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  • [ May 15, 2013 ]
  • Electric vehicles may be falling short on their positive environmental impact

Electric car sales hit yet another record in 2012, with sales of plug-in hybrid, extended range electric vehicles and electric car batteries rising to a total 52,835 units sold, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA). This is a stark increase from sales in 2011 at 17,735 units sold.  This record shows the U.S. is slowly weaning itself off gasoline and becoming less dependent on foreign oil.

A negative implication from a consumer standpoint is the cost to keep the electric vehicle running. Electric vehicles cost less to operate than the standard gas-powered vehicle, however, some owners find the expensive battery makes the vehicle costly to maintain. According to recent estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids battery prices should drop by between 50 and 80 percent in order to compete with gasoline-dependent cars.

Though saving money on gasoline and reducing dependence on foreign oil is a plus of driving an electric car, there is strong evidence showing that with today’s technology, electric cars are not the answer yet. The biggest issue regarding electric vehicles is their dependence on the power grid, and that the power grid mostly gets its electricity from non-renewable resources.

Howard Shapiro holds the title professor emeritus in mechanical engineering at Iowa State University. Before his current position at Iowa State, Shapiro was living in the heart of the auto industry in Detroit. There, he wrote an op-ed piece explaining why electric vehicles don’t make sense right now. When Shapiro’s piece finally landed in the Detroit Free Press after a few declines to publish, the article struck a nerve. “Most people were concerned about job creation, and that my opinions were against job creation,” he says.

Shapiro says his problem with electric vehicles winds down to the power grid, where the electric car gets the electric charge. In his piece, he writes:

“I am neither a politician nor an economist. I am an engineering professor. So, I know how things work and what we can and cannot do technically. I also know that no matter what we try to do through public policy, the laws of thermodynamics cannot be repealed. Based on these natural laws, all-electric cars just don’t make sense. Objective analysis shows that gasoline hybrids fare much better than electric cars.”

What Shapiro hopes to point out, is that by using the power grid, “we are less efficient than the best hybrid gasoline cars. So, until we generate the majority of our electricity renewably, we are actually having a worse effect on the environment with all electric cars than with highly efficient gasoline cars,” he says.

Shapiro’s feelings toward electric cars are backed by research. In November 2012, The Victorian Electric Vehicle Trial found when electric cars get their charge from electricity generated by coal, there is a higher production of carbon emissions compared to the emissions of a petroleum-fueled car.

Shapiro hopes to see the electric car debate turn from an issue of politics to an issue of science. The professor says that if electric vehicles can get their electric charge from a renewable energy source, their impact on the environmental will be less detrimental. When explaining electric cars, Shapiro simply says, “They just don’t make sense…yet.”

People commonly mistake the different types of electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles to all be the same. Check out our infographic to understand the differences between energy-efficient vehicles.

Sources: Electric Car Sales Hit Another Record, Forbes

Electric Drive Sales, Electric Drive Transportation Association

Michigan Academician: Electric Cars Make No Sense, EvWorld.com

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