Research Essay on Electric Vehicles



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Eduardo Alvarez

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Research Essay on Electric Vehicles

As we become more aware of our damaging effects to the environment, we continuously try to resolve these issue by making environmentally friendly changes like recycling and reusing products, ride a bike instead of driving, replant more trees, and so on. Some companies have taken the initiative of making vehicles that will not pollute. Tesla motors, for instance, has created a way to reduce oil consumption and air pollution by creating all electric vehicles. These vehicles are a possible answer to the need to reduce the negative impact on the environment by using electricity stored in batteries instead of fossil fuels that pollute the air. Yet some argue that electric vehicles or EVs for short, pollute more than or equivalent to conventional vehicles since fossil fuels are needed to generate electricity to recharge the battery, thus negatively affecting the environment. Advocates for electric cars also argue to save the customer money by not having to refuel the vehicle with expensive gasoline frequently. As we expect the depletion of oil soon, it seems as though EVs could be the better alternative form of transportation and leave a positive impact on the environment. Electric vehicles also provide more car efficiency since more of the energy from the electric motor goes into moving the vehicle than compared to its other competitors. It is difficult to differentiate what is true and what is false. Some argue that electric vehicles do more harm than good. This leads to my question: Are electric vehicles a better alternative when it comes to improving the environment and what other impacts do they pose?

Environmental researchers continue to debate the issue of whether electric vehicles can leave a positive impact on the environment and the country as a whole. In his article, “Life Cycles Analysis and Environmental Effect of Electric Vehicles Market Evolution in Portugal,” João Ribau writes that electric vehicles can be a possible clean, efficient new form of transport for Portugal since it can reduce CO₂ emissions, as stated in the quote: “The electric vehicle penetration in Portuguese [Light Duty Vehicle] fleet is expected to reduce the air pollutant emissions especially local emissions” (Ribau 552). In other words, if these commuters drove electric cars instead, then that is when we will see the significant reduction of pollutants that Ribau talks about. He also talks about how Portugal imports lots of oil and how using EVs can reduce the amount of importation of oil thus freeing itself from oil dependency (Ribau 552). Ribau claims that the increase use of EVs could possibly liberate countries like Portugal from oil dependency and at the same time leaving a positive impact on the environment.

David C. Holzman challenges the argument of EVs being a “clean” and efficient vehicle in his short article, “When It Comes to Electric Vehicle Emission, Location Matters”. He writes that EVs do not release combustion emission but rather the energy needed to generate electricity to recharge EVs, like power plants, do release emissions (Holzman A230-A231). Countries that depend so much on natural gas, oil, or any other older, emission-causing forms of fuel to generate electricity are the most affected by emissions since more of it is needed to generate more electricity to recharge EVs (Holzman A231). Holzman brings up China as an example since they burn coal to generate power, which is a cause of few deaths due to pollution. The reason he brings up China is because if they implemented the use of EVs, there would be even more pollution from power plants just so that more power can be generated to recharge EVs. Clearly, his argument demonstrates that electric vehicles can be as harmful as gas power vehicles depending where there are being used and how much emissions from power plants release to generate more electricity to power EVs.

Ed Begley, Jr. opposes the argument mentioned before about power plant pollution caused by an increase in EVs. In his book, Living like Ed: A guide to the Eco-Friendly Life, Begley Jr. explains how people can make environmentally friendly changes in their life. He argues that EVs are usually charged at night, when power is not at their peak hours and it is easier to control pollution from one power plant than from millions of commuters (Begley, Jr. 67-69). Begley Jr. brings up a good point since many are not using that much power compared during the daytime hours (67-68). He explains how the nighttime would be the best time to charge an EV since some power plants generate more electricity at this time, which is basically wasting generated power. Also the fact that car owners need to pass smog checks, but when they do not pass they can easily bribe a mechanic into passing the test (Begley, Jr. 69), thus making it harder to control pollution of a million commuters. His argument demonstrates that EVs are not necessarily bad for the environment.

