China’s Coal-Powered Grid Negates the Green Benefits of Electric Vehicles

by , 10/11/11

China, Climate Change, co2, Coal, electric car, electricity, Global Warming, greenhouse gases, Transportation, your dot, china electric vehicles, china coal electric vehicles

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.

China, Climate Change, co2, Coal, electric car, electricity, Global Warming, greenhouse gases, Transportation, your dot, china electric vehicles, china coal electric vehicles

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.

+ New York Times

Lead image © August via Creative Commons

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  1. ronwagn April 20, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    China is actually planning on replacing a lot of coal by importing LNG and piped gas plus trying to imitate the American fracking revolution in gas and oil production. It has one million natural gas vehicles,and is way ahead of us in that effort. The whole world is trying to replace coal with natural gas.

  2. electric38 February 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    China’s solar industry will be building hundreds of thousands of consumer owned solar rooftops to alleviate the problem. They will be riding around using the free energy of natural sunshine many years ahead of most other countries. Germany also is building a solar infrastructure (much of it consumer owned) for the superior engineered electric vehicles. Both countries have put tens of thousands to work installing these systems.
    The oil/dirty energy money of the US monopolies will continue to buy politicians and media to bog down our ability to achieve similar goals.

  3. njb311 November 11, 2011 at 6:01 am

    And with four times the population of the US, China still consumes less coal per capita than the US, so I think anyone suggesting the US is less environmentally damaging should go out and learn basic mathematics.

    In densely populated areas where congestion is a particular problem, e.g. in Chinese cities, electric vehicles make a lot of sense because at idle they produce next-to-zero emissions (i.e. just the car’s management systems are running, no motor). This means lower CO2 emissions plus less local air pollution. I’m no fan of coal, but the oft-cited “technology will save us” simply won’t happen (in time) where governments and large corporate interests back fossil fuels so heavily at the expense of investment in clean innovations in energy generation and transformation of the delivery of social wants.

    The other spin-off benefit of China’s development at mass scale is it gets over the early-adopter costs and learnings, that bring about next-generation technologies much quicker.

  4. caeman October 12, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Okay, the electrons came from coal-fired plants. Those plants would be operating anywho. Removing the emissions from car engines is a victory in of itself. This story kinda misses the point of being green…each little piece of puzzle helps.

    If China was able to go 90% electric vehicles, that would be a huge step to centralizing the pollution creation. Controlling the pollution at a few places (power plants) is easier than millions of places (cars).

    It is all a domino effect. The end goal is to be fossil fuel free, yes? Lowering gasoline usage is a step to that.

  5. taciturnforsale October 11, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Aren’t electric engines more efficient than their outdated internal combustion ones? If so, I think it makes them more green friendly, while creating less carbon emissions, coal and all.

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