Automotive

Electric vehicles could save the US billions each year, study finds

Electric vehicles could save t...
A new study has calculated the potential benefits of EV adoption on the US economy and public health
A new study has calculated the potential benefits of EV adoption on the US economy and public health
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A new study has calculated the potential benefits of EV adoption on the US economy and public health
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A new study has calculated the potential benefits of EV adoption on the US economy and public health

While electric vehicles usually cost more for the consumer at the point of purchase, a new study has applied a much broader scope to the economics of green transportation and found it could actually save the US tens of billions of dollars each year. The analysis combined climate modeling with data on vehicle fleets and public health to reveal that electric vehicles (EVs) could negate significant damages brought by climate change and air pollution, in addition to preventing many premature deaths.

The emissions created by internal combustion engines are a huge contributor to the air pollution that shrouds many major cities around the globe and causes millions of premature deaths each year – and not just because of the pollution that pours out of the tailpipes.

In the case of diesel engines, the nitrogen oxide that escapes as the fuel is burned reacts with compounds in the atmosphere to create lingering clouds of pollution that can lead to long-term health problems such as stroke, heart disease and lung cancer. And recent studies have shown this may be a far bigger problem than we thought.

“A good example is to look at nitrogen oxides (NOx), a group of chemicals produced by fossil-fuel combustion,” says lead author of the study and climate change researcher at Northwestern University, Daniel Peters. “NOx itself is damaging to respiratory health, but when it’s exposed to sunlight and volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere, ozone and particulate matter can form.”

Using a chemistry climate model, the team was able to simulate how these pollutants interact with the weather and emissions from other sources such as power generation, and how the picture could change depending on what percentage of electric vehicles were on the road. This was then combined with publicly available health data to ascertain the health impacts of a range of different EV-uptake scenarios.

As part of this, the team drew on US vehicle fleet and emissions data from 2014. Under one scenario, where 25 percent of the cars on the road powered by internal combustion engines (ICEs) were replaced by EVs in 2014, and they were charged by the energy infrastructure in place that year, it would have prevented 250 million tons of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere.

To gauge the overall costs (or savings) of such measures, the scientists assigned dollar values to the climate and public health damages such levels of EV uptake would avoid. These were calculated through typical policy tools used to quantify the social cost of carbon, and a metric known as the value of statistical life.

“The social cost of carbon and value of statistical life are much-studied and much-debated metrics,” says Daniel Horton, senior author of the study. “But they are regularly used to make policy decisions. It helps put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere."

Under the scenario where 25 percent of internal combustion cars were replaced with EVs, the scientists calculate it would save the US around US$17 billion each year. Under another scenario where 75 percent of ICE cars were replaced, they calculate that those savings could balloon to $70 billion a year, all while avoiding hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.

“From an engineering and technological standpoint, people have been developing solutions to climate change for years,” adds Northwestern’s Daniel Horton, senior author of the study. “But we need to rigorously assess these solutions. This study presents a nuanced look at EVs and energy generation and found that EV adoption not only reduces greenhouse gases but saves lives.”

The research was published in the journal GeoHealth.

Source: Northwestern University

10 comments
piperTom
So, lots of complex modeling shows me that getting my neighbors to buy EVs will improve my health. Okay, then, I'm in favor of my neighbors doing that! One element of the study was a very minor change to the global warming prospects. This leads me to doubt that the study subtracted the lost opportunity costs of diverting spending to EVs as opposed to other worthwhile life style improvements. Environmentalists NEVER consider lost opportunity costs of spending on their pet projects.
michael_dowling
The EV haters will not be satisfied with this study.
Food4Thought
Interesting how the US will throw Trillions of dollars to prevent thousands of Covid deaths, but is OK living with 'thousands' of premature deaths from pollution from Internal Combustion Engine vehicles. I support Elon Musk's vision - 100% - get the world to EVs.
wf
EV haters?...no...just realists. Did the study cast it's net over the entire energy/pollution spectrum? Meaning:
1.) where does the electric vehicle get its charge from?...the local utility?.... which may be coal-fired and spews out more pollutants than a catalytic equipped car which reduces pollution by 90-99% compared to a non-catalytic equipped car? How about the enormously increased electrical demand load on the local electrical utility, if EV's come into mainstream use? Is that factor in the study?
2.) EV use large batteries. What is their life span (8 years?)..andn what happens to them afterwards? How are they disposed?....and what are the environmental impacts? Is that in the "Study"?
CAVUMark
Just think how healthy people would be if they walked.
Mark T.
Here is realism . . . it will Mother Nature a century or more to remove all the CO2 being dumped into the air. In the meantime we will roast and the cost may be closer to tens of trillions instead of tens of billions. Debate the numbers all you want, but it is clear that "EV adoption not only reduces greenhouse gases but saves lives." So instead of ignoring scientists like Trump does whenever it suits him and his fossil fuel backers, we need a national plan to phase in EVs and phase out all new ICE vehicles by no later than 2030. Similar to Germany, we can start with a $10K incentive to get as many people into EVs as soon as possible. Laws requiring EV charging in all new construction and all existing apartment building parking lots would help too.
Karmudjun
PiperTom - You do you know that scientists aren't necessarily environmentalists nor are they singular focused automatons who select one aspect of a topic and ignore all the rest? Scientists like that - whether "Capitalism at all costs" or "Save the environment for the next generations" are irresponsible at best, malevolent at worse. I know, I am one of those scientists. Charles Darwin observed his "Survival of the fittest" over quite a few years and as the son of a Bishop of a Christian church - he was a faithful believer and worried the impact his theory would have on his father and his friends. Not that his father or friends would vilify him, they were proud of him.

