Courtesy of Tesla
As students inch ever closer to being able to get their driver’s license, the question of “what car should I get?” arises. Having grown up in a world where global warming and CO2 emissions are ever present, many wonder if maybe an electric car would be a better choice.
On the surface, it may seem like a simple question. Are electric cars better for the planet? But the issue is much more complicated than that. Where does the power for an electric car come from? Which power plants are best for producing the electricity? What about the car’s battery?
It’s true, electric cars do produce zero tailpipe Co2 emissions, or emissions coming from the car itself. Generating electricity, however, can produce emissions, too.
According to the US Department of Energy, “In geographic areas that use relatively low-polluting energy sources for electricity generation, PHEVs and EVs typically have a well-to-wheel emissions advantage over similar conventional vehicles running on gasoline or diesel.”
In areas that rely on coal for electricity, electric cars may not demonstrate a strong emissions benefit.
So, depending on where exactly the energy is coming from is what affects how much the vehicle benefits the environment. In Kingsport, the energy that would be powering an electric car would likely come from Atmos Energy, which uses natural gasses to create their energy.
“Natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide when combusted in a new, efficient natural gas power plant compared with emissions from a typical new coal plant,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
However, methane leaks from extracting natural gasses are 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
Another common argument that often arises regarding electric cars revolves around the creation of their batteries. The batteries require metals like cobalt, and since there are no laws surrounding where companies should get their materials, some very fishy things can go on in the supply chain.
“Artisanal miners as young as seven were seen by researchers who visited nine sites including deep mines dug by hand using basic tools,” the World Economic Forum reported. “Miners, the youngest of whom were earning as little as $1 a day, reported suffering chronic lung disease from exposure to cobalt dust.”
Not only is cobalt needed for the batteries, but so is lithium and manganese. Of course, the metals need to be extracted and processed. This causes the number of carbon emitted due to the creation of each battery to be 15 to 20 tons before the car is even turned on. The average gasoline car emits about 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
When it comes to deciding if an electric car is the right choice for the environment, there’s quite a few factors to consider. Things like how long will the battery last, and where the energy that powers the car came from. There are regions in the world where an electric car, powered with electricity created with renewable resources, could have a positive impact. That may not be true everywhere.