China Working to Kick Fossil-Fuel Addiction with Electric Cars

While Donald Trump makes petty, feckless threats of trade war with China, our Chinese friends are forging actual long-term industrial policy that seismically shift global trade. Specifically, the Chinese are working on a plan to get rid of combustion-engine automobiles and get a billion Chinese consumers crusing around in electric cars:

Xin Guobin, the vice minister of industry and information technology, said the government is working with other regulators on a timetable to end production and sales. The move will have a profound impact on the environment and growth of China’s auto industry, Xin said at an auto forum in Tianjin on Saturday.

A ban on combustion-engine vehicles will help push both local and global automakers to shift toward electric vehicles, a carrot-and-stick approach that could boost sales of energy-efficient cars and trucks and reduce air pollution while serving the strategic goal of cutting oil imports. The government offers generous subsidies to makers of new-energy vehicles. It also plans to require automakers to earn enough credits or buy them from competitors with a surplus under a new cap-and-trade program for fuel economy and emissions [“China to Ban Sale of Fossil Fuel Cars in Electric Vehicle Push,” Bloomberg, 2017.09.09].

China registered more than twice as many electric cars as the United States in 2016. We have chosen an occupant of the White House who not lacks a plan for encouraging the development of new automotive technology to meet this demand but seems determined to keep the United States mired in fossil-fuel addiction while other nations take the lead in transportation and energy technology.

48 Responses to China Working to Kick Fossil-Fuel Addiction with Electric Cars

  1. Ahhhh…. the things you can do when you don’t have an oil industry with a choke hold on your government.

  2. Meanwhile, China is building 700 (yes you read that number right) coal-fired powerplants at home and abroad – making it impossible to comply with the Paris climate accords. Those Chinese electric cars will be charged with coal power, and that famous Chinese smog isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, Chinese companies are leading the push to increase the use of coal worldwide by 43% by building all of these new coal plants.

    So much for China “tak[ing] the lead in transportation and energy technology” while the United States remains “mired in fossil-fuel technology.” I wouldn’t trade our air quality for that of China – now or in the future.

  3. Robert McTaggart

    Just because you require everyone to have electric cars doesn’t mean that you are producing the energy required to charge those cars, nor providing said energy when it is needed, nor making sure it is carbon-free.

    So they may very well generate the energy that is necessary with the coal plants, but unless they have somehow mastered carbon capture or are significantly increasing the efficiency of a coal plant (which means running at higher temperatures), then this will not help reduce carbon.

    But charging the electric cars with coal-based electricity will get you off of oil if that is your goal.

  4. I’ll defend the “taking the lead” statement, Ror. The Chinese are promising to eliminate one source of fossil-fuel pollution. Yes, the energy for those cars has to come from somewhere, and the Chinese investment in more coal plants is not encouraging. However, they are moving emissions from millions of tailpipes to hundreds of power plants, where emissions can be better controlled. They alleviate some need for drilling and fracking for oil. They also set up a national economy riding on electric wheels that can more quickly be converted to the clean sources of power that China is working on. The moment Dr. McTaggart invents fusion, China’s cars will be ready to run on said fusion, while we’ll still be chugging along in our gasoline-powered Trumpmobiles. China’s looking ahead and pushing ahead faster than Trump policy would.

    Even though coal is dirty, from a pure long-term perspective, I’d rather have an economy or a sector of the economy based on coal than oil, since oil will run out sooner than coal.

  5. Mr. Lansing

    Trump has fracked USA!! Trump’s EPA has ended pollution guidelines so we Western states are simply setting our own. It’s hard to see our country split on reaction but global warming is just too darn important to let a self-consumed President ignore it. It’s better to side with China, nowdays.
    ~ California will receive all of its power from renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, by 2045 under legislation that passed their state Senate last Wednesday. The measure would also speed up the state’s goal of reaching 50% renewable energy, changing the deadline from 2030 to 2026.

