Date
25 July 2017
The electricity that powers China's electric cars has to come from somewhere, and in virtually all cases, it's from coal-fired plants. Photo: Bloomberg
The electricity that powers China's electric cars has to come from somewhere, and in virtually all cases, it's from coal-fired plants. Photo: Bloomberg

Why electric cars could worsen smog in China

Carmakers have been jumping onto China’s green car bandwagon, but ironically, instead of reducing the widespread problem of smog, electric vehicles (EVs) could worsen it.

That’s because most of the electricity that powers EVs comes ultimately from coal-fired plants, and the country’s slow switch to greener production of electricity is being outpaced by the adoption of green cars, Reuters reported.

Volkswagen AG plans 15 new-energy models over the next three to five years, the German carmaker’s China chief told a green car conference in Beijing last weekend, predicting, like the government, that Chinese production of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles would grow almost six times to two million  a year by 2020.

At the same event, BYD Co. Ltd.’s chairman told media the Chinese carmaker’s sales of EVs would double in each of the next three years.

The government has been promoting EVs to cut the smog that frequently envelops Chinese cities, helping sales quadruple last year and making China the biggest market for them, the finance minister said at the conference.

New-energy cars make up less than 1 percent of passenger vehicles, but the segment’s growth raises their potential to worsen smog.

Studies by Tsinghua University show EVs charged in China produce two to five times as much particulate matter and chemicals that contribute to smog as gasoline-fueled cars do. Hybrid vehicles fare little better.

“International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn’t need to rely on electric vehicles,” Los Angeles-based An Feng, director of the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation, was quoted as saying.

“Clean up the power plants.”

China plans to convert the national grid to renewable fuel or clean-coal technology as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2020.

That will speed up the green impact of electric vehicles, environmental science professor Huo Hong at the elite university was quoted as saying. But that goal will be “really difficult to achieve”.

Tsinghua’s studies call into question the wisdom of aggressively promoting vehicles that the researchers said could not be considered environmentally friendly for at least a decade in many areas of China unless grid reform accelerates.

Qin Lihong, president of startup electric carmaker NextEV, was quoted as saying cleaning the grid would be the quickest route to clear skies.

“It’s much easier for society to make hundreds of power plants better than change the hundreds of millions of cars in thousands of cities,” Qin said.

– Contact us at [email protected]

FL

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe