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The long tailpipe. The longer you've been interested in cleaner cars that come with a plug, the more chance there is you've heard about this topic and thought of ways to mitigate the effect of the resources that are being consumed elsewhere to move your wheels. Solar and wind are two obvious clean choices to power an EV, but they're not as prevalent as coal-fired electricity in the U.S. So, given this situation, what impact with plug-in vehicles have on the overall greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.? The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report this month called "Plug-in Vehicles Offer Potential Benefits, but High Costs and Limited Information Could Hinder Integration into the Federal Fleet" that presents the complicated reality of plug-ins. Some news outlets have jumped on this report to decry plug-ins, but it's not that simple.

While a shift from gas to coal does reduce dependency on foreign oil, they also are like "trading one greenhouse gas emitter for another," said Mark Gaffigan, a co-author of the report in an interview with CNS News (the site bills itself as an "alternative to the liberal media"). The GAO report suggests that new nuclear and carbon sequestration technologies could help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted even if plug-in cars become commonplace. It also says that nighttime charging from coal plants will likely reduce the amount of smog formed by powering plug-in vehicles. The GAO says that, "Besides offering environmental benefits, reduced oil consumption from plug-ins could help to limit U.S. vulnerability to supply reductions and subsequent oil price shocks" (page 13).

Overall, the tone of the report is much less alarming (or surprising) than the CNS News report makes it appear. But not everything in the report is accurate. On page 19, for example, they still list the Phoenix all-electric truck and SUV as making an appearance in 2009. That's maybe possible, but very unlikely. You can download a PDF of the GAO's report here.


[Source: GAO (PDF), CNS News, Green Car Congress]
Photo by Paul Jerry. Licensed under Creative Commons license 2.0.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 35 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Of course the power should come from a cleaner source. But that's the beauty of switching to EV's. The change is gradual. Already once you have an EV charging from a coal plant, it's much more efficient than a gasoline car, but you can slowly switch to hydro, wind, and solar energy as time goes by. A gasoline car can only be so efficient, and it will always use oil. So a prius is great in that it gets good MPG compared to other gas cars, but it will always still be polluting, whether you're getting 40mpg or 100mpg. An ev may have a "long tailpipe" at first but as time goes by the emissions go down until you have a completely green car.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I say and i have said and i have to repeat to not subsidize hybrids and if private capital sell hybrids to normal paying consumers then anyway the coal electrical stations can feed green algae farming with their co2 instead of losing it and not cashing money with it. They even charge more money to the consumer to respect regulations that mandate coal use and prohibit green algae farming because green algae farming is not polluting. They don't feel be part of the creation ( human biology corpse made of flesh ) That was predicted by nostradamus and nobody have believe me and nobody is still believing me that you can feed green algae farming with these big chimmys .

      I said to write in advance here what products will appear in the coming months.
      • 5 Years Ago
      If you think of this in the terms of "NIMBY" (Not In My Back-Yard), the answer is clear.

      If you are stuck in a traffic jam staring at my backside, would you rather be sucking my pipe full of toxins? Or would you rather have my emissions come out of a pipe miles and miles away from you where it isn't smacking you directly in the face?


        • 1 Month Ago
        @Noz: Just because batteries aren't "perfect" doesn't mean they're not a *better* solution to ICE engines. I find it deliciously ironic that you berate nixon for ignoring things whilst simultaneously ignoring the many other responses that have perfectly valid, reasoned, and factual points. Well played, you've certainly put us in our place. :-p
        • 1 Month Ago
        I like that...shove the problem under the rug and pretend it's not there....another personality trait battery and EV proponents have in common.

        But wait a second...I thought batteries would solve the world's energy problems, be clean, have no waste, no byproducts, etc....

      • 5 Years Ago
      Just moving the emissions out of high population centers and releasing them from tall smoke stacks far away will have a massive positive impact on the health of millions of people.

      This alone is worth the conversion to EV's.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think we can safely ignore such reports based on twisted logic. It's a shame that these kinds of reports will keep popping up from those with vested interests in the status quo and that the reports will keep appearing in the mainstream media, which may have a negative impact on the opinion of EVs of the general public. However it now seems that crude oil is too expensive to power personal transportation and since EVs are already 'better' than ICE vehicles in many ways even today these reports will have little or no impact in the long run, people will buy what's best and the chances are that will be an EV in not too many years!
      • 5 Years Ago
      15,000 miles per year
      @
      3 miles per kWh
      =
      5MWh per year per vehicle

      Wind capacity to deliver 5MWh/yr (assuming 0.285 capacity factor)
      =
      2kW per vehicle

      Wind installation cost ~$1000/kW

      Cost of electric vehicle $40,000
      Cost of wind capacity to power vehicle for 25 years = $2,000

      If you can buy an electric vehicle, buying a share in a wind farm would only be 5% of the cost of the vehicle.
      • 5 Years Ago
      EVs (and plug-ins to a lesser degree) offer one critical element that's missing from today's cars: CHOICE. With an EV you're free to choose where your energy to power the car comes from. You can sign up for green power from your electric company. You can even install solar panels. With a gas car, there is no choice - your energy comes from unstable regions of the world such as Iraq, and it pollutes. Period.
      • 5 Years Ago
      It was just a matter of time those fake misleading press releases compiled by idiots start to appear, associating plug-in cars with coal-fired powerplants.

      Cars of today are powered by nearly 100% fossil oil (biofules don't matter).

      At the same time...

