Are EVs As Green As Claimed?

on March 26, 2015 at 10:00 AM

German Summit On Electric Mobility

Electric vehicles (EVs), particularly if they are stylish and high performance, such as Tesla’s Model S, tend to be expensive. Which means that they appeal to the affluent or the environmentally committed. Those who drive them, like those who have installed solar PV panels on their roofs, tend to brag about them to neighbors, friends as well as total strangers. Having an EV or solar PVs gives the owners certain bragging rights that ordinary mortals lack. But are EVs as clean and green as they are claimed to be?

The answer, of course, depends on how, when and where they are charged – that is the energy mix that feeds the batteries that provides mobility. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by C. Tessum, J. Hill & J. Marshall, 3 researchers at the University of Minnesota and summarized in The Economist (20 Dec 2014), confirms what should be intuitive.

For example, driving an EV in France, where 75% of electricity is generated from carbon-free nuclear power, is considerably cleaner than driving an internal combustion engine – gasoline or diesel. In places where the bulk of electricity comes from coal fired plants, say in China, India, So. Africa or Poland, the EV driver may still brag, but has little to show for it, environmentally speaking.

EV 1

Source: The Economist


The Economist summarizes the study’s results as follows:

“Overall, the research shows that electric cars are cleaner than those that rely on internal-combustion engines only if the power used to charge them is also clean. That is hardly a surprise, but the magnitude of the difference is. How green electric cars really are, then, will depend mainly on where they are driven. In France, which obtains more than half its power from nuclear stations, they look like a good bet. In China—which is keen on electric cars, but produces some 80% of its electricity from coal—rather less so.”

Published Originally in EEnergy Informer: The International Energy Newsletter March 2015 Issue.