Everyone’s talking about it – ‘save the planet, drive a hybrid’ or ‘electric cars, they’ll stop global warming.’ But surely the focus is in the wrong place, since none of these cars are actually green.
Toyota and Honda were first with well-engineered petrol-electric hybrids. And now Nissan plans to launch its all-electric ‘Leaf’, with other makers to follow.
But are they the answer? They’re quite efficient it’s true, partly because they’ve been optimised to death, but mostly because they have regenerative brakes. Dumping the long-lived tradition of wasting all that braking power (as heat), they recover significant energy, storing it to propel the car round town.
But hybrids still burn fossil fuels, emitting noxious gases into the environment. Ok, maybe not in the city, but certainly on the motorway.
Electric cars aren’t so ‘green’
It’s even less clear with so called ‘emission-free’ electric cars. The electricity powering them has to be generated somewhere, and that’s more likely to use fossil fuels than renewables.
Again, the emissions are simply transferred to a different place. Out of sight, out of mind? And even this ignores the inefficiency of moving electricity round the grid.
Then there’s the inconvenience. You only get about a quarter of the range (90-100 miles) of a conventional car – no match for modern needs. And filling a conventional tank takes minutes, compared to several hours to recharge an electric car.
It’s like reverting back to a coach and horses – the animals’ (batteries) limitations set the pace and every so often you have to wait for them to recover.
When will electric cars be truly ‘green’?
What’s the answer? Vastly bigger capacity batteries with a shorter charge time? Or a way of ‘changing the horses’ – swapping the battery pack in an instant?
Sure, all those clever engineers should focus on maximising efficiency. All cars should have regenerative braking, efficient power-trains and sound aerodynamics. But we need an urgent effort before electric cars are truly viable:
- Renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro-electric and hydrogen) to generate serious sustainable power.
- Better batteries or giant capacitors to let us store more energy and recharge faster.
- And while we’re reliant on fossil fuels, we need practical ‘carbon capture’ – instead of pumping pollution into the atmosphere, we should store it in tanks (yes, that means no exhausts) and empty it as part of our motor’s routine service.
- Why not even remove chimneys from power stations and pump the waste back to where it came from (into the earth’s crust)?
Until these eco goals are met, electric cars and their hybrid cousins will only ever be ‘green’ when compared to their traditional predecessors – the common petrol car.