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Electric cars: solution or problem?

Long time, no blog! Been busy buying and moving into my house, but I’m settled (ish!) now.

I was talking to my brother over Christmas about environmental issues and it got me thinking about electric cars and personal transport. I thought I’d use this lunchtime to do some research.

A quarter of the emissions produced in the UK are from transport (131 MtCO2). 58% of total transport emissions coming from passenger cars alone. (source). So, almost 15% of UK emissions come from cars.

Electric cars are, in and of themselves, completely clean: zero emissions, just a battery pack. We need to look at the bigger picture, though: how much power do they use, and is it cleaner overall? Where is the power coming from? How will it effect how people use cars?

My brother’s point was that, if we don’t produce power here, we’ll just but it in from elsewhere, weakening the UK. I think he’s probably right, but I would contest that a greater investment in renewable energy is the way forward, rather than coal fired plants.

My brother also suggested that producing electricity is as dirty as an internal combustion energy. This article (source) indicates that the amount of pollutants generated by fossil fuels to produce this electricity may actually be roughly equivalent to the emissions of a personal vehicle. I’m a bit skeptical about this: I can’t help thinking that few large engines to produce power are better than everyone having their own combusion engine; at least ground level city pollution would be greatly reduced. It is clear, though, that an electric car is not truly zero emission.

This brings me on to wondering whether renewable sources (wind, solar, tidal, hydroelectric) can contribute further. I’d heard word-of-mouth that wind power was not that efficient, but then I found a source which debunks many of the myths about wind farms. Significantly, a wind farm “will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within 3-5 months of operation. This compares favourably with coal or nuclear power stations, which take about six months.” The site is well referenced with strong evidence of research from reputable sources so I’m inclined to believe it. I think people are much too quick to dismiss such methods.

On to the knock on effects. To myself, a life long non-driver for mainly ethical reasons, buying an electric cars makes sense, but apparently the manufacture of a car is it’s greatest damage (I find this difficult to believe, and haven’t seen any stats to support this) so switching from a working car is probably environmentally unsound in the short term. The most distressing possibility, though, is that building efficient vehicles may well actually cause harm. This article makes the point that increased efficiency leads to increased consumption.

I applaud the effors of anyone trying to make lower emission vehicles, but I’ll stick with my bike for the time being.

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