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China: Clean Cars, Dirty Coal Don’t Mix

New study warns battery cars could actually worsen air in cities like Beijing.

by on Feb.14, 2012

China's Datong coal-fired generating plant.

Chinese regulators have put a premium on turning to battery power for the nation’s fast-growing automotive fleet.  But a new study questions whether they are simply going to trade off one form of pollution for another.

With the vast bulk of China’s electric power coming from coal generators, the new study by the University of Tennessee, University of Minnesota, and China’s Tsinghua University suggests that for most of that country’s consumers, gasoline-powered vehicles or those using conventional hybrid-electric technology may actually be cleaner than those proponents prefer to bill as “zero-emission” vehicles, or ZEVs.

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The benefits of going “green” vary by region.  Across China, 68% of electricity is now generated from coal.  But in some regions, such as the area around the massive Three Rivers Gorge damn project where there’s the availability of plenty of hydro power, the payoff is more substantial.