THE LONG TAILPIPE MYTH
Images – Courtesy of Google Pics
The Myth: “Electric vehicles have a “long tailpipe” because they still run on fossil fuels, and therefore offer no benefit to the environment. They just move the emissions elsewhere, from the car’s tailpipe to a power plant’s smokestack.”
In a word……Wrong. An electric vehicle produces less pollution — greenhouse gas emission and local air pollutants — than their internal combustion engine counterparts.
Last month I tackled battery misinformation, or in some cases lack of information around electric vehicles. How battery development has led to the latest discoveries that allow them to last longer than ever before and how most of us don’t understand the fact that the battery in your electric car in most cases will last the life of that car. As a follow up this month I thought I’d talk more about the environmental concerns of EV’s and try to clear up what some see as a debate, but which is really proven science to all but the most adamant deniers regarding the viability of electric vehicles as a green transportation solution.
There is a story ….out there…..somewhere…..which says EVs are dirtier to operate than conventional cars and it’s perhaps the oldest myth about EVs in existence. It was first debunked decades ago,. Climate change deniers and fossil fuel advocates however still trot it out now and again as ‘new science’ unfortunately, so it keeps resurfacing. It has even earned its own nickname and it goes by the fallacy of “the long tailpipe.”
So….. if I have an EV do I need a long extension cord?…
Even though in the United States and other developed countries a significant portion of electricity is still generated by fossil fuels, (coal and gas power about 70% of America’s electricity grid) which emit greenhouse gases and other air pollution, EVs charging off of the electric grid throughout the country are still cleaner and emit less pollution. A gas-powered motor, according to the US. Department of Energy has an efficiency falling somewhere between 17.5 and 20%, not very good. A lot of the energy produced by a car engine gets turned into heat instead of power or torque.
A generating station using oil or gas like BELCO for example, because of its size and it being designed for large scale continuous performance typically runs at an efficiency approaching 55-60%. That said, today we in Bermuda are almost totally dependent on BELCO’s fossil-fueled powered electric production* (currently wind and solar provide about 2.4%), but even so we can still benefit from electric vehicles. First, an electric motor is very efficient (65-90%). So by using electric-powered vehicles, we are producing considerably less environmental damage than we would be driving one with an internal combustion engine.
In fact, according to the latest analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) because of where its electricity is sourced an EV could be said to emit about the same amount of greenhouse CO2 as a gas-powered car that gets 100 mpg…. which clearly does not apply to any ICE cars where the average is only 25 -30 miles per gallon, and 40 in a best case. They went on to say that even in the absolute worst-case scenario an electric car that charges off of a ‘dirty grid’ …one that uses ONLY for example coal, that electric car would be comparable to a regular gas-powered car that can get 80 miles to the gallon, and that is the absolute worst-case scenario.
In the year 2020, it is forecast that for the first time renewable energy will pass coal as the largest contributor to powering the electric grid in the United States. We truly are witnessing a watershed moment when the largest industrialized country tips to renewables’ …and this is being done despite the best efforts of the fossil fuel industry to stop it, and the primary reason for it is not that its the environmentally responsible thing to do …its because its cheaper.
The future’s so Bright…..I gotta wear shades….
And It only gets better. The future plan from Bermuda’s Energy regulators would have us move to a more renewable resource-friendly platform over the next number of years.
As we do move to cleaner forms of energy, wind and solar for example, our electric cars only get cleaner, which can’t be said for a regular internal combustion engine. It never gets cleaner. This alone makes “The Long Tailpipe” myth a fallacy of logic known as false equivalence. That’s where two things may on the surface seem to be the same or equal, but upon a closer examination, it becomes obvious that they aren’t. Anyone who has seen the ‘rainbow effect’ on our roads of the oil scum that is being washed away after a downpour has no illusion that even though we may be hundreds of miles away from the mainland air pollution in Bermuda is still a real thing. When the Island does embrace wind and solar as proposed we will be in the enviable position of being able to drive around our beautiful island home powered by nothing but nature.
I also get the whole Hybrids, both plug-in electric or parallel / extender questions thrown into the “what about this green solution” scenario. But really, in my opinion, I think the question should be: are hybrids a worthwhile stepping stone to fossil fuel independence or are they a hindrance to full early electric transport migration? I think it could be a post all its own…. So I think I’ll leave that for a future column.
The bottom line is that EVs emit fewer greenhouse gases than their gas-powered equivalents, regardless of where and how they are charged. Period. That is no longer in debate. This doesn’t even get into the improvements in local air quality, which is obviously enormous, given that EVs don’t even have tailpipes…. Let alone long ones.
Authors note: For its analysis, the UCS included both the generation of electricity and the refining of petroleum, so that is was a true apples-to-apples comparison (otherwise known as “well-to-wheels”) for both types of vehicles. The researchers also used an average efficiency EV and a sales-weighted average for EVs to determine the national average.
Special thanks to…
Also thanks to the DESMOG Project
And Mark Renburke – you can often catch Mark’s articles on the website: Koch vs Clean