Electric Vehicles: Good For Climate, Bad For Water?

Here at Treehugger and throughout the environmental community there is a strong sense that electric vehicles, be they plug-in hybrids or pure ev's, are the wave of the future. And companies such as Tesla Motors, GM and Aptera, as well as the state of Israel, have put their money, reputations and time behind electric cars as a way of dealing with climate change. They have done so with good reason: electric cars are undoubtedly more efficient than their internal combustion brethren, and therefore result in fewer emissions of greenhouse gases. However, a report to be released in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology argues that electric cars "might dangerously strain already scarce water reserves."In a rather poorly written article on Yahoo! news, the author explains that "hybrid and fully electric cars rely in part on water. Specifically, the power plants that produce the electricity typically use water primarily to cool down the systems." Ignoring the fact that hybrids don't pull any electricity off the grid (the author probably meant plug-in hybrids), it is indeed true that it takes a lot of water to make electricity. In fact, according to government statistics provided by nationalatlas.gov

Thermoelectric power accounts for about half of total water withdrawals. Most of the water is derived from surface water and used for once-through cooling at power plants. About 52 percent of fresh surface-water withdrawals and about 96 percent of saline-water withdrawals are for thermoelectric-power use.

The connection between energy and water consumption is a fascinating, and poorly understood, phenomenon. The Yahoo article points out that each mile driven on electricity will require "roughly three times more water than gasoline." But hold on! Before we kill the electric car (again), let's remember a few things. For one, biofuels currently require far more water in the growing and refining process (up to 100 times) than do fossil fuels. The switch to biofuels also raises numerous food and land-use issues, and may not even have climate benefits.

Secondly, electric vehicles only use more water if they get their electricity from coal fired plants. With all three of the presidential candidates in favor of strong climate legislation, carbon dioxide now considered a pollutant under the clean air act, and the global community looking to the U.S. for leadership, it's highly likely our grid will be getting a lot greener very soon. As it is, wind farms and large solar concentrating plants are springing up all over the country. And as the grid gets greener, so too do electric vehicles.

Finally, the beauty of electric vehicles is that it is so much easier to produce green electrons than it is to produce green gallons of liquid fuel. And the more green electrons we produce the less water our power plants will need for cooling, the less impacts we'll have from climate change, and the less air pollution we'll have in our cities.

So yes, it takes water to produce electricity. Lots of it. But that's not the bottom line when it comes to electric vehicles. They start to look a whole lot better when seen as part of a suite of policies and actions addressing both water and climate.

Via: ::Yahoo News

See Also: ::Ambitious Solar Plan Could Provide EU with a Sixth of its Energy Needs, ::EV1 Electric car: Did it Suck or Not? and ::Are Electric Vehicle Charging Station on the Way?

Tags: Alternative Energy | Electric Cars | Electricity