No Dream Machine

GM is doing it. Ford is doing. Toyota is on the bandwagon too. All of the major car manufacturers plan to have a plug-in electric car on the market in the next two years. And, each car maker promises their vehicle will be emissions-free and safe for the environment. While, the car itself may not produce “toxins” from a tailpipe… you’re really just transferring them to the power plant. And, by plugging in the car, you create higher demand on an already stressed electric grid.

A recent Dallas Morning News report looked at the new vehicle technology in terms of emissions from a regular gasoline-powered car versus the emissions created from an average Texas power plant.

Thirty-seven percent of the electricity produced in Texas comes from coal. Environmentalists pinpoint carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides found in both coal and gasoline emissions as being the pollutants that contribute to global warming.

As those consumers, the best we can do is make sure we remain a part of the conversation and that we arm ourselves with the facts.
The Dallas Morning News looked at the Chevy Volt Plug-In to compare emissions data. The Volt needs 8 kilowatthours of electricity from the grid to go 40 miles. According to data from the EPA, the Volt will produce about 0.1 gram of nitrogen oxide per mile running on electricity from the Texas power grid. Under tightened EPA nitrogen oxide requirements for gasoline cars, the average new gasoline-fueled car will emit only 0.07 of a gram of nitrogen oxide per mile, making the gasoline-fueled car a cleaner option. One side note, a car running on compressed natural gas would offer just .08 nitrogen oxide emissions.

On the other hand, electric cars offer better results when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions: 164 grams of carbon dioxide per mile traveled on the battery; A gasoline car emits 320 grams per mile.

There’s also the grid itself to consider. Utility companies across the country are already bracing for anticipated demand increase that will be placed on power plants in the next couple of years as electric cars come onto the market.

Just this week in Detroit, DTE Energy Chairman Anthony Earley said systems will have to be upgraded.

“You will see breakers trip, and you will see transformers burn out,” “ Early said, adding that the vehicles’ high cost – around $40,000 – provide a clue to which neighborhoods will need improvements first.

Bottom line? We once again find ourselves in a situation with no quick, inexpensive, simple fixes. Like many things, the electric car is not the magic bullet. It may reduce pollution on the road, but increase it at the power plant. It also creates higher consumption at a time when many say conservation is the answer. Higher consumption will require costly updates to the power grid and those costs could be passed on to consumers.