A collection of Op Ed articles on the web


By: Nicolas Carnot

L.A. Commuters and all taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill for an expensive experiment. Electric vehicles are being billed entirely on the basis that they are zero emissions, but in actual fact, their use could double emissions.

California law requires that 2 percent of vehicles sold in 1998 will be so called "zero emission". This number increases to 5 percent in 2001 and 10 percent in 2003. So far the only vehicle type to be dubbed zero emissions are electric and as you will see this is a fraud. Incentives are being considered, mostly at tax payer or employer expense, to encourage people to used EVs are sales tax and license-fee exemptions, free parking, free charges at work, etc.

Electric car proponents have persuaded the President and Congress to form the United States Advanced Battery Consortium and fund it with 130 million of tax payer money to try to solve serious battery problems by the 1998 dead line.

Environmentalists all over the country are heralding electric vehicles as clean air vehicles. But are they really environmentally sound? The facts speak differently. It's true that an electric car as zero tailpipe emissions, but the power that propels an electric car has to come from someplace. It comes from the power generating plants usually located in the same smog laden area.

What are the true emissions of an electric vehicle? No one seems to know, not even the California Air Resources Board. It depends a lot on the fuel used in the generating plant. We can get a pretty good handle on it by estimating the fuel consumed because the emissions of any vehicle can related to the fuel used per mile. In other words, a car that will go 20 miles on a gallon of fuel, will produce more emissions than a car that will go 20 miles on a gallon of fuel.

The actual fuel consumption seems to be a carefully guarded secret. In my research of technical papers for the last ten years, I have never seen published all the data in one paper which would allow a person to determine the answer. But by comparing the overall efficiency of the electric vehicle to an equivalent gas vehicle, I have found the answer. The engine in a late model gasoline powered car has an efficiency of approximately 45%. This means that 45% of the total energy available in the gasoline is converted to power to move the car. On the other hand, the best efficiency of a modern electric generating plant is about 30%. This wouldn't be bad if that were usable in an electric car. It has to be transported through wires to where it is going to be used. You have to charge the battery and you have the efficiency of the motor. All of these combined reduce the efficiency of the electric vehicle to about 13%

So an electric vehicle will consume roughly 3 l/2 times as much fuel as an equivalent gasoline powered vehicle, driving the same course at the same speed and performance. This actual fuel consumption is hidden by the fact that it takes place at the public utilities power plant. Very attractive mileage figures are often quoted for electric vehicles but what is left out is that the performance at such mileage is so low as to be dangerous and unacceptable to most drivers.

Now what about emissions? According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District in their "Air Quality Management Plan of 1989," on road vehicles in the South Coast Basin produce 578 tons per day of reactive organic gases, and 620 tons of nitrous oxide, both of which are considered ozone precursors, and 4,752 tons per day of carbon monoxide. Stationary sources (power plants) produce 17 tons per day of reactive organic gas, 254 tons per day of nitrous oxide, and 67 tons per day of carbon monoxide. For illustration, let's pretend that half of the vehicles on the road today were electric. That means that emissions for on road vehicles would be half the amounts stated above. This sounds good. But electric power plants now have to generate enough power to supply those vehicles, and burn not just an equivalent amount of fuel but 3 l/2 times that amount of fuel. In doing so, they will produce 3 l/2 times the emissions quoted above, assuming power plants will have roughly the same emission profiles as on road vehicles.

So if half the vehicles were electric, on road vehicles emissions would be reduced to 289 tons per day of reactive organic gases, 310 tons per day of nitrous oxides, and 2,376 tons per day of carbon monoxide. Emissions from power plants could be expected to increase to 1028 tons per day of reactive organic gases, 1,339 tons per day of nitrous oxides, and 8,383 tons of carbon monoxide. Total emissions would increase from l,246 to 1,985 tons per day of reactive organic gases, from 1,040 to 2,069 tons per day of nitrous oxides, and carbon monoxide would increase from 5,430 to 11,437 tons per day. Even with complex cleaning of power plant stack gases, wholesale conversion to electric vehicles in the southcoast basin today will have a devastating effect on air quality.

No one who lives and commutes in the LA basin would deny that something must be done to reduce smog emission. But it will be very disappointing if in 15 years, after having undergone an expensive conversion to electric vehicles we find that this conversion actually increased the smog that we have to breathe. And I wonder where the politicians that are advocating this today will be in 15 years? Will they stand up and say I caused this?

We need to take a careful and intelligent look at what steps are being taken to reduce emissions, and will they really achieve the desired goals.

The only true "zero emmissions" vehicle

This is the exhaust pipe for all electric vehicles