Few electric vehicles are actually "zero emissions," but calculating the exact carbon footprint of an EV can be daunting. Not only do different utilities each use a different mix of coal, nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar, many areas also offer individuals the opportunity to buy "greener" power. These deals don't actually guarantee the source of the electrons arriving at your home, but they can help ensure that your utility expands or purchases power from sources that are more environmentally friendly. Thus, determining just how much pollution results from a kilowatt of electricity in most markets includes a good deal of wiggle room.

The complexity of determining what really goes out of the virtual tailpipe of an electric car has led some to speculate that electric vehicles may actually be worse for the environment than cars that use an internal combustion engine, especially when half of the electricity in the United States is generated by burning coal. It's not true, by and large, and Nissan executive vice president Andy Palmer has a simple reply to the idea that electric cars generate as much or more pollution than their gas equivalents: "I think it's complete bullshit."

In a talk at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, Palmer channeled his anti-Lutz and pointed out that those people cranking out numbers unfavorable to electric vehicles are often scrupulous in counting the carbon on the electrical side, but overlook the true cost of gasoline which includes obtaining, refining, and transporting oil. Palmer admits that if a Nissan Leaf were to be charged in an area where 100 percent of the power came from burning coal, its emissions would equal to what comes from a gas-powered car, but according to Palmer there is no country were coal carries the entire electric load. Palmer stated that Nissan was talking with governments to encourage them to clean up electrical generation.

In the United States, coal currently accounts for 46 percent of electrical generation, which is down about five percent from a decade ago. While no area gets 100 percent of its power from coal, some come very close. In West Virginia, 97 percent of the power generation is from burning coal. Kentucky and Indiana both top 90 percent. On the other hand, California gets less than one percent of its power from coal, and other West Coast states are below ten percent.

Vermont gets none of its power from coal. It also doesn't use natural gas. All electricity in the state comes from either nuclear power or renewables. So, if you're really looking to have a zero-emission vehicle, consider the Green Mountain State.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 90 Comments
      • 2 Years Ago
      http://www.solarfeeds.com/did-you-know-gas-cars-use-more-electricity-than-evs/
      lne937s
      • 3 Years Ago
      If you actually look at the source article, Andy Palmer says an electric car charged by 100% coal (the dirtiest way to generate electricity) is still better than a gasoline car, but worse than a hybrid. But, as the grid isn't 100% coal, across the world the electric vehicle has the lowest emissions
      • 3 Years Ago
      or a LOT of pumped hydro. With what we're up against, an aggressive schedule is mandatory. The Fed needs to become involved in a very big way. But yeah... when was the last time environmental leadership came from DC? 40+ years ago.
      Ford Future
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'd like to see the analysis of coal. - Does it magically appear at the generating station? - No one needed to use Pneumatic Drills, dyn-o-mite, and rail cars to get it out of the ground, or to blow up mountain tops? No one needed to load and wash it with fresh water for processing? No one needed to ship it using Electric? Diesel's? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_preparation_plant Coal is a dirty polluting energy source that's using up scarce water resources. We will switch to wind and solar. And when we do we will finally be able to take our kids fishing and not give them mercury poisoning. We will get our EV power from Solar Roof systems in a few years. The utility industry needs to determine does it want to be it's own replacement enterprise or will it let some startup take over their roll.
        Joeviocoe
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ford Future
        Both Coal and Oil are dirty nasty sources. But at least Coal is domestic.... so it does not influence international politics and military actions. Coal is very dirty, but it is easier to regulate now and in the future the hundreds of coal plants, rather than millions of cars.
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ford Future
        Regardless, power plants will improve over time. It would be nice that each time they do, a whole pile of electric cars then get cleaner electricity, opposed to a clean plant with all gas powered cars...
      Joeviocoe
      • 3 Years Ago
      http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/index.cfm Coal is at 43.1 % of the Net Generation Shares by Energy Source: Total (All Sectors), Year-to-Date through August, 2011 *so this includes the entire year, every day every season since August 2010.
