Electric Cars today are mostly coal-powered

April 3, 2011 | By More

Vinod Khosla, Indian born American venture capitalist



In reality… electric cars today are coal-powered cars….


The statement may come to a shock to most of us and without further analysis some of us will even object to and challenge the sanity of that statement.

An electric car being charged in UK

However, the person who made that statement in The Economist, Vinod Khosla, is no stranger to controversy. After all, he had founded Sun Microsystems, joined Kleiner Perkins a top-tier venture capital and been involved in many successful start-ups in Silicon Valley.

And he has a point.

Most electricity in USA and Europe, he points out (and probably mostly around the world too), is generated using coal-fired power plants. So if the idea of electric vehicles is to reduce carbon emissions, this is probably not going to have a big impact if the coal power stations do not reduce their emissions. In fact, we are likely to have to build more power stations to support the electrification of cars!

Coal-fired power stations near Aachen, Germany with open pit coal mine in the foreground. (Photo by Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)

Even Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape whose IPO kicked off the internet boom, admits that his latest venture capital fund will avoid “clean, green, energy and electric cars”!

Are we misguided in our support of electric cars?

41% of the world's power is generated from coal

The more important question is – what is your reason for supporting something, anything? Clearly electricity for the cars have to come from somewhere, which is the electric socket. And that power has to come from power stations, where over 40% is generated from coal, and higher in some countries.

The problem is not about electric cars. The issue for discussion here is our form of thinking. Maybe we were so excited about the concept of electric cars that we ignored everything else, including the reason for electric cars. Maybe we were not thinking at all – and assuming that electric cars got their power from batteries that got it from the air!

The issue is often not thinking critically enough. The position we have advocated in this website is to consider carefully what you have thought to be the ‘great’ idea that is ‘surely to be a hit’, as entrepreneurs usually think about their cherished ideas. Just because it may be a good idea does not mean it will be one, and bought in large numbers.

Have you considered how it will be viewed from the user’s perspective? (read more about Don’t make a product to sell.) Why would someone buy your product or service? (Read more about Finding out what your customer needs.)

Along with the idea to solve a problem is the method of thinking that will make it a success. Consider what is the goal or problem you are solving; how well does your solution address the wider problem; where are the pitfalls; what changes need to be made; what plans need to be in place, and so on. We have tried to cover some of these topics in this website. (Read more about What Next? )

So, how do we develop ‘critical thinking’?  That is another discussion.

Further reading:
Information on Coal Power
Daily Mail
The Economist
Tory Aadrvark


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About the Author ()

EngTong, pioneer and innovator. Graduated from Imperial College London with an MBA from Cranfield School of Management. Lived in Scotland, England, California, Beijing and led teams in Italy, France, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia to do the impossible. Now based in Singapore and believes the future is to blend the sophistication of western management practices with the strength of Asian Values. Trained as a Chartered Engineer. Member of IET, Associate of City and Guilds and a certified SixSigma Champion.

Comments (2)

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  1. Neil Roberts says:

    The Author of this article is wildly misinformed. The new standard for measuring the efficiency of all vehicles (conventional and alternative) is called Well to Wheel analysis. Have a look at this article to see how Electric Cars really stack up against their gas counterparts.

    • Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2018/12. Is its parent directory writable by the server? ET says:

      The purpose of the article is to encourage critical thinking. Power stored in batteries of electric cars have to come from somewhere outside, if not from the car itself. The US Dept of Energy website indicates in 2009 and 2010 about 45% of electric power to homes, offices and factories is generated using coal, down from about 50% ten years ago. (http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table1_1.html). However the Tesla Motor article you referenced suggested in a table on top of pg 4 that the homeowner in the California (where Tesla Motors is, together with Mr Khosla) is able to choose using natural gas to charge their electric cars. Unfortunately the rest of the world are yet able to choose the mix of electricity sources coming to their socket. Perhaps we have indeed been misinformed about developments in the USA. Thank you for your comments.