Several articles about how EVs can leave a positive impacts into the environment and possibly into the infrastructure. Ed Begley Jr., an expert on making positive changes in the environment, explains in his book, Living like Ed, that electric vehicles will not release emissions as long as the source for their power (the power plants) do not pollute (65). Another scholar who resonates with what was just mentioned before is Don Anair, a senior analyst and engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists who was mentioned by David Holzman in his article, “When It Comes to Electric Vehicles Emissions, Location Matters.” Don Anair claims that, “It is important to remember that electric vehicles are only as clean as the electricity that charges them, and a clean energy future includes both electric vehicles and a cleaner electricity grid” (Holzman A231). Also, Liv Xinying writes in his article, “Environmental Impacts of Electric Vehicles in South Africa”, that “the major advantage of electric vehicles is that there is no emission at the user end...” (65). It is quite clear that there is a common agreement that EVs are only clean if power stations do not release emissions.

Scholars such as timothy Lipman agree that electric vehicles provide include the reduction in pollution at the urban and local sectors of transportation. For instance, Timothy E. Lipman and his article, “Technology Status and Expected Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Battery, Plug-In Hybrids, and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles”, argues that “most EVs are expected to significantly reduce lifecycle CO₂ GHG [greenhouse gases] Emissions” (296). This goes along with was mentioned before since it gives EVs credit for leaving a positive impact on the environment. He also concluded that “...when entirely or nearly-entirely powered by complete renewable fuels…, GHG emissions…can be almost entirely eliminated” (291). Take what Ed Begley is saying about the potential of EVs, he states: “when you’re charging an electric car, you’re making use of an incredible inefficiency that none of the naysayers talk about.”(67-68). Ed argues that most EV drivers recharge their cars at night when there is off-peak demand for electricity. This supports the claim that EVs do not pollute since they usually use up electricity that goes to waste at night, which makes EVs a non-pollutant. Not only do EVs have the potential to leave a positive change in the environment, but it is possible that they leave some other outcomes primarily in our infrastructure. For example, in Bert van Wee’s article, “Improving Sustainability in Urban Areas: Discussing the potential for Transforming Conventional Car-Based Travel into Electric Mobility”, Wee suggests that, “...it is possible that electric cars will be used to generate and store energy for other purposes allowing people to earn money if their cars are used for these purposes” (101). Clearly, electric cars provide much more than changes to the environment but also a change in the electric grid. João Ribau suggests in his article, “Life Cycle Analysis and Environmental Effects of Electrical Vehicle Market Evolution in Portugal”, that “vehicle electrification enables the improvement of urban air quality, the diversification of primary energy sources, and allows the use of more efficient propulsion technologies” (536). In other words, this means that EVs not only improve air quality by being a ZEV (zero emissions vehicles), but also by causing a change in the way these vehicles can be recharged, and improved technology for their batteries. The fact that EVs could be more common will cause an increase in more advance technology to power EVs. Another example how EVs could bring other possible impacts would be that it could allow owners of electric cars to store electricity, use it for other necessities and even get paid for doing that (van Wee 101). This is just another reason why EVs can change or evolve technology and the current state of our infrastructure.

As with all subjects there is always a negative side. In this case researchers have also considered the disadvantages of driving an electric vehicle. On main issue of implementing the mass use of EVs is that in some countries where electricity is generated in inefficient coal burning methods. In his article, Holzman argues that countries like China, who burn coal for generating electricity and cause pollution, would pollute even more due to the fact that EVs would draw more electricity. This is a main reason why so many researchers believe that EVs are not leaving a positive impact in the environment. Implementing electric vehicles in these countries, where electricity is generated in ways that would cause the release of emissions, would increase emissions as more EVs are on the road.

One of the key issues that not many researchers talk about is the government’s position and actions towards EVs and their impacts. John D. Graham’s article, “No Time for Pessimism about Electric Cars”, explores the position of the U.S. government and how “electrification of transport enhances U.S. energy security by replacing dependence on petroleum” (Graham 34). The government is interested in EVs transport technology because it wants to be free from oil dependency, which could also leave the U.S. with reduced amounts of air pollutants and emissions. In Ribau’s article, he also mentions that EVs could eliminates Portugal’s fossil fuel dependency (Ribau 552). Graham also suggest that as gas prices increase, EVs will be a better alternative since the electricity to power them will be cheaper, as mentioned in the quote: “electricity is about 65% cheaper than gasoline on an energy- equivalent basis..” (35). In short, the government’s interest in such EVs are because of its potential oil independence and the positive impacts these vehicles can leave on the environment.

