According to Pierre Kochel, 35% of the cars all around the globe would be running on electricity by the end of the year 2040. It has become really important to know whether the climate of the world would be affected positively or negatively with the increase in number of electric vehicles.
Firstly, we need to know the type of electric vehicles that exist. There are mainly three types of electric vehicles, which are:
• Hybrid Electric Vehicles
• Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles
• All-Electric Vehicles
The following figure shows the types of electric vehicles in comparison to the conventional fuel-based vehicle. The advantages and the disadvantages are also mentioned in the figure [See Figure 1].
Figure 1: Types of Electric Vehicles, Source: Reuters Graphics and U.S. Department of Energy
One of the long-term temperature goals of the Paris Agreement is to not let the average global temperatures to rise above 1.5 – 2 degrees Celsius (Paris Agreement, 2016). Electric vehicles play an important role in it as they do not emit greenhouse gases which are responsible for global warming. So, out of the many reasons, the most important and convincing reason for the progress of electric vehicles is their ability to possibly decrease the amount of global greenhouse gas emissions in comparison to the fuel based conventional vehicles. Another reason which could contribute to the growth of electric cars will be the production of less costly yet higher energy density batteries, which could boost the electric system of the cars. If we only look at the positive aspects of the electric vehicles, we could say that the global climate will be much better, but we cannot run away from the reality.
Even though the electric cars do not directly emit greenhouse gases, but since they run on electricity, we need to make sure what exactly is the source of electricity. In many parts of the world, electricity is still being produced via fossil fuels such as coal. The following figure shows how much each source generated electricity annually [See Figure 2]. The figure clearly indicates that the major source of electricity is coal. More than 8000 Tera Watt hour (TWh) of electricity is being produced by fossil fuels per year.
Figure 2: Electricity generation by each source in TWh/year, Source: IEA, World Energy Outlook, published 2011-2017.
As per the graph, it can be seen that the use of coal for electricity production reached its zenith in 2014. It has then started to decrease because some countries have started focusing on the use of environmentally friendly energy sources, which do not emit or emit comparatively less greenhouse gases.
Moreover, there are some production companies of electric cars such as ‘Nissan’, which are going with the slogan of ‘Zero Emission Vehicle’ for one of their car models. By this slogan, they are giving us an impression that no greenhouse gases emanate from this model of the car. But the question which arises here is that the factories or the production houses where these electric vehicles are being produced, how much environment friendly are they. There have been many studies conducted regarding this, but no conclusion has yet been made.
The website of ‘Carbon Brief – Clear on Climate’ talks about the impacts of electric cars on the climate. According to the website, in comparison to non-electric vehicles, electric vehicles emanate less emissions over their life period. On the other hand, in countries where coal is used as the main fuel, the electric vehicles are of not much importance, and they may cause similar number of emissions as fuel-based cars. There is some ambiguity attached with the production of batteries which are used in the electric vehicles. With the decrease in the prices of batteries, the companies would start using larger batteries which will give greater mileage. They could have a negative impact on the environment, because they have significant impacts during their disposal stage since they contain metals such as lithium, lead, nickel, etc.
Also, it is quite difficult to draw a comparison between the electric cars and the fuel-based one. The following factors should be taken into consideration while comparing the two:
• Vehicle’s size
• Accurate measurements of fuel economy
• Way of calculating emissions.
• Driving patterns
To conclude, I think we should look at both sides of the coin. Electric vehicles should be promoted, and their growth should be accelerated in those countries in which renewable sources of energy are being used, and not fossil fuels. If everyone in those countries begin to drive electric cars, it could be beneficial for the climate. Whereas, in countries like Pakistan in which electricity is not even enough for daily purposes, use of electric cars should not be encouraged. In my opinion, even if everybody starts to drive an electric car, it will not lead to a better global climate, because the emissions caused during the production of electricity would cancel out the positive effect of the electric vehicles.
Farah Khalid is an Environmental Scientist who recently completed her post graduate studies from Forman Christian College (A Chartered University). She made a significant new contribution to the field of wastewater treatment by stepping in the world of bacterial communication on membrane surfaces