‘Clean, Green’ Electric Vehicles Exposed
Written by PSI staff
Policy makers and environmentalists want increasing road vehicle electrification in the UK with a government date of 2040 for complete electrification. But independent scientists calculate that the actual cost of converting to electric from petrol engines could DOUBLE human emissions of carbon dioxide.
British physicist, Terri Jackson, former science adviser to the First Minister of Northern Ireland, worked with fellow scientist, Reverend Philip Foster, to crunch the numbers. What they found proves there is nothing green about driving electric cars. For example, for all British drivers to switch to electric vehicles would require no less than an additional 160 Drax-sized power stations!
The focus on electric vehicles (EV’s) as an eco-friendly means to combat human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) is plain to see all over the mainstream media.
According to data published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the growth of EVs globally has been quite uneven. Five countries (China, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United States) are home to about 1 million EVs, roughly 80% of the total. The United States is the largest home, with something more than 400,000 EVs
In Britain, motoring organisations including the AA have already expressed scepticism and concern that a switch to reliance on electric vehicles would place too much strain on the National Grid. Meanwhile, the National Grid estimates that most electric cars will require a battery capacity of 90 kilowatt hours(kWh) to make journeys of around 300 miles.
The IEA has also calculated that when EVs receive electricity with emission levels exceeding 559 gCO2/kWh (i.e. from coal-fired power stations), they rate as net contributors to climate change when compared with conventional vehicles. The present TESLA battery capacity is rated at 70KWh.
Philip Foster crunched the numbers relying on the most credible data publicly available. As a base calculation, a Drax power station uses about 0.31 kilograms of coal per KWh generated. We said coal and coal it has to be. Before eco warriors get enraged on this point it is essential to realize that the electricity going into their ‘clean’ electric car has to come from a mass generation source i.e. the National Grid. The source of such ‘clean’ energy gets to you via the electric grid from mostly coal-fired power stations. The only ‘green’ element is the delusion that your electric car is somehow emitting less CO2, simply because you don’t have exhaust coming out of your tailpipe!
Efficiency Losses Increase Costs, Increase Waste
Now let’s get back to reality: It is widely known that fast charging of an electric car is only 50% efficient. A single charge will require 140KWh of electricity to get an electric car back running on the road. This breaks down to a requirement of 43 kilograms of coal for one charge (0.31 x 140).
Using a higher capacity battery as suggested by the National Grid of 90KWh would mean an even higher coal usage of 55.8 kilograms of coal for a single charge. A petrol car would require about 20 kilograms of petrol for the same distance. So an electric car will release double the amount of CO2 of a petrol car!
It is true that electric motors are very efficient, but the poor energy density of batteries means EV’s waste energy from a vehicle efficiency point of view. A Tesla Model S can have a 750kg battery pack. That takes a lot of energy to move. A BMW i3 60Ah pack is around 250kg for 40 miles winter / 80 miles summer (remember, electric batteries run poorly in winter and are more prone to failure).
Don’t just heed our findings. Other scientists are just as pessimistic about any hopes electric cars will actually cut emissions. A new paper published in the journal Issues in Science and Technology entitled “Electric Vehicles: Climate Saviors, Or Not?” showed that driving an electric vehicle (EV) rather than a conventional petroleum-powered vehicle effectively does nothing to reduce global-scale CO2 emissions.
Crunching the Numbers for Full Electrification
While according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) there is certain to be a global net emissions increase compared to driving petroleum-powered vehicles. EV’s “are net contributors to climate change when compared with conventional vehicles” (Barkenbus, 2017). When comparing European nations we see that Germany (reliant on coal power) versus France (nuclear-based grid) German EV’s are responsible for TEN TIMES extra CO2 emissions.
No small point to add here for UK drivers. There is also a loss to the treasury being that ending petrol car use is estimated to be £28 billion! (Edmund King President AA. Times Report 28 October 2017)
But surely, electric cars must be safer, right? No way, Jose! Electric car batteries are the same technology as you find in your smart phone. And have you been following the news about how they can dangerously catch fire?
Or, perhaps you saw how, in France, that Tesla electric car burst into flames? The fire was so intense nineteen fire trucks attended the scene.
Where electric vehicles are located and when they are recharged matters more than you might think.
