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Debate: Electric vehicles

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What are the pros and cons of electric vehicles for individuals and governments?

Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

An electric car is a type of alternative fuel car that utilizes electric motors and motor controllers instead of an internal combustion engine (ICE). The electric power is usually derived from battery packs in the vehicle.
In general terms an electric car is a rechargeable battery electric vehicle. Vehicles using both electric motors and other types of engine are known as hybrid electric vehicles and are not considered pure electric vehicles (EVs) because they operate in a charge-sustaining mode.

The debate surrounding electric vehicles relates to the general advantages and disadvantages of electric vehicles as compared to other types of vehicles, particularly gasoline-powered vehicles. It also surrounds whether electric cars are a viable component of the solution to the global warming crisis. The debate includes many questions: Are electrical cars clean, 0-emission vehicles? Are electrical vehicles cleaner than gasoline vehicles? How much would they rely on coal-generated electricity? Will cleaner, renewable sources of electricity come on line to supply power to electric cars? Should such cleaner sources of electricity include nuclear and "clean coal". Are electric cars economically viable? If not, should they be subsidized by governments? Can the electricity grid handle an increase in demand for electricity from electric cars? Are electric cars practical in terms of recharging them, performance, and reliability?


Emissions/global warming: Are electric cars helpful in fighting global warming?

Yes

  • Electric cars can slash greenhouse gas emissions A July 2007 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) concludes that, by 2050, broad acceptance of PHEVs could cut up to 6.12 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year—approximately 2.5 times the amount currently emitted by power plants. The study concluded that it is possible for 42 percent of the total U.S. auto fleet to be PHEVs by 2030—and nearly doubles that by 2050.[1]
  • "Clean coal" can generate clean electricity for electric cars. Because coal is the predominant electricity source, it is foreseeable that it will remain a supplier of electricity to electric cars for some time. But, as "clean coal" becomes the norm among the remaining coal plants around the world, coal-generated electricity will be significantly cleaner, and so its use in electric cars will be cleaner as well.
  • Electric cars will get cleaner with more 0-emission electricity sources. "Coal Into Cars: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly". Plugs and Cars 19 Aug. 2007 - "as our efforts to green the grid take effect, and that's happening already, plug-in cars yield even greater reductions in GHGs. And ultimately, you can get no cleaner car than an electric car using wind or solar generated electricity."
  • Electric cars can be combined with regenerative braking systems. Regenerative braking systems generate and store electricity from the action of braking a car. Instead of break pads slowing a vehicle and converting the lost energy into kinetic heat energy, regenerative braking systems slow the car via a generator that converts the lost momentum into electricity. This electricity can help re-charge the battery of an electric vehicle. This system is only available in electric cars because they have batteries that can store the converted energy. These systems increase the energy efficiency of electric cars, which is very important to lowering emissions and fighting global warming.


No

Here's what happens when 500,000 electric cars are substituted for the same number of gasoline-powered vehicles:
    • In Los Angeles, peak levels of ozone are reduced from 200 to 199 part per billion.
    • In New York City, the effect would be virtually undetectable -- leaving peak projected ozone levels at 190 parts per billion.
    • The current safe level is estimated to be 120 parts per billion.
    • An all-electric car fleet would lower peak ozone in Los Angeles by just 10 percent from what it would be given the types of clean gasoline-powered cars of 2010.
  • Electric cars use coal-generated electricity, harm global warming. Coal is the primary source of electricity globally. In the United States, it accounts for 50% of all electricity production. This means that electric cars will rely mainly on coal as their source of electricity. Because coal is the worst emitter of greenhouse gases, electric cars will actually add to the global warming crisis.
  • Electric cars are uneconomical so can't impact global warming. Vinod Khosla, a well-known venture capitalist and one of the most prolific investors in green technologies, said in 2007, "Are electric cars going to make a difference any time soon? No. Are they going to be material? No. If something costs $2,000 more, nobody buys it. It’s not going to be reach the average person in Mississippi. That’s what I call my Mississippi test."[2]
  • Disposing of electric car batteries is an environmental hazard. Manufacturing, use and eventual disposal of lead-acid batteries will inevitably release lead into the environment.


Economics: Are electric cars economical?

