• Nov 11th 2009 at 7:50PM
  • 53
Think that plugging in your vehicle will protect the earth? Sure, this was the message that EPRI and the NRDC sent following a 2008 study that found that, if 60 percent of the U.S. fleet of light vehicles converted to plug-ins by 2050, CO2 emissions would drop by 450 million metric tons annually (the same as taking 82 million cars off the road) while electricity consumption would increase only eight percent.
Not everyone is convinced that plugs are the answer. The Environmental Transport Association in the UK, for example, believes that switching to electric cars could increase the rate of climate change, depending on how the electricity is created. Like the Natural Resources Defense Council report last year that found that PHEVs will add to pollution levels if the grid remains coal-centered, the ETA's statement warns that a shift from gasoline to electrons needs to be accompanied by a change in how we generate our electricity. Looking at how EU rules handles emissions, the ETA found that, if the regulations don't change, "sales of electric cars are likely to result in higher overall CO2 emissions and oil consumption." The ETA's soundbite for the report: if you're using coal to make electricy, then standard hybrids are better than plug-ins.

In the past, the ETA opposed a cash-for-clunkers-like plan in the UK. Each year, the ETA also organizes a Green Transport Week.

[Source: ETA]


Switching to electric cars could speed climate change

The idea that a wholesale switch to electric cars would automatically reduce CO2 emissions and dependence on oil is one of a number of myths dispelled by a major new report conducted on behalf of the Environmental Transport Association (ETA).

The report found that whilst there were significant potential environmental benefits to be had from a switch to electric vehicles, these were wholly dependent on changes in the way electricity was generated, energy taxed and CO2 emissions regulated.

For example, under the current EU emissions trading system, sales of electric cars are likely to result in higher overall CO2 emissions and oil consumption.

Director at the ETA, Andrew Davis, said: "Whilst the report is not intended to dampen enthusiasm for electric vehicles, their introduction should not be viewed as a panacea; significant changes to the way we produce and tax power are needed before we will reap any benefits."

Key findings of report:

Electric cars powered by wind or solar energy are obviously superior, but if the electricity comes from coal, hybrids perform better.

There is potential for improvement in performance and reduction of costs in the medium term, but not enough to suggest electric cars could compete head-on with conventional vehicles within the next two decades.

CO2 emissions
The EU emissions trading system implies that plug-in electric cars would not increase CO2 emissions because the power sector is covered by the scheme. If this trading scheme remains unchanged, sales of electric cars are likely to result in higher overall CO2 emissions and oil consumption.

Low running costs of electric vehicles would lead to extra demand for car transport and make necessary the taxation of electricity.
On-board metering of electricity use would be a key requirement.

National Grid
Even if the National Grid has the capacity and the basic infrastructure to meet the needs of electric cars, the new demand patterns they will create may mean greater use of coal and nuclear power.

Recommendations made by the report:
It unlikely that electric vehicles will number more than 25% of new sales by 2050, but in order to speed the uptake of the technology and manage the transition, the report recommends the following three

Stringent CO2 standards for cars
The most certain way to promote electric-powered transport is to tighten long-term CO2 standards for cars to 80 g/km by 2020 and 60 g/km by 2025 whilst at the same time increasing fuel taxes.

A lack of stringent CO2 standards removes the main incentive for motor industry to invest in electrification. Road tax exemption and grants for electric cars should be abolished; electric cars must be rewarded for their energy efficiency, not for moving emissions from exhaust pipes to power station chimneys.

Quantity and quality of electricity used in electric cars must be measured.
On-board metering of the amount of electricity will be critical in order to manage and regulate demand for electric vehicles.

The power sector has to be de-carbonised Existing loopholes in the Emissions Trading Scheme need to be closed and the cap further tightened.


For a copy of the report or an interview with Andrew Davis, please call Yannick Read at the ETA press office on 0845 389 1064 or 07788 606 483.

Notes to editors

The report, 'How to avoid an electric shock: Electric cars from hype to reality' was conducted by the European lobby group Transport & Environment, an organisation co-founded and supported by the ETA.

The Environmental Transport Association is provides carbon-neutral breakdown cover and insurance products. As well as encouraging responsible driving to reduce carbon, the ETA campaigns for sustainable transport www.eta.co.uk

The ETA each year analyses the environmental performance of every new car on sale in Britain. The greenest car on sale in Britain this year is the Honda Insight Hybrid

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Obviously the makeup of the grid IS changing in favor of lower and lower carbon sources, and plug ins SHOULD help to stabilize the grid by allowing temporary storage in the battery banks of thousands or millions of cars.
      Another considerations that I haven't heard discussed:

      Well to wheel efficiency should consider the energy used in extraction of the oil, coal, gas, uranium, etc. from the ground (I think thats why it's called 'well to wheel' and not 'refinery to wheel'. I know that mining AND drilling are very energy intensive activities. However, oil extraction is becoming MORE so faster than coal extraction (we have no shortage of coal). For example, people are actually looking at extracting oil from Tar Sands! This is nuts!

