One of the standard criticisms aimed at electric cars is whether they actually are good for the environment when everything is taken into account. For example, people worry about the amount of energy expended and the environmental impact of actually building the car. Recent studies have shown that this balances out over a relatively short amount of the car’s lifetime.
Another concern is the source of the electricity used to run the car. Clearly, in places where coal makes the bulk of the electricity, electric cars are not squeaky clean. However, it still takes less energy to run an electric car than a gasoline car, so it is still a win.
One place where electric cars are experiencing major growth is in Norway. Last year, one-fifth of all new cars in Norway were electric. Norway makes most of its electricity with hydropower, so its electric cars really are green. In fact, Norway exports clean energy to other European nations.
But people worry that if Norway replaces enough of its cars with electric vehicles, it will need so much more of its electricity that it will no longer export very much, forcing other countries to use potentially dirtier power.
Norwegian scientists looked at this issue and concluded that even if the other nations had to use coal-fired power plants to make up a shortfall in Norwegian hydropower, there would still be a net gain for the environment.
There is no question that if renewable energy sources take over the power grid, the environmental benefits of electric cars would be far greater. But until that happens, they are still a very good idea.
Photo, posted May 5, 2010, courtesy of Mic via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.