Electric vehicles still cleaner than traditional vehicles

Concerns over climate change surely play a part in the decision to choose electric, but consumers can still be misled by arguments like the one presented in a recent op-ed in USA Today. The op-ed argued that EV emissions simply push the carbon burden to the electric grid, and on balance are worse than traditional vehicles. But as the Union of Concerned Scientists points out in this blog post rebutting the Op Ed’s author, even if the emissions are moved to the grid EVs are still cleaner than their gas-powered counterparts.

The UCS’s updated State of Charge report found that 60% of America lives in regions where driving an EV is better for the climate than even the most efficient hybrid, which the UCS attributes to two main factors: more efficient cars and more renewable energy sources.

According to the US Department of Energy, 59-62% of electrical energy is converted to power at the wheels while only 17-21% of gas energy is. This means EVs are converting more energy to driving power than to tailpipe emissions, and the superiority of EV efficiency continues to increase as technology moves forward. With advances in battery technology and electric motors and controls, plug-in hybrids like the 2016 Chevrolet Volt are starting to offer ranges of up to 400 miles.

EV efficiency increases pair nicely with findings that the electric grid is cleaning up around the country. Michigan is on the lower end of the spectrum, but still falls into the UCS’s “good” category--electric vehicles here are more climate-friendly than a standard car with 40 mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency. And Michigan's electric grid is still improving.  

For a printable fact sheet on the emissions impact of electric vehicles, check out this Built by Michigan page that includes data from an Ecology Center analysis that we conducted last year. In short, we found that electric vehicles could achieve as much as 97 mpg fuel equivalency if the state increases its renewable energy generation to 25% over the next decade. See more on this topic on the Ecology Center’s new blog.