      The grid IS and will continue to get cleaner, which means that EV's will get cleaner over time, which is something that can never be said of a gasser.

      • 5 Years Ago
      Any report or study that makes such a bold and outrageous prediction deserves to be ignored.

      The claim makes WAAAY TOO MANY ASSUMPTIONS:
      60% of new car sales are plug in electric by 2050 yet we would still have the same power grid with 50% coal???

      It is outrageous to think we can really predict that far ahead. But if technology continues to accelerate the way it has, the next generation will ALL be driving EVs for light vehicles. How many years did it take for the Model T to supplant horse-drawn carriage? Not 40 years.

      "I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one - and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces." -Henry Ford

      All we need is another revolution. The next decade should provide that. Gassers (for light vehicle use) will become extinct.
      • 5 Years Ago
      More pre Copenhagen lobby groupBS!!

      Here's their message "Road tax exemption and grants for electric cars should be abolished" all the rest is fluff.

      Somehow these guys feel they can predict demand for EVs 40 years into the future! I'd disregard anything they say after having read that.

      They ONLY way they see doom and gloom is that EVs will be so cheap to run they will flood the roads. It IS something to consider, when per mile cost reduces by 90% from today's costs, but we have yet to see how governments will recoup tax revenue when they lose a significant percentage of fuel tax income. What they DON'T consider are options other than directly taxing electricity, for example road tax, tolls or the carbon tax itself.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I wonder how much the coal industry paid to have this article published?
      • 5 Years Ago

      The other thing you have to take into account is that there is a much lower CO2 footprint than the numbers you were using above. All of the newer coal plants are more efficient and do much better than the 205-227 numbers.

      But even ignoring that, 38% of the current US grid produces no CO2 and Natural Gas produces one third less CO2 for it's 22% of the base mix which reduces the total another 7%. So this gives:

      205* 72% * 93% = 137 lbs of CO2/BTU

      And this doesn't take into account a good deal of BEV charging is done at night where the base load is much more heavily in favor of nuclear in some places. For example, here in Atlanta, 52% of the electricity at night comes from nuclear so it's closer to 100lbs CO2/BTU.

      And as others have pointed out, it's actually much more heavily in the BEV's favor because you were comparing source to wheels for electricity but only tank to wheels for the gasoline engine.

      People can publish numbers like these ETA folks but it's very dishonest and misleading to do it in the fashion they have.

      • 5 Years Ago
      The definitive answer to all those problems is to reduce the ecological footprint by enhanced ecodriving see http://www.recodrive.eu (non profit)
      • 5 Years Ago
      polo, yes I can explain that.

      The first recommendation of the report is to change policy so that we WILL get the benefits of electric cars. To quote with a little more context than you gave:

      "EU law, particularly the regulation to reduce CO2 from cars, has been instrumental in
      steering car industry investment towards cleaner powertrains. In theory, the EU
      emissions trading system implies that plug-in electric cars would not increase CO2
      emissions, because the power sector is covered by the scheme.
      But those same laws have important flaws. And if they remain unchanged, sales of
      electric cars will likely lead to higher overall CO2 emissions and oil consumption.
      That may be counterintuitive, but it is nevertheless true."

      It looks like the authors argue that the current system is too easy for auto manufacturers to game and will result in a net increase in CO2 emissions. They believe auto makers will take the credits obtained by selling electric vehicles, and use them to build gas-guzzlers that more than offset the gains of the electrics.

      I haven't read the entire report, but it looks like it has some interesting information. A link to the report is posted earlier in this thread.

      I believe you are correct if you think an electric car is better than an ICE under almost any scenario. My simpleton calculations give the following results:

      12,500 pounds CO2 per year from an average U.S. car (EPA)

      at most 11,000 pounds CO2 per year for electric car charged from coal

      7,000 pounds CO2 per year charging with typical U.S. mix of power

      I was using 10% grid loss, 10% charging loss, and EPA numbers.

      Does anybody have a solid set of calculations so I can upgrade my numbers??
      • 4 Years Ago
      The environmental consequences of coal-powered electric cars are a very interesting and challenging question. Are we actually building a more sustainable planet? We all want the answer to be yes, and it can be very exciting to assume electric cars will be the perfect answer. But as with most matters in energy, the devil is in the details, and the details are often complex! The environmental company, Carbon Lighthouse, actually conducted an in-depth quantitative analysis on this exact topic: http://www.carbonlighthouse.com/2011/08/the-coal-powered-electric-car-part-i/ http://www.carbonlighthouse.com/2011/08/the-coal-powered-electric-car-part-i-2/
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm pretty sure they're just plain wrong. The well-to-wheel efficiency of a plug-in vehicle is simply better.

      Not to mention, BEVs plug-in at night and often utilize base load power that would otherwise be wasted completely.

      Silly soundbite that seems like FUD. I'd love to see their methodology, but given a lack of anything concrete in their report, it doesn't sound promising.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Not all plants are coal plants (you would be hard pressed to find any local region with 100% coal generation). From my own calculations, efficiency doesn't directly correspond to emissions (it's related but not an accurate way to get emissions). Like why not the LS2LS7? says you didn't factor in refining and gasoline distribution. The number I have is 83% for that. Also you didn't factor in additional losses from the transmission for the gas vehicle vs the lower losses in the EV due to it using a reduction gear instead. In the end, working with efficiency numbers are a lot harder, though if you have the mpg numbers rather than guesstimating numbers it'll be a lot more accurate (like Prius vs plug-in Prius).

        About the additional resources used by plug-ins, it seems it doesn't factor that highly (judging by previous discussions of Prius vs Hummer). By weight would seem to be a good estimate of additional resources and plug-ins don't weigh that much more than normal cars.

        Looking more closely at the report (given by moreati's links), in all average cases, PHEVs are cleaner than hybrids, only when 100% coal is it worse; this is exactly what I would expect from my own calculations:


        It also says plug-ins in general do better than both hydrogen and biofuels.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You're being very generous as to the efficiency of the grid. But you're also trying to subtract off hotel loads from efficiency of an EV but not from a regular ICE car. And you omit the loss of energy on the ICE side from transporting gasoline around to get it to your car.
        • 5 Years Ago

        Pounds of Carbon dioxide emitted per million British thermal units of energy:

        Automobile gasoline 156
        Coal 205-227
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Too bad coal is a dying breed (Why do you think they have all of those desperate adds?) They are losing market share, and fast. "

        Completely wrong. (unfortunately)

        We don't have enough natural gas to replace coal at current electricity demand, let alone with increased demand. Theres lots of commercials for natural gas, too (I keep hearing them in Rhode Island anyway) - they claim a 100 year supply - at current consumption. If you want to decrease our reliance on oil, natural gas should be used to heat homes, not for electricity generation.

        Nukes are politically nonviable. (unfortunately)

        And renewables (aside from hydro) cannot provide steady load, in addition to the fact that many barely produce enough power to payback their own manufacture and installation. (unfortunately)
        • 5 Years Ago
        Actually, there is all the natural gas we need in the US alone:

        When you consider that these huge natural gas reserves are in the northeast, and that is where we have the highest current coal use, I would suspect there is a good chance of changing that to more natural gas. The folks up there who have the rights to this natural gas will now have LOTS of money to lobby and push to get new natural gas plants built LOL
        • 5 Years Ago
        Good info, that basically corroborates the rest of the thread in a more quantitative fashion.

        (For the record, depending on where you are, sometimes power - not just capacity - is wasted. Ontario has a grid-mix in which 3/4 of the total power comes from nuclear and hydro, with nearly half of it being nuclear. You don't turn nuclear power plants off at night, so there is often considerably more electricity available than is being used)
        • 5 Years Ago
        "According to Hans-Dieter Schilling (Energie-Fakten), the average efficiency of all coal power stations in the world currently stand at around 31%"


        With grid efficiency of 95% and EV efficiency (charging / discharging / hysteresis / HVAC loads etc) at 90% (And I'm being generous) that puts EV efficiency at 26.5%. Factor in the greater amount of energy required to manufacture an EV, and the EV is less efficient than a reasonably efficient ICE powered car.

        In addition, coal has a greater percentage of carbon than gasoline.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Dave, a flaw in your analysis is that you're comparing the "source to wheel" efficiency for electrics against the "tank to wheel" efficiency of gassers. Add in the energy losses for refining and shipping the fuel for the gassers, then you'll have a fair comparison.

        By the way, refineries use electricity, too, and the amount of electricity needed to make a gallon of gasoline would propel the average EV about 24 miles.
        • 5 Years Ago
        total = 0.224

        = 0.273"

        Thats probably about right (close enough, anyway). Now factor in the energy required to manufacture a battery that increases the curb weight of the vehicle by 50%, in the case of a BEV or the energy required to manufacture a smaller battery and a genset in the case of a PHEV.

        If plug ins have any well-to-wheel efficiency advantage it is tiny.

        The case becomes even more severe in the UK (this report is not about the US) where ~50% of ICE vehicles use smaller diesel engines.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Dave (again *sigh*)

        That nuclear political non-viability of nukes that keeps getting quoted is quickly going out the window. But besides that, I live in Denver Colorado but go to school in Laramie Wyoming. Just east of my school is a MASSIVE wind farm, and it just keeps growing. Every time i drive back to Denver, I see blades for the turbines going in the other direction. And before you pull that "The wind doesn't blow all the time" crap: Living in Laramie, I can attest that here it does.

