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Electric Cars: Not good enough

Posted in Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on April 29th, 2010

Source: Going Solar Transport Newsletter

“There’s no quick fix to either the energy shortage or climate change. In the longer term, we’re all going to have to use less energy, and that means smaller houses, less plastic junk that we don’t really need and less wasted trips in our cars.”

From Electric Cars a Major Environmental Threat:

Despite their ‘green’ image, electric cars are often less efficient and more polluting than the petrol cars they replace, according to a major report released today [23-03-10].  The 168-page report, titled The Emperor’s New Car, is described as a ‘long-overdue reality check’ by its author, car expert Clive Matthew-Wilson. The report was prepared in consultation with several internationally-recognised energy experts.  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.”

The report suggests that China is likely to be the main beneficiary of the electric car movement. Due to massive government investment, China is likely to be the first country to mass-produce electric cars at prices that are competitive with conventional petrol and diesel engines. However, these cars are likely to be produced using environmentally destructive materials, in factories that are powered by non-renewable and heavily polluting forms of energy.  So what’s Matthew-Wilson’s solution to the global energy crisis?

“There’s no quick fix to either the energy shortage or climate change. In the longer term, we’re all going to have to use less energy, and that means smaller houses, less plastic junk that we don’t really need and less wasted trips in our cars.”

“Most of the world’s alternative energy industry is based on quick fixes to the current system. In reality, most of this technology either isn’t economic, doesn’t work, or simply doesn’t exist and isn’t going to exist anytime soon.”

“It disturbs me to see politicians and business leaders on television promoting fantasy technology using fantasy economics.”

“If we make decisions based on the wrong assumptions, we’re just going to make things worse.”

Read the full article.