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Electric cars: Friendly to the environment, or not so much?

October 12, 2012
Electric vehicles can help reduce harmful greenhouse emissions, but a new study suggests that, without cleaner sources of electricity, the environmental benefits would be limited.
Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology embarked on a detailed assessment of the likely environmental impact of electric vehicles compared to conventional vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.
The scientists found that, judging by the likely global warming impact, switching to electric vehicles would be counterproductive in places where power is mainly produced from burning coal or heavy oil.
Even when electricity is derived from relatively clean gas, the scientists write, “only limited benefits are achieved.”
In addition to dirty sources of power, the environmental advantages of electric vehicles are dampened by the global warming impact of manufacturing them, which is about twice the comparable impact of conventional vehicles. Cleaner power and long-lasting electric vehicles are key, the study implies, lest the world just trade one set of problems for another.
Absent a cleaner power mix, the scientists write, “a more significant reduction in GWP [global warming potential] could potentially be achieved by increasing fuel efficiency or shifting from gasoline to diesel” in regular vehicles.