When complex modelling shows discernable facts, YOU can assume that the complex modelling was simple instead of COMPLEX. But that is a disservice to thinking individuals which many scientists are. Even when they are they can be wrong: I live in Cincinnati where Robert Kehoe, MD, a toxicologist from the 1920's on and a theorist that discernable levels of lead were nothing to worry about since all studies of the 1920's onward had a baseline level of lead everywhere where the industrial revolution had an impact - not to mention his research was funded by automotive associated industries. Whether or not Dr. Kehoe was a malignant and malevolent Scientist or whether he was working from erroneous suppositions, he did quite a bit of research that he said proved moderate lead levels in the tens of micrograms was quite alright. Now we have Kim Dietrich who is an epidemiolgist here who isn't using complex modelling to help set the lowest tolerable level of lead acceptable for human health. Like the by-products of a heart attack, it is theorized that no levels of lead are "acceptable" just as finding CPK levels - esp. in actual cardiac muscle - is not acceptable since it indicates ongoing heart damage. These findings are borne out by more studies of the baseline lead levels from artic and antarctic ice borings - the period of the fall of the Roman Empire showed the last spike prior to the industrial revolution.

Now, complex modelling takes many factors into account. Otherwise it would be simple modelling. If you look at the average baseline carbon footprint of ICE manufacturing process versus the average baseline carbon footprint for electric vehicles, you find equivalency in 1/2 of the battery lifespan. Then you add in the reduced noxious gases produced (not talking about hybrids here) and you come out way ahead.

While lithium battery technology is an environmental issue, and research continues to produce breakthroughs in reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing, increased lifecycles (charge/discharge cycles) and improved alternate energy production, nothing is going to eliminate the need for 'off cycle' electricity generation. So you bring up valid points while dismissing the relevant scientific prowess.

A better use of energy in the world to achieve the same ends - personal transportation - while reducing the continued poisoning of our water supply (arsenic, nickel, chromium, and lead levels are appearing in many water supplies whether it be from lead in water mains, the actual source water supplies, or residual lead paint leeching through landfills with each subsequent rain) and the continued air pollution that worsens pulmonary issues and promotes immunological issues is the aim of such studies with "Complex modelling".

While you do bring up valid points in your ridicule of the article's premise which Nick did a great job summarizing, the aim of such research is not to make your neighbor suffer an expense to improve your lung or immune system function, but to make you aware of the trade-off. Lost opportunity costs will always appear when change is enacted, and when change is not enacted there are also consequences that can rightly be termed "lost opportunity costs". But either way, it really isn't my generation that will pay the lost costs, we will continue paying the current costs.

So other than ridiculing valid research, what is your point?
Pablo
Unless your Prius has more than 100,000 miles on it, my F150 is still “greener”. And when you have to replace the batteries, the clock gets reset... if you need to do that every 150,000 miles, it’s pretty close to a wash, in my book.
W M Luke Lukoskie
What of the increased environmental costs mining for instance the rare earth minerals needed in EVs? How does the cost of production of Evs play into this equation?
ljaques
To answer wf's questions, there are hundreds more solar-powered battery charging stations built every day. Plus, EV owners are having solar installed to power their cars and homes. And there is a massive market for second-hand EV batteries by those of us building our own Powerwalls. Don't worry about those. / I'm a fan of EVs but will likely only ever own one if I build it myself. Once the battery density problems are handled (2 more gens?), EVs will become ubiquitous without any gov't subsidies or mandates. / Diesel never was a health problem UNTIL the Greens got hold of it and took large (unsightly) soot particles and nano-sized them so they could cause lung problems. Way to go, Greenies! / And to the carbon sequesterers out there, CO2 is nothing but a funding agent for people like Algore, who produced a fake-news movie which was ultimately banned UK schools (and elsewhere) for its lies, and who thought they'd become billionaires by selling carbon credits.