Electric car infrastructure -- are electric cars really the answer?

By Litany Webster, Staff Member

Manufacturers of electric cars, such as Nissan and Ford, are only supplying the initial roll-out of new models to cities they deem fit for the electric lifestyle. The top three factors considered by the manufacturers when reviewing cities are (1) whether there are a large number of hybrid owners, (2) whether the electric cars will be accepted, and (3) whether there is sufficient public policy and utilities. Julie Wernau, Chicago gets geared up for electric vehicles, Chicago Tribune, August 23, 2010, http://www.chicagotribune.com/classified/automotive/ct-biz-0824-electric-cars-new-20100823,0,5131217.story.

Considering the amount of money that will be invested in establishing sufficient infrastructure in these cities to charge these vehicles and reduce the fear of power outages and “range anxiety," it still must be determined whether these cars actually reduce pollution since they are powered by coal plants. While electric cars themselves eliminate the need for fossil fuels, coal plants are still necessary to generate the electricity to charge them.

Nevertheless, there are several advantages to the electric car over gasoline models. First, since coal-powered generation plants are large-scale operations they can boast efficient designs to reduce the amount of emissions compared to the smaller internal combustion engine designs of gasoline powered vehicles. Further, coal plants are single-point sources of pollution, which allows for easier clean up by regulating the smoke stacks instead of controlling millions of tailpipes. Finally, generation of electricity is not limited to coal. Renewables can be used, such as wind and water, to generate electricity to fuel the electric cars. As renewable energy technology is expanded the electric car may one day create low emissions or no emissions, while its gasoline powered counterparts are limited by their combustion engines. Why are electric cars considered green when they use electricity from coal to power them?, DIY Solar Panels Review, June 18, 2010, http://power-shift.org/why-are-electric-cars-considered-green-when-they-use-electricity-from-coal-to-power-them.

Overall, the electric car does provide many environmental advantages over the inferior gasoline models, especially as future renewable technology is created. Yet, there is still fear that the money spent on providing infrastructures to make electric cars a practical option is fruitless, if another so called “green” car is found to be more efficient and once again leads to the fall of the electric car. The risk is only multiplied due to Toyota’s and GM’s continued work on hydrogen vehicles. Larry Greenemeier, The Great Electric Car Quandary: How to Build a Charging Infrastructure Before Demand Grows, Scientific American, August 14, 2009, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=electric-car-quandary.

However, amidst all this risk and uncertainty one thing is for certain, Kentucky is not likely to see any of the initial electric car models due to our failure to meet the primary factors set forth by electric car manufacturers.