      Smith Jim
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm probably going to catch a lot grief (and -1s) but I feel compelled to play Devil's advocate. I remember decades ago corn ethanol was believed to be a net-zero carbon dioxide fuel. The benefits of corn ethanol was oversold and it took decades to learn the truth. Look at the picture of the Leaf above. The decal on the side says "Zero Emission" instead of "Zero Tailpipe Emissions" I'm not one of those climate change deniers who believes that AGW is a communist conspiracy. In fact I'm what climate change deniers would call an alarmist. In my opinion, if you've done enough research into AGW the only proper response is to BE alarmed. Having said that, I believe we must be very careful about calculations involving greenhouse gas emissions. I'm skeptical about 6kW-hr being required to refine one gallon of gasoline. It reminds me of the claim that it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to transport one calorie of food over long distances. Someone forgot to tell the person doing the calculation that a food "calorie" is actually a kilocalorie so they were off by a factor of 1000. Oops! Some people say that the energy required to refine gasoline and diesel is rarely taken into account when doing greenhouse gas emission comparisons. Argonne National Laboratories DOES take all energy into account when doing their greenhouse gas emission calculations. Check out the following link and look at the bar graph on the right side of the page. http://www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/MC/586.PDF It appears that a hybrid will emit less CO2 than an EV based on the average CO2 emissions of power plants in the US. I agree that some parts of the country have a greener mix of energy than others. I agree that a large array solar PV modules can make an EV very close to zero emissions. I agree that we should move aggressively toward low emission utility scale electrical power generation. But I live in an area where coal fired plants supply 85% of the electricity and I live in an apartment and can't install solar PV. I live in a "red state" where most people believe clean energy is a communist plot. I wish it were not so but I don't expect electrical energy to be 50% green in my area in my lifetime. An EV may be better for some but not for everyone.
        garylai
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Smith Jim
        Smith Jim - If the people in your area buy EVs and charge them at night, unless there are huge number of them, they won't generate many more emissions. Coal fire power plants operate at a constant base load that does not change depending on time of day as it takes several days to bring them up to full steady state load. In areas where the majority of power comes from coal, there is excess power that is just being dumped. This excess power at night is enough to replace 40% of cars in America with EVs.
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Smith Jim
        You shouldn't (shouldn't, mind you) get dip own voted for an honest question.... But that's just me.... :)
        DaveMart
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Smith Jim
        'I agree that a large array solar PV modules can make an EV very close to zero emissions.' Unless you live in an area with constant round the year sunshine or don't drive your car in the winter they can't. The balance has to come from somewhere else, and if it is natural gas or coal running them as back up for solar and wind is very inefficient, as they have to be ramped up and down which is about as efficient as doing the same in your car on the gas pedal. Where hydro power is available it is low carbon, and so in nuclear, but because the grid covers users of solar does not make the problem of intermittency go away.
          Joeviocoe
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          "as they have to be ramped up and down which is about as efficient as doing the same in your car on the gas pedal." No, they don't get "ramped up and down". Stop repeating the same nonsense. Yes, solar and wind get "backed up" by whatever baseload power is available. Whether that is coal, nuclear, or natural gas (yes, NG is often used for baseload too, although more expensive to do). But it doesn't mean that because someone uses solar panels to power half of their consumption needs, that the power company needs to start ramping up and down their generation in some inefficient way to keep up with the demand fluctuations. The origin of that hypothesis was based on some imaginary scenario that makes solar look bad. Just like this whole coal-EV idea. It is false, and you have yet to show any real evidence that partial solar generation harms the environment worse that if the user had no solar.
          lne937s
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          The fact of the matter is inefficient natural gas generation is primarily used for peak load-- which happens to be primarily when the sun is out. Solar displaces peak load and requires no storage up to ~25% of generation (it is nowhere near that now). Ittermittancy is more an issue of use than generation. You would have to install twice as much nuclear capacity as base load and shunt it most of the day if you wanted to compensate for peak load with nuclear. Nuclear is now, according to the DOE, more expensive than solar. Solar investment is simply the best way in many places to compensate for natural gas peak generation right now. Once solar reaches 1/4 of the grid (around 20 times what is is now in the states) and daytime electricity becomes cheaper than nightime electricity, then you can start worrying about storage and other issues. Solar alone will not get us to 0, but it is the best place to start.
          Joeviocoe
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          lne937s, Also, solar thermal plants can use methods like molten salt to generate power nearly 24 hours a day.
          garylai
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Untrue. Solar panels and wind turbines go well with hydro plants and gas turbine power plants. When the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, the hydro-power flows less water and keeps more behind the dams, or the gas turbines burn less gas. At night or when the wind goes down, the hydro-plants and gas turbine plants throttle up to make up the difference. This is the way power is managed in most of the West.
