California’s Battery-Powered EVs Could Increase Emissions

COMMENTARY Renewable Energy

California’s Battery-Powered EVs Could Increase Emissions

Aug 31, 2022 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Diana Furchtgott-Roth

Director, Center for Energy, Climate, and Environment

Diana is director of the Center for Energy, Climate and Environment and the Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow.
Come 2035, California residents will have to shop elsewhere for new gasoline powered vehicles. Michele Ursi / EyeEm / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Although Teslas and Ford F-150 Lightning pickup trucks might be fun to drive, these new purchases might not be reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Those concerned about greenhouse gas emissions may also be worried about the negative effects on the environment of mining for battery components.

Until electricity can be generated by emissions-free power, battery-powered vehicles will generally increase, rather than reduce, emissions.

Come 2035, California residents will have to shop elsewhere for new gasoline powered vehicles. On August 25, the California Air Resources Board voted to require that all new cars sold in the Golden State from 2035 and 70 percent of cars sold from 2030 be battery-powered electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen fuel cell, which CARB considers to have zero emissions.

The stated rationale: these cars produce fewer carbon emissions than cars with internal combustion engines; emissions contribute to global warming; and global warming “poses a serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources, and the environment of California.”

Everyone loves battery-powered electric vehicles, especially when gasoline is over $3 or $4 per gallon. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) tweeted that everyone should get an electric car. But although Teslas and Ford F-150 Lightning pickup trucks might be fun to drive, these new purchases might not be reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving the planet.

Batteries Use Fossil Fuels for Charging. The latest research shows that electricity for battery-powered vehicles is coming from coal and natural gas, rather than renewables. If battery-powered vehicles were to be charged with emissions-free energy, then emissions from transportation could perhaps be reduced. But solar, wind, and nuclear are generally fully used for other purposes, and additional sources of energy to meet electricity demand come from fossil fuels and hydropower. As I have written elsewhere, the mix of fuels turned on and off to meet additional demand is not the same as the mix used for total electricity production. Until emissions-free fuels are common enough to have a net environmental benefit, battery-powered vehicles will not reduce emissions.

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Producing Batteries Results in Emissions. Seventy percent of the world’s electric batteries are produced in China, and 83 percent of China’s energy comes from fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The longer the range of the battery, the more carbon is used in the production process. Kelly Senecal of Convergent Sciences has calculated that carbon emissions to produce a battery for a Nissan Leaf were equivalent to driving a BMW 320d for 24,000 miles. For a larger Tesla Model S battery, carbon emissions used in production are equivalent to driving the BMW 320d for 60,000 miles. In addition, transporting batteries from China to the United States uses emissions, but the magnitude is more difficult to calculate.

Mining Battery Ingredients Causes Environmental Damage. Those concerned about greenhouse gas emissions may also be worried about the negative effects on the environment of mining for battery components. Such mining disrupts the land in low-income countries, such as cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where abuses have been documented by Amnesty International. Lithium is another crucial component of batteries, and China, Chile, Argentina and Australia are home to potentially damaging lithium mines, according to the Institute for Energy Research.

Battery-Powered Electric Vehicles Are Impractical and Expensive. Pure battery-powered vehicles lack sufficient range to satisfy most customers. Although 60 to 70 miles of range is enough for most trips, people buy cars for all circumstances, including vacations and cold weather. Those heading out on vacation this Labor Day weekend will worry about finding charging stations along the highway, as well as lines to charge cars. If it takes 30 minutes to charge, and two cars are ahead, that’s a break of one-and-a-half hours. Add a few irritable kids, and the experience becomes a disastrous way to begin a vacation.

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In most large cities, such as New York City, many do not have access to indoor garages for overnight charging. Using charging stations on the street, if available, risks theft of expensive charging cables.

The economic well-being of low-income Californians might be harmed by having to purchase more expensive vehicles. Battery-powered electric vehicles cost more than gasoline-powered equivalents. Ford’s base model F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck costs $46,974, and its gasoline-powered twin costs $32,000.

California’s actions generally send ripples eastward, as other states adopt Golden State policies. But until electricity can be generated by emissions-free power, battery-powered vehicles will generally increase, rather than reduce, emissions, and make travel more inconvenient and costly for drivers.

This piece originally appeared in Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/dianafurchtgott-roth/2022/08/29/californias-battery-powered-evs-could-increase-emissions/?sh=6eef902825da