By Paul Stenquist, September 16, 2014
The Union of Concerned Scientists said on Tuesday that in 60 percent of the United States, electric vehicles are now responsible for fewer heat-trapping global warming emissions per mile than even the most efficient hybrids.
In an April 2012 report titled “State of Charge: Electric Vehicles’ Global Warming Emissions and Fuel Cost Savings Across the United States,” the group had concluded that electric vehicles were cleaner than hybrids in only 45 percent of the country. That was because in many areas, the majority of the electricity used to charge the vehicles was generated at coal-fired power plants.
Proponents of electric vehicles were not pleased. Automakers that had invested heavily in electric vehicle development were even less pleased. Just before the release of the 2012 report, the chief executive of Nissan and Renault, Carlos Ghosn, declared that electrics were cleaner than any car that burned gasoline, even in areas where all electric power is generated from coal.
The data said otherwise. The scientists group concluded that in an area where electric power was generated using a high proportion of coal — as it is in much of the nation’s midsection — an electric vehicle was no cleaner than a high-m.p.g. gasoline-engine subcompact.
In the two years since that report, some utilities have added clean renewable sources of electricity to their mix and, more important, electric vehicles have become more efficient.
“Electric vehicles are doing more and more to fulfill their technological promise,” Don Anair, research and deputy director of the scientists group’s Clean Vehicles Program, said.
The Union of Concerned Scientists says that the average battery-powered electric vehicle sold over the past year uses 0.325 kilowatt-hour per mile, a 5 percent improvement over the 2011 data that was used to prepare the original report. That means an electric vehicle operating within the Midwest electric power grid, which blankets several states in whole or in part, is now as clean as a gasoline-engine car achieving 43 miles per gallon. In 2012, that number was said to be 39 m.p.g.
Some states that don’t depend heavily on coal for power generation fare much better. An electric vehicle in New York achieves the equivalent of 112 m.p.g., according to the scientist group’s data, while in California the number is 95 m.p.g. Others still lag behind. Colorado, which relies heavily on coal, is once again at the bottom of the list, with an E.V. achieving the same emissions as a 34 m.p.g. gasoline-engine car.
The group’s calculations are based on utility emissions data from a 2010 report from the Environmental Protection Agency, so the actual efficiency may be somewhat better because many utilities are adding renewable sources of electricity in order to comply with legislated mandates.
The updated report indicates that electric vehicles are not a cure-all that would eliminate overall fleet emissions. Still, said Mr. Anair, “If we want to reduce transportation pollution and oil use, a big part of the answer is to be like Bob Dylan and go electric.”
By Steve Hymon, September 18, 2014
Where does power come from in California? Almost 19 percent is from renewables and another nearly eight percent from large hydroelectric (which, of course, has its own environmental issues related to changing the ecosystems of rivers). The more renewables used, the cleaner electric cars will get -- and the cleaner that transit powered by electricity (including all of the Metro Rail lines) will be.
Check out this chart from the state: