Do electric vehicles offer a solution to China's smog problems? Researchers don't agree...

Electric car uptake in China could worsen smog issue

China’s drive to increase the uptake of electric vehicles to help reduce air pollution could have the opposite effect due to the reliance on coal-fired power generation, a study has found.

According to Tsinghua University researchers, electric vehicles charged in China produce between two and five times more polluting particles than petrol-engine cars. This means that China’s efforts to have eight times more electric vehicles on the road by 2020 than the current number could achieve the opposite result than the country hopes for, if the developments are not paired with an aggressive push for renewable energy generation.

"International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn't need to rely on electric vehicles," said Los Angeles-based An Feng, director of the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation. "Clean up the power plants."

China has put in place multiple incentives to encourage people to trade their fossil-fuel powered cars for electric ones. In addition to tax breaks, electric car owners are exempt from limits on the number of new car licenses that are being granted, as well as from restrictions allowing people to use their cars only on certain days of the week if smog levels get too high.

This month, the industrial Hebei province decreed that all new residential complexes must have car-charging facilities despite the fact that 90 per cent of electricity in the region comes from coal-fired power plants.

China plans to convert the grid to renewable fuel or clean-coal technology as part of its efforts to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2020. However, the Tsinghua researchers said the goal would be very difficult to achieve.

Driven by the official policies, sales of electric vehicles in China have quadrupled over the past year. Currently, electric cars make up only one per cent of all vehicles on the roads, but manufacturers predict sales are set to rise.

Volkswagen foresees that its production of electric and hybrid vehicles for the Chinese market will grow almost six times over the next five years to two million annually.

Chinese electric car maker BYD expects to double sales each year over the next three years.

According to Tsinghua University environmental science professor Huo Hong, all these developments may do is push the pollution out from the cities to the countryside.

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