Union of Concerned Scientists: Driving Electric Is Cleaner Than Ever

Driving electric is becoming cleaner every year.

MAY 21 2018 BY MARK KANE 70

The Union of Concerned Scientists reports big improvements in lowering global warming emissions by driving plug-in electric cars, thanks to cleaner electricity generation.

It’s never been better than today, as electric cars are now cleaner than the average new gasoline car everywhere in the country – the report states – even where plug-ins are recharged from the dirtiest coal-dominated electric grid.

Read Also – Tesla Model S Charged By Diesel Generator More Efficient Than ICE (w/video)

2018 Nissan LEAF

“The analysis, which looked at the latest data on power plant emissions, revealed the average electric vehicle on the road today emits so little in the way of global warming pollution that it’s like driving a conventional car that gets 80 miles to the gallon.

The gap between gasoline vehicles and electric vehicles has grown over time. In 2012, only 45 percent of Americans lived in parts of the country where driving electric produced lower emissions than driving a 50 mile per gallon (mpg) car would. Today, 75 percent of Americans get their electricity from regional grids this clean.

Electric vehicles will continue to get even cleaner as more coal-fired power plants close in favor of wind and solar power, whose prices continue to drop. Coal already has fallen from providing 50 percent of the power on the grid to 30 percent. Renewables now provide 10 percent of America’s electricity.

Electric car technology is improving, too. Looking at the most efficient electric models, 99 percent of Americans could drive cleaner on electricity than they would in a 50 mpg gasoline car.”

A lot changed compared to the 2015 – compare similar graph:

Electric Vehicle Global Warming Pollution Ratings and Gasoline Vehicle Emissions Equivalents by Electricity Grid Region

Separately, the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that driving electric is also cheaper:

“Driving electric isn’t just cleaner—it’s cheaper, too. In another recent analysis, the Union of Concerned Scientists looked at electricity rates and gasoline prices in fifty of the biggest U.S. cities, and found that charging an electric vehicle can be cheaper than fueling a car with gasoline in each of the cities. The average driver can save nearly $800 a year by driving electric instead of on gasoline. With fewer moving parts, battery electric vehicles require less scheduled maintenance than gasoline cars, saving drivers even more.

American motorists have only just begun to see the advantages of electric vehicles, as the industry is less than a decade old. While electric vehicles are still a small part of the auto market, there are now 40 models available in the U.S., with automakers planning to introduce more. The trend is clear: the future is electric. As a greater segment of the public recognizes the advantages of these vehicles, more drivers will save at the pump as they reduce the risk of climate change.”

Source: The Union of Concerned Scientists

Categories: General

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

70 Comments on "Union of Concerned Scientists: Driving Electric Is Cleaner Than Ever"

newest oldest most voted

Better and better!

China is building 1600 coal plants to power their electric cars. Should I be concerned?

You concerned? Please! Anyway, they are building even more solar capacity so it’s getting better for them too.

No link to this report. Is it new? Seems like UCS put out something like this in February or March.

Best I can find is here: https://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/new-data-show-electric-vehicles-continue-to-get-cleaner – Which also references an older 2015 analysis https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/11/Cleaner-Cars-from-Cradle-to-Grave-full-report.pdf

That all said, I trying to wrap my head around the details of the above, versus the below:
https://www.manhattan-institute.org/sites/default/files/R-JA-0518.pdf which recently had a summary on Politico, and I believe was even referenced in the WSJ. These somewhat are comparing different things (averages versus new cars), but they clearly draw VERY different conclusions from the same data sources.

I haven’t had enough time to dig into the details, but I’m really trying to figure out what the MI folks did so differently. Naturally, lots of anti-EV folks are starting to reference the MI paper…

One glaring point left out by the MI was the use of residential solar. As of 2017, EVs made up under 1.7% of vehicles. In the US, 40% of EVs were in California. Surveys from California have shown that 1-in-3 EV adopters offset their energy with solar. When you look at residential solar, the percent appears small until you compare it to EV percentages. They are growing at close to the same rate and more and more they are the same people. When you factor 30% from renewables, it greatly changes your data. Any study like the MI that ignores this is not worth considering. I looked through the lengthy MI study and it appears that they are playing this same shell game of leaving this data out.

I wish that ppl would quit pushing the solar/EV connection.
Ok, how many ppl ACTUALLY charge their car from solar? Few.
The reason is that most ppls cars are with them at work during the daytime.
Solar is used for the home, dumping to the grid when in excess, and most importantly, cutting our electrical bill to the utility companies.