        Coming from a state where coal is one of its biggest exports, I can honestly say that it is being thrown to the wayside, and by the people who stand to gain from it too...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Okay, let's just agglomerate everything we've looked at here:

        0.830 refining/distribution (DOE)
        0.3 internal combustion engine (being generous)
        0.9 drivetrain (10% losses in a FWD car)
        total = 0.224

        0.303 lumped average electrical efficiency + grid (DOE)
        0.9 electric drivetrain
        = 0.273

        So a typical example using the US' energy mix puts the BEV ahead.

        If you want to try to apply a correction factor for grid electricity carbon, it actually swings farther in favor of PHEVs rather than the other way around, since 28% of the US grid produces no carbon, while natural gas (22%) produces about 1/3 less CO2 than gas. Coal makes up 48.5% of grid electricity in the US.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Dave

        Too bad less than 50% of the energy in the united states comes from coal.

        Too bad the efficiency of the battery to kinetic energy is so much greater that per unit of energy you travel farther with coal than with gasoline (More of gasolines energy gets turned to heat)

        Too bad coal is a dying breed (Why do you think they have all of those desperate adds?) They are losing market share, and fast.

        Too bad that when you take those select chosen facts, you quickly realize that the readers of this site know the rest of the fact to tie them together to tell you why you are wrong.

        Yup... too bad...
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Not to mention, BEVs plug-in at night and often utilize base load power that would otherwise be wasted completely."

        Power is not wasted, only generation capacity is wasted (ie, generation facilities sit idle).

        For the rest of this thread, accurate and reliable answers to these question exist in data provided by the EIA. http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/contents.html

        In Table 8.2b of that document, the EIA gives the net electricity generation by fuel in the US. In Table 12.3 the CO2 production by industry and fuel is given (one of the industries is 'electrical sector'). From those two tables we can find that in the US. The generation of 1 kWh of electricity by...

        coal releases 990 gCO2
        natural gas releases 462 gCO2
        petroleum releases 1071 gCO2 (that one surprised me.. worse than coal!)
        US grid mix releases 585 gCO2

        Transmission losses are given in Figure 8.0 (look for 'T&D Losses' vs. 'Net Generation', as about 8.5%.

        EVs consume about 250 Wh(out of the battery)/mile.
        If charging is 90% efficient (as ours is), then they consume about 278 Wh(out of the plug)/mile.
        If T&D is 90% efficient, then they consume about 310 Wh(generated)/mile

        So EVs 'emit' (via the 'long tailpipe')

        306 gCO2/mile powered on coal
        143 gCO2/mile powered on NG
        181 gCO2/mile powered on the US grid mix.

        In contrast, a gallon of gas releases about 9000 gCO2 when burned, so releases

        360 gCO2/mile @ 25mpg
        180 gCO2/mile @ 50mpg

        So EVs charged on the US grid mix have about the same carbon footprint as the new Prius.
      • 5 Years Ago
      You have to consider the thumb twiddling that uninspired sim programmers suffer from. When the boredom reaches PB (peak boredom) they commission a controversy. This has a bipolar effect: alleviates their boredom - but increases ours.
      • 5 Years Ago
      In determining the impact of of electric vs. ice cars here is a quick and easy way to check real efficiency. Use real cars available today.

      A Prius will go almost 50 mile on 1 gallon of gas which has an energy content of 36.6 kWhr/gal. That comes to 0.73 miles/kWhr.

      A Tesla Roadster can go about 240 miles on a full 53 kWhr battery charge for a mileage of 4.53 mi/kWhr. If we assume 100% coal generated electricity, 31% for coal fire power plants, 90% for grid transmission, and 90% for battery charge/disharge, this gives 1.14 mi/kWhr or just over 155% of the Prius mileage.

      What is neglected here is the energy required to get the coal out of the ground and to the plant, and the energy required to drill for oil transport it to the refinery, refine the oil, transport the gasoline to the pump, and pump it into the car and operate the gas station.

      I doubt anyone would argue that gives coal an unfair advantage here. I currently drive a Prius, hopefully my last gas burner, and I can tell you 50 mpg is generous. Even if we drop the Tesla range to 200 miles it still beats the Prius by 30%.

      If we did a fair evaluation for getting the gas into the car and getting the coal into th eplant, I am certain the bias would shift further in favor of BEV's. Add in hydro, wind, solar, and other tech, even new efficient natural gas generators, and it shifts further again. My house is currently producing about 180% of my electricity usage from solar so when I get me BEV it will just about balance out. Can't wait since I am now giving the local utility free power every month because of a recent change in their policy.
      • 5 Years Ago
      BTW only 1/3rd of UK power is coal generated and the just approved 10 new nuclear sites!
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