Yes

  • Electric vehicles are more resilient to price pressures. Electricity is a form of energy that remains within the continent where it was produced and can be multi-sourced. As a result it gives the greatest degree of energy resilience.
  • Electric cars often achieve 90% energy conversion efficiency. This is over the full range of speeds and power output.
  • Electric vehicles are lighter so require less energy. Electric vehicles are lighter, so generally require less energy to drive the same distance.


No

  • Electric cards are too expensive to be economically viable. Vinod Khosla, a well-known venture capitalist and one of the most prolific investors in green technologies, said in 2007, "Are electric cars going to make a difference any time soon? No. Are they going to be material? No. If something costs $2,000 more, nobody buys it. It’s not going to be reach the average person in Mississippi. That’s what I call my Mississippi test."[3]
  • Electric car batteries are usually very expensive. Batteries are usually the most expensive component of electric cars, though the price per kilowatt-hour of energy capacity has fallen in recent years for the more recently introduced technologies such as lithium-ion and lithium-polymer, as would be expected for any new technology. Older technologies such as lead-acid have become more expensive due to increase in materials cost, particularly lead, driven by demand for use in powered bicycles (particularly in China and India) and in uninterruptible power supplies to support small computer systems.


Electric grid: Are electric cars compatible with electric grids?

Yes

  • Electric cars charge at night when electricity demand is low. Electric cars are typically charged at night time. This is when electricity demand is lowest. Electric cars would, therefore, add electricity demand when the grid is capable of supplying that demand. For these reasons, electric cars may not require any major upgrades to electricity grids.


No

  • Electric vehicles would place great strain on electric grids. Electric cars consume a significant amount of electricity. A major expansion of electric cars would massively increase the amount of electricity demand. This would place great strains on existing electricity grids. Major, costly expansions of the electricity grid would be necessary.
  • Electricity shortages in some regions make electric cars inadvisable There have been electricity shortages in many regions of the world, including the United States. Some of these shortages have resulted in electrical blackouts, such as the 2003 blackout in the northeastern United States. This makes it unadvisable to add such a massive electrical strain to the grid as electric cars.


Batteries: Are electric car batteries viable?

Yes

  • New electric car batteries allow for charging in minutes. In 2007, Altairnano's NanoSafe batteries are rechargeable in several minutes. A NanoSafe cell can be charged to around 95% charge capacity in approximately 10 minutes. This has significant implications for the construction of recharging stations (like refueling stations for gasoline cars); people can drive their cars in and out in a reasonable 10 minutes.
  • Electric vehicles need not be able to quickly recharge. Most people do not always require fast recharging because they have enough time, 30 minutes to six hours (depending on discharge level) during the work day or overnight at home to recharge. As the charging does not require attention it takes a few seconds for an owner to plug in and unplug their vehicle much like a cell phone.
  • Electric vehicles can recharge everywhere the electric grid exists. Electric vehicles can be plugged in at home, in parking garages, at power stations, and essentially anywhere else the power-grid exists. This compares favorably to gasoline cars, which can only be recharged at fueling stations.


No

  • It takes too long to recharge electric vehicles. It can take many hours to recharge an electric vehicle. This is much less convenient than the quick refills that characterize gasoline vehicles.
  • Few utilities can support widespread quick-charging. "The Electric Car Debate Continues". New York Times. 18 Sept. 1994 - "Few utilities can support widespread quick-charging on top of other power requirements during peak demand...refueling an electric vehicle in the same time as a conventional one would require 600 kilowatts, more than 10 times the power at an average house.


Reliability/maintenance: Are electric cars reliable?

Yes

  • Regenerative braking systems reduce break-pedal wear and tear. Instead of braking, it is possible, in electric cars, to engage a generator to slow a car. This reduces wear and tear on break pads, reducing the number of times that brake pads must be replaced.
  • Electric cars are more reliable than gas-powered cars. Electric cars require less maintenance than gasoline vehicles. This is partly due to the fact that electric motors are simpler than gasoline engines. Electric cars, for instance, do not require multiple gears to match power curves. This removes the need for gearboxes and torque converters. This, and the fact that electric cars do not have complicated piston-engines, removes even the need for oil changes.


No

  • Electric car batteries all must be replaced eventually. All batteries die. This means that they must be thrown away and replaced at some point. This can be costly and can entail environmental risks.