  6. Robert McTaggart

    I agree that if you can get the clean energy economy working correctly (i.e. we can generate enough clean energy whenever we want it), then such a conversion means the transportation sector would already be plug-in ready (pardon the pun).

    So, we are in a chicken and egg situation here, and China is getting ready to do the widespread electric cars first, despite the inputs coming largely from coal.

  7. Robert McTaggart

    I think it is correct to say that California will generate the equivalent of their total use from renewables by 2045, but they will push the excess elsewhere and take in gas or coal power from elsewhere when solar and wind are not enough.

    Without an energy storage solution and no load-following nuclear, they will pass the problem of intermittency and carbon from back-up fossil fuels for somebody else to figure out.

    Wind is not making any new headway in California at the moment…difficulties in siting new wind farms due to a loss of habitat and the loss of the view. Solar is however making advances, particular the Chinese-based solar panels.

  8. Mr. Lansing

    Negativity bias is spending more time thinking about why an idea won’t work than time spent helping devise a way to make it work. NegBias is rampant in the Republican mindset. Analysis reveals it’s easier to not even try and just denounce the effort than it is to enlist some dusty old brain cells into helping the group solve problems with new ideas and ways to implement them. I call it “Republican Lazy Thinking”.

  9. Robert McTaggart

    Sorry, but emitting carbon (from gas or coal back-up) in the name of not emitting carbon (from solar/wind), while ignoring the holistic accounting of costs and benefits, doesn’t make sense to me.

    Part of a liberal arts education is not just whether we can do something because we can, but questioning whether we should do something in a particular manner.

  10. Mr. Lansing

    Professor … You said those things last year. Got any new ideas?

  11. The big difference to me is that electric cars have the potential to be powered by non-fossils fuels; the internal combustion engine does not have that potential. Electric cars for that reason alone are a shift int he right direction. Rendering the world’s oil producers impotent by cutting off their funding doesn’t seem like a bad goal to me.

  12. Mr. Lansing

    Good explanation, o. BRavO

  13. Electric vehicles are the future. It will be nice when they become affordable and their range improves. In the meantime, let’s do all we can to bankrupt China by convincing 100 million Chinese to buy all of the electric minicars GM can build with $8,700/car Chinese government subsidies.

  14. Robert McTaggart

    Yeah…the overall mindset that solar and wind will fix everything by themselves is still going on. Part of the solution? Yes. The entire solution? No.

    I’m not really excited about powering electric cars with coal. Who knows, maybe advanced coal will drop emissions by 25%. That wouldn’t be the 50% reduction from natural gas or the zero emissions from nuclear. If we are set against nuclear that’s the best you can do. BUT that may not be enough.

  15. Robert McTaggart

    So the title should really be “China working to kick oil addiction with electric cars”.

    They probably have more access locally to coal, whereas they must ship in a lot of oil from elsewhere. It is therefore an energy security issue for them as well. If other nations threaten to stop delivery of oil for some reason (besides there isn’t any more), they won’t care.

  16. I’m not convinced that China cares much about pollution, or its human toll, or climate change. I do believe that Chinese bureaucrats see electric vehicles as a way to move pollution out of cities to lesser populated areas where they can build all of the cheap and dirty coal plants they need using dirt-cheap labor to mine coal to power the electric cars. And the building of millions of electric cars is economic development, of course. It’s all the better for China when companies like GM partner with Chinese companies so that GM gets some short-term gains but the Chinese partner companies can pirate American technology in exchange for providing dirt-cheap labor.

  17. Robert McTaggart

    Perhaps, but China corners the market on rare earth metals, greater than 90% of the world’s production. So I would think they would be very interested in the technologies that use rare earth metals and the other critical elements that they mine, like solar cells, wind turbines, energy efficient lighting, and battery storage.

  18. Donald Pay

    China is doing far, far more than the United States in terms of switching over to a renewal fuels economy. They are absolutely serious about it, and about reducing pollution. China earlier this year put into effect new regulations to control pollution. While idiots in the Trump Administration and in industry deny the reality of human-induced climate change, China has long accepted the findings of science and have been actively supporting a switch in technology to renewable energy.

