The Hidden Cost of Electric Vehicles

by | Oct 21, 2009

HondaInsightAlthough electric vehicles show higher non-climate damages than many other technologies, they will not be significantly cleaner than cars powered by fossil fuels until they rely less on electricity produced from coal-fired power plants, according to new research from the National Research Council, reports Reuters. Despite the finding, Japanese automaker Honda is considering a move into the electric vehicle market in the U.S., Europe and Japan.

Jared Cohon, the chair of the National Research Council report told Reuters that the power fuel mix has to move away from coal, or clean coal technologies must be developed for electric vehicles to become a major green alternative.

According to the study, Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use, about half of U.S. power is generated by coal-fired power plants, which emits more of traditional pollutants, such as particulates and smog components, than natural gas, and about twice as much of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, reports Reuters.

Cohon also told Reuters that nuclear and renewable power would have to generate a larger portion of U.S. power for electric cars to become much greener compared to gasoline-powered cars, and advances in coal burning, like carbon capture and storage (CCS) could also help electric cars become a cleaner alternative to vehicles powered by fossil fuels.

The report estimates that damage to human health cost $120 billion in the U.S. in 2005, primarily from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation, according to the report.

Electric cars can also have hidden costs, according to the study. Materials in electric car batteries are hard to produce, which adds to the energy it takes to make them, and the health and environmental costs of making electric cars can be 20 percent greater than conventional cars, reports Reuters.

In addition, emissions from operating and building electric cars in 2005 cost about 0.20 cents to 15 cents per vehicle mile traveled, in comparison to gasoline-powered cars, which cost about 0.34 cents to 5.04 cents per vehicle mile traveled, according to the report, said Reuters.

The report estimated that electric cars could still cost more to operate and manufacture in 2030 unless U.S. power production becomes cleaner, reports Reuters.

Possibly changing its strategy for fuel-efficient vehicles, chief executive Takanobu Ito of Honda Motor Co. said he would consider launching electric cars in the United States, Europe and Japan, reports Reuters.

Honda has been a strong supporter of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, writing off plug-in electric cars as a short-range option that uses too many expensive batteries, according to Reuters.

Honda now believes slow progress in setting up hydrogen fuelling stations could limit the sale of its fuel-cell vehicles, and that it may need electric vehicles to meet tough regulations in California, according to Reuters.

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