When you think of the major inventions of the 1800’s, you probably think of developments that were crucial to the Industrial Revolution. The steam engine, the locomotive, and the cotton gin were all inventions that now define that era. Surprisingly, the electric car was a contemporary of these 19th-century innovations, yet less surprisingly, there are still questions about the viability of electric cars.
The history of electric cars is both fascinating and surprising. While it might seem like electric cars are a product of modern times, the first electric car appeared in the second half of the 19th century. Electricity, not gasoline, powered a third of the cars on the road in 1900. Electric cars were highly desirable at the beginning of the 1900’s; they were often easier to drive, quieter, and cleaner than their gasoline-powered counterparts. The beginning of the end for electric cars, however, was the mass production of reasonably priced cars with internal combustion engines.
Interest in the electric car was resurrected due to oil shortages and the gradual increase in gas prices. As drivers grew more conscious and concerned about damage to the environment, not to mention their bank accounts, the interest in green cars grew. Even with the growing interest in electric cars, they have yet to make a sweeping impact. In fact, a mere 0.6% of newly registered vehicles in the United States are electric.
Vehicles that run on electricity are looked at as a solution to future energy and environmental issues, but not everyone is convinced that the technology is the answer to today’s problems. Electric cars, when driving, do not burn fossil fuels. But, charging these vehicles can be harmful to the earth’s atmosphere. According to the Scientific American, “electric cars may or may not help the country combat climate change—and it all depends on where the electricity comes from.”
An electric car is only as green as its source for that electricity. An electric car that is charged from coal power can cause significant harm to the environment. According to CBS News, if it “comes from coal, the electric cars produce 3.6 times more soot and smog deaths than those powered by gas, because of the pollution made in generating the electricity.”
The power sources that charge batteries for electric cars have made major gains but are not optimal in terms of environmental impact. In states without sufficient clean energy sources, the benefits of driving an electric car are, at best, negligible. According to the Washington Post, “In coal-fired Colorado, a gasoline car with fuel economy better than 35 miles per gallon will be better for emissions than the average electric car.” Until the source of electricity improves, fuel efficiency should be the focus.
The idea of electric-powered transportation is not new and offers a sensible alternative in the future. Unfortunately, the infrastructure for providing clean energy for these vehicles has not yet matched the need, though it may in the future. Until clean power sources are available as a practical alternative to gas powered vehicles, high-mileage vehicles present the best green option.