On Sunday February 16th 2014, Dr. Haraldsen (@JMU Physics) appeared on CCTV's World Insight to discuss the challenges that electric cars have to face. The major issues are cost, range, environmental savings. In the segment, it is discussed that, while the cost for some electric vehicles are becomes more reasonable for the average consumer, the range for the cheaper electric cars does not even come close to challenging conventional gasoline powered cars. Therefore, it is critical for research and development of more advanced battery technologies.
As for environmental savings, electric cars are highly dependent on the methods being used to produce electricity. Given that China, India, and the US are still very dependent on fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum), the assertion that electric cars are zero emission is a fallacy. By charging your electric vehicle using coal and natural gas you are still producing massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2).
For example, the Tesla Model S ($70k - $100k) has the ability to travel around 255 miles on a single charge due to its large 85 kWh battery (initial charge). If you charge the Model S with electricity from coal (2.08 lbs. CO2/kWh), then you produce ~176 lbs. of CO2 and particulates. If you look at an average gasoline power vehicle with 30 mpg, then you use about 8.5 gallons of gasoline in a 255 mile trip. Given that gasoline, on average, produces 22 lbs. CO2/gallon, this gasoline powered vehicle will have released ~187 lbs of CO2 and particulates, which is about the same as the electric vehicle. If you have a Toyota Prius (~50 mpg), then that drops to 112 lbs. CO2 released. Furthermore, charging with natural gas (1.22 lbs. CO2/kWh) will help reduce the CO2 to 103 lbs., which puts it a slight bit better than the Prius. Therefore, if a country like China or the United States is serious about reducing carbon emissions, then there needs to be a planned move toward alternative, non-carbon producing power sources.
The main advantage of an electric car is that they are dependent on the source of electricity, and as the electric grid move toward more efficient and clearer energy sources, electric cars will become clearer as well.
Below are pictures from the discussion panel on CCTV News. Here is the video link for the discussion on electric cars.