As major carmakers appear to be nearly united behind electric vehicles, new challenges arise for the green revolution.
This week, General Motors and Ford Motor Co. made showy announcements on how EVs will be central to their business strategies in the coming decades. This follows numerous countries announcing timelines for the eventual phaseout of gasoline and diesel vehicles. After decades of work, EV momentum is finally capturing the public imagination, but there will be stumbling blocks that the industry will need to address.
Take the issue of the U.S. power grid. Battery-electric vehicles are only as green as the plants that produce the electricity. An increase in the number of vehicles utilizing the grid could push policymakers to fall back on predictable sources of energy, such as fossil fuels, which also pollute the environment.
We saw hints of that kind of approach last week, when the U.S. Department of Energy released a proposed rule to sustain retired or near-retirement coal and nuclear plants. Why? Because the DOE said the challenges to the electricity grid from volatile weather conditions are real and concerning. So the government plans to address challenges possibly caused by global warming through continued use of aging coal plants.
This kind of logic may make environmentalists scoff, but it addresses a real question EV advocates need to answer: How will we upgrade an electric grid that needs to support millions of these cars a day?
In a casual chat with an oil company executive last week, I asked him this question. The exec argued that it's probably too expensive to upgrade and build out the power grid, and he said hydrogen cars may actually make more sense. Why not let an oil company do the dirty work of producing hydrogen energy and routing it to fueling stations, rather than rely on taxpayer funds to change the way electricity is produced?
It's a compelling answer for cash-strapped governments looking to supply power without blowing out their budgets, but it's also a pretty self-serving argument for oil companies to make, given they risk being sidelined by a switch away from fossil fuels.
Regardless, if the auto industry is truly invested in a green-car future, it should have answers to these tough questions. Taking a back seat when these cars hit the road is not an option.
— Shiraz Ahmed