Electric vehicles may be one of environmentalists’ favorite eco-options, but they aren’t helping China clear its smoggy skies. To the contrary, they’re actually part of the problem, as their expansion in recent years has raised demand for coal-fired power plants and increased the air pollutants those plants produce. Reuters reports:
A series of studies by Tsinghua University, whose alumni includes the incumbent president, showed electric vehicles charged in China produce two to five times as much particulate matter and chemicals that contribute to smog versus petrol-engine cars. Hybrid vehicles fare little better.
“International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn’t need to rely on electric vehicles,” said Los Angeles-based An Feng, director of the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation. “Clean up the power plants.” [. . .]
Tsinghua’s studies call into question the wisdom of aggressively promoting vehicles which the university said could not be considered environmentally friendly for at least a decade in many areas of China unless grid reform accelerates.
Greens would have you believe that electric vehicles are by nature environmentally friendly, but that glosses over an important point: how the electricity used by those cars is produced. In China, coal is going to be the cheapest option more often than not, and while the recent effort to get more EVs on the road might save emissions at the tailpipe, it is increasing localized air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired plants. According to this new research, these EVs actually have a net negative effect on Chinese air quality.
This serves as a timely reminder of the dangers of buying into green hype. Many of the policy prescriptions they’d have governments champion have unintended consequences or, as is the case here, don’t actually accomplish the environmental achievements that they claim. It’s not enough to incentivize electric vehicle purchases with tax breaks. To really make this a effective policy, you need to green the power supply itself and make sure the grid can handle the new, cleaner energy sources. None of that is easy, and, especially, it’s not cheap, but embracing this approach halfway has put China in a position where new cars are actually making its deadly smog worse.