On April 12, the Biden administration proposed new environmental rules that would essentially force two-thirds of car sales in the country to be electric vehicles by 2032.
Rhode Island is also considering legislation, the “Electric Transportation Act,” that would require all new cars sold in our state after 2030 to be electric. Massachusetts is following California and is requiring all new cars sold by 2035 to be electric.
Emotional reactions aside, does this make scientific sense?
The evidence is clear human actions, specifically the burning of carbon based fuels, are causing global warming. We need to stop burning things for energy if we want to save the planet — and ourselves.
But it’s important to realize “electricity” is not a form of energy. It’s a way to transport and store energy. Electricity doesn’t come out of a hole in the ground or the wall. It must come from some other, primary source. And that’s the catch.
EVs alone are not the answer. The elephant in the room most people don’t want to face is the greenness of EVs depends on how the electricity is generated. In this country almost two-thirds still comes from fossil fuels.
Meaning, in many places an EV generates comparable net emissions to a gas car — effectively a “long tailpipe” back to whatever source generated the electricity.
Rhode Island currently generates about 87 percent of its electricity from natural gas (hopefully this will change in the future as more wind power comes online). Meaning, unless you’re lucky enough to get all of your electricity from home solar panels, an EV here is actually powered by natural gas.
The first thing we must do is transform the electric generating grid to renewables, which could cost the world a staggering $62 trillion (and the US perhaps $10 trillion in today’s inflated dollars).
Hand-waving and wishful thinking about “someday the grid should be green” won’t make it happen.
It will take massive investment. Will consumers pay for this? Because there is no such thing as “government money.” It’s always and only our money.
This must be a global endeavor. It’s irrelevant if the US is totally green if China, India, and the rest of the world still burn fossil fuels for power.
Another issue is lithium. As in, simply getting enough for batteries for all the EVs being mandated. Extracting it is often environmentally destructive, and is imposing an especially heavy price on some Native American and other indigenous peoples, destroying their ancestral homelands.
There are likely solutions for most of these issues — given enough time, money, and research. Science and engineering should dictate the pace of development and readiness, not politicians driven by sound bites and election cycles trying to legislate it into existence.
The real answer must start with sources of electricity, not end uses of it, such as the offshore wind power being developed off of our coasts.
The solutions are complex, expensive, and will take time. There is no simple quick answer for the world’s energy needs. Any means of generating electricity will also have consequences and environmental impacts. There is never a free lunch. But the uncomfortable and unpopular reality is EVs alone will not help the planet much if the electricity is being generated from non-renewable primary sources.
Nick Landekic of Bristol, R.I., is a retired biotechnology CEO and entrepreneur who spent more than 35 years working in the pharmaceutical industry.