For Parisians traveling in City of Love last week, any feelings of benevolence towards fellow citizens may have been in short supply. Thanks to a week-long build-up of smog under windless skies, the city’s administration was forced to introduce a license-plate lottery for its commuters. Odd-numbered plates, and you were in. Even, and you had to leave the car at home.
It’s a type of road-space rationing that’s become common in many Latin American cities, and which has recently spread to Asia and Europe. Thanks to ever-growing urbanization and burgeoning car-ownership, it only takes a stilling of the wind for dangerous levels of pollutants to ratchet up. High levels of fine-particulates, ozone and volatile organic compounds have been linked to everything from breathing problems to heart disease and cancer.
It’s one of those often-unacknowledged costs of driving gas-burning cars – a legacy of pollution and ill-health whose effects spread far beyond the car’s owner. It’s been calculated that each year as many as 1.3 million people die prematurely in cities across the globe from such pollution. That number is around 53,000 in the U.S. according to a recent MIT study. Such negative costs placed on the rest of society certainly don’t figure in the ticket price of a new car purchase. But if they did, the cost equation would shift significantly in favor of the electric car (EV). EVs famously have zero tail-pipe emissions.
Looking at the cost of ownership of personal transport from such a global perspective is an approach increasingly being driven by policy-makers. And while putting numbers to such an emotive cost as people falling ill or dying early can seem crude, it does put perspective on the numbers game,
so often indulged in, when comparing EVs to their ICE brethren.
One study that has attempted to quantify these kinds of ‘external costs’ was conducted in 2013 by the Natural Resource & Environmental Research Center at the University of Haifa. They gathered up all the negative impacts imposed by tail-pipe emissions on wider society for three countries – France, Denmark and Israel. Their model indicated that replacing the whole vehicle fleet of a country like France would save the economy over $4 billion a year in costs, from reduced air emissions alone.
At the level of the individual car, that works out to some $3,000 you could avoid placing on everyone else, just by driving an EV, over the course of 10 years. There are other more subtle avoided costs from using EVs too – such as a reduced ‘heat-island effect‘ from cool-running EV motors – as well as the huge scope they have for providing services, and stability, to a radically-changing electrical grid.
Then again, a more obvious and immediate benefit was apparent for Parisian EV drivers last week. Each time the city has imposed its license rationing in the face of high pollution, a select few have been given the green light to go, whatever their license plate number. Hybrid and plug-in EV drivers, it seemed, had no need to catch the bus.
Martin Leggett is a freelance writer from the UK, who specializes in writing on the strategic impact of environmental issues. After a 10-year sojourn as an analyst at Brady plc – a Cambridge-based provider of services to commodity investment banking professionals – Martin set himself up as self-employed writer at the beginning of 2010. Since then he has written for a number of environmental websites and companies– including cutting-edge clean energy startups – and has been one of the principle journalists for green news website, The Earth TimesBack to Blog