      1. U.S electricity generation is is only 50% coal. 19% is clean nuclear. 7% is hydro:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sources_of_electricity_in_the_USA_2006.png

      2. Europe electricity generation is much less coal and much more nuclear and hydro: http://www.world-nuclear.org/uploadedImages/org/info/Fuel_for_electricity.png?n=4568

      3. Canada is mostly hydro.

      4. Russia is mostly natural gas.

      5. UK is less then 40% coal but the harmful idiot Jeremy Clarkson said: Tesla Roadster = Coal fired powerplant.

      6. France is 80% nuclear: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sources_of_Electricity_in_France_in_2006.PNG
        • 5 Years Ago
        Good info there. But even if plugins emitted the same amount of greenhouse gas as ICEs it would still be good just so there's a push to develop the technology for when we eventually end coal-dependency.
        • 5 Years Ago
        downtoearth -- Very good points, but the even worse thing is that it takes a huge amount of electricity to refine oil. The electricity that is generated from coal plants is NOT accounted for in this study. If it were, it would show just exactly how bad burning oil really is.

        Here is a post that basically shows that we use so much electricity and natural gas to extract and refine oil, that if we were to just directly power our cars and power plants with that electricity and natural gas, we could just leave the oil in the ground:

        "The electricity used to refine oil alone would power
        cars further than what's in the rest of the barrel"

        http://evworld.com/article.cfm?storyid=1715

        Taking this a step further, and applying it to this study, they would have to add all of the GHG impact of producing the electricity to refine the oil onto the ICE vehicle side of the equation. Since it will take approximately the same amount of coal-powered electricity to refine the oil as it takes to run electric cars for roughly the same distance, the GHG emissions from generating electricity roughly cancels out on both sides. All that is left is the GHG emissions from burning the oil.

        So no matter what source the electricity comes from, the electric car beats the pants off of burning oil.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Some Perspective:

      30 mpg car puts out .65 pounds of CO2 per mile (gasoline = 19.4 lbs CO2)

      Coal powered EV puts out .21 ppm. (Real world number: Hymotion Prius - mod'd to work properly - overnight charge = 5.5kwh. EPA CO2 for coal elec. generation = 1.9lbs/Kwh)

      A regular GenII Prius puts out .27 ppm.

      So, coal gen'd power reduces C02 emission by 2/3 over a comparable 30mpg petrol car.

      • 5 Years Ago
      Put $10 worth of fuel in a gas burning vehicle, and put $10 worth of electricity in an EV. You’ll get 6 to 7 times more miles out of that tenspot from the EV. This is based on electric car trials conducted jointly by Subaru and Mitsubishi – IN THE FIELD – comparing the operating “fuel costs” of the Stella and the MiEV electric vehicles against similar vehicles they make that use gasoline. So one EV will use 1/6 the amount of fossil fuel (coal) to go a mile compared to using conventional gasoline to go that same mile.
        • 1 Month Ago
        The CO2 from coal produced for $10 of electricity isn't the same as the CO2 produced by burning $10 of gasoline.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I didn't comment on the CO2 impact.
      I did a cost comparison only.
      It costs 6 to 7 times more per mile to operate a gasoline powered vehicle of the same weight, compared to the avergae cost per mile of the two electric vehicles tested.
      Mark Gaffigan is misinformed. We are Not going to be "trading one greenhouse gas emitter for another," - Because it's Not an equal trade. I don't like coal, but you still come out way ahead using a plug-in over a vehicle burning petroleum based fossil fuels. With an EV - You're going to get 6 to 7 times more mileage out of the same amount of money you would have spent on gasoline.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is where I disagree with most of you people.

      I'm for electric cars because American money, stays in America.
      We buy some of our oil from enemy countries...were essentially funding bad governments.

      Thats the ONLY reason I like electric.

      As for the "what powers the electric car" discussion...I dont care, because all of the United States electricity, comes from the United States.

      If you truly believe that CO2 is hurting our planet, then do mother earth a favor, and hold your breathe until you die.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Murc,

        Unlike those other two, while I disagree with you on CO2, I respect your stance. Different people have different reasons for wanting to move off oil, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Come people care more about the environment. Others care more about not funding overseas dictators. Either way, it's the same result: both goals are won with electric at the same time.

        • 5 Years Ago
        @murc,

        So your argument is that because every animal exhales CO2 it can't be dangerous?

        I guess you're not a big proponent of sewage treatment then. Using that logic, we ought to just dump raw sewage into our rivers and lakes, even the ones we get drinking water from. If it's something that naturally comes from our bodies, it can't be harmful.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @murc,

        Whether you chose to believe the world's top scientists, or FoxNews' entertainers is your choice.
        But Climate Change isn't the only reason pollution should be eliminated. What about the tens of thousands of Americans who die every year from breathing filthy air, drinking polluted water?
        I guess health doesn't matter to so-called patriots.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Anonymous - Thanks.

        Nick - First of all, thanks for calling me a patriot, I like that title. Because I put country first...something politicians dont do.

        Top scientists??? even the scientists are is disagreement about global warming.....oh, sorry, I forgot, these days its called "climate change".
        Yes, I watch FOX news because I like to know whats going on with my country. I'm republican, but I consider myself "center-right"...meaning I like people like Glenn Beck, more then Sean Hannity. Theirs been times I've been watching Hannity, and its just so right wing, Its hard to watch.

        As for your "health" part, I would like cleaner air.
        I'm in favor of nuclear plants, wind, solar, clean coal, natural gas, tidal...you name it.
        I dont believe CO2 affects the climate at all.

        MT - ...Your comment is so ridiculous is doesn't even deserve a response.
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