The environmental case for electric vehicles in China has been complicated by research that asserts the cars produce more pollution than those with internal combustion engines.
The issue is likely to raise questions about China’s push to become the world’s EV champion by 2025. The government has justified devoting massive resources to encouraging domestic EV production — including billions of dollars in subsidies and production quotas — based on the proposition they are greener than petrol-engine cars.
But the environmental benefits were unclear, experts said. While China has been on a green energy push for years, coal still accounts for an overwhelming proportion of electricity production, meaning that charging electric batteries also burns carbon — often at a higher per-kilometre rate than petrol engines.
While the adoption of EVs would lower the growth of China’s oil consumption — much of which is imported — it might be less effective than expected in reducing China’s air pollution.
“Switching to EVs doesn’t inherently eliminate the use of fossil fuels, since the electricity that powers EVs could come from fossil fuels, which in China means coal,” said Scott Kennedy of the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “EVs may just be moving air pollution from one part of the country to another.”
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