Electric vehicles cool cities down

A recent study shows that electric vehicles emit significantly less heat than conventional ones. That difference could mitigate the urban heat island effect in big cities like Beijing.

There is an increasingly hot debate around the world about whether electric vehicles are the right replacement for conventional ones. While they certainly produce far less greenhouse gas emissions on the roads, electric vehicles are costly and cause more pollution than conventional ones during the manufacturing process.

A recent study led by Canbing Li of Hunan University and researchers from Michigan State University adds fuel to the debate by uncovering two hidden benefits of electric vehicles: electric vehicles are literally cooler, giving off only about 20 per cent of the heat a gas vehicles emits, which in turn mitigates the heat island effect. Moreover, the cooling that results from switching to electric vehicles could mean that city dwellers need less air conditioning. Conventional vehicles and air conditioners are the two biggest contributors to the heat island intensity.

The researchers used Beijing in the summer of 2012 as a case study. They found that switching from gas-powered to electric vehicles could have mitigated the summer heat island intensity by nearly 1 degree Celsius. This would have reduced the amount of electricity consumed daily by air conditioners in buildings by 14.44 million kilowatt-hours and cut carbon dioxide emissions by a staggering 10,686 tonnes per day.

“Heat waves kill, and in terms of climate change, even one degree can make a difference,” says co-author Jianguo Liu, director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University.


Photo credit: aaron_anderer, flickr/Creative Commons

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