The holiday season is fast approaching, which means that you’re probably already making travel plans, and having a mild panic about the petrol price hikes.
The electric car hasn’t really made it to South Africa, or made much of a dent in the local market yet, but its growing popularity overseas suggests that it won’t be long before charging stations become increasingly common.
And, even if you know nothing about cars, you’ve heard about how environmentally friendly these cars are supposed to be.
To put this to the test, Bloomberg compared the mileage and the efficiency of different fuels over a distance of 1 000 miles (roughly 1 600 kilometres).
Here’s what they found:
New Yorkers looking to escape the winter chill by driving to Daytona Beach, Florida, would use about 40 gallons of gasoline to traverse the 1,000 miles in a Chevrolet Impala.
Let’s use a South African example to put that into perspective. If you wanted to drive from Cape Town to Mozambique (1 623 km) in a Chevrolet Impala, you would burn through just over 151 litres of petrol.
Switch that gas guzzler out for an electron-eating EV and the equation changes. A Tesla Model S traveling the same distance would need power generated by about 2,500 cubic feet of natural gas, 286 pounds of coal or 33 minutes of blades spinning on a giant offshore wind turbine to make the same journey.
Electricity doesn’t just happen, it has a source: coal, wind, natural gas or solar.
The average electric vehicle needs 33 kilowatt-hours of energy to travel 100 miles (160 km). A Tesla Model S would require about 286 pounds (130 kilograms) of coal to be burned at the local power plant.
Even with all those losses, the electric vehicle road trip is still better for the climate than driving a gasoline-powered car. Burning that much coal would release about 310 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, compared with 350 kilograms by the 40 gallons of gasoline. Even though coal tends to emit more pollutants than oil for the amount of energy it generates, the efficiency of the electric vehicle, which recharges its battery with every brake, more than makes up the difference.
A typical 10-kilowatt rooftop solar set-up would take roughly seven days to create enough energy of a 1 600 km journey.
Scale up to a photovoltaic power station, and you’ll be fully charged in minutes. At a modest-sized solar field like the 25-megawatt DeSoto Next Generation Solar Centre in Florida, the average daily output would produce enough electricity for a 1 600 km drive in under four minutes.
A natural gas power plant producing the type of energy needed to power an electric car over a 1 600 km journey would need to burn around 2 500 cubic feet of fuel. That’s enough to fill a small apartment.
Gas plants are more efficient than coal and much cleaner. They emit only 70 kilograms of carbon dioxide for a 1 600 kilometre journey.
Different-sized turbines produce different amounts of electricity.
Take the Vestas V90-2.0 MW, an 80-meter tall behemoth that can be found swirling on the plains of West Texas, among other locations. Just one of these turbines, and wind farms are usually planted with dozens of them, produces enough electricity in a day to power a 1,000-mile trip every 33 minutes.
Wind turbines, like solar panels, don’t give off carbon emissions but can fluctuate in productivity, especially if the wind isn’t blowing.
What this ultimately tells us is that the energy sector needs to become more environmentally friendly alongside the motor industry.
Your car might not be producing carbon emissions, but its power source could be.
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