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Will Electric Vehicles Boost Harmful Emissions?

Electric Vehicles recently hit a critical milestone of 100,000 sold in the U.S., a number expected to jump to 3 million by 2020. While it’s a fraction of the 15.6 million fossil-fuel cars Americans bought last year, environmentalists deem these numbers a very positive sign of things to come. But how and where will all of these electric vehicles plug in and charge? Won’t this add more strain to the energy grid, increase demand for coal and ultimately boost harmful emissions?

/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/car1_232861.jpgI had a chance to catch up with Peter Graf, SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer, to learn more.

According to Graf, electric cars make the most sense if the energy they consume comes from renewable sources of energy like solar (SAP uses 60% renewables for all electricity globally). In the future, this concept means less reliable sources of renewable energy can actually use electric cars as an electricity buffer, and charge or feed from those car batteries, depending on the need for electricity in the grid. “It will allow us to increase renewables in our energy mix significantly, without increasing the risk of power outages,” said Graf.

Sounds great. But what if this doesn’t happen and most electric vehicles plug in via more traditional means?

“Even if electric cars are charged via a central power plant, they are causing less emissions per car as a conventional car,” said Graf. “If a car is powered by coal fired power plants exclusively, it is much easier to deploy means to reduce the emissions centrally via carbon storage and clean coal as compared to millions of cars on the road.”

Still skeptical? I was too until I watched the below news clip featuring SAP’s Graf. It showcases a real, working electric vehicle ecosystem and for me, removed serious doubts around cost, scalability (Wireless car charging?! Cool!) and the aforementioned emissions concerns.

Watch news clip: “Electric Cars at SAP: Turning Silicon Valley into a Modern Day Motor City.”

Do you get charged up thinking about electric vehicles? Sound off in the comments below.

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  • Thanks for the high-energy story, Tim. Electric vehicle powerhouse Tesla Motors announced last month that it will expand its Supercharger network across the U.S., as well as adding solar power and grid storage capabilities.

    These Superchager stations generate more power than they use. So they can supplement their local energy grid.

    What’s more, places such as the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. get most of their energy from renewable hydroelectricity. That makes charging your electric vehicle even more eco-friendly.

  • Thanks for sharing, Tim. In Spain we are just starting with Electric Vehicles but I truly believe they are the future. It would also great to combine it with other kind of solutions and/or initiatives as TwoGo. We have to change our mentality !

  • Not only is Tesla planning to blanket the country with superchargers, but the added bonus with the empahsis on solar will help us survive the zombie apocalpyse, which I respect:

    By the way –  you can watch a video of plugless/wireless charging here:

    Thanks for this post!

  • Thanks Tim for sharing this.

    yes renewable energy is key. The electric grid started off during 1920’s till then production/consumption was local, so perhaps 100 years after the electric grid started off, in say 2020 we’ll have better adoption of local renewable solar energy sources from panels at home. The 19th century witness centralization of gas lines, guess the 21st century will witness localization of renewable energy.

  • There is so much debate about this on the internet, and as per usual, both sides pick and choose what statistics to use, so their point of view looks better, and then present the (biased) results as hard facts.

    Just to pick two examples, a lot of people keep on about the coal fired electricty used to power electric cars, and the counter argument is that when oil is refined to make petrol, does the oil refinery use electricity, and if so does that electricity come from the same coal fired power plant?

    In the same vein governments get attacked for giving people subsidies to buy electric cars, yet at the same time governments give gigantic amounts of money as subsidies to car companies to make conventional cars.

    Just last month the Australian government got attacked for having given ludicrous amounts of public money to a normal car making company, just to keep on operating in Australia and employing people, and that company said it is going to shut down everything anyway.

    On a lighter note, a superhero in Israel, called “Captain Sunshine”, who wears a yellow cape, says he is going to salvage the wreck of former SAP supremo Shai Agassi’s “Better Place” electric car company….

    • Great point Paul

      More often than not, when a new offering/wave comes up, people take a ‘this or that’ approach not a ‘this and that’ approach keeping in mind the context or usage of the new wave may be for a certain use cases not all.

      Take the example of the Australian government (or any other government for that matter), they just can’t switch over to electric cars overnight. They have to fund/support the current ecosystem and at the same time encourage the new one so that it matures. Similar arguments of ‘this or that’ were made during the early days Cloud, SaaS, implementing email for enterprises in the 1980’s etc.

    • Interesting news this morning as well.

      Pres. Obama is planning to shut down the coal fired powered plants over the coming X Years. That alone will have a very positive impact on the CO2 exhaust and the environment.

      But what is going to be the alternative?

      (I haven’t actually heard the entire report, and I think there is a more detailed announcement planned this afternoon)

      Another thing I just figured. can’t we all go back to riding Horses? It sure will solve the traffic jams, and will make the daily commute a lot more entertaining. (Although I do have my doubts on our rainy climate) 😛

      • Hello Tom,

        Thansk for sharing! A very interesting piece of news. Please keep us posted with the details. I would love to have more information about the entire report.

        • Meanwhile, Pres Obama has talked about his vision on the US carbon footprint.

          He isn’t going to shut down the Coalplants (the journalist I heard talking about that may have exagerated) but instead, the president wants to enforce CO2 exhaust limits on all powerplants.

          Which can still have as a consequence that coal powered plants will be shut down, if they can’t meet the limit. But we don’t know the limit yet, so let’s not jump to conclusions yet.

          In any case, Obama wants to see more green energy:

          – Solar plants

          – Wind Farms

          – tidal power?

          Since electricity production accounts for 40% of the us carbon footprint (according to that same journalist at least) enforcing limits may have a very positive effect.