Electric Cars Underline a Larger Problem with the Energy Landscape
You may have seen headlines floating around in the last day or so claiming that electric cars aren’t as green as some think. While, yes, these are written to be catchy, they also leave out a large part of the actual news.
Electric cars, as a technology, are green. It’s hard to argue that a vehicle with zero emissions is polluting the environment as it drives. However, the electricity powering said electric vehicle may not be so green. The article making the rounds cites a study from the University of Minnesota which claims that if the electricity powering a vehicle “comes from coal, the electric cars produce 3.6 times more soot and smog deaths than those powered by gas, because of the pollution made in generating the electricity.”
Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, wasn't part of the study but praised it to AP.
"Unfortunately, when a wire is connected to an electric vehicle at one end and a coal-fired power plant at the other end,” he explained, “the environmental consequences are worse than driving a normal gasoline-powered car.”
Here’s the rub: the problem lies not with electric cars, but with electricity generated from coal. Electric cars have made the jump to modernity and it’s about time coal does, too. Gasoline, diesel and ethanol are all better options than coal.
Green Car Reports cites the introduction to the study:
We find that powering vehicles with corn ethanol or with coal-based or “grid average” electricity increases monetized environmental health impacts by 80 percent or more relative to using conventional gasoline.
Conversely, EVs powered by low-emitting electricity from natural gas, wind, water or solar power reduce environmental health impacts by 50 percent or more.
Consideration of potential climate change impacts alongside the human health outcomes described here further reinforces the environmental preferability of EVs powered by low-emitting electricity relative to gasoline vehicles.
GCR’s ultimate conclusion: “Charge an electric car on anything except coal, and it's greener than a gasoline car.”
Also important to note is that the states with the coal-heaviest grids (Illinois, Ohio, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming) have the lowest electric car sales in the country by far. With headlines spun this way, it’s easy to see the problem as being with electric cars.
Co-author of the study Jason Hill noted to AP that EV will be much better once connected to a cleaner grid. I would disagree. I think EV technology is currently great and it’s our grid that needs work. Still, a good energy mix is currently conducive to growing our economy.
“Results given here should not be taken as a final statement that environmental improvements are best achieved by existing light-duty vehicles with less-polluting light-duty vehicles, nor that EVs are the best technology for every need,” the study concludes. “Instead, these results can be seen as an indication of how light-duty transportation fuels could shift to reduce increased pollution, and as an encouragement into the research of less polluting, more sustainable transportation options for the future.”
Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield of Transport Evolved perhaps sums it up best.
“When making academic papers and studies palatable for the masses, important facts are nearly always left by the wayside,” she wrote. “Only by reading the paper yourself will you gain the full picture, because every outlet—even this one—will add some form of spin, even if we try hard not to.”
All but two UK regions failing on school energy efficiency
Most schools are still "treading water" on implementing energy efficient technology, according to new analysis of Government data from eLight.
Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the only regions where schools have collectively reduced how much they spend on energy per pupil, cutting expenditure by 4.4% and 0.9% respectively. Every other region of England increased its average energy expenditure per pupil, with schools in Inner London doing so by as much as 23.5%.
According to The Carbon Trust, energy bills in UK schools amount to £543 million per year, with 50% of a school’s total electricity cost being lighting. If every school in the UK implemented any type of energy efficient technology, over £100 million could be saved each year.
Harvey Sinclair, CEO of eEnergy, eLight’s parent company, said the figures demonstrate an uncomfortable truth for the education sector – namely that most schools are still treading water on the implementation of energy efficient technology. Energy efficiency could make a huge difference to meeting net zero ambitions, but most schools are still lagging behind.
“The solutions exist, but they are not being deployed fast enough," he said. "For example, we’ve made great progress in upgrading schools to energy-efficient LED lighting, but with 80% of schools yet to make the switch, there’s an enormous opportunity to make a collective reduction in carbon footprint and save a lot of money on energy bills. Our model means the entire project is financed, doesn’t require any upfront expenditure, and repayments are more than covered by the energy savings made."
He said while it has worked with over 300 schools, most are still far too slow to commit. "We are urging them to act with greater urgency because climate change won’t wait, and the need for action gets more pressing every year. The education sector has an important part to play in that and pupils around the country expect their schools to do so – there is still a huge job to be done."
North Yorkshire County Council is benefiting from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which has so far awarded nearly £1bn for energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation projects around the country, and Craven schools has reportedly made a successful £2m bid (click here).
The Department for Education has issued 13 tips for reducing energy and water use in schools.