Michigan might be leading the way in electric-vehicle (EV) research and development, but the state lags behind other regions of the country when it comes to taking full advantage of their environmental benefits because so much of the state’s electricity comes from dirty sources.
The benefits are maximized when the electricity that charges the plug-in EVs is as clean as possible, according to a report from the Ecology Center, one of the coordinators of the Built by Michigan coalition. When the fuels used to generate electricity at power plants generate global-warming emissions, the EV is only as emission-free as is the power grid that is used to charge it.
Because Michigan generates less electricity from renewable sources than many other states, the good news is that the state has plenty of room for improvement. Some improvement is already on the way as Michigan approaches its mandated renewable-energy standard of 10 percent of electricity sold by 2015. But looking past that date, we ought to consider how producing more renewables not only reduces the overall emissions from the power-generation facilities themselves, but also how those affect the pollution calculation for EVs.
From a 2012 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, we know that in regions with the cleanest electricity grids, charging EVs produces lower global-warming emissions than even the most fuel-efficient hybrids. And even in the dirtiest regions, charging EVs produces lower global-warming emissions than the average compact gasoline-powered vehicles.
In the states that have adopted more aggressive renewable-energy standards in recent years—Michigan voters turned one down last year—they can expect their electric vehicles to get more miles with less pollution than even the best-performing gasoline and gas-hybrid vehicles of the future.
So if Michigan decides to lead the country in its renewable-energy strategy, it’s possible that we’d see a positive impact on EV production and adoption as consumers understand their additional environmental benefit. That would be a real win-win: the state’s electricity production becomes increasingly sustainable and low impact, while a home-grown automobile industry off-shoot thrives and gains greater popularity due to its contribution to reducing global-warming emissions.