Cradle to grave, EVs are still better for the environment

Dear Reader,

UCS report map

We have some news to be thankful for this month: The Union of Concerned Scientists recently updated its State of Charge report into a full cradle to grave emissions comparison of electric vehicles and gasoline-powered cars. They calculated emissions at every step, from “the manufacturing of the vehicle’s body and battery to its ultimate disposal and reuse.”


EVs still come out ahead - in every part of the country.

During manufacturing, EVs do produce more emissions than traditional cars, the report found, but they more than make up for it when they’re driven. The UCS found that charging an EV on Michigan’s grid is equivalent to driving a car that gets 38 MPG.

That’s better than some of the most fuel-efficient gas powered cars. But that’s just today.  As the grid is expected to get cleaner in the coming decade, as a result of federal Clean Power Plan rules and other state policies, an EV’s mpg equivalence will continue to improve.  And of course, if you plug-in to solar power at your home or office, EV-related emissions plummet even further.

The other part of the puzzle is what happens to a car after it’s been driven to exhaustion. The UCS study found that all cars have pretty similar emissions at the end of their life- but didn’t take into account that EV batteries can be reused easily and effectively. (For more on that, check out this month’s story on some innovative work in Michigan around EV batteries).

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s been quite a bit of misinformation on this topic these days. Take this article from Michigan Radio, which claims driving an electric car in a place with a coal-heavy grid (like Michigan) isn’t so green. But that’s looking old data with no regard for the fact that our grid is and will continue to get far cleaner and more efficient in the coming years.

The UCS estimates, for example, that a grid that’s made up of 80% renewable energy will lead to an 84% reduction in emissions from driving an EV, and up to 25% fewer emissions from manufacturing an EV’s batteries.  It’s more clear than ever that policies to clean up our power grid and to clean up our cars need to go hand-in-hand.   

It’s up to all of us to point to these clear facts when others are still talking in myths. Here’s a link to a fact sheet about driving electric in Michigan, with up-to-date info from UCS’s most recent report. Share it with your networks-- together we can make sure the right information get’s out there!

As always, thanks for all you do.

Charles Griffith
Climate & Energy Program Director
The Ecology Center