          Joeviocoe
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          "You should know by now that I never present an argument without basis." Usually you don't which is why I have given you the benefit of the doubt for almost a year. I have 'repeatedly', on several articles, asked you to source your argument regarding the hypothesis that partial solar power generation is worse than no solar. But you have ignored every attempt. I am sorry that you are easily offended. But I did not attack your personal character. I just made it clear that you have not provided any evidence for a claim you keep repeating. And you already know, that since this is "your claim", not mine... the burden of evidence is on you. It is easy for you to just claim that I offended you, thus avoiding the argument. But you cannot honestly think that I am "not fit for adult company" simply because I told you to stop spreading false information without proof.
          lne937s
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Joe, beyond that, there are going to be a lot of reduced capacity EV batteries available before grid reached 25% solar. And there is tremendous potental in "Cloud" storage. Basically having energy storing devices (freezers, hot water tanks, laptop batteries, car batteries, etc.) store energy when there is overproduction. This could also be used to throttle consumption. But storage is a small concern in the near term compared to installing the generating capacity.
          DaveMart
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          @Joe I dislike your mode of address, and can't be bothered to engage in discussion of arguments so arrogantly presented. You should know by now that I never present an argument without basis. Now I may be mistaken, but the sooner you disabuse yourself that your presenting some alternative view represents a 'correction' which should be accepted as tablets handed down from on high the sooner you will be fit for adult company.
        Neil Blanchard
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Smith Jim
        We need to have a diverse set of renewable energy sources. A combination like what Germany is doing already will be able to cover all our electricity needs. They use solar PV, and wind, and methane gas from farm waste digesters -- and a hydro station with an elevated reservoir for storage. When there is an excess of wind and/or solar energy coming in, they pump water up to the reservoir, and when there is not enough solar and/or wind coming in, they use the water to generate additional baseload. The methane gas plants can store plenty of gas ahead of time, and they can be started on a moment's notice. Please know that there are several other viable renewable energy sources that can be mixed in: solar heat is one very powerful collection method that has much less "exotic" materials than PV. Wave power collection systems are available right now -- these generate power from the motion of the waves off shore, and a majority of all people in the world live near the coast. Tidal power is also available near the coast. Geothermal power can be used almost anywhere if deep holes are drilled. And distributed wind turbines over a large area generate a very consistent amount of power, virtually all the time. Grid distribution is quite efficient, and ironically, when not fuel is being used up, any losses on the grid only need to have a bit more collection to balance out. Solar PV on rooftops take away the single biggest peak load very efficiently. Diverse and distributed are huge advantages, and no one person or country has a monopoly. Renewable energy is very democratic and this is takes away another huge hidden cost of oil and gas and coal and nuclear energy. Money spent on renewable energy stays in the local economy. Renewable energy is here long term -- it will last as long as the Earth exists; about another *Billion* years. It is the only way we will get into the next century with anywhere near our current civilization. Burning oil and coal and gas is ruining the very earth we all are totally dependent on. Neil
        Nick
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Smith Jim
        Jim Smith "t appears that a hybrid will emit less CO2 than an EV based on the average CO2 emissions of power plants in the US. " Not true. Coal fired power plants are much more efficient in converting heat to electricity than an ICE into motion. EV motors are MUCH more efficient than an ICE....and besides, coal power plants can't be run down at night, so they keep burning coal all the time and produce excess power at times when the EVs are plugged in.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I refer everyone, including Andy Palmer, to the article linked below, which purports that if we were to simply take the electricity required to produce a single gallon of gasoline, and put it directly to use powering an EV, that it would take us farther than the gallon of gas would. This totally supports Andy's "bullshit" claim, regardless of the source of the electricity. And given that the average KW of electricity used to refine gasoline is generated the same way as the electricity that charges an EV, that simply means that the production of the the fossil fuel is a dirty process in itself. All I can say is it's a good thing we don't burn gasoline to generate the electricity to refine gasoline. the article is from AutoblogGreen, Oct. 14, 2011.... http://www.green.autoblog.com/2011/10/14/how-gas-cars-use-more-electricity-to-go-100-miles-than-evs-do/
        Neil Blanchard
        • 3 Years Ago
        Thanks for linking to this article. If you look into how much hot water is required to loosen heavy crude, just so it can be pumped out of the ground, or at how much energy is used to wash the sticky tar out of the Alberta tar sands (which uses an astronomical amount of water, natural gas, and electricity), then you have the proof that we have passed peak oil. Neil
          2 Wheeled Menace
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Neil Blanchard
          The more desperate the oil extraction, the more it looks like peak oil, yes. I've heard people in the oil industry saying that the Alberta oil sands are basically a fancy way of converting coal and water into gasoline, but the result is tons of polluted waste water... so imho.. it would make more sense to just burn the coal.
