Case study: The Boom of Green Cars
"Dieselgate" was a turning point which had many people turn to electric vehicles as a more environmentally friendly option of driving around. But in some respects, green cars can be just as bad for the environment as traditional cars. So what can we make of this? Green cars don't emit climate-damaging greenhouse gases or health-harming nitrogen oxide. They are quiet when they run and are easy to operate. Electric vehicles seem to have a lot of advantages over cars that run on gasoline or diesel. Green cars offer a quick solution to two societal needs: reaching national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling air pollution in city centers. Nevertheless, the overall carbon footprint of a battery-powered car "is similar to that of a conventional car with a combustion engine, regardless of its size." This was the conclusion of a 2011 study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) in Heidelberg. Controversy? Let us find out!
Recommended for: high school students, university students, adults
Tags: environment, sustainable development, cars, transportation, pollution
The impact of transport on air pollution is continuously rising. But this is caused by developments outside the transport sector itself. Pollution caused by industry and the energy sector have fallen significantly, which has led to the rise of the nominal share of transport in total pollution. Most of it comes from road freight transport, where there are growing calls for improving its efficiency. Pollution from transport is mainly due to engine combustion, which is how nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and the particularly hazardous human dust particles (PM) are produced. They are a product of the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbon fuels, especially diesel. When dealing with fuel, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also released from car tanks and from incompletely burned fuel. All-electric vehicles (EVs) produce zero direct emissions, which directly helps to improve air quality in urban areas. However, EVs typically produce fewer life cycle emissions than conventional vehicles because most emissions are lower from electricity generation than from burning gasoline or diesel.
Each year we see more and more electric passenger cars being sold -- both pure battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Although sales are increasing rapidly in percentage terms, they still constitute a relatively small fraction of the total sales numbers. We estimate that only around 0.15 % of vehicles on the road are electric (2019). Or put in another way, just one out of every 700 passenger cars. One important country to mention is Norway, which leads the way in terms of electric car sales. Last year, around 34 000 new electric vehicles were sold there -- corresponding to one in five of all new cars.
Even though electric cars may be seen by many as a solution for the future´s environment protection, there are still some who see in electric cars more negative effects than benefits. When you visit the resources in this building block, you will find information supporting both views. Which one are going to add your voice to?
Why in some countries electric cars appear to have more impact on the environment than in others? What is behind this strange difference among countries? While electric cars don't emit exhaust fumes, they do use batteries which can emit toxic fumes. Also, most electricity used to power electric vehicles is still, in many countries, generated from non-renewable energy sources, which can have a negative impact on both our health and the environment. See the differences, decide for yourself!
What is the European policy on electric vehicles? The EU is committed to decarbonising its transport systems and supporting alternatives to conventional combustion engine technologies and fuels. Electric vehicles are just one element in this policy. Some policy strands encourage the development of renewable fuels and energy, others aim at the infrastructure needed for expanding the use of electric vehicles such as recharging points across Europe. Specific pieces of legislation set targets for how much carbon dioxide (CO₂) new vehicles can emit per kilometer. These have helped incentivise manufacturers of low-emission vehicles, including electric cars. An example policy could be to establish low-emission restriction zones in some big city. How can we evaluate such a policy proposal? What is the reason for it being put forward? What are its expected consequences What other plans for the future are there?
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