The energy that’s “dumped into the grid” is still renewable energy that should be added to the total mix of generated power.

Why would it matter if energy is created by a industrial solar or residential solar?

The beauty is that the time of use rate directs when the energy is dumped/consumed, and which is why electric vehicle owners can benefit to the max with it. Typcially you charge over night at off-peak when PG&E EV-A plan puts the off-peak price at $0.12/kWh, while your solar system produces at $0.25/kWh mid-peak and $0.45/kWh on-peak. Which means for each clean 1kWh you put into the grid when demand is high, you get four kWh at night when demand is low, and otherwise evaporating base load plus wind-energy surplus is cheap. It is win-win really, you help balance out the grid, and you get to charge your car for pretty much free, assuming you needed the solar on the home anyways to offset your air conditioning and cooking and laundry consumption, which is of course dwarfed by your electrical car charging bill. To put some real numbers behind this: In CA I used to pay $2400/year on average for about 10 years until I realized in 2015 while shopping for replacing our first gas car with electric, that I could just take 7 of those payments to pay for a 10kW solar system (after generous 30% federal tax credit,… Read more »

The four-hour battery is the answer that you seek. The key to renewables is stopping peak load. This is the real cost of utility electricity. A battery need not provide electricity over the 24-hour cycle. The utility company very much wants the night market. Solar only needs to provide energy through peak hours. So it won’t be the EV-PV connection. It is the EV-PV-storage trio that changes the world.

MI is a climate-denial fake-science “think tank” operation, funded by the usual suspects.

How this can all be compared to the below (as they seem to be focused on CO2 numbers which they convert to MPG equilvants), which nearly states the opposite. This recent article that was referenced in Politico – https://www.manhattan-institute.org/sites/default/files/R-JA-0518.pdf – Which seems to focus on Sulfur Dioxide, Particulates, and Nitrogen Oxides – Which basically says, EVs are “dirty” than current ICE engines.

I’m trying to dig into the sources for the above, as several anti-EV comments on the WSJ and other mainstream publications have referenced the above.

Clearly someone is mis-stating something – It’s enough to make one believe that you can lie with statistics…

Found the needed key in the UCS article on “cradle to grave studies” – The quote is:

Disposal toxicity. Beyond global warming emissions, cars—electric and gasoline vehicles alike—produce air pollutants (such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter) and contribute to other environmental impacts (for example, water pollution such as eutrophication and acidification) that can be toxic to humans and other species. With BEVs, these degradations can occur throughout the car’s life cycle—directly during its manufacture and disposal (in particular, disposal of the battery) and indirectly through electricity generation to charge the vehicle during its service life. In the United States, virtually all of the associated production, disposal, and generation processes are subject to air and water quality regulations. Quantifying these impacts is outside the scope of this report, which focuses on global warming emissions.

Basically, the two articles are comparing different things – CO2 versus “pollution” and surprise – you can get different conclusions depending on what data you cherry pick (on both sides)…

The only cherry picking is from manhattan institute. This report is for CO2 because this is one point that is often attacked. Also, are we to assume the batteries will not be recycled? Doubtful.

How will their study be affected when in less than seven years (2025), renewables will be cheaper than the operational costs of new gas plants? And what happens to investors when their assets are stranded in young gas plants and pipelines?

This is why I don’t worry about climate change. In less than 50 years time (or even half that if idiots wake up), most of us we’ll be using far cheaper and cleaner source of energy than digging up rotten bio matter. Even the developing nations will embrace it because of cost. Then everyone who ran around like headless chickens today will just seem silly.

50 years of dumping more CO2 at current levels? Good luck with that. By that time even if we are on 100% green energy most likely there will be big problems for the coastal areas if the temps increase as projected.

It’s not like you wake up one morning and disaster happens. Climate change is a gradual process, and people will adapt. You only need to look at the way we live vs 50 years ago.

As for more CO2 for 50 years, there’s nothing humans can do to reduce emissions without cheaper energy source. You only have to look at all the solo drivers in giant SUV/trucks in traffic. They don’t even bother to get smaller cars, there’s no way they’re going to voluntarily cut emissions by 70% required if not for money.

There is alot we can do, from recapture to restoring green belts. It’s no question we will adapt, but we will do that mostly by moving…which is not a good thing. The population keeps going up geometrically and that will make things even worse. I guess a big war will balance things out.

If you think population growth is a big problem, then please just kill yourself to solve it.