      Spec
      • 3 Years Ago
      One of the most annoying things about the 'coal-powered car' critique is that it is generally brought up by people that don't give a **** about climate change at all. They just want something to bash EVs with. That is pretty sad . . . people that are more driven by hatred for something than actually caring about something.
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        I don't really care much about climate change (sorry) but I do want a clean environment. Power plants are getting cleaner. Even if a person COULD win the argument now, it wouldn't apply later. If you want to argue with these people you open mindedly call brain dead morons, mention where the fuel comes from (if they shoot back with the USA getting theirs from Canada and Mexico, remind them it is a commodity), we have plenty of coal, and natural gas. Fighting wars for oil may not work well in that argument, but focus on WHERE the other sides gets its money (oil). Addressing the other side's main arguments is the best way to win. If they said that coal plants cause climate change, just say 'oh, you believe in that?' and guess what, you just won the argument.
        Nick
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        Yep, it's the very same people who claimed the Hummer was cleaner than a Prius because of its "filthy battery". They are brain-damaged, Beck-worshipping mor..ns.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I just want to get out there and say that I do care about climate change and think that the electric car shows plenty of potential. But if you take the raw numbers of how much CO2 is released per KW of gasoline vs coal, coal is significantly worse. That said, depending on what part of the country you're in, coal is over 50% of the power source (that's bad). In a paper I did some research for last year in a power systems course, we looked into some of the data readily available from the DOE and found out some of the most efficient gasoline vehicles like the Cruze Eco does release slightly less CO2 than a Leaf in places that use more than 50% coal (basically anything but the west coast and vermont as shown in this article). But most gasoline cars don't fit that criteria, so overall they are still going to be dirtier than the leaf. I still think it's fair to compare the best of the gasoline cars against what is supposed to be the best of the electric cars though. My home state of MN uses 55%-60% coal, so here buying a leaf wouldn't be doing as well as a really efficient gasoline car. I see it less of a problem with the leaf and more of where we need to head with our energy sources and demands. But remember, the more electric cars being used, the more power plants will have to be built and we better make sure they don't end up being coal!
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        "how much CO2 is released per KW of gasoline vs coal" But we don't use gasoline to make electricity. We burn that gasoline in highly inefficient engines. And that gasoline already emitted massive amounts of CO2 in transport, refining, more transport, etc. Coal power plants are much more efficient than a typical car. And electric motors are extremely efficient. Even when powered by coal, EVs tend to emit much less than cars. And the grid can get greener over time.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Power plants might be a bit more efficient than a typical car. I was pointing out the not typical car, but they do exists, the ones that get 45+ mpg (Your Cruze eco or even a Prius). I want you to know there is a situation where stars align in the worst possible way and I could go out and buy a car that spits out less CO2 than a Leaf if I drove it around the midwest. So you're spot on in saying the grid can get greener over time, cause I certainly hopes it does! But we have what we have now, and a good chunk of the US is still over 50% coal.
        Neil Blanchard
        • 3 Years Ago
        See my post above -- gasoline has an even larger energy overhead than electricity. And electricity *can* come from renewable sources. We could be gathering all the energy we need from an abundance of renewable sources. The sun will be here for about a billion years. How long will oil and coal and natural gas last? Neil
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Neil Blanchard
          @mac I think Neil's point was on th 'can' come from. Even if there is a disadvantage in some areas, power planes will be improving, further changes made, upgrades to solar and wind. In theory, a person could generate some or all power in their own. With an ice engine, the only potential for that is to have your own distillery. Hmmm....now that I type that, it doesn't sound so bad, but I digress. The point is, in the long run, there is much more upside to electrics...
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Neil Blanchard
          Coal and Natural gas doesn't show up out of thin air either! We need to go away from those, I said so earlier. Only problem is we're not there yet and won't be any time soon.
          Timo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Neil Blanchard
          No, but they are not used in cars. This is what makes that difference. Refining and extracting oil uses a lot of *electricity*, which means same "Coal and Natural gas doesn't show up out of thin air either" applies to ICE as well as EV, and _in addition to that_ ICE has that inefficient polluting factor in itself.
