electric car Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

Should You Buy an Electric Car?

Electric motors are inherently more efficient than internal combustion engines. And, provided the electricity used has a carbon intensity below about 800 grams per kilowatt-hour, electric cars reduce carbon emissions.

NEW DELHI – Passenger cars account for only 8% of total global carbon dioxide emissions, and if you charge an electric vehicle (EV) with electricity generated by inefficient coal power plants, the immediate effect will be increased CO2 emissions compared with driving a modern gasoline or diesel car. So it’s important to stress, as Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, did at Davos in January, that electric cars alone will not avert catastrophic climate change. But vehicle electrification is nonetheless crucial to reducing emissions. If you care about the climate, the next car you buy should be electric.

Electric motors are inherently more efficient than internal combustion engines: while a gasoline or diesel engine typically wastes more than 70% of the energy it uses as unwanted heat, an electric motor turns all but 5% into kinetic energy. And once battery costs fall below $100 per kilowatt-hour – which Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) expects to occur by 2024 – electric cars will not only be cheaper to run, but also cheaper to buy. So EVs will eventually dominate – and far sooner than many projections suggest – whether we care about the climate or not.

Provided the electricity used has a carbon intensity below about 800 grams per kWh, electric cars reduce carbon emissions. In France (with average intensity of about 80 grams), the United Kingdom (about 250 grams and falling fast), the United States (about 400 grams) and even high-carbon Germany (still around 500 grams), electric cars will undoubtedly reduce emissions, provided users avoid charging them at times when marginal intensity is highest.

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