ELECTRIC CARS: POLLUTE LESS, SAVE MORE: Fact or Myth?

Written by Omid Badie, Published on Car Smart Eletter, 2018-04-09


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Electric vehicles are positioned as being more environmentally friendly and less expensive to operate as they cut down your spending at the gas station - two very worthy reasons to consider buying one of these instead of a regular gasoline-powered vehicle.

But are these vehicles really more environmentally friendly and do they really save you money? Before we look at the merits of these claims, let’s be clear on the alternatives out there:

Electric Vehicles (EVs) – Powered completely by a battery and electric motor. They are charged by plugging into the grid. Since they do not burn gasoline or diesel fuel, these vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) – Powered by gasoline and electric energy stored in a battery. These can be plugged in to the grid to recharge the battery and will use the gasoline motor to power the vehicle when the battery is low or more power is needed. When compared to conventional gasoline powered vehicles, these produce lower tailpipe emissions.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) – Usually referred to simply as hybrid vehicles. These are powered by a battery that charges through regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine. There is no need to plug into the grid to charge the battery. Like, PHEVs, these vehicles produce less tailpipe emissions, but they do not perform as well as PHEVs.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) - Mixes hydrogen fuel with oxygen from the air to generate electricity on the go. The only emission from these vehicles is water vapor

So, let’s look at the two original stated benefits:

REALLY MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY? The information above tells us clearly that these cars produce less tailpipe emissions, so, yes they are, if you only look at that aspect. One very important aspect that often gets overlooked, however, is how the electricity that charges these vehicles is generated. If the province’s electricity grid is powered by coal, for example, the emissions from the power plant will be far worse than any tailpipe emissions from gasoline powered vehicles. So, if you look at the well-to-wheel green effect, then the environmental benefits are completely dependent on where you live.

For example in an area where electricity is mainly produced using nuclear power, natural gas and biomass, there is very little polluting involved in the generation of electricity and driving these types of cars is very environmentally friendly – especially if they rely more on electric power than a combustion engine.

If, however, you live in an area where the electricity is generated by coal, then the more electric the vehicle, the more pollution is involved when looking at the big picture.

FCEVs seem to be most environmentally friendly and the way of the future. Hydrogen can be pumped at a station – like gasoline. Even though the first FCEVs in Canada will be delivered in Quebec by Toyota this year, the infrastructure is not yet in place across the country to support these cars.

REALLY SAVE YOU MONEY? Certainly, there can be no argument that your gasoline expenses will go down no matter which of these vehicle types you choose. However, it is fair to expect that your electricity bill will rise at home if you are charging an EV or PHEV.

Further, given your location, the price of electricity is just as volatile as that of gasoline. You have to remember that all levels of government rely heavily on the income from gasoline taxes. If fewer people are driving gas combustion engines, then this will hurt tax revenues.

Provincial and federal governments already see the writing on the wall. With the dramatic rise in hydro rates that we have already experienced, we believe various levels of government are putting measures in place to steadily raise hydro rates to compensate for the future loss of gas tax revenues.

While we, at Automall Network, like the idea of and support the move to cleaner energy vehicles, the conversion to driving an electric vehicle may not be as easy on our pocket books in the long run as the pundits may lead us to believe.


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