  19. Robert McTaggart

    China faces an interesting conundrum. On one hand the existing pollution is intolerable. But on the other, a growing population needs energy, and coal is the cheapest for them at the moment to deliver that bulk energy. If they work to reduce the impact of coal, it won’t be as inexpensive any more. India in fact faces a similar set of problems.

    Most U.S. utilities are planning to build new natural gas and wind as part of their portfolio. Some have interests in demand management and energy efficiency. For better or worse we have chosen natural gas as the fuel to deliver the bulk energy that we demand. The larger question for us is whether we are going to deliver green energy to the world, or buy the cheapest available product from China.

  20. happy camper

    Ah yes, progressive China is absolutely serious about reducing pollution and a model for the world to follow. Lets pay them homage they’ve done a wonderful job so far.

    “China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, having overtaken the United States in 2007, and was responsible for 27 percent of global emissions in 2014.”

    Inside Beijing’s airpocalypse – a city made ‘almost uninhabitable’ by pollution:

  21. happy camper

    For the sake of imagery, let’s observe how our Chinese friends love their country. Greed is a universal human characteristic.

    23 Shocking Photos Reveal How Bad China’s Pollution Problem Has Become:

  22. Hap, China has plenty of problems. But right now, China appears to be taking a more serious studied approach to solving their energy problems than the current American Administration.

    Dr. McTaggart and O both recognize the green-plug-in potential of electric cars. As things stand now, gasoline-powered cars guarantee greenhouse-gas emissions, while electric cars offer the chance to zero out greenhouse-gas emissions at the tailpipe and the power source. Any electric cars running off Three Gorges Dam power are an immediate environmental plus (accepting the flooded villages and ecological disruption along the Yangtze as sunk cost). Any cars still running off coal plants are still ready to switch tomorrow to new wind, solar, and fusion reactors (McTaggart! Get to work!).

  23. happy camper

    Appears being the critical word. We must accept everything they’ve been willing to do to their ecology in a very short time for the sake of growth. So now they will turn over a whole new leaf? They are in such a dire position they must act to sustain life but give them no kudos, and don’t hold them higher above our country because you are so eager to attack “Trump’s America” at the cost of what is actually true.

  24. mike from iowa

    HC- I’ll give you a whole nickel if you can post once without a blatant dig at Cory or his blog.

    Maybe if you earn a nickel you have more of a sense of self worth and feel better about the world in general.

    One can always dream anyway. BTW- poverty rate went down and median income up in 2016. How soon before you and Drumpf give Drumpf credit for it?

  25. Robert McTaggart

    I agree that once you have the electric car, the electrons can come from any source, green or not. So you might as well make it green, which for me is a desired combo of wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear.

    The big challenge will be the raw materials for that many batteries, so I will not be surprised if something other than a lithium or nickel-based battery design wins the day, like a type of flow battery.

    At the moment, electric cars are not as great in the snow and cold as their internal combustion cousins. So we may end up with more of a hybrid at the end of the day, perhaps supplemented with a sustainable biofuel or hydrogen fuel.

    Sorry I haven’t discovered sustainable fusion yet ;^), but a combination of things are stopping fusion right now. At the end of the day, they are not generating more energy out than they put in. Taking waste products away and bringing in fresh fuel fast enough is an issue. Having the materials that will withstand the high temperatures and radiation levels is also an issue (in fact, those are much higher than seen in fission reactors!). The high temperature and radiation fields also impact processes like corrosion.

  26. bearcreekbat

    Perhaps Happy’s point is that Trump should follow China’s past behavior and delay moving forward until USA skies are as bad as China’s skies.

    I think this is contrary to Cory’s point that Trump should stop denying change and take affirmative steps before the USA has air as bad as China.

    I vote for Cory’s position. I think it is unwise to see just how bad we can make things before taking proactive steps to protect our air.

