Are Electric Cars Really Better For The Environment?

While electric vehicles (EVs) are being positioned as a savior of the planet, some people are raising questions about its highlighted benefits. Criticism may be okay, but it would be a healthy debate only if it is based on facts and not assumptions. Here’s a quick look at some common complaints about electric cars and the facts behind them to better understand if electric cars are really better for the environment.

Polluting power plants

One of the most common complaints is that electricity needed for electric cars and other EVs is ultimately being derived from a power plant. In such case, these power generation plants continue to pollute the environment. This is especially true in case of coal-based power plants that spew voluminous amount of smoke and greenhouse gases in the environment.

While such criticism may seem true, it does not show the complete picture. First, one needs to understand that an electric motor is far more energy efficient in comparison to an internal combustion engine. An electric motor used in an electric car will have energy efficiency of around 80% to 90%. In comparison, internal combustion engines have energy efficiency of only around 35-40%. In essence, an electric car will always consume less energy to travel a particular distance. This automatically makes them more environment friendly than internal combustion engine-based cars.

Another thing to note here is that share of renewables in power generation is consistently increasing. It includes solar power, wind, biomass, hydropower and geothermal energy. When power generated through these renewable sources is used to charge an electric car, it gets us closer to net-zero carbon emissions.

Extensive mining

There are accusations that the shift to electric cars has accelerated mining activities on the planet. An electric car and its battery pack need a variety of minerals such as lithium, graphite, cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese. It is a well-known fact that mining can have serious consequences on the planet such as erosion, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, sinkholes and soil and water contamination.

While these accusations may be true, one should keep in mind that overall impact of combustion engine-based vehicles will be significantly greater than EVs. Also, research is already underway to develop newer battery technologies that will not only be cheaper but also reduce the overall impact on environment.

Pollution from discarded batteries

Critics say that in around two decades, there will be mountains of discarded electric car batteries to deal with. Here too, the accusation only shows the half-truth. Technology companies are working proactively to develop safer ways to dispose old electric car batteries. Advanced methods are being developed that can safely recycle much of the minerals and metals used in battery packs.

Fire safety hazard

Quite a few viral videos can be found on the web, showing electric vehicles going up in flames. This raises questions about the safety of electric cars. While the videos are genuine, such cases are only a small fraction of overall EVs on the road. Moreover, such incidents often occur when guidelines are not followed. We also need to remember that this is the initial stage of a new technology. With time, improvements in technology will help avoid incidents like battery fires.

It is clear from above facts that electric vehicles are less polluting in comparison to their internal combustion engine powered vehicles. It’s true that there are several loose ends in this new ecosystem. However, this is not something new. Every solution creates its own set of problems, which need to be resolved. We will need to look into the environment impact of electric cars and ensure they are reduced to minimum.

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