Electric vehicles haven’t been selling very well in China, the largest car market in the world, despite government efforts and incentives that aim to put 5 million electric eco cars on the roads of the Middle Kingdom by 2020. Californian Tesla Motors wants to change that with its Model S.
Having more electric vehicles will improve the statistics and transportation goals, but won’t probably help the environment very much. The reason is that China produces around 70 percent of its electricity from coal – coal that is even dirtier than elsewhere, due to China’s slow adoption of new emission-control technologies in its powerplants.
University of Tennessee research showed that electric eco cars in China produces roughly the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions par mile as conventional gasoline car. Moreover, electric vehicles come out even worse in dangerous particulate emissions.
But as in other countries, production of electricity is cleaner in some places than in others. While northern parts of China rely on mostly on coal, central and southern China has significant hydroelectric production.
The graph below shows estimates of greenhouse emissions from production and use of electric car of the size of Nissan Leaf. Estimates for U.S. cities does not include emissions coming from the production.
Even if not helping the environment in overall in China, electric vehicles could help to clean the smog-filled Chinese cities. Most of city pollution is caused by fine particulate matter that come from car exhausts. Electric eco cars don’t have any exhaust and tail pipes.
Obviously, this improvement in cities will be at the expense of rural areas, where large portion of powerplants are located. And since electricity production from coal creates far more particulates than burning gasoline, electric vehicle in China may have as much as 19 times the emissions of these dangerous particles compared to conventional petrol cars.
Beijing plans to gradually clean its power generation by investing in nuclear power and renewable energy. But by any estimated, China will still make large portion of its electricity from coal in any foreseeable future, making electric eco cars relatively dirty.
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