Thursday, December 9, 2010

Electric Cars... Gasses, Emissions, Pollution, Oh My!

Woo hoo!! Thanks to Chevrolet (ew, gross...but that's another story) and Nissan, electric cars are almost here!! Say HELLO! to a cleaner, greener Sunday drive..... or so we thought. Are these "green"mobiles really as "green" as we think?
President Obama, liberal Dems, and the Hollywood elite are goo-goo-ga-ga over the upcoming releases of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. So much so that they're practically ramming them down America's throat, criticizing any- and everyone who doesn't blindly jump on board. But have we - or they - seen the whole picture when it comes to how "green" they truly are? Not so much. Is the push for electric cars just another thing the government is trying to shove down our throats (Obama wants a million+ on the road by 2015) without full disclosure of its entirety (think Nancy Pelosi: "We have to pass the bill so you can see what's in it")? Who knows....but is it a serious enough issue that we should probably explore all the facts before accepting and embracing it? Yep. Does the fact that someone questions the true cleanliness of electric cars mean they hate the environment? Nope. In fact, Cher - one of Hollywood's MOST elite - said herself that the supposed "green"liness of electric & hybrid vehicles (think Toyota Prius, car of the entertainment gods) are .... well..... a word I won't repeat here. And here's why she's right.
The idea of a mass-market vehicle that runs on clean energy and reduces our carbon footprint is great in theory, but we may be rushing into cleaning one dirty toe of our footprint at the risk of further soiling another. On the surface, a rechargable battery operated car appears to be the perfect emissions free solution to the problem of environmentally unfriendly internal combustion engines that have been the only source of powering vehicles since their birth. But while the electric car itself may be commendably clean and "green" in its operating form, to fully assess their true environmental impact we must not only examine the cars themselves, but follow their trail of power from the lifetime usage, maintenance, and disposal of batteries to the power plants that supply the electricity used to charge the cars. And oh yeah, do you know the Chevy Volt also requires gasoline in order to run? The same evil, dirty gasoline the electric car is supposed to replace... (uh...?).
Anyway, unfortunately, there haven't been many studies conducted on the true environmental impact of the batteries that power the new generation of electric cars because they simply haven't been around long enough. Sooo you're off the hook on that one, manufacturers. There has been extensive research, however, on the environmental impact of the plants that will provide the power to charge (and charge and charge and charge and charge) the cars' batteries. And it's a little ugly. So what's being hidden behind what we're being told? Well, I'm glad you asked. Let's break it down:
1. OhMahGah! SO convenient!!
**You can charge your electric car just by plugging it right in to a power outlet at home! ........ For 10-12 hours before you can actually drive it anywhere... unless you install a charging station ($2000+) which cuts charging time to roughly 4 hours (keep in mind..still 6-8 hours)... And at full charge, you'll get an average of less than 50 miles. That's to work and back for a LOT of Americans. And if you work more than 25 miles from your home, you better hope there's an outlet near your parking space...and make sure you charge it for the entire workday so you can make it home... If you're in the Volt, it starts running on gas when your 50 miles are up, so you aren't stranded.... if you're driving any other electric car, well... don't forget your AAA card.
2. Sure, they're a little more expensive, but gov't subsidies / refunds / rebates drastically reduce the price. And think of all the money you'll save on gas!!
**Hmm... ... $40,000-ish (I'm being lenient) + gov't subsidies of $7,000 per car = $33,000....for a compact car... I'm no math major, but with the Ford Focus, Chevy Cobalt, Honda Civic, and Toyota Corolla all starting in the $15,000s, "affordable" apparently means twice the cost. And all that money you'll save on gas? Don't forget; you'll still be buying gas for the Volt, and then there's the issue of sucking electricity out of your wall socket for AT LEAST 10-12 hours a day, so whatever money you save on gas is now spent on your power bill.
3. Electric cars don't pollute the environment like gasoline-powered vehicles...
Ok, sure. Buuuuut, what happens to the environment while your car is charging? In a perfect world, our cars would operate on perfectly clean batteries charged by perfectly clean power that came from perfectly clean sources (ie renewable or nuclear). HOWEVER... 55% of America's energy is derived from coal and oil, which we all know isn't exactly clean. California, for the most part, is the only state that operates mostly on cleaner forms of energy production. One state. Woo. Were the rest of the country running on the same, the electric car concept would make total sense. But it isn' it doesn't.....(and there's an additional flaw there that I'll get to in a minute). Based on the current sources of electricity in America, the Dept. of Transportation determined under their standards of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) that gas-powered cars actually run CLEANER than electric.... funny, I haven't heard that reported anywhere. The only time this isn't the case is when the power comes from natural gas; then the cars' emissions decrease by about 40%. But very few homes are powered by natural gas in America, so this statistic becomes moot. So, moving along to that additional flaw, remember how I said if the rest of the US relied mainly on renewable energy like California, the electric car concept would make total sense? Nope. Another let down... The thing about renewable (and nuclear, by the way...TOGETHER they account for only 1/4 of America's energy) energy in any form is that it takes MUCH longer to generate than coal, yet is used up much more quickly....meaning once the energy powers "routine tasks" there is none leftover for charging cars (study published in Scientific American). So basically this means electric cars will be powered by coil & oil energy....and according to the US General Accounting Office, a German study on such concluded that when electric cars are powered 100% by coal & oil, they emit 150% more carbon dioxide, 250% more nitrogen oxides, and (wait for it...........) 2400% more sulfer oxides than gas-powered cars.
Aren't we jumping the gun a little? Wouldn't it make more sense to first develop the kind of clean of energy that will charge the car, and THEN put the car on the road with the confidence that we are helping, not harming, our environment? After all, we didn't quit riding horses just because Henry Ford had an idea to build a car. We developed the car, then gave up the horse. So develop the clean energy, then give up the gas. Otherwise, the solution is worse than the problem.
How 'bout them apples? Must be red ones, 'cause they sure aren't green.