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Debate: Electric vehicles

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Should electric cars be a priority in plans to fight global warming?

Background and context

An electric car is a type of alternative fuel car that utilizes electric motors and motor controllers instead of an internal combustion engine (ICE). The electric power is usually derived from battery packs in the vehicle.
In general terms an electric car is a rechargeable battery electric vehicle. Vehicles using both electric motors and other types of engine are known as hybrid electric vehicles and are not considered pure electric vehicles (EVs) because they operate in a charge-sustaining mode. The debate surrounding electric vehicles relates to the general advantages and disadvantages of electric vehicles as compared to other types of vehicles, particularly gasoline-powered vehicles. It also surrounds whether electric cars are a viable component of the solution to the global warming crisis. The debate includes many questions: Are electrical cars clean, 0-emission vehicles? Are electrical vehicles cleaner than gasoline vehicles? How much would they rely on coal-generated electricity? Will cleaner, renewable sources of electricity come on line to supply power to electric cars? Should such cleaner sources of electricity include nuclear and "clean coal". Are electric cars economically viable? If not, should they be subsidized by governments? Can the electricity grid handle an increase in demand for electricity from electric cars? Are electric cars practical in terms of recharging them, performance, and reliability?

Contents

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Emissions/global warming: Are electric cars helpful in fighting global warming?

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Yes

  • Electric cars can slash greenhouse gas emissions. A July 2007 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) concludes that, by 2050, broad acceptance of PHEVs could cut up to 6.12 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year—approximately 2.5 times the amount currently emitted by power plants. The study concluded that it is possible for 42 percent of the total U.S. auto fleet to be PHEVs by 2030—and nearly doubles that by 2050.[1]
  • "Clean coal" can generate cleaner electricity for electric cars. Because coal is the predominant electricity source, it is foreseeable that it will remain a supplier of electricity to electric cars for some time. But, as "clean coal" becomes the norm among the remaining coal plants around the world, coal-generated electricity will be significantly cleaner, and so its use in electric cars will be cleaner as well.
  • Electric cars can be combined with regenerative braking. Regenerative braking systems generate and store electricity from the action of braking a car. Instead of break pads slowing a vehicle and converting the lost energy into kinetic heat energy, regenerative braking systems slow the car via a generator that converts momentum into electricity. This electricity can help re-charge the battery of an electric vehicle. These systems increase the energy efficiency of electric cars, which is very important to lowering emissions and fighting global warming.


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No

Here's what happens when 500,000 electric cars are substituted for the same number of gasoline-powered vehicles:
    • In Los Angeles, peak levels of ozone are reduced from 200 to 199 part per billion.
    • In New York City, the effect would be virtually undetectable -- leaving peak projected ozone levels at 190 parts per billion.
    • The current safe level is estimated to be 120 parts per billion.
    • An all-electric car fleet would lower peak ozone in Los Angeles by just 10 percent from what it would be given the types of clean gasoline-powered cars of 2010."
  • Electric cars use coal-electricity and add to global warming. Coal is the primary source of electricity globally. In the United States, it accounts for 50% of all electricity production. This means that electric cars will rely mainly on coal as their source of electricity. Because coal is the worst emitter of greenhouse gases, electric cars will actually add to the global warming crisis.
  • Electric cars are uneconomical; can't impact global warming Vinod Khosla, a well-known venture capitalist and one of the most prolific investors in green technologies, said in 2007, "Are electric cars going to make a difference any time soon? No. Are they going to be material? No. If something costs $2,000 more, nobody buys it. It’s not going to be reach the average person in Mississippi. That’s what I call my Mississippi test."[2]


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Economics: Are electric cars economical?

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Yes

  • Electric vehicles are more resilient to price pressures. Electricity is a form of energy that remains within the continent in which it is produced. It is subsequently unaffected by international price fluctuations. This compares favorably against oil, which is entirely subject to international petroleum markets and the whims of OPEC.
  • Electric cars often achieve 90% energy conversion efficiency. This level of efficiency can be achieved over the full range of speeds and power outputs. This is very favorable, saving energy and money.
  • Electric vehicles are lighter so require less energy. Because electric vehicles are lighter, they require less energy to travel the same distance, which means they save energy and money.


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No

  • Electric cars are too expensive to be viable Vinod Khosla, a well-known venture capitalist and one of the most prolific investors in green technologies, said in 2007, "Are electric cars going to make a difference any time soon? No. Are they going to be material? No. If something costs $2,000 more, nobody buys it. It’s not going to be reach the average person in Mississippi. That’s what I call my Mississippi test."[3]
  • Electric car batteries are usually very expensive. Electric car batteries are usually the most expensive component. More recent battery technologies have come particularly expensive. Even older lead-acid batteries have become more expensive due to increases in the material costs of lead.


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Batteries: Are electric car batteries viable?

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Yes

  • New electric car batteries allow for charging in minutes. In 2007, Altairnano's NanoSafe batteries are rechargeable in several minutes. A NanoSafe cell can be charged to around 95% charge capacity in approximately 10 minutes. This has significant implications for the construction of recharging stations (like refueling stations for gasoline cars); people can drive their cars in and out in a reasonable 10 minutes.
  • Electric vehicles need not be able to quickly recharge. Most people do not usually require fast-recharging because they have enough time at night to plug their car in and re-charge. Fast-recharging, therefore, is not a major constraint on the use of the electric car.
  • Electric vehicles can recharge everywhere the electric grid exists. Electric vehicles can be plugged in at home, in parking garages, at power stations, and essentially anywhere else the power-grid exists. This compares favorably to gasoline, hydrogen, biofuel, and natural gas cars, which can only be recharged at fueling stations.


