Electric cars, environmental savior or mirage?

by Ronak Chadha ‘25

Electric cars have been around for a while now, but in recent years they have gained significant popularity. With concerns about climate change and air pollution on the rise, many people are turning to electric cars as a more sustainable and eco-friendly transportation option and the market for electric vehicles has grown rapidly in recent years. Electric car sales in the United States increased from a mere 0.2 percent of total car sales in 2011 to 4.6 percent in 2021 though electric vehicles still account for only about 0.6% of all registered vehicles in the U.S. California leads the U.S. in electric vehicle ownership, accounting for 39% of all electric vehicles registered nationwide. While electric cars do offer a number of benefits over traditional gasoline-powered cars, there are also some potential drawbacks that should be taken into account.

One of the biggest benefits of electric cars is their lower carbon footprint. By using electricity rather than gasoline, electric cars produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and help to reduce air pollution. This is especially important in densely populated areas, where air pollution can have serious health effects.

Another benefit of electric cars is that they are much cheaper to run than traditional cars. While the upfront cost of an electric car is typically higher than a gas-powered car, the cost of charging and maintaining an electric car is much lower since electricity is typically cheaper than gasoline. Electric cars also require much less maintenance than traditional cars which can potentially result in savings of thousands of dollars over the life of the car.

In addition to being cheaper to run, electric cars are also more convenient in some ways. Electric cars do not require any trips to a gas station but can instead be charged at home or at a public charging station, which is much more convenient than having to stop at a gas station every few days. Electric cars also have instant torque, which means they can accelerate quickly and smoothly which makes for a fun and exciting driving experience.

However, it is important to note that electric cars are not without their drawbacks. One of the biggest concerns is that the electricity used to power these cars is still largely generated from fossil fuels, which can significantly reduce the environmental benefits. While some parts of the country are investing in renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, others rely heavily on coal-fired power plants to generate electricity. This means that electric cars in these areas may not be as sustainable as they are often portrayed.

Another downside of electric cars is that they cost an average of $10,000 more than an equivalent gas powered vehicle initially and typically have a shorter range than traditional cars. This means that people have to plan longer road trips more carefully and make sure there is enough charge to get where they are going or that there is charging infrastructure easily available on the trip, which can be a challenge in some areas. While more and more charging stations are being built every day, there are still many parts of the country where charging stations are few and far between. However, the range of electric cars is improving all the time, and there are now many models that can travel 200 miles or more on a single charge.

Another critical issue with electric cars is the disposal and recycling of their batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used in electric cars, and while they are more environmentally friendly than traditional lead-acid batteries, they still pose some challenges. These batteries can be difficult and expensive to dispose of safely, and recycling them can be a complex and resource-intensive process. The production of these batteries can also be resource-intensive, requiring the use of rare metals and other materials that may not be environmentally sustainable. Additionally, battery packs can cost tens of thousands of dollars and represent up to 50% of an EV’s price tag, often making it uneconomical to replace them. Since for many electric vehicles, there is no way to repair or reuse even slightly damaged battery packs after accidents, insurance companies are forced to write off cars with few miles, resulting in higher insurance premiums and undercutting the gains from going electric.

Finally, the cost of car insurance for an electric car is higher than its equivalent gas model because these vehicles are more expensive to repair or replace. On average, electric vehicle models cost 15% more to insure than conventional gas-powered vehicles

Despite these concerns, electric cars still offer a number of benefits over traditional cars, and they are an important step towards a more sustainable future. However, it is important to recognize that they are not a panacea for our environmental challenges, and we need to continue investing in renewable energy sources and finding ways to make battery production and disposal more sustainable. In the end, the transition to electric cars will require a comprehensive approach that takes into account the environmental impacts of every step in the process, from production to disposal, not just the emissions from the car or the ability to replace gasoline with electricity.

Do you own an electric car?