Behind the green growth of electric cars is a filthy secret: In a nation famous for its windmills, electricity is coming from a far dirtier source. Three new coal-fired power plants are supplying much of the power to fuel the Netherlands’ electric-car boom.
In the traffic-packed Dutch city of Rotterdam, electric cars jostle for space at charging stations. The oldest exhaust-spewing vehicles will soon be banned from the city center. Thanks to generous tax incentives, the share of electric vehicles has grown faster in the Netherlands than in nearly any other country in the world.
But behind the green growth is a filthy secret: In a nation famous for its windmills, electricity is coming from a far dirtier source. Three new coal-fired power plants, including two here on the Rotterdam harbor, are supplying much of the power to fuel the Netherlands’ electric-car boom.
As the world tries to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and combat climate change, policymakers have pinned hopes on electric cars, whose range and convenience are quickly improving. Alongside the boom has come a surging demand for power to charge the vehicles, which can consume as much electricity in a single charge as the average refrigerator does in a month and a half.
The global shift to electric cars has a clear climate benefit in regions that get most of their power from clean sources, such as California or Norway. But in areas supplied by dirtier power, like China, India and even the Netherlands, which is on track to miss ambitious emissions targets set for 2020, the electric-car jump has slimmer payoffs. In some cases, it could even worsen the overall climate impact of driving, experts say.
The dilemma highlights the crucial importance of clean electricity in global goals to slash greenhouse-gas emissions, the focus of a December summit in Paris. Cutting transportation-related emissions can help – but not if pollution is simply shifted from the tailpipes of cars to the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants, which generate 40 percent of the world’s electricity.
Amid revelations that Volkswagen faked the emissions of its supposedly clean diesel cars, even more hopes have been pinned on electric vehicles. Global sales are expected to more than double over the next decade.
“The overall emissions of electricity generation in Europe still haven’t gone down,” said Luc Werring, the former principal adviser to the European Commission on energy issues. “If you drive your car on mixed electricity, then you’re not reducing carbon as much as you’d expect.”
Driving electric cars, he said, “is not as positive as some would like.”