Coal Powered Cars in 2021: The Truth about Electric Vehicles
There’s no doubt that technology marketed as green and environmentally friendly has made tremendous leaps in the last decade. Solar, wind, and hydro are just a few areas that have seen unprecedented growth and investment, with China investing over 1% of their GDP into renewables each year since 2015, and the United States investing as much as 60 billion U.S. dollars in 2019 alone. Consumers have had huge success in their efforts to influence companies as well as governments across the world to adopt more green policies, from the United States Postal Service being pressured to go fully electric, to Norway incentivizing electric vehicles for their citizens so aggressively that 80% of new vehicles in 2020 were electric (compared to 2% in the United States).
It seems like no technology has had such sweeping worldwide attention as electric drivetrains and batteries, largely thanks to companies such as Tesla, Nio, and now even Ford and GM. The electric car, able to travel over 400 miles on a single charge, and able to travel anywhere in North America without running into a zone that lacks charging capabilities, has fully captured the attention of those who’d like to quit going to the gas station for good. It seems like an obvious choice for those that want to limit their impact on the environment: gas is bad, and electricity is good.
But are electric cars actually more economical than contemporarily powered gasoline ones? As someone who drives a hybrid electric which can get up to 55 miles on a charge (and uses gas thereafter), the question was important to me. I have the ability to use electricity nearly exclusively, as my commute is less than 55 miles round trip, or to use gas if there’s a reason to do so. The car in question—Chevy’s Volt—gets between 45-50 MPG with the gasoline engine, which makes the case for electric much harder to make.
I had to ask myself a few questions—namely, where does my electricity actually come from? That depends largely on what state you’re in—but in Arkansas, where I lived for most of my life, nearly 70% of the electricity I was using was actually generated by coal. I thought I’d bought an electric vehicle, powered by solar panels or hydroelectric energy—but what I’d really done was buy a coal powered vehicle, which was powered indirectly through a toxic and wasteful process that turned coal into electricity and then ran it through the powerlines and into my home, where I charged my car.
Electric cars are marketed as vehicles that reduce your emissions, benefit the environment, and help to reduce climate change. But the truth is, depending on where you live and where your state generates its energy, running on electricity can actually be the worst thing in the world to do, not just for the environment, but also for your pocketbook.
After leaving Arkansas to move to Massachusetts, where nearly 70% of the electricity is generated through natural gas and the prices can be as high as 22 cents per kilowatt (compared to 10 cents per kilowatt in Arkansas), I had to face the fact that my electric vehicle had gone from a coal powered car to a natural gas powered car. I also realized it was actually more expensive to run on electricity compared to simply filling it up with gas. With the cost of a full charge being nearly $4.05, and my range from said charge being anywhere from 45-55 miles, filling up with $2.70 gasoline would simply get me further per dollar. (55 miles for $4 with electric, compared to 75 miles for $4 with gas).
It seems to me like the conversation around the push for more vehicles to be electric should expand to include important questions such as where is our electricity coming from? And how expensive is it to generate electricity here? The truth is, a 250CC motorbike, purchased brand new for $5000 and capable of getting over 80 MPG, is tremendously more economical than any electric vehicle in the world sold today. And in nearly every state in America, a Toyota Prius is far cheaper, greener, more cost effective, and better for the environment than an electric vehicle. In a world where more and more people want to go green, it seems like more and more companies will continue to profit off our desire to reduce our carbon footprint—even if their business practices actively do the opposite of what they preach.