Everyone knows that cars and trucks contribute hugely to greenhouse gases. They burn fossil fuel like there’s no tomorrow – and if they keep burning the stuff, indeed there will be no tomorrow.
So, the argument goes, the electric-powered car is supposed to ride in and save the day. No more petrol or gasoline – whatever you chose to call it. No more diesel. Just pure, clean electricity, the green branding would have us believe.
But as anyone with a smidgen of value chain awareness knows, the electricity has to come from somewhere. That place far more often than not is a coal or gas-fired generating station.
So if tomorrow morning we woke up and a transportation fairy had miraculously replaced all our conventional vehicles with electric vehicles (EVs), how much of an impact would that have on our carbon footprint?
According to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the footprint would actually increase in the case of any EV drawing electricity from a coal-fired plant.
You could call it a proviso to the EV green charter. The BBC carries a good summary of the report, noting, “in regions where fossil fuels are the main sources of power, electric cars offer no benefits and may cause more harm.”
A quote straight from the report claims, “It is counterproductive to promote electric vehicles in regions where electricity is primarily produced from lignite, coal or even heavy oil combustion.”
Given Europe’s current power mix, EVs would trim “global warming potential” by between 10 percent and 24 percent there – not bad, but not the panacea that EV campaigners would lead us to believe. The benefit would be less in heavier coal-reliant regions, like China.
Okay, so the report, which first appeared in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, comes from Norway, a land that draws riches by feeding the oil pump and where one would not be surprised to hear chants of “long live the internal combustion engine.” (The report indeed concludes that we’d be best served environmentally by improving the efficiency of conventional engines rather than shifting to EVs.)
But there’s obviously another option: Long live nuclear power, which can provide CO2-free electricity required to drive EVs into an environmentally sound future.
But not nuclear power as we know it. Rather, bring on the alternative reactor designs and fuels that can mitigate so many of the concerns posed by conventional nuclear post-Fukushima. Technologies like molten salt and pebble bed reactors, and thorium fuel, among others, that can offer efficient, failsafe, meltdown proof, waste-light alternatives.
We can’t offer you a transportation fairy here at the Weinberg Foundation. But we can offer to pull back the curtains on the significant work around the world on alternative nuclear.
Watch this space tomorrow, for instance. We’ll tell you how 135,000 pebbles can help.
Photo: Tesla Motors, via Wikimedia.