EV: Cleaner than you think

I’m not sure how I found myself checking the official figures for electricity generation in 2015 on a Sunday evening, but it happened. And it’s very interesting too.

e-Golf headlamps

Electric cars are greener than you think. 

You see, a very common criticism of electric cars is that the fuel still has to come from somewhere, and that often means a coal-fired power station doesn’t it? Well, according to this document, it really doesn’t! In fact, over the whole of 2015, coal accounted for just 22.6% of power generated. The really interesting bit is that renewables accounted for 24.7%. In other words, more electricity was generated from green sources than from dirty ol’ coal.

Sure, gas still accounted for 29.5% to be the overall winner, and that’s still fairly bad, but gas is at least cleaner than coal – both in terms of storage and when you burn it. Power stations can capture the carbon from combustion too, or they could if the Tories hadn’t cancelled a competition looking into such technology back in November. Oh well.

Interestingly, actual electricity generation was down too, though my joy was shortlived. Turns out we were just importing more from France and The Netherlands.

One reason for the renewables boost, apart from more wind and solar farms, is that Drax power station is gradually converting to Biomass operation. That’s good isn’t it? Tree grows, absorbs carbon, you burn it to make heat and out comes the carbon again, to get absorbed by the next generation of tree. This should be carbon neutral.

The only problem is that each burner requires 2.3 million tonnes of Biomass per year, and that’s rather a lot. Apparently, it currently comes from North America, which means carbon emissions from shipping. You also worry about the state of forests having to provide this much fuel.

Still, things are heading in the right direction. For electric cars to be really clean, they need to run on clean electricity. I know hydrogen is touted as the real future, and I agree with Riversimple that it could well be, but I also find something elegant and rather wonderful about pure electric vehicles. I admire the simplicity.

I’m still some way from owning an electric vehicle myself, but the desire has not gone away. It really will happen. I just can’t say when.

3 thoughts on “EV: Cleaner than you think

  1. Not sure if it’s been done before on a production vehicle but could solar panel technology be used to reduce charging times and run less demanding systems in a car such as headlights? The car roof and even the bonnet present a fairly good surface area to the sun and if discrete panels could be integrated without affecting the line of the car this surely could be of benefit? Your EV could be quietly re-charging itself on a sunny afternoon while you do other things. Or, it could ‘top up’ itself while you are driving. Of course I realise this would add more to the cost of EV’s, as if they weren’t dear enough.

  2. Even if coal is used, EVs are cleaner than ICE. Coal -> Grid -> Car is more efficient and produces less CO2 than Petrol or Diesel cars.

    Not to mention, the pollution is not in the city, which helps local air quality massively.

    • Well, there’s certainly a case for that, but you do also need to factor in transmission losses and losses during charging. Certainly, more EVs in our cities can only be beneficial compared to horribly sooty diesels.

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