How do electric cars reduce pollution?

There is some debate over how much an electric vehicle can reduce pollution.

First, building an electric vehicle is very energy-intensive. There are many pollutants and CO2 being produced, from the mining of minerals to make battery packs or fuel cells to the manufacturing of the various components.

Some argue that electric cars consume more energy than traditional cars ( Former Electric Car Engineer: Electric Cars Pollute More Than Natural Gas). This is because they use a lot of exotic metals, which are expensive to produce. Other people believe this is false ( Electrical Vehicles: Myths and Reality).

A few studies have shown that producing new gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles requires less energy than making new electric cars. The higher upfront energy cost can be recouped later through lower operating emissions.

Second, power plants aren’t always completely clean when charging electric vehicles. For example, in some areas of the USA, 100% of electricity is provided by coal-fired power stations. These situations make it likely that electric cars won’t be much cleaner than gasoline cars when it comes to pollution. It all depends on where you plug in.

There are situations when buying an electric car and driving it is better for the planet than driving an efficient electric vehicle.

However, you can reduce pollution by charging your electric car with renewable power sources like wind and solar.

There are three false dichotomies. If you are comparing the cost of buying an electric car to buying a gasoline/diesel vehicle, electric cars will probably be better for the planet.

What if you want to compare buying an electric car with a used, but efficient, gasoline car?

  • An used car does not require additional manufacturing. It has already been constructed, so it doesn’t need to be mined or operated by manufacturing plants.
  • Many used cars are extremely efficient. Some people get 40mpg in older Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics, Ford Fiestas and Ford Fiestas, Nissan Versas, etc.

Furthermore, how about comparing the cost to buy an electric car with the cost to buy an old efficient car and spend the rest of the money on carbon credits?

You’ll spend $90k to buy a Tesla Model S with a big battery. You can save as little as $5k on a 35-40 mph commuter car, and as much as $20k on a newer model.

This means that you would have $70-$85k available to spend on carbon sequestration. Terrapass sells 7,000 tons carbon credits for $83k. This is likely to be enough carbon to offset an entire lifetime’s energy consumption.

Let me answer your question.

Are electric cars more polluting than diesel or gas-powered vehicles? Yes, compared to new diesel or gas-powered cars. Comparable to purchasing a used car, and then spending the rest on carbon credits? It’s not possible.


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