This disdain for high birth rates (mainly in Africa) is among the biggest reason poor countries are given so little help to get out of poverty. This in turn keeps birth rates high, because the more developed and educated a country is, the lower their birth rate. Kenya has more than halved it’s birth rate over 50 years, Ethiopia nearly the same, and I can go on.

Moreover, these countries emit a fraction of the CO2 per capita that we in developed countries do.

SparkEV’s point is also going over your head. People aren’t going to voluntarily change their ways if it costs them money or convenience. Recapture, renewables, EVs, etc all have costs.

I’ll agree with you to the extent that I think renewable energy will save us from the worst of what could happen. Humanity won’t go extinct, the Earth will survive.

The problem is we’re at least two decades behind where we should be. There’s no way we avoid severe consequences at this point. I don’t see how any of the world’s coral reefs survive. It’s just too late. Too much warming has already been baked into the cake. They’re just screwed. The best we can hope for is to maintain stocks of species to replenish them later.

And then there are a lot of very hot areas in the world that are already only borderline habitable. These places can’t really afford any warming at all, but they’re going to get it anyway. They’ll be pushed over the border to uninhabitable and then we’re going to see extreme disruption due to climate migration.

The main point is not the cost, dinosaurs still have nat gas to hold onto…for now.

“The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research is a conservative 501(c)(3) non-profit American think tank focused on domestic policy and urban affairs, established …”
I think wiki said it best…pass!

I don’t understand why “conservative” and “anti-environment” are synonyms. I am beginning to think that “conservative” is a misnomer for pro-business and pro-religion.

It’s all about business. Basically, big corporations found a way to corrupt our political class and are primarily targeting the gop which would gladly take the money. It happens on the other side too but less obvious.

It’s not “pro-business” it’s pro business at all costs.

Not “pro-business”, pro big business. They couldn’t care less about small business at all.


“Congress authored the basic structure of the Clean Air Acts and made major revisions in throughout the 1970s and in 1990. The initial act in 1970 was signed into law under Richard Nixon and the 1990 added amendments were signed by George H.W. Bush.” prezi.com/muqvgjw6tjxs/clean-air-act-of-1990/

“The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 granted tax credits for new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles.” signed by W. Bush.

Not all conservatives are against electric cars and clean air. The Bushes were even oil men. I guess conservatives like to breathe just like the rest of us.

For all the mindless criticism George Bush took for being “in the pockets of oilmen”, he actually did more to reduce our oil use than any president in my lifetime. If one were to look deep, the research Bush instigated into reducing oil use through electricity and conservation were tremendous and we are benefiting today from those actions. Before liberal knees start jerking, look into the energy programs at the National Laboratories.

True, i think even Donny is not against ev and green energy…yes, i said that! He would be blocking projects left and right if that was the case which he is not. The huge solar farm in Coachella is on and the ev credit is intact.

You have to understand that the reason why Nixon signed the Clean Air Act at that time was to stop and preempt a bunch of states following California’s lead and also producing their own clean air regulations. Nixon was responding to big business’s objection to state standards, and the demand for a single national standard. The compromise was to grandfather California in with the ability to have waivers to the federal laws.

It wasn’t a move to make the air cleaner as much as it was a move to limit individual states from making their air cleaner.

Why are you trying to compare actual research and science with FUD from bought lobby groups?

I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt…

Because the MI document is being referenced in lots of places, WSJ and Politico – It’s not a great idea to “just dismiss it” – Data and real arguments need to be made to illustrate the “one-sided” aspect of their report, and point out the issues with their arguments

To just dismiss it, due to the source, is a mistake, as not all the world reads IEV – Tossing out terms like “FUD” and “Troll” don’t help with logical discussion, and just push people into corners, and pretty much ends any discourse

You raise a good point, what is the rebuttal?

It’s quite easy. Before even beginning to delve into the specifics, it does not include the costs of security, and thus, the study is incomplete.

None of them do and all of them are inaccurate. All of them.

When your source continuously trolls science and social issues than YES, YOU IGNORE IT!!!

Cherry picking facts to push your political agenda has nothing to do with “science”, whatever political party or ideology you would take, left, right or fringe. Putting “science” in advocacy group name doesn’t make it scientific. Science is about ability to think critically and avoid bias in the first place, not just imitate it.

I never thought I would agree with you on anything but here i am…

” charging an electric vehicle can be cheaper than fueling a car with gasoline in each of the cities. ”
This is only 50 cities, we need some troll input on where we need to go to really pay more on electric as it seems it’s always happening where they are at.

Troll town?


