As anyone who tries to keep up with current affairs will already know, one of the biggest challenges facing the planet is that of climate change. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the activities of humankind have a major bearing on changes in climate – even if this continues to be disputed in some quarters. Although governments, each pursuing their own individual agendas, have struggled to reach an agreement as to how to tackle the problem, individuals have increasingly been encouraged to find ways of reducing their own carbon footprint, effectively taking the lead in tackling climate change.
One technology which has been singled out as a key hope for the future is the electric car. What many people don’t realise is that electric cars aren’t actually anything new – they achieved some degree of popularity around the turn of the 20th century before being overtaken by petrol-fuelled cars – but advances in technology and the pressing need to tackle climate change have given the idea of switching to electric cars renewed momentum. Of course, the combined effects of high oil prices and fuel duty have long hit motorists hard in the pocket, so electric cars could potentially help drivers save money in the long run – but it’s well worth looking at just how eco-friendly these vehicles really are.
In contrast with conventional internal combustion engines, electric cars have a far lower impact in terms of air pollution. Unlike petrol and diesel-fuelled cars, they do not produce exhaust emissions, which pump pollutants into the atmosphere. In addition, the process of extracting fossil fuels from the ground is itself harmful to the environment – as the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 made perfectly clear. Indeed, oil spillages are relatively commonplace in many parts of the world, but as many of these happen in developing countries, they are frequently overlooked by large sections of the western media. What’s more, it’s also been argued that high oil prices have a negative impact on the economic development of poorer countries by disrupting their balance of payments.
In addition, internal combustion engines are relatively inefficient at converting fuel energy into propulsion, with much of the energy being lost in the form of heat. Electric engines, on the other hand, are generally more efficient at utilising stored energy, and do not consume energy at all when coasting or resting. Furthermore, regenerative braking captures up to one-fifth of the energy wasted through braking, enabling it to be reused.