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"Power mix" in China as of 2008  (Source: Environmental Science and Technology)

Elon Musk
However, study fails to account for certain critical aspects

Excitement and interest about electric vehicles is at an all time high.  With luxury makers Fisker and Tesla automotive creating high end EVs; and GM (2011 Chevy Volt) and Nissan (2011 Nissan LEAF EV) creating electric vehicles for the masses, the movement appears to be picking up momentum.

If EVs can conquer the market, they promise to make massive shifts both in economics and power dependence.  When considering these changes, it's important to both avoid "greenwashing" (embracing solutions that on the surface seem green, without examining their true environmental impact), while at the same time avoiding holding these technologies to a higher standard than their traditional counterparts.

new study [PDF] by America's Argonne National Laboratory and China's Tsinghua University claims that EV adoption in China could lead to some dire consequences.  Namely, it claims that a switch to EVs in China could double nitrogen oxide emissions of Euro III gasoline vehicles and increase sulfur dioxide emissions three to ten-fold, while providing no substantial decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.

The authors say the key problem is China's reliance on dirty electrical power -- coal plants lacking modern scrubbers and other cleaning technologies.  The study argues that if China's power industry transitions to cleaner power sources, the perspective may change.

However, the study has some serious flaws.  Chiefly, it fails to account for emissions created by extracting, transporting and refining crude oil.  Thus the true picture is not so clear.

Other problems with EVs are more straight-forward, though.  Price is one key issue.  EVs' base price, barring government subsidies remains quite high.  That has lead companies like Tesla Motors to require multi-million dollar venture capital transfusions to stay alive.  

And at least in Tesla Motor's case the funding may no longer be pouring in quite as readily.  According to recent divorce proceedings, Tesla Motors CEO and co-founder Elon Musk reports "I ran out of cash."  It appears that Tesla won't be obtaining a lot of funding from Musk in the near future.  Granted, Musk, who founded the venture commercial spacecraft start-up SpaceX as well has a different definition of "broke".  He spends approximately $200,000 a month, though he makes less than that.

Of course, even if Tesla can't rely on Musk, it does have a likely lucrative new deal with Toyota to produce a joint electric vehicle for the masses.

Outside cost, other issues are also worth noting, though.
 
Virtually all EVs utilize lithium-ion batteries to store their charge.  While lithium deposits are sufficient to support worldwide EV adoption, slow extraction will likely cause prices to remain high.  Another key issue is that EVs and hybrids use much more rare Earth metals than traditional vehicles.  As China controls over 95 percent of these elements, the switch to EVs may dangerously shift the worldwide economic balance in China's favor.

That said, EVs do provide some compelling advantages.  Namely, when paired with clean power sources like nuclear fission, fusion, or solar power, they can reduce net emissions.  And the EV industry is spurring a new wave of battery improvements that could benefit a vast variety of industries, including the computing and mobile devices market.



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Nuclear power
By bildan on 5/31/2010 6:35:06 PM , Rating: 2
Nuclear is the only option on the table. Solar and wind can never meet the expanding demand for electric power. Yes, it has problems but none as dire as coal.

If not nuclear, it will be coal. The anti-nuke types have to wake up and smell the coffee.




RE: Nuclear power
By lelias2k on 5/31/2010 7:04:59 PM , Rating: 3
Never say never... ;)


RE: Nuclear power
By wuZheng on 5/31/2010 7:05:03 PM , Rating: 2
I would figure its less of a problem in China to go nuke, in fact they're jumping all over that stuff. Public opinion against anything the government proposes? Pffft, you will get nuclear power whether you like it or not. Which is actually something I'd wish they would do here for nuclear, this "environmental/ecological" debate is getting ridiculous.


RE: Nuclear power
By zaki on 6/1/2010 9:49:19 AM , Rating: 2
agreed...with the EXCEPTION of something dramatic happening in solar power, like harvesting in space.


RE: Nuclear power
By adiposity on 6/2/2010 6:10:33 PM , Rating: 2
I can see it now, space elevators alongside giant space power conduits.


RE: Nuclear power
By ValorMorghulis on 6/1/2010 10:49:01 AM , Rating: 1
I personally consider myself an environmentalist and I am in favor of nuclear fission power. Particularly the smaller self-contained fission reactors like Toshiba's 4S. Unfortunately, at some point we will run out of Uranium and if we switch over to nuclear power entirely it won't last very long. Eventually we will need not only a clean power source, but one that is renewable.

Nuclear fission can be a stopgap, but it won't last forever.


RE: Nuclear power
By Keeir on 6/1/2010 5:13:51 PM , Rating: 3
Yep, your right. Nuclear power could only provide the entire world's current power output for hundreds of years. (Even with increasing power needs, Nuclear could provide 80%+ of power for more years than since the "discovery" of electricity)

Yes, there is only so much Uranium in the world. But Uranium isn't the only material that can be used in Nuclear Power Plants.


RE: Nuclear power
By monkeyman1140 on 6/2/2010 12:40:01 AM , Rating: 2
Nuclear is no panacea, we are running out of uranium too. Manufacturing nuclear weapons uses nowhere near as much uranium as energy production does.


RE: Nuclear power
By Samus on 6/2/2010 2:16:10 PM , Rating: 2
I appreciate the fact that somebody mentioned this. Some reports indicate there is as little as 50 years of Uranium left to mine on the planet.


RE: Nuclear power
By elukac on 6/2/2010 10:30:14 AM , Rating: 2
Nuclear is not, and never will be, clean.
I would recommend you to read the [Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security] study by Mark Z. Jacobson.
http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/PDF%20...

Regarding the relation between nuclear power and CO2 emissions, the study is a compilation of no less than 103 previous studies on that topic. The end result is that on average, nuclear is emitting 24 times more CO2 per KW than wind energy (yes, that's 2400%).
The hidden CO2 in nuclear energy production comes from mining, enrichment, transport and waste disposal as well as construction, operation, and decommissioning of the reactors.
Even not mentioning the intractable problem of storing the nuclear waste, it can't be a good idea.

Ultimately, nuclear is a fossil energy as any other. At the current consumption rate, the uranium will be depleted in around 30 years. Rushing to build many new power plants is financially wrong as the return on investment could never be attained.
I don't say there is an easy solution, but nuclear doesn't make sense environmentally or financially.


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