  27. mike from iowa

    Taking waste products away and bringing in fresh fuel fast enough is an issue.

    Bigger intake and exhaust valves should set you right.

  28. happy camper

    You’re so defensive you think everything is a dig, but yes, of course, I am challenging Cory and others above the roar of applause and group think to consider other things.

    You hate Trump so much you can’t see straight! He’s only been there a few months he didn’t create climate change. Sure, greedy people did who are all over the world.

    Hopefully I get on Cory’s nerves it’s my job to say how I see it, as we should all do. And you Mike were initially only irreverent, but have made a few good points over time, though this criticism is unjustified because I like Cory and want that nickel.

  29. Robert McTaggart


    I tried changing the spark plugs and it still doesn’t work….

  30. Robert, my apologies if you’ve already covered this before, but explain for me the cold-weather disadvantage of electric cars. Is it related to the engineering problem that makes it hard to use our batteries to turn over our gasoline-powered cars on January mornings?

    What percentage of the Chinese live in cold climates unsuitable for electric car usage during winter? Maybe part of humanity’s solution here is to stop living in places where it’s 40 below! :-D

  31. There are a lot of Chinese people who live in cold climates. A lot. More than most, I expect. And, they really don’t need cars, in grudznick’s opinion.

  32. Robert McTaggart

    I think it is Colder weather –> matter contracts –> more resistance to the flow of electrons, if not more viscosity to other fluids that the car uses. The range of the car is reduced over the winter in general.

    Another challenge with electric cars is that you don’t get the same ambient heat from internal combustion to warm the car, so having the heat on in the car takes more electricity. Seat heaters tend to be less intensive.

    But one of the things that intermittent renewables could do in the winter is simply provide supplemental heat to the car to help it warm up. In theory there is more wind overnight, so why not simply dump some of that to car engine blocks to keep them warm?

  33. I wondered about that heat issue! Electric car motors produce less heat than internal combustion engines, so we have to use extra electricity to drive a heater.

    Other fluids—with fewer moving parts, isn’t the viscosity issue reduced in electric cars?

    Higher resistance in colder weather—is that what keeps IC cars from starting in the winter? Are there any conductors that we could use that would reduce winter resistance?

  34. Robert McTaggart

    Maybe it is not apples to apples, but apples to pears, with regard to what happens with electric and IC cars during cold weather. Recharging is just harder on the battery during a temperature extreme (hot or cold).

    But IC cars would benefit from supplemental heating as well. So I’m waiting for the parking spaces that provide extra heat or electric heat from wind/solar when they are available (or cool them during the summer). That would improve gas mileage and reduce the amount of fossil fuels consumed by IC cars, and it would make the electric cars more efficient. There is your win-win.

    As batteries improve over time, the reduced range may be enough for most needs. Sounds like the big things you can do today are pre-heat the car with another power source and use the seat warmers to ameliorate the effects of the cold on an electric car.

  35. Robert McTaggart

    Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission is now recommending that Japan get 20% of its electricity from nuclear…by 2030. Right now the 2% from re-started plants isn’t working for a variety of reasons, particularly due to the import of natural gas.

    The Pacific is healthy after Fukushima too.

  36. mike from iowa

    After Fukishima, can you honestly say there are none and won’t be any Godzillas?

  37. Robert McTaggart

    Godzilla is trademarked, so until they make the next movie, yes I can guarantee it.

    As you are probably aware, there was already radioactivity in the Pacific, just from naturally-occurring radioisotopes (which includes tritium and carbon-14 made by cosmic rays, potassium-40, and the decay chains of thorium and uranium).

    The question is whether any excess radioactivity since Fukushima (i.e. above and beyond the natural background levels) generated any additional effects. This study didn’t find anything like that happened.

  38. mike from iowa

    You win on a technicality. :)

  39. Parking spaces providing extra heat? How about parking lots and adjoining streets paved with solar panels?

  40. Robert McTaggart

    I think the jury is out on those kinds of systems.

