holds electric vehicles solely responsible for the pollution of their electricity sources, as if those didn't also need to be made more sustainable. Nobody denies that EVs cause pollution if they are charged using polluting sources; this is pretty much inevitable – although it should be noted that electric motors are more efficient at converting energy to torque than IC engines are, so it's not a foregone conclusion that they pollute just as badly when drawing on polluting sources.

Points to Consider

  • EVs are neutral as to their energy source – unlike HC-powered vehicles, which depend on fossil fuels or synthetics (currently expensive, rare, and inefficient).
  • HC fuel itself needs to be transported in other vehicles (tanker trucks), generating still more pollution, while electric power transmission is quite efficient by comparison.
  • Many EV owners have solar panels at home which they use to charge their vehicles – creating essentially zero pollution – so even in an area that is powered by fossil fuels, you can't assume that any given EV is polluting vicariously.
  • EVs tend to recharge (i.e. use power) at night, when there is surplus capacity.

EVs are not the whole solution to sustainable transportation, but they are an essential part. Barring new fuel technology (cheap synthetics, some manageable form of hydrogen, etc.), you can't have sustainable transportation without electric vehicles.

Reference