When it comes to the topic of EVs leaving a positive impact on the environment, I personally believe that electric vehicles seem like a possible alternative due to that fact that EVs do not emit pollutants into the air. The fact that these vehicles do not need gasoline or other combustion liquids to make the car move and release harmful pollutants into the air, clearly shows that EVs are a better alternative.

Others have argued that EVs are not necessarily “clean vehicles”, or vehicles that do not leave a negative impact on the environment. As mentioned before by the researchers in this paper, the large implementation of EVs in countries that use inefficient polluting form of generating electricity have an increase amount of greenhouse gases since fossil fuel are needed to power these vehicles. What they do not bring up for discussion is how most of EVs are located in modern cities that most likely have a clean and efficient power grid. I believe EVs are a better alternative since it can be considered an extension to the clean energy grid in countries which can further help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and can even free countries from oil dependency like Portugal.

I also believe EVs do not pollute in the local or the “user end” (Xinying 65) of EVs. Many researchers are too concerned with pollution at the power plant level than the local level. Instead of worrying about pollution at the power level because of EVs, people should be focusing on different method of generating clean efficient energy to power EVs without pollution. This leads to the discussion to why I think EVs will also leave an impact on the way we generate electricity and power electric vehicles. Countries like China and South Africa, one of the countries mentioned in this paper, are affected by pollution coming from power plants mainly because too much EVs are taking in a lot of electricity. Instead of these countries trying to give EVs a bad name or trying to give consumers incentives to buy conventional vehicles, they should be thinking of other ways to generate electricity without pollution. In short, I do not believe EVs pollute since there are many ways to prevent pollution at the power plant level. Also, the impact of having EVs on the road would cause a change in the electrical grid of a country.

In addition of having EVs on the road and leaving a positive impact on the environment, I do believe electric vehicles would leave other unexpected impact as well that researchers do not mention. For instance, if electric vehicles were to be implement in mass numbers in a country where their power grid is non-pollutant, I believe it would impact the utility companies. This impact would be that the utility companies would have to find other means to power these vehicles in a clean and safe way. This impact would most likely cause an increase in clean energy now that electric vehicles are setting an example to improving the environment. Another impact, which was not mentioned by other researchers, would be that the oil industry would certainly lose much of its profits if EVs become more popular since there would be a decrease in gasoline powered vehicles. The fact that consumers would not have to buy gasoline for their EVs, will cause the country to free itself from oil dependency just like what Portugal may be going through. Not only will it be the oil industry that will experience losses as EVs consumption increase, but also companies that produce internal combustion engine vehicles or gasoline powered vehicles. As EVs become more popular, there would be a decrease in internal combustion engine vehicles. Also an increase in EVs would also impact the infrastructure of the country. For instance, there would be more charging stations needed to be put in place across the country to fully provide electric vehicle owners more accessibility to recharge. The government would most likely have to pay for these extra charging stations and the utilities companies would have to be prepared to provide the electricity for it. The companies that make electric vehicles will certainly be making profit but also improving the technology in electric vehicles. Technology will improve these cars and make them ever more efficient, more battery storage, and more environmentally friendly. To sum up, it is quite clear to us that EVs do seem like a better alternative to conventional vehicles when it comes to improving the environment and will leave impacts that can be beneficial to the country and the economy.