    “After years of development and millions of dollars (including government funding), all of the solar roadways installed today do not produce cost-effective energy production. The roads are expensive and produce far less electricity than what could be produced if the money was used on a solar farm- or by simply placing them by the side of the road.”

    “Laying a solar panel flat result will result in a 60 percent power loss in comparison to a tracking solar panel. ”

    “As the panels wear out, the glass material will become opaque. The clarity of the glass would significantly degrade the panels ability to collect light.”

  41. Robert McTaggart

    But here is some good news for you. Doesn’t mean that such coal cannot be mined, but they have to do an analysis first.

    “Handing a major victory to environmentalists, a court cast doubt Friday on a longstanding U.S. government argument that blocking federal coal leasing won’t affect climate change because the coal could simply be mined elsewhere.”

  42. And running snowplows over solar panels can’t help the glass clarity. How about kinetic generators under the road?

  43. Mr. Lansing

    How about a clear sealant over the panels on the roads. Like a bowling lane. There are sealants that are highly durable. Think of not a panel but a series of wire receptors. We need more new ideas and people who WANT to implement them and a lot less “negativity bias”. USA was once a country of innovation. Now it often seems like a country of “keep taxes low and we’ll make do with less”.

  44. Robert McTaggart

    Having the electricity to charge up batteries or to generate heat to warm up the engines will benefit both electric cars and internal combustion cars, and would help ameliorate the impact of intermittency because excess energy would have a place to go.

    So I’m all for research to make solar parking lots (or covered parking lots with solar roofs) happen and avoid taking up green space to generate the energy. Try, fail, improve, repeat.

    But once they get scratched up and dirtied with traffic so light doesn’t get through, you have to replace them and throw them away (nobody will get the energy they are paying for otherwise). Throwing things away on a regular basis without recycling presents a sustainability issue.

    Your clear sealant is likely a petrochemical-based product that will wind up in the dump. I wonder if there are any water issues with that approach….but that just means there is room for research on biodegradable bio-based polymers that would boost sustainability.

    If you generate the energy elsewhere and let the parking lots be the end consumer, then you at least avoid issues with traffic driving over the solar panels.

  45. Robert McTaggart

    Interesting article…the army produced air-transportable nuclear electricity in 1962, but just not very well. I don’t know if the naval reactors on current ships could deliver energy today or not. They have been used elsewhere to generate potable water.

    We need to get the SMR’s (small modular reactors) licensed so that they are available to provide emergency power for places like Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas after a natural disaster. Instead, they are relying on diesel generators.

    Scroll down in the article to see what happened to the solar cells in the Virgin Islands as a result of one of these hurricanes. Solar is missing out on an opportunity to show that it can deliver the stand-alone power people need in such a crisis.

  46. mike from iowa

    Lilacpr said…

    There are reports that they are selling the diesel to the highest bidder in San Juan, the diesel is not being shipped to the island for the electric company trucks to be able to fix the fallen lines. Also the humanitarian aid has been at port in and has not been allowed in. Without diesel there will be no repairs and no electricity. Fortunate to be in an area with internet but only for today. Will write as soon as I can. Situation bad, no light, phone, water. And everything stuck in San Juan. (boots on the ground in PR)

    One other thing, Doc. Vertical well owners in OK claim damage from fracking. Could there be an oil war in the middle of America?

  47. Robert McTaggart

    Not sure, but the issues with minor earthquakes from fracking are on-going.Doesn’t sound like there are any pipelines to Puerto Rico either…everything has to be shipped, and they run on oil or coal.

    The bad news is that the old grid is gone. Only good news will be if they make better decisions on a new grid.

    Apparently the eastern Caribbean is a good location for geothermal energy, but they just haven’t had the investment to make it work. Politically at the moment it will be easier and quicker for that region to do a new electrical grid with solar and geothermal.

  48. mike from iowa

    I remember a long time ago some Cuban ex-pat hijacked a bus and demanded it take him to Cuba. So I wouldn’t dismiss the PR pipeline question yet.