Climate change: Electric cars can make bigger difference than once believed, study finds

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Electric cars can help combat climate change: study
A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that today’s electric cars can help mitigate climate change – Aug 16, 2016

While there has been some debate as to whether or not electric vehicles (EVs) can make a real difference in combating climate change, a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has concluded that today’s EVs can indeed put a dent in climate change.

The four-year study collected GPS data on second-by-second driving behaviour and integrated data on U.S. travel surveys, resulting in millions of trips.

READ MORE: Tesla Motors to ‘massively’ expand supercharger network in Ontario and Quebec

Electric vehicles may be gaining some popularity, but the study notes that there is still the belief that, due to their limited driving range, the vehicles may be impractical. But the conclusions defy that belief. The researchers concluded that, based on the daily driving habits of most people, an EV would be adequate for about 90 per cent of the U.S. population.

The study specifically looked at the once-daily charging, specifically at night when there would be less of a demand on the power grid. And, rather than use high-end cars such as Tesla’s Model S, the study based it on the Nissan Leaf.

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“Roughly 90 percent of the personal vehicles on the road daily could be replaced by a low-cost electric vehicle available on the market today, even if the cars can only charge overnight,” said Jessika Trancik, the Atlantic Richfield Career Development Associate Professor in Energy Studies at MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS).

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And while EVs may not be adequate on all occasions, such as vacations, the study said that in cases such as these, another car — one that uses the combustion engine — could replace it.

Though electric cars reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, they still need an energy source to charge. And, while some countries are abandoning coal (Ontario was the first province to do this in Canada), much of the energy consumed is produced by facilities that emit CO2.

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“That is one of the major questions: What is the energy coming from?” said Anshuman Khare, professor at Athabasca University. “If the energy producers change their ways, there will be a bigger impact.”

Tesla cars charge at a station in Norway.
Tesla cars charge at a station in Norway. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tore Meek / NTB scanpix via AP

But Trancik said they considered this in their research.

“We’ve looked at the emissions due to manufacturing and life cycle,” Trancik said. “With the current grid, electric vehicles do reduce emissions relative to comparable internal combustion engines. Just because the electric motors are very efficient … in converting energy.”

But Khare also questions what happens at the end of an EV’s lifespan.

READ MORE: Montreal to install 1,000 electric car charging stations

“The question is, how to dispose of cars? How to dispose of batteries [used in EVs]?” Khare said.
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While the widespread use of EVs would certainly make a difference, cities must also take responsibility for making strides in reducing CO2 emissions, Khare noted.

“Cities are more about individual transport; unless we do something about public transport and taking it seriously, we’re not going to make a huge impact,” he said. “It really is a complex issue.”

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