If any other country in the world was to announce plans to get 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, it would be a massive environmental victory — except in China. Despite the Chinese government’s major EV drive (no pun intended), it is expected to barely make a dent in the nation’s CO2 emissions due to the fact that China’s grid is largely powered by coal burning plants. China is infamous for the smog that surrounds many of its major cities, and while it is hoped that the electric cars (and use of bicycles) will reduce it over time, the country’s reliance on fossil fuels is likely to cancel out any impact.
The New York Times this week published a graph by Lucia Green-Weiskel, who has worked in China for the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation and co-authored a report on the country’s electric vehicles. She explained that electric cars actually produce more CO2 than petrol fueled cars as the national grid is powered by coal.
“Electric vehicles are often propped up as the key technological innovation to solve the global climate crisis. But in coal-dependent China, electric vehicles can actually have a larger carbon footprint than their traditional internal combustion engine counterparts,” Green-Weiskel stated. “Electric cars are only as environmentally friendly as the electricity grid from which they pull their energy. In China, those grids aren’t very clean. China produces about 37 percent of the world’s coal, and consumes roughly three times more coal than the US on an annual basis. According to the State Bureau of Statistics, 80 percent of electricity in China is generated from coal with contributions from hydro at 17 percent, nuclear 2 percent and ‘wind and other’ at a measly 0.7 percent.”
Despite China leading the solar power industry in recent years, it has a long way to go to actually make a difference and wean off its coal dependency. While the US still consumes a lot of coal, it goes a lot way to supplement with hydro, nuclear, natural gas, wind and solar projects. As a result, only 45 percent comes from dirty coal, almost half of China’s use.