China’s rapid industrialization over the last couple of decades has made the turned its economy into one of the world’s largest economies, second only to the United States, but it has had numerous negative effects, as well. It has brought about many environmental issues, such as deforestation and climate change, but also affecting the country’s water resources and air quality.
Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental issues in the world’s most populous country, mainly caused by motor vehicle emissions. China’s economic development has led to a huge car sales growth, which has led to a significant deterioration of air quality. Since air pollution increases the risk of various diseases, such as lung cancer and heart disease, the Chinese government has been taking all sorts of measures to reduce vehicle emissions, by taking vehicles with high emission levels off the roads and promoting the use of alternative fuel vehicles. China wants to see five million electric vehicles on its roads by 2020, which is a pretty ambitious goal, considering that so far have been sold less than 50,000 EVs.
Be that as it may, the Chinese electric car market has a huge potential, and global car makers are expecting to see a considerably increased demand for electric vehicles there. Tesla Motors and Nissan are some of the companies that are looking to take advantage of the enormous growth of the Chinese electric car market that is supposed to occur in the next few years. Two of the top 5 most popular electric cars are already on the Chinese market, as the Japanese manufacturer is already selling its Leaf EV there, and Tesla just started offering the Model S.
However, even if electric car sales in China do increase, it won’t have a considerably positive effect on the environment, according to some studies that were conducted recently. This is mainly due to the fact that most of the electricity in China is produced from fossil fuels, with coal supplying about 75% of the energy that is needed for the production of electricity. This means that the majority of the electricity that will be used to charge electric vehicles will be produced from coal, and using coal for electricity generation produces large amounts of greenhouse emissions, which means that the fuel source for electric cars is not that clean, after all, making these vehicles less green than they seem.
While replacing gasoline-powered cars with ones powered by electricity would surely reduce greenhouse emissions in cities, it wouldn’t help preserve the environment in China’s rural areas, where the vast majority of the electricity is produced. According to a research that Christopher Cherry, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Tennessee, conducted recently, greenhouse emissions associated with one EV in China are 19 times higher than emissions associated with a conventional gasoline car.
This is why, in addition to encouraging the use of electric vehicles through various government incentives, China needs to build a cleaner electricity grid, and start relying on other, cleaner energy sources, instead of coal, in order to improve air quality in all parts of the country, and not just the cities.