I don't own an electric car -- truth be told, I fear that my driving days may be in the past -- but I like the idea
of an electric car. That is why I'm infuriated by this inane piece
in USA Today, which claims that electric cars create just as many emissions as traditional engines.
Can you spot the flaw in this reasoning?
Electric cars' global-warming benefits are small. It is advertised as a zero-emissions car, but in reality it only shifts emissions to electricity production, with most coming from fossil fuels. As green venture capitalist Vinod Khosla likes to point out, "Electric cars are coal-powered cars."
Of course, electric car proponents would venture that the perceived rapid ramp-up of renewables will make future electric cars much cleaner. This, however, is mostly wishful thinking. Today, the U.S. gets 14% of its electric power from renewables. In 25 years, Obama's Energy Information Administration estimates this will have gone up just 3 percentage points to 17%.
First of all, the Energy Information Administration projections cited by USA Today are certainly wrong
. Second, all such projections are based on "if present trends continue" reasoning, which doesn't account for either a technical revolution or for a political decision to remake our energy infrastructure. In this country, we are still subsidizing fossil fuels -- and we have yet to announce a plan to go in a new direction.
We can, we should and we must do better than 17% renewable energy. We need to clean up our energy act.
The fact is, it will be much easier to implement cleaner forms of centralized electricity production than to fill our highways with substantially cleaner non-electric cars. The latter goal is probably impossible, while the former goal is in the difficult-but-doable category.
Nobody knows where or when the next alternative energy breakthrough is going to occur. We may get a happy surprise in the fields of biomass, fuel cells, geothermal, tidal power, wind power, or solar power. We may even discover a much safer form of nuclear power.
Although no-one ever called me an optimist, I feel confident that the heroes of science will come up with a truly revolutionary way to implement one or more of these approaches to renewable energy. I wish I could tell you when that day will come, but I can't.
But I can tell you this: We can "clean up" the way we make electricity a lot more easily than we can clean up the ungodly system used to propel my old Ford minivan. Yes, a Tesla is a polluter when you plug it into an outlet that gets energy from a power plant that burns fossil fuels. But the same Tesla instantly becomes a non-polluter when it plugs into a source of electricity produced by solar panels or a hydroelectric dam.
So let's accelerate the transition to electric cars. Let's create better batteries. Let's create a national "charging station" infrastructure. Let's make it easy and convenient for electric car owners to recharge their vehicles while having lunch at a diner on Route 66. And let's spend what we need to spend on R&D in order to make cleaner electricity production a reality.