In developing countries, where they are even more reliant on coal power the prospects for ‘green’ electric cars are even dimmer. In China, where coal power dominates, driving EVs produces 27% more CO2 emissions (711 gCO2/kWh) than driving petro-powered vehicles (559 gCO2/kWh). According to this study, Onn et al., 2017 They found that:
“EVs [electric vehicles] running with Malaysian electricity grid produce substantial GHG emissions. … [T]he benefits of grid-dependent EVs can only be harvested under the condition that their use is coupled with a low carbon electricity grid. Thus, it is an additional challenge for Malaysia’s that are largely dependent on fossil fuels for electricity generation. … Overall the GHG emissions produced through the usage of EVs are substantial based on the well-to-wheel analysis, as the environmental profile of EVs is linked with the national grid.”
And don’t think cleaner energy sources will be coming to replace coal worldwide. The data shows otherwise. No fewer than “1,600 coal plants are planned or under construction in 62 countries“, which will “expand the world’s coal-fired power capacity by 43 percent” (New York Times, July, 2017).
Electric Cars Least Useful in Colder Countries
Researcher and visiting scholar at Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Energy and Environment, Jack Barkenbus found that:
“EVs do not perform as efficiently in cold weather as they do in moderate temperatures. This effect is, in part, the direct impact of cold temperatures on battery performance and, in part, the need to provide heating for the vehicle occupants. In conventional automobiles, engine heat is used to warm the inside of the car. In EVs the battery must be used to produce heat, which it usually does through inefficient resistive heating”
And charging your EV at home overnight is going to become a real problem. As Barkenbus found:
“A number of studies examining overnight recharging and marginal emission factors have concluded that this practice produces higher than average CO2 emissions and, when combined with colder temperatures, may make EV operation in the upper Midwest a net contributor to CO2 emissions. Even in relatively clean states, such as California, the difference in CO2 emissions from nighttime to daytime can be significant. The nighttime start-up of coal plants in response to the additional electricity load from EVs increases marginal emissions. And, of course, clean solar energy is not available at night. As one study has explicitly stated, there is a “fundamental tension between electricity load management and environmental goals.””
EV’s Rely on Rare, Non-renewable Components
With all the hype about clean, green EV’s you could be forgiven for thinking they are good for the planet. But you’d be wrong. Researcher, Jamie Spears of Imperial College’s Centre for Energy Policy and Technology (ICEPT) has helped expose the myth. He found that running an electric car requires storage of electricity and lithium-based battery chemistries are the current batteries of choice for electric vehicle manufacturers – lithium has been raised as a critical metal. Many electric motors use high-powered magnets in their design. These magnets contain neodymium and dysprosium, which are both rare earth elements often cited as critical metals. They are also highly toxic and poisonous. Yet EV fans argue using EV’s will help keep ‘dirty’ petroleum in the ground. Seriously?
The western world’s dirty little secret over toxic waste from battery and electric motor construction is a terrible price paid by peasant farmers and rural communities in China, the world’s source of such rare and toxic earth metals.
As featured in the Daily Mail, Yan Man Jia Hong (74) is an old farmer who lives on the outskirts of one of these toxic lake dumps. He told reporters, “Chairman Mao was a hero and saved us. But these people only care about money. They have destroyed our lives.” 
The future Petrol-driven car?
While environmentalists praise EV’s all the while we see petrol engines becoming ever more efficient. The best new petrol engines are matching diesel vehicles on economy per mile and on present trends, by 2020 a new small engine petrol car will outperform any counterpart EV equivalent on lower CO2 emissions.
This is in no small part due to the fact the amount of CO2 involved in making the batteries for an electric car was the equivalent of 8 years driving of a typical petrol car. Given that batteries only have a short life span (think about the diminishing battery performance of your smart phone, laptop etc), they will need replacing. With such waste it is clear that EV cars offer no worthwhile savings and only involve escalating costs for motorists.
Why Don’t EV Advocates Consider The Grid?
To summarize, then, owning and driving an EV currently does little to reduce CO2 emissions on a global scale.
More and more EVs are electrically charged in countries and regions that are heavily reliant on fossil fuels (i.e., 88% of China’s energy consumption (2015) is derived from coal, oil and gas).
So why is it that advocates of CO2 emissions reductions are seemingly so disinterested in addressing the electricity grid issue while extolling the explosion of EV purchases and use? Since CO2 emissions can actually increase when owning and driving EVs if the electricity that charges them is not sufficiently supplied by non-fossil fuel sources, why does this salient factor not resonate?
Or is the fervent push for EV ownership not really about CO2 emissions reductions after all?
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Terri Jackson Bsc(hons physics) Msc MPhil(econ) MInstP
Reverend Philip Foster MA(Nat Sci)