Sunday, July 3, 2011

Electric cars: Contributing to the coal problem?

An alternative to the internal combustion engine is gaining in popularity, especially with rising gas prices. That alternative is the electric car.  Back in 2009, President Obama, along with Congress decided to include a $7500 tax credit to those that chose to purchase an electric vehicle. In Oregon, Governor Ted Kulongoski included a $1500 tax credit.

While the electric car seems like a practical alternative (other than say, public transportation and “human powered” bicycles), there may possibly be some downsides. While it’s convenient for an electric car owner to plug their car into an outlet in their garage at night, they would be less damaging to the environment if the energy used to charge them came from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric sources, but that’s not the case. In Oregon, home to a world-renown hydroelectric system, the electricity needed at night would most likely come from coal plants, which happens to be one of the dirtiest sources of energy.

There is debate on whether or not electric cars would be contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Some say that using an electric car, even while being charged by a coal powered source would reduce greenhouse gases by one quarter, but others say that unless coal gets cleaner the benefits are negligible.

There are more environmentally friendly alternatives out there, including cellulosic biofuel, which is made from garbage, switchgrass and wood waste and could cut greenhouse gas emission in half.  Another alternative is hydrogen fuel cells, which, depending on how it’s produced can cut greenhouse gases further.

-Wallace Chan            


  1. Oregon's one and only coal plant (Boardman) is currently scheduled to be closed.

    Electric cars can be powered renewable energy. The solar panels on my house create enough energy for 19,000 miles of electric car driving annually.

    You mention several other alternatives. Some of these have promise, but battery powered cars are possible right now. They can reduce fossil fuel use, foreign oil imports, CO2 pollution...

  2. Interesting. I hadn't heard this claim before. Electricity to affect thermal coal? I would be interested to hear any evidence which suggests it does. Angie

  3. The use of sophisticated software systems for coal mining that is mostly burnt for power generation and steel production and adds to the greenhouse effect is valid for western countries who may allocate resources and funds to alternative and more greener sources of power. Some of the alternatives may be "safer" than the traditional mines. Unfortunately, coal market news show developing economies are more likely to increase their use of thermal coal & metallurgical coal in coming years because of its affordability and to meet increasing demands for electricity and steel. Whether they will embrace and utilise sophisticated software systems that no doubt add to the cost of production is yet to be seen. Cherry of