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No

  • It takes too long to recharge electric vehicles. It can take many hours to recharge an electric vehicle. This is much less convenient than the quick refills that characterize gasoline, biofuel, natural gas, and hydrogen vehicles.
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Electric grid: Are electric cars compatible with electric grids?

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Yes

  • Electric cars charge at night when electricity demand is low. Electricity demand is lowest at night time. This is a great time, therefore, for electric cars to charge-up. Electric cars would, therefore, add electricity demand when the grid is capable of supplying it. For this reasons, electric cars will not strain the electric grid and may not force large grid upgrades.


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No

  • Electric vehicles would place great strain on electric grids. Electric cars consume a significant amount of electricity. A major expansion of electric cars would massively increase the amount of electricity demand. This would place great strains on existing electricity grids. Major, costly expansions of the electricity grid would be necessary.
  • Electricity shortages in some regions make electric cars inadvisable. There have been electricity shortages in many regions of the world, including the United States. Some of these shortages have resulted in electrical blackouts, such as the 2003 blackout in the northeastern United States. This makes it unadvisable to add such a massive electrical strain to the grid.


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Maintenance: Are electric cars reliable?

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Yes

  • Electric cars require less maintenance than gasoline vehicles. This is partly due to the fact that electric motors are simpler than gasoline engines. Electric cars, for instance, do not require multiple gears to match power curves. This removes the need for gearboxes and torque converters. This, and the fact that electric cars do not have complicated piston-engines, removes even the need for oil changes.
  • Regenerative braking systems reduce break-pedal wear and tear. Instead of braking, it is possible, in electric cars, to engage a generator to slow a car. This reduces wear and tear on break pads, reducing the number of times that brake pads must be replaced.


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No

  • Electric car batteries all must be replaced eventually. All batteries die at some point and must be replaced. This can be costly and can entail environmental risks.


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Performance: Do electric cars perform well?

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Yes

  • Electric cars can accelerate faster than gasoline cars. Electric cars actually have a much higher acceleration-rate than gasoline cars. This is because they have a high level of torque that has no relation to the thermal curves of gasoline. This is why electric cars do not require gear boxes. And, it should be noted, the need to shift gears slows the acceleration of a car.
  • Electric car power and speed can be precisely controlled. Electric cars have a very precise energy output controlled by the driver. This compares favorably relative to gasoline cars, which can have more abrupt reactions from the combustion engine through the accelerator.
  • Electric vehicles vibrate less for a smoother ride. Because electric cars do not have combustion engines, they have less vibration in the cabin. This improves the driving experience of electric cars.


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No

  • Electric vehicles have a limited range. This is due to the low energy density of batteries, compared to the fuel of internal combustion engined vehicles.
  • Electric vehicles take a long time to recharge. It takes many hours to fully charge an electric vehicle battery. This compares unfavorably to the refueling time required by internal combustion engine vehicles.


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Social: What are the social pros and cons of electric cars?

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Yes

  • Regenerative braking systems reduce braking dusts. Braking dust is a problem in cities, because it has a foul smell, settles on the streets and other objects, and even makes it more difficult to breath. Regenerative braking in electric cars helps reduce these problems.
  • Electric vehicles produce less noise than internal combustion engines. This is due to the fact that electric motors do not involve combustion. Quieter electric cars bring more calm and serenity to communities and cities.


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No

  • Silent electric cars can be a safety hazard. Pedestrians benefit from the noise created by combustion engines, which provides greater warning of oncoming vehicles. This can prevent a pedestrian from stepping into a street in front of an oncoming vehicle and getting hit and killed.
  • Lighter electric cars can be more vulnerable in collisions. The key to attaining acceptable range with an electric car is to reduce the power required to drive the car, so far as is practical. This pushes the design towards low weight. In a collision the occupants of a heavy vehicle will, on average, suffer fewer and less serious injuries than the occupants of a lighter vehicle.


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Vs. hybrids: Are electric cars a better alternative to hybrids?

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Yes

  • Electric cars fight global warming better than hybrids. Dan Lashof, science director of the Climate Center for NRDC, said in 2007, "Next-generation PHEVs can reduce global warming and air pollution much more than regular hybrids—if we’re taking simultaneous action to clean the electric grid."[4]


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No

  • Hybrid vehicles do not overburden the electric grid. A major complaint regarding electric cars is that, if they were deployed on a large scale, they would substantially increase the demand for electricity and place a major strain on electricity grids. By relying on a more efficient use of gasoline and regenerative braking, hybrids do not strain electric grids.


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Foreign oil: Will electric cars help relieve foreign oil dependencies?

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Yes


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No

  • Domestic electricity is required for electric cars to replace gasoline. The only way to relieve foreign oil dependencies is if a domestic supply of electricity exists. If this supply is non-existent, then there is no real possibility to power electric cars and move away from foreign oil dependencies.


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Pro/con resources:

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Yes


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No

See also

External links and resources

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