Performance: Do electric cars perform well?

Yes

  • Electric car power and speed can be precisely controlled. Electric cars have a very precise energy output controlled by the driver. This compares favorably relative to gasoline cars, which can have more abrupt reactions from the combustion engine through the accelerator.
  • Electric engines provide high torque from rest. Electric cars actually have a much higher acceleration-rate than gasoline cars.
  • Electric vehicles vibrate less for a smoother ride. Because electric cars do not have combustion engines, they have less vibration in the cabin. This produces a greater calm and serenity while driving electric cars.


No

  • Electric vehicles have a limited range. This is due to the low energy density of batteries, compared to the fuel of internal combustion engined vehicles.
  • Electric vehicles take a long time to recharge. It takes many hours to fully charge an electric vehicle battery. This compares unfavorably to the refueling time required by internal combustion engine vehicles.


Social: What are the social pros and cons of electric cars?

Yes

  • Regenerative braking systems reduce braking dusts. This can be used to reduce the wear on brake systems (and consequent brake pad dust) and reduce the total energy requirement of a trip.
  • Electric vehicles produce less noise than internal combustion engines. This is due to the fact that electric motors do not involve combustion in pistons, which produces significant noise. The result is that quite electric vehicles produce a greater silence and calm around streets and in neighborhoods. Freeways with electric cars on them will be much less of a noise disturbance to surrounding homes.


No

  • Silent electric cars can be a safety hazard. Pedestrians benefit from the noise created by combustion engines, which provides greater warning of oncoming vehicles. This can prevent a pedestrian from stepping into a street in front of an oncoming vehicle and getting hit and killed.
  • Lighter electric cars can be more vulnerable in collisions. The key to attaining acceptable range with an electric car is to reduce the power required to drive the car, so far as is practical. This pushes the design towards low weight. In a collision the occupants of a heavy vehicle will, on average, suffer fewer and less serious injuries than the occupants of a lighter vehicle.


Vs. hybrids: Are electric cars a better alternative to hybrids?

Yes

  • Electric cars fight global warming better than hybrids. Dan Lashof, science director of the Climate Center for NRDC, said in 2007, "Next-generation PHEVs can reduce global warming and air pollution much more than regular hybrids—if we’re taking simultaneous action to clean the electric grid."[4]


No

  • Hybrid vehicles do not overburden the electric grid. A major complaint regarding electric cars is that, if they were deployed on a large scale, they would substantially increase the demand for electricity and place a major strain on electricity grids. Plug-in hybrid cars typically balance energy sources between electricity and biofuels. This makes them less daunting for the electricity grid.


Nuclear supply: Should (more) nuclear power supply electric cars?

Yes

No

  • Dirty and dangerous nuclear power should not power electric cars Nuclear power is problematic in many ways. Uranium fuel must be mined, which defaces ecosystems, can release radiation, and requires the burning of fossil fuels. Nuclear energy plants pose radiation risks to workers and communities. And, nuclear power requires disposing of dangerous nuclear waste. Nuclear power, therefore, should not be pursued as a means of powering electric cars.


Foreign oil: Will electric cars help relieve foreign oil dependencies?

Yes


No

  • Electric cars can only replace foreign oil if domestic electricity supply exists. The only way to relieve foreign oil dependencies is if a domestic supply of electricity exists. If this supply is non-existent, than there is no real possibility to power electric cars and move away from foreign oil dependencies.


Oil interests: Did oil interests prematurely end the life of electric cars?

Yes

No

  • GM ended its electric car program because it was unsustainable. "Reality killed the electric car" - "1) General Motors reportedly lost $1 billion or so on the electric car project, which is big money, even by American standards. Although the film ["Who killed the electric car?"] claims that GM had 5000 eager electric car buyers but turned many of them away, it appears that the actual situation was that 5000 people expressed an interest in an EV1, which in a country of 350 million souls, is not all that many. After hearing that the EV1 cost $299-plus a month to lease, could only drive 60-80 miles per charge, and then took between 45 minutes and 15 hours to re-charge, many of the customers lost interest. After the California Air Resources Board repealed its tighter air pollution controls, GM lost interest as well."


Pro/con resources:

Yes


No

External links

See also

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