In Denmark, Better Place Must Explain Electric Car's Advantages

Shai Agassi's firm, Better Place, which is developing the infrastructure to accommodate electric cars in Israel, is presenting a new electric car to the delegates at the UN Climate Change Conference currently underway in Copenhagen.

Among other questions, the company is being asked to explain the ecological advantage of a battery-powered car, which doesn't cause pollution when operated, over pollution created through the generation of electricity required to charge the car's battery. As of this week, Better Place's response can be found in a report prepared by Dr. Bernanda Flicstein, an air pollution expert, which says the use of electric cars would reduce total air pollution and potentially create economic benefits of up to hundreds of millions of euros a year.

By contrast, Dan Rabinowitz, an environmental expert at Tel Aviv University, contends that - at this time - higher levels of greenhouse gases are emitted as a result of electricity being generated to charge car batteries than is produced by the actual operation of a conventional car.

Flicstein analyzed the environmental effect of the operation of two million electric vehicles by the year 2020. She examined several scenarios, including some in which electricity is generated by polluting fuel sources, such as coal, and others where is it generated by cleaner fuels, such as natural gas and renewable energy sources.

With respect to the various options, according to the study, the use of the electric car significantly improved air quality in major cities, at times by up to 60 percent, while the additional air pollution created at electric power stations would not be substantial and would not exceed air pollution standards.

Flicstein specifically stressed that the use of electric cars would reduce concentrations of cancer-causing benzene. According to the study, electric cars would also reduce the level of carbon dioxide greenhouse gases and provide economic benefits of at least tens of millions of euros per year.

Flicstein said she based her projections on the strict assumption that all gas-powered cars would be modern, cleaner models, but in practice, she explained, this would not be the case - therefore making the relative benefit of the electric car that much greater.

Tel Aviv University's Rabinowitz compared greenhouse gases produced by a conventional Renault automobile and an electric-powered Renault. He concluded that the polluting fuels used to generate the electricity to charge the electric car's battery would exceed the greenhouse gases emitted by the use of a conventional car. He suggested that it would have been preferable for Better Place to initially develop electric-car infrastructure in countries such as Canada, where electricity is already generated by cleaner means.

Flicstein took issue with Rabinowitz's conclusions, saying they were based on current electricity generation methods rather than what would be used in about 10 years.

By that time, she said, more electricity in Israel would be generated by cleaner natural gas, while one-tenth of the electricity produced would come from renewable energy sources.

In any event, Flicstein claims, even if electricity for electric car batteries were generated by less environmentally friendly sources, creation of greenhouse gases would still decline with the use of electric cars. Environmental organizations have been following Better Place's plans with interest.