Are electric cars really better for the environment?
11.09.2020 - by Plug In America
Are electric cars really better for the environment?

Electric cars are better for the environment and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, wherever they are charged, and however the electricity is produced.

When considering the full life cycle of the vehicle, electric cars are cleaner and greener than their conventional fossil fuel-burning counterparts. While true that building an electric car may produce more emissions than a conventional car, mostly due to the energy intensity of battery production, these emissions are dwarfed by those saved over the driving life of the EV. In fact, they are offset in most cases in the first year of driving by emissions reductions from normal operation and use of the vehicle. The evidence has been revealed in a number of rigorous studies.

A life cycle analysis conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists declared that “the average EV in the U.S. produces less global warming emissions than the average gasoline vehicle. The peer-reviewed literature largely agrees: EVs produce more pollution than gas vehicles in the production of the vehicle, but then save emissions while driving which results in a net savings within the first couple years of driving.”

Every year that the electric grid reduces its reliance on coal power, the relative emissions for EVs are even lower. This handy tool from UCS will show you the respective greenhouse gas emissions of various EV models in any location throughout the country.

This is echoed by conclusive research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), which found that in 2018, carbon dioxide emissions from battery-powered vehicles were about 40 percent lower than for internal combustion engines last year. Even in regions with electric grids most reliant on coal, such as China, EVs were responsible for fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Another 2018 well-to-wheel analysis by Wood Mackenzie confirmed the UCS research, finding that typical a mid-size EV will generate up to 67% lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than a gasoline internal combustion engine. Even with existing electricity generation mix in developing economies such as China and India, “an EV will displace up to half the GHG emissions of an ICE gasoline car.”

Further reading:

Photo credit:

2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV” is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0

2 comments on “Are electric cars really better for the environment?”
  1. rick says:

    UCS stated that “average” EV produced less GHG than “average” car.
    But it would seem that the source of electricity would make a difference. (And the kind of car it displaces.)

    Doesn’t the GHG footprint of an EV depend on whether the electricity comes from coal vs. large hydro (or solar)? Doesn’t it also make a difference whether the car is charged overnight (when electricity is supplied by efficient baseload plants), vs. charged in the afternoon on a hot summer day (when consumption is high, and peaker plants are in use)?

  2. Veek says:

    Sadly, hybrid batteries and rare earth components (like magnets) also generate plenty of toxic materials and, yes, radioactive tailings. These are largely ignored here in the US (for now) because most processing is done in China, and they are probably not a deal-breaker (for now), but they need to be factored into any honest equation for overall environmental cleanliness.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *