Electric Plug-In Cars Consume 300% More Water

March 12 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 12

According to a recent study published by the American Chemical Society electric plug-in vehicles use-up 300% more water resources than do their petroleum-burning counterparts. The report takes into account the water evaporated during as the electricity these cars rely on is generated.

“In displacing gasoline miles with electric miles, approximately 3 times more water is consumed (0.32 versus 0.07–0.14 gallons/mile) and over 17 times more water is withdrawn (10.6 versus 0.6 gallons/mile) primarily due to increased water cooling of thermoelectric power plants to accommodate increased electricity generation,” assert study authors Carey King and Michael Webber of the University of Texas at Austin.

This could have a big impact on the adoption and use of electric cars in water-scarce areas like the American South-West, China, Africa and the Middle East. In alignment with this possibility, the study, titled The Water Intensity of the Plugged-In Automotive Economy notes that “the impact on water resources from a widespread shift to grid-based transportation would be substantial enough to warrant consideration for relevant public policy decision-making.”

As both water and petroleum are consumed at an increasingly fast rate, this will certainly come into play as nations determine their plug-in policies and may delay the adoption of such vehicles. At the same time, more efficient batteries are likely to gradually offset the water cost.

One thing that is certain is the idea that we must carefully analyze the holistic effects of any new transportation technology, holding it up to the same critical standards that we’ve just recently developed for oil. Unfortunately, in our exuberance, it’s possible that we could do more harm than good.

Comment Thread (3 Responses)

  1. I like the idea of hybrids and pluggable hybrids. And much of what passes for “research” can be rather silly.

    Water is not “consumed” in the way that petroleum is consumed. Water that is used to condense steam at powerplants is partially evaporated, and partially returned to its source. Evaporated water returns to earth as rain at another location. Nothing is “consumed” by this process.

    Posted by: AlFin   March 12, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  2. @ Al: I guess it doesn’t really make much of a difference unless water resources are diverted in areas where water is truly scarce, which would drive up the cost of water. While most regions would be unaffected water-wise by a massive shift to electric cars, some regions in China, the Middle East and even the South-West U.S. would feel the impact. It’s not the end of the world, and electric cars are a step in the right direction, but there are bound to be some unintended consequences.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   March 12, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  3. I agree Alvis – some of those unintended consequences could result in violence and dispute. But so is the case for any natural resource… “Resource Wars” by Michael T. Klare makes a good argument that most, if not all, major wars have had at their roots a struggle over one natural resource or another. Although most of us in the developed world take water for granted, resources don’t have to be seen as “precious” like diamonds or oil to be fought over. Maybe obv, just wanted to point to that literature. :)

    Posted by: Marisa Vitols   March 13, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend