Yes, Electric Vehicles Do Have Lower Emissions

A new study on EV emission rates in Minnesota by the Great Plains Institute (GPI) dispels a pervasive myth about EVs—that they don’t actually have lower greenhouse gas emissions than gas powered cars due to the emissions from the coal-burning power plants that heavily support the electric grid in many parts of the country.

GPI found that, in spite of emissions from power plants, EVs still produced 61 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gas powered cars over the lifetime of a car (160,000 miles).

So where does the myth that electric vehicles somehow cause more pollution come from?

Some studies, such as one from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), contain flaws in methodology that make it seem like gas cars emit less than they actually do and that EVs emit more than they actually do. For instance, the NBER report did not include the pollution caused by the extraction, transportation, and refining of fuels that are necessary to get the gas into internal combustion vehicles in the first place.  These emissions, it turns out, significantly increase the emissions related to gasoline cars, and, incidentally, far outweigh the additional emissions from manufacturing electric batteries. In addition, Midwest gasoline contains a higher percentage of petroleum supplied from Canadian oil sands, which has higher associated GHG emissions.

Another problem is the misrepresentation of renewable energy’s impact on the electric grid. As more renewable energy is added to the grid, the emission rates of EVs will continue to go down. In addition, many EV drivers may choose to invest directly in renewable energy programs.  The GPI study found that EV drivers who participated in a renewable energy resource program had lifetime emissions of only 3.4 tons of greenhouse gasses, which came mostly from the manufacturing of the vehicle, as opposed to the 75 tons released over the lifetime of a gas powered car.

In other words, EVs are still cleaner than gas powered cars, and as the grid and individuals continue to incorporate more renewables, EVs will just get better.