Is The US Grid Really Getting Greener For Our Electric Cars?


A Chevrolet Volt Taps The Grid For A Little Juice

A Chevrolet Volt Taps The Grid For A Little Juice

InsideEVs readers are all more than familiar with the long tail pipe argument against EVs.  There have been many academic studies conducted to prove that grid powered EVs are cleaner than an ICE, so we will try not to repeat any of that work.

Instead, we decided to pull the most up-to-date data from (2003 – Feb 2013) and see what the trends are for the US on the whole.  Below you can see the annual output by source:

All Data Via  -- Click To Enlarge

All Data Via — Click To Enlarge  (Note: 2013 numbers are for the trailing 12 months ending February 2013, as to not skew for the seasonality of power production)

The big trends to take notice of are massive decline in petroleum and coal and the noticeable decline in nuclear production.  These declines are mostly compensated for with the nearly doubling of natural gas generation and a ten-fold increase in wind production.

Solar has also seen a ten-fold increase in production, but its absolute numbers are still very low.  However, the trend is moving in the right direction, and fast.

Also look at the relatively flat total electricity demand.  There has been no significant elevation in demand for the last 10 years.  In that time lots of new capacity has hit the grid, outpacing retirements of old facilities.  That means there are assets under-producing, which conveniently answers the “can the grid handle it” question that is often the follow on to the long tailpipe argument.

All Data Via  -- Click To Enlarge

All Data Via — Click To Enlarge

In the data above, the decline in coal use is obvious, dropping 13% in ten years.  Since there are many critics for and against nuclear being renewable, I displayed the data both with and without nuclear.  Geothermal, Biomass, Solar, and especially wind have all made gains to increase the contribution to the grid by roughly 3% over the last 10 years.

With the record capacity installations of wind and solar recently, it will be interesting to see what the full year 2013 production data looks like.

We will leave you with the graphical version of this data.  Let us know what other trends you find in the comments.

All Data Via -- Click To Enlarge

All Data Via — Click To Enlarge

Categories: Charging, General


Leave a Reply

12 Comments on "Is The US Grid Really Getting Greener For Our Electric Cars?"

newest oldest most voted

What is up-to-date KWh CO2 cost? Say, for 2012 year.

Very very nice read Josh. Well done!

What’s always lost in naysayers’ long-tailpipe arguments is the fact that such a ridiculous number of EV buyers install solar. So while it’s already greener to drive electric, buying an EV has been a catalyst for folks to seriously go green. I personally installed enough PV after our Leaf purchase that we could power five EV’s.

I would imagine the solar installs will decrease as a ratio once they become more mainstream, but who knows, maybe not? I would love to see it become the new norm to have both.

I just have to point out something that really hit me looking at these graphs. Nuclear is nearly on par with natural gas in total generation (although natural gas has gone up in recent years). I dug into the data on the website and learned that just 66 nuclear plants generated 790 million MWh in 2011! Compare that to the 1646 natural gas plants generating 1,013 million MWh. It really gives you a sense of the energy density inherit in nuclear power. Not to mention that it’s basically CO2 free energy.

Just BTW: Why is power cheaper at night, wholesale, or with retail time-based rate plans? Because, in the middle of the night, your power company is wasting fuel keeping their large generators spinning. Load may be at 20%, but the plant will be burning 50% of the fuel it uses at peak demand in the middle of the day, not 20%. It’s almost exactly like a gas car at a red light, or coasting down a hill, or only using 3hp going level at 30mph, but still using 6hp or more worth of gas. The first wave of electric car owners charging at night will not produce ANY EMISSIONS. Tell that to the next person who brings up the long tailpipe.