Yes, and the price of gas is finally going up in spades, that trend may convince even the most hardened critics that an ev is what to go. Use that wonderful tax break you got to pay more, a lot more, for gas.

It’s working in Cali, more and more people are turning to evs. If there is one good thing about high gas prices…and i’m not saying that there is…this is it.

Bingo. You have it exactly right.

1. We need renewable energy.
2. We need transportation that is compatible with renewable energy.
I honestly don’t see the point in conflating these issues, given that they need to be solved separately.

I can’t find it now, but recently I saw a Facebook post in the Bolt EV Owner’s Group with some article claiming that electricity is dirtier than gasoline vehicles. It was dubious at best, but they pulled the post down before I got to dig into it more. They were not only looking at GHG emissions, but also the top X particulate emissions. I wonder how their “arguments” compare with this annual report, and also if the Union of Concerned Scientists focus much on non-CO2 emissions?

It’d be nice to see the comparative map from 5 years ago. ICE cars have gotten somewhat more efficient as well.

Right, which is why the legacy car makers met with trump to relax the MPG requirement on a federal level and complain about california and a few other states that will keep emissions requirements on cars even without federal guideline. /s

Manhattan paper is like the one years ago that attempted to prove that a Hummer was cheaper to run than a Prius.

Bahhahah…i wanna see, i wanna see!!!
Onion piece?

Manhattan paper sounds like the one years ago that attempted to prove that a Hummer was less expensive to run than a Prius. Got a lot of press but none when it was shown to be bogus.

it’s cheaper, too.
Electricity is regulated, oil and gasoline is not.

In US it’s kind of regulated…through different means and methods.

In no way is oil and gas price regulated in the U.S.

You mean the military presence in the middle east for the past 3 decades has nothing to do with our relatively low oil prices? We are producing more of our own now but wasn’t the case 10 years ago.

I mean price regulation, there is no PUC for gasoline prices.

electricity price has been climbing much faster than gasoline since 2013…

For me dropped to near $0 by adding solar.

Same here. ZERO!!!

Talk about cherry picking… How about we do since 2015 when oil was at the top so we can pick all the cherries…or we can go the other way and measure the differences since 2017. I’m curious, is 2013 an important year for you?

I don’t think it matters, electricity in California (since it is often mentioned here) is out of line and won’t be getting any better. Last week I drove my Leaf 160 miles/rt and it worked out to over $30, not counting the initial charge at home. Somewhere in the $0.17/mile range. Comparatively, any 40 mpg ice in California with $3.50/gal would cost $0.09/mile.

This is completely whacked and should be raising some concerns. Not everybody is going to be able to have solar panels – the solar financing companies that routinely knock on the door won’t even talk to me for example because we use too little electricity. Just like most of the other residents in my area. Meanwhile, I am paying exorbitant rates for other people’s solar systems who use (waste) more. And no, a time of use only makes sense if you use no electricity in the day. I am a little bit bitter about that and also concerned about the monsters we are creating with utility monopolies.

The TOU for charging is 12c, on ev plan is 13c in SoCal. That translates to $5.57 for 160 miles or 3.5c per mile which is almost x3 cheaper that that 40 mpg gasser. Now if you charge on the road…forget it…the costs are in the 30-50c per kw range. Super expensive. Might as well get a Tesla and supercharge for half that.

Keep in mind that you aren’t stuck with just grid averages. You can change how green your own EV is by installing wind or solar, or buying “WindSource” or joining a solar collective, etc.

The Grid numbers represent the worst case scenario, and each EV owner can choose how much more green their car can be compared to the grid. ICE car owners don’t have that option.

Why is this an issue at all?
Coal plants are being shut down all over America, though a number are being replaced with nat gas. The nat gas gives a fraction of the CO2 and no other real pollution. Wind and Solar continues to be added to the grid.

As such, there is no doubt that EVs in America are getting cleaner.
And with Tesla adding 1/4 M new cars here and very likely, 1/2 million next year, with the majority going to America, I would expect that America’s car fleet is about to also get cleaner.

And whats even better… as the car gets older, and time passed, the grid becomes cleaner. Gas cars will remain if not get worse in polluting as they grow older.


The Union of Concerned Scientists should compare the USA to other countries like China, Norway and New Zealand and see how it stacks up.

“American motorists have only just begun to see the advantages of electric vehicles, as the industry is less than a decade old.” Who said this? Choke…. In what reality is the “Industry less than a decade old”??? The first electric Cars were “in use” in the 1870’s & by 1997 so was the Prius and the EV1. The world didn’t begin at the doorstep of Tesla.