Electric Vehicles Increasingly Best Option for Reduced Carbon Footprint

Credit - Argonne National Laboratory

Credit – Argonne National Laboratory

By Clayton Handleman

With Electric Vehicles, the comment is often made that EVs are no better than regular cars when you take into account the emissions from power plants.  The fleet average mileage for cars purchased today is under 25 mpg.  Even using a more conservative number, 27 mpg, as in this Union of Concerned Scientists report EVs have a lower carbon footprint than the average ICE vehicle everywhere in the country.  The UCS report goes on to point out that

“In regions covering 45 percent of the nation’s population, electricity is generated with a larger share of cleaner energy resources—such as renewables and natural gas—meaning that EVs produce lower global warming emissions than even the most efficient gasoline hybrids.”

In a more recent report from Climate Central  the authors point out that the manufacture of EV batteries is very costly in terms of carbon.  But even taking that into account, EVs beat the average car everywhere and beat a Prius in regions covering 30% of the US population.  See HERE for explanation of the report’s flaws in describing the Tesla’s carbon footprint.

UPDATE: UCS has come out with a new report that takes lifecycle costs into account and it finds EVs are clearly far superior from an emissions standpoint.

In all of the above cases, the case for EVs will continue to improve as more renewable energy is deployed.  In fact from 2010 to 2012 the number of states where EVs are better than hybrids nearly tripled from 13 to 32 (not taking into account carbon from  mfg).  This was due to the build-out of renewables and natural gas.  And the good news continued in 2013 with a banner year for solar installations and while wind deployment slowed dramatically from 2012 to 2013, 2014 looks to be another year of significant expansion.

In addition to improvements from cleaning up our electric generation sources, there is another trend that will tip the balance in favor of EVs.  EV batteries do not die, they degrade.  They are useful for other tasks even after they are no longer useful in the car.  For example, repurposed EV batteries are being seriously considered for energy storage for the electric grid.  This improves the stability of the grid.  It also diminishes the impact of the intermittent nature of renewables and will allow for larger amounts of renewables to be added for electric generation.  With more renewables, EVs become the better choice in yet more regions.

Unfortunately, many choose to compare EVs to the most efficient cars in the fleet.  This really doesn’t make a lot of sense.  EVs in the near term should be compared to the fleet average vehicle which they beat everywhere.  In a recent paper the authors of ClimateFriendlyCarsReport emphasize the importance of including the EV battery in carbon footprint calculations.  While looking at this issue is a good thing, the way the report evaluated the various considerations it offered a strange perspective in that it left one with a sense that EVs are not ready for prime time in terms of emissions reductions.  That is not true and the report did a disservice through its lack of clarity on the matter.

UPDATE: This report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences supports the above conclusions with the exception of EVs operated in areas where coal is the primary power source.  When taking into account all impacts they say that coal is so harmful that even with the benefits that EVs bring they still are more polluting that other sources for light transport when using electricity generated by coal.  This blog post offers a nice summary of the report.

Tesla has a calculator that compares emissions for different locations for EV vs ICE

Tesla Idaho Emissions

See Also EV Batteries Prices are Collapsing – Once Again The Mainstream Media Misses the Big Story

Do Indirect Emissions From EV Charging Negate the Value of the EV?

EV Batteries Prices are Collapsing – The Mainstream Media Misses the Big Story

http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2013/07/29/electric-cars-green

http://www.environment.ucla.edu/media_IOE/files/BatteryElectricVehicleLCA2012-rh-ptd.pdf

Another study on EV emissions compared to ICE emissions.

Links on repurposing EV batteries

http://www.sandia.gov/eesat/2011/papers/Tuesday/19_Jaffe_ESSAT_Abstract.pdf

Clayton Handleman, Electric Vehicle Emissions, Electric Vehicle, EV Emissions

This entry was posted in Climate Change, EV PEV, Fossil Fuel, Path to a New Paradigm and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Electric Vehicles Increasingly Best Option for Reduced Carbon Footprint

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  6. Craig Morton says:

    It’s amazing how many people dismissively say that “electric cars pollute too if dirty power is used” with no data or facts to back up their statement. Coal is virtually redundant, but like the article states, it’s way, way better than gasoline powered ICE’s.

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  8. Electricity has become the part of our day to day life now, without of which we cant even imagine our lives. Now cars are also running by electricity i wonder what will be the end of this:)

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  9. Cars on electricity means no pollution that sounds great for the world.

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  10. “Unfortunately, many choose to compare EVs to the most efficient cars in the fleet. This really doesn’t make a lot of sense. EVs in the near term should be compared to the fleet average vehicle which they beat everywhere. ”

    That doesn’t make any sense. EVs should be compared to cars of equal interior space, power, and cost that were specifically designed for efficiency AND given $10,000 per vehicle to make it so. If a company takes the extra money an EV would have cost and instead builds a combined-cycle flex-fuel hybrid vehicle that emits half the carbon of an EV today, why are you suggesting that the EV should get a “pass” on competing head-to-head with biofuel technology? Why should the EV get $10,000 in handouts while the combined-cycle vehicle gets squat? Tilt the playing field hard and far enough, and yep, EVs will temporarily win. On a flat field, biofuel (flex-fuel) will beat EV now and in the future. (EV proponents like to pretend that E85 CELLULOSIC ethanol doesn’t exist. Going near-zero-carbon with an ICE is easy.)

    Essentially, you’re saying, “my mind is made up. I don’t CARE what else is out there. EVs are the sole answer and the only comparison we need is EV vs Sherman Tank.”. I’ve got a couple questions for you:
    1 Of all the uses for electricity, name one which is less suited for the medium than untethered transportation.
    2. Of all the uses for biofuels, name one which is more suited for the medium than untethered transportation.

    If your stance is that EVs rule and biofuels drool, then should we criminalize biofuel production or merely discourage it? Do you have a better use for crop waste, paper waste, and the underbrush which is torching out forests?

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