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Growing Dutch Electric Vehicle fleet not driving Rotterdam coal use

November 28th, 2015 · No Comments

an electric car is a relatively low-polluting vehicle today and will be even less polluting tomorrow.

A simple truth upfront:

All things being equal, electric vehicles (EVs) reduce pollution loads.

Now, there are many caveats and corollaries to this truism. For example,

  • Better to reduce transport requirements (build/live in walkable communities; telecommute; etc …) than use electric vehicles.
  • The cleaner the electricity sourcing, the lower the EVs pollution load.
  • Even with 100% renewable electricity sourcing, EVs reduce pollution compared to “BAU” (business as usual)– they don’t eliminate it.

With this in mind, lets consider a recent Washington Post article on electric vehicles in the Netherlands and the potential ‘pollution’ impacts from the growth in Dutch EV deployment.  While buried deep within the article, the author vehicles-ev-tool-promorightly looks to a recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) study on electric vehicles that concluded that — even in the most heavily polluting of US electricity supplies — the worst status for an EV is roughly the climate impact of a 36 mile per gallon vehicle.  And, as the electric supply cleans up (hydro, wind, solar, nuclear, …), that mpg equivalent increases — actually skyrockets — to well about 100 mpg (and, well, potentially into the 100s of mpg equivalency).

Let’s be clear, to reinforce, EVs are better pollution wise (on the street level for urban pollution loads and globally for climate change) than their internal combustion equivalents … That is not what one really gathers from this front page article.

The Post article creates a misleading image for its readership as exemplified by the online title: Electric cars and the coal that runs them.  From the opening paragraphs,

In this 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. … 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.

What would any reasonable person take away from this?  From my perspective, rather simple: growth of EVs is driving deployment of coal-fired power plants and the use of this “filthy” energy source negates any potential value streams. [See published letter to the editor below [1].]

Let’s do a quick summation of why this framing is simply at odds with a reasonable read of the situation:

  • Dutch EV penetration is growing rapidly, now. This comes well after the decision-making about whether to construct Rotterdam coal-fired plants (with a 2008 announcement of their construction).  E.g., the coal-fired power plants were being built well before “electric cars [began to] jostle for space …”
  • EV electricity usage is only a small fraction of the demand for these coal-fired plants. Even if 100% of the EV electricity comes from these plants (a simply unrealistic assumption), the total Dutch EV demand is pretty much only a rounding error in terms of their electricity production. (See calculation below indicating that this is well below two percent. [2])


Thus, to make it clear: electric vehicles did not drive the development of Rotterdam coal-fired power plants nor are they using a substantial portion of the generated electricity. Now, as per the UCS study, electric vehicles’ environmental advantages over traditional internal combustion engines increase as the electricity supply gets cleaner. Thus, running an EV off coal is far from optimum. However, in the Netherlands as in most parts of the world, the rapidly increasing penetration of clean-electricity options is more than outpacing the introduction of electric transportation options.

Reading the article makes one wonder … The Washington Post has long had an editorial stance questioning the viability and basic sensibility of electric vehicles (on this, see, for example, hereherehere, here, here, here, ….).  Even though real-world developments are — with every passing day — making this seem a less reasonable position, articles like this one make one question whether and/or how that editorial position is influencing the writing/editing of news articles.


[1] In response to the article, the Washington Post published this letter:

The new coal-fired, electricity-generating plants discussed in the Nov. 24 front-page article “Boom in electric cars boosts demand for coal power” were contracted for construction before electric vehicles seriously entered the marketplace. These plants, combined, have 3,516 megawatts of generating capacity. The total Dutch electric car electricity demand is about 50 megawatts. Electric vehicles neither drove the installation of these coal-fired plants nor represent a meaningful share of the plants’ electricity production.

Also, the increasing generation of renewable energy in the Netherlands is far greater than the increased electricity demand created by electric vehicles on Dutch roads. It is a truism that the electric car is only as clean as its electricity supply. Fully powered by coal electricity, an electric vehicle is about the equivalent of a 35 mpg car. Fully powered by wind or the sun, its equivalent is well above 100 mpg.

Around the world, electricity generation is getting cleaner with each passing year for reasons that include more efficient fossil fuel power plants (coal and gas), extremely fast renewable energy growth and better system management. Thus, whether in the Netherlands or in the D.C. suburbs, an electric car is a relatively low-polluting vehicle today and will be even less polluting tomorrow.

Adam Siegel, McLean

[2] A brief calculation re EV demand in the Netherlands.

  • Netherlands has, as of September 2015, 61,000 PHEV/EVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles/electric vehicles).
  • Assume 100 kilowatt hours (kWh) per week per vehicle
  • Assuming 100 kwh/week per vehicle (see below), this is 6,100,000 kilowatt hours or 6.1 gigawatt hours/week.
  • 6.1 gigawatt hours / 144 hours in a week = constant power generation requirement 24 hours/day of 42.36 megwatts
  • These power plants total 3516 megawatts of capacity — or roughly 85 times the total baseload energy demand created by Dutch electric vehicles.

[3]  Related Electric Vehicles posts include:




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Tags: coal · electric vehicles · electricity · emissions · Washington Post