        Dave D
        • 3 Years Ago
        Please provide a reference to this paper you speak of. We want to see your numbers, and more importantly your assumptions coming to these conclusions. If you're not willing, or able, to provide this...please take your arguments somewhere they care to hear them. There are plenty of anti BEV type forums who would love to hear you spout opinions with no data, but this is not one of them.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          I unfortunately don't have easy access to the information these days as I wasn't the only one involved and the DOE has redesigned their website and don't want to spend the time to redo the calculations to convince you (I don't want to convince you cause you're ultimately right). There are many factors and ways of looking at things. I just want you to be aware that in many states where coal reigns supreme, it's dirty stuff. Jwattage provided a great link above showing the average ICE car to an EV. It also pointed out that a car like the Prius (44 mpg, which there are non-hybrids that get this too these days) would need about 20 kWh for 100 mi from an easy calc in that article (Can that be considered data?). Now realize this doesn't apply to most cars on the road and most cars being purchased. But there are a few cars that exist that depending on where you are, pollute less as we stand now with our current grid and distribution network. What should you take from that? Coal is not any more the answer than gasoline is (was). Push for renewables, nuclear...
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          @mac Could you post your paper somewhere? Many people here are well researched, and people, like PR and Marco are walking encyclopedias of information. Even the mildly informed people can rattle off stats on different types of batteries (hi Dan!) that are pretty amazing. 2wheel builds his bikes.... So feel free to inform this crowd.... :)
        garylai
        • 3 Years Ago
        Even in areas where 100% of the electricity is generated from coal, adoption of EVs does not necessarily create more emissions. This is because coal-fired power plants operate at what is called a base power load. They generate more or less a continuous amount of power regardless of how much is being used because it takes them many days to reach a steady state power load. They cannot be throttled. When there are peak power loads, powerplants that can be throttled, like natural gas or hydroelectric plants, are used to handle the extra load. But at night, coal power plants often generate excess power which is unused. There have been extensive studies done that show there is a lot of excess power generated at night that can be used to charge EVs rather than being wasted, enough to replace 40% of all the cars in America with EVs without building another powerplant. See the following Wikipedia article for more discussion and sources about base power load: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Base_load_power_plant Furthermore, there is the whole point brought up by other people that it takes electricity to refine gasoline and get it to your car. So you need to compare apples to apples. Did your study do this? Did you compute how much pollution was generated by the coal fired power plants to create the electricity to refine the gasoline that went into the Cruze Eco?
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 3 Years Ago
      I like how some people will hate on electric drive and suddenly take the stance of the environmentalist... when they drive gasoline cars and tend to be people who couldn't give a hoot about the electric efficiency of their house, particularly in HVAC etc. There is a long tailpipe argument against gasoline that becomes more pointed every year. Canada is our top oil import and that oil is so energy intensive to produce ( literally squeezing/burning oil out of a rock or mud ) that it doubles the effective emissions of the gasoline powertrain when that fuel is used. Effectively, the process is almost like turning coal and water into oil. The end environmental damage is 2-3 times that of good ol' saudi pure. And i'm not talking about CO2 emissions specifically, i'm also including dumping poisonous materials into millions - billions of gallons of water. I bet you that those people who rally against EVs because of the coal power are also the same folks who are trying to save the incandescent light bulb. You know - those bulbs that convert ~90% of their input power into heat rather than light..
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        Exactly....(read Noz's comment above...)
      Marco Polo
      • 3 Years Ago
      I should know better than to buy into this sort of debate! The only point I wish to make is this, does it really matter if EV's in some locations have a 'long tailpipe'? Yes, some electricity is coal fired. Yes, some electricity generation, somewhere, may be less efficient than Oil based fuel in hybrids. But here's the thing, Oil depletion is real and occurring whether you believe it or not! So, who cares about anorak type of arguments as to whether California gets 1% or 33/3rd of it's energy from coal? The important thing is, it's sure as hell not going to get energy from Oil, in the near future! Dave Martin makes a very good case for replacing Coal with Nuclear power. I am a supporter of Geo-thermal technology, but one thing is for certain, Oil is no longer viable in the long term.
      DaveMart
      • 3 Years Ago
      @zahaylu: Hydro is an excellent resource and for that reason is largely exploited already where available, and certainly in the best sites. It simply cannot be ramped up to the degree you imply. If you are talking about using pumped hydro to store wind power etc, there is the same problem. It takes a heck of a lot of water falling a long way to generate a Gigawatt, and so there are not enough hills! For a discussion on the impracticality of running everything on renewables without massive supporting fossil fuel burn, see: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8237 http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8405 Fortunately nuclear power can do the job superbly well, and the dangers are miss-stated by several thousand times. There is no evidence for any medical harm below 100mSv, more than almost anywhere at Fukushima outside of the plant gates.
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