To conclude, after reading this paper I hope I left you a sense of the importance of having EVs on our roads, the benefits they include, the effects that they can leave to improve countries, and the reduction in greenhouse gases. The greenhouse effect is affecting everyone and the only way to combat this situation is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are our answer to prevent the emission of these gases. The mass implementation of these vehicles will further advance the technology for EV batteries and its motors. New methods of powering and charging these vehicles will spawn as technology improves. Countries can finally be free from oil dependency and will not have to worry about running out of fossil fuels. I do believe for now we should slowly be moving towards electric powered vehicles just so that the technology can keep up at the same rate in order to keep EVs as environmentally “clean” as they can be. It is clear to us that electric vehicles are a better alternative when it comes to improving the environment and its impacts it causes are beneficial in so many ways. Soon we could be living in a world free from airborne pollution and be able to use advance technology with worrying about the negative environmental impacts they pose.

Annotated Bibliography

Begley Jr., Ed. "Transportation." Living like Ed. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2008. 65-76. Print.

This book describes the different ways people can make a difference in the environment by making changes in their lives. Begley Jr. mentions in his book about the benefits of owning an electric car and their impact on the environment and infrastructure. The way this source compares to others is that it provides firsthand accounts of an owner of an EV. This source also is helpful in my research paper since it supports the benefits of using an EV as an alternative vehicle.

Graham, John D., et al. “No Time for Pessimism about Electric Cars.” Issues in Science and Technology 31.1 (2014): 33-40. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

The following article comments on the government interest in electric vehicles, shows comparisons of EVs and conventional vehicles, and the growing trend in these vehicles. The article mentions different laws or policies that are influencing the use of EVs. The fact that this article mentions government policies that influence these vehicles as a better alternative, shows beneficial in this discussion. This article will be useful by showing the perspective of the government on this issue.

Holzman, David C. “When It Comes to Electric Vehicle Emissions, Location Matters.” Environmental Health Perspectives 120.6 (2012): A230-A231. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.

This short article depict the negative impacts that EV can cause in countries where they are still dependent on old coal burning methods to generate electricity. Holzman argues that if EVs were used in these countries, pollution would increase. EVs would be causing as much pollution as conventional vehicles. This source gives an opposing view of EVs as a possible alternative. They way this source was useful for this paper was that it provided reasons why EVs may not be a better alternative.

Lipman, Timothy E. “Technology Status and Expected Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Battery, Plug-In Hybrids, and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles.” AIP Conference Proceedings 1401.1 (2011): 271-298. Academic Search Premier. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

This source information on the emissions of hybrid vehicles, and electric vehicles. The paper provides data collected from these vehicles and shows the reduction in emissions in the U.S. since the implementation of these vehicles. This will be incorporated in my paper in order to show proof that EVs are environmentally friendly and other potential impacts that EVs cause.

Ribau, João P., and Ana F. Ferreira. “Life Cycle Analysis and Environmental Effects of Electric Vehicles Market Evolution in Portugal.” International Journal of Energy and Energy Environment 5.5 (2014): 535-558. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.

This paper by João P. Ribau, describes the possible positive effects to Portugal due to the use of EVs. Some of its possible side effect of having these vehicles is that it could liberate Portugal from its oil dependency. This shows how EVs can be a better alternative. The source provides a supportive viewpoint for the usage of EVs which I will be using for this research paper.

Van Wee, Bert., Kees Maat, and Cees De Bont. “Improving Sustainability in Urban Areas: Discussing the Potential for Transforming Conventional Car-Based Travel into Electric Mobility.” European Planning Studies 20.1 (2012): 95-110. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.

This source provides reason why EVs are a possible alternative but only in the urban areas or the local level. The source mentions that most of the pollution comes from the transportation sector but with the use of EVs, emission can be lowered and will reduce oil consumption. The authors gives us reasons to support the use of EVs but also opposing viewpoints on this topic. I will use this source to further support the benefits of these vehicles in research paper.

Xinying, Liv., Diane Hildebrandt and David Glasser. “Environmental Impacts of Electric Vehicles in South Africa.” South Africa Journal of Science 108. ½ (2012): 1-6. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.



This source provide more information and a specific example of environmental impacts of EVs. This source talks about how South Africa still uses coal burning for electricity. If EVs are introduced in this region then pollution would increase due to an increase in coal burning. This supports the claim of that EVs pose negative impact on the environment. This is why I will be using this as another example of why EVs may not be a possible impact on the environment.



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