Pushing Electric Cars Will Do Little to Fight Air Pollution in Poland

We have now seen a real PR blitz on "electro-mobility" in Poland. It seems on the surface that the Polish Government finally gets that it has to address air pollution problems. The data on the air in Poland is appalling, maybe they will take it seriously now?

Maybe not. The problem is automotive emissions is old cars. One old "smoker" will easy emit more junk into the air than several hundred new cars. Even in countries, like Canada, will much newer average cars on the road, most of the emissions come from less than 25% of the vehicles. In Poland, with much older autos in common use and with no vehicle emissions inspection program, the older cars will have a much, much greater impact on total emissions.

So enter the electric car...zero emissions. Solution? Not really. First, the people buying new electric cars will not be the people driving "smokers."  So it is easy to see how replacing even 20% of the current cars with electric cars would have a very nominal effect on vehicle-emitted air pollution.

But, of course, the story does not end there. The electric cars must be charged. The charging comes from the conventional power grid (i.e. in Poland dirty aging coal plants). So the net balance of emissions has to compare the emissions to charge the car versus any emissions saved from operating it. This basically means that the introduction of electric cars will not only be meaningless but likely will increase net emissions. "The key is where the source of the electricity all-electric cars. If it comes from coal, the electric cars produce 3.6 times more soot and smog deaths than those powered by gas, because of the pollution made in generating the electricity, according to the study that is published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS)." CBS News, December 16, 2014.

Another study on China, which also relies on a large mix of coal in the production of electricity, indicated that the switch from electric cars would not improve air quality considering how they were charged. The shift would actually have a negative impact if the source of electricity to charge the cars remained unchanged: "...electric cars are more harmful to public health per kilometer traveled in China than conventional vehicles." 

What is really happening in Poland is the government is finding a possible way to encourage the sale of more black energy by replacing vehicle fuels with coal-produced electricity. This will done while replacing or displacing cars that are probably new models with low traditional tail-pipe emissions, keeping the older "smokers" on the road. The new cars will be replaced by electric cars with much, much higher emissions from the plants that have to charge their batteries. 

This is all a neat PR gimmick, but will not help air pollution problems in Poland at all. The fact that the Government wants to produce the vehicles here will also, of course, add to emissions from the manufacturing plants (which in Poland will likely also be dirtier than the ones making electric cars in Germany, the USA and elsewhere). The move may or may not produce more jobs in Poland, but it will most certainly not do anything to improve air quality.


Randy Mott said…
None of the usual Polish publications would run this piece in Polish. Apparently it is prohibited to even question the wisdom of the government at this point. Scary stuff!
Randy Mott said…
Another more recent article discusses the issue of charging the cars at night from coal plants: the worst environmental alternative and the one with the most emissions (more than just sticking to conventionally-powered vehicles). https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/08/electric-car-emissions-climate-change
Randy Mott said…
Excellent article here: https://visegradpost.com/en/2016/09/06/in-poland-is-electric-car-a-real-solution-to-fight-climate-change/

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