The electric car carries the promise of low-carbon transport, but in the world’s largest market for the vehicles, their image is an illusion, Bloomberg observes in a report.
China is home to more electric car companies than anywhere else on Earth, and on track to build more vehicle charging stations over the next five years than the rest of the world combined. Its government wants EVs to constitute 60% of the vehicles on city streets by 2030. But that may not be good for the climate, Bloomberg warns.
“Electric vehicles seem environmentally benign,” the news agency observes. “They’re lightweight, energy-efficient, and potentially greener than their conventional counterparts. But the reality is more complex. Their manufacture entails energy-intensive mining of rare elements, such as the lithium required for their batteries. Their fuel efficiency can make up for that, but only if the electricity is produced in a relatively clean way.”
That proviso points to a needed transition in China that is still not complete. While “the average electric car in the U.S. has just half the greenhouse gas impact of a conventional car over its life cycle,” Bloomberg estimates, China’s heavy reliance on coal to generate electricity means that “both manufacturing batteries and the operation of the vehicle produce more pollution than they would elsewhere.”
In fact, Chinese engineers recently estimated that electric vehicles there generate about 50% more lifetime greenhouse gases, and use 50% more energy, than internal combustion vehicles.