Updated Emission/Grid Numbers: Electric Vehicles Even More Superior!

JUN 1 2017 BY MARK KANE 71

Climate Central has released an interesting article updating various automobile-types environment impact, which in the case of plug-ins, is highly dependent upon on electricity grid.

Chevrolet Bolt

According to the above map, the gird is clean enough in most US states to making driving on electricity the choix du jour over any other type of fossil fuel.

The second takeaway is that every year, the average emissions from the US grid is decreasing, as there is more fuel-efficient power generation facilities and more renewables coming online all the time.

Check out the dramatic changes as it relates to plug-ins between 2009 in the updated 2014 chart below.

However, in looking at the map (above) there is still a ~dozen states that need to improve to fully justify the switch to all-electric cars over any other choice.  In those markets, the best option for now (on paper) seems to be gas-powered hybrids.

“Still, the energy mix is environmentally friendly enough to mean that the three most climate-friendly cars to operate over 100,000 miles in Tennessee are all-electric vehicles — models made by BMW, Mitsubishi and Fiat. In 13 other states, including Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky and North Dakota, heavy coal use means it’s still better for the climate to operate an efficient gas-powered model.”

For many regions, all-electric cars usually bring more environment impact on the manufacturing stage, but the benefits obviously increase over the miles drive.  Considering the average range (and thus lifespan) of BEVs is also expanding at a huge rate, the numbers have never looked better, now crossing the break-even mark before 50k miles.

Electric vehicles emit more pounds of CO2 during manufacturing than gas-powered hybrids. However, over 100,000 miles, the average gas-powered hybrid emits more carbon dioxide per mile than the average all-electric vehicle. Emissions above are calculated for the U.S. national electricity mix.

The Union of Concerned Scientists in separate report says that EVs are cleaner than ever – “For over 70 percent of Americans, driving an EV results in fewer emissions than even a 50 MPG gasoline vehicle”.

Improvements between 2009 and 2014 are tremendous:

New Numbers Are In and EVs Are Cleaner Than Ever (source: Union of Concerned Scientists)

source: Union of Concerned Scientists, Climate Central, Hat tip to Sven!

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71 Comments on "Updated Emission/Grid Numbers: Electric Vehicles Even More Superior!"

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Come on Long Island, jeez.

Long Island will look a lot better once the offshore wind farm comes online.


They are starting to build an offshore wind farm, so this will get better, when that comes online.

Wow, it is amazing how dirty the USA grid is, big improvement but way behind other countries and the rest of the world.

By rest of world I guess you mean Scandinavia and Western Europe?

This says the US is better than Eastern Europe and way better than Australia but worse than Western Europe and Scandinavia.


By the rest of the world he means mostly the rest of the world.

South and North America, most of Africa, most of Asia and most of Europe.

It’s an under-rated benefit of EVs that their emissions are likely to actually decrease as they age, as grid electricity cleans up over the years. The exact opposite of gas-powered cars whose smog-forming emissions increase as the car ages. Some substantial portion of the older cars will turn into gross polluters as the engine and pollution control equipment wear out.

In my own region of western NC, the bulk of our local electricity comes from an old coal plant. The plant does have updated pollution control equipment, but CO2 emissions are high. So my Volt is not particularly particularly clean running off of grid electricity. But, that will change dramatically within a few years as the old coal plant is going to be replaced by a couple modern combined-cycle natural gas turbines which will drastically cut both smog-forming pollution and carbon dioxide emissions per unit electricity produced.

Interesting that CO is so coal-heavy. Don’t they have some of the best incentives for buying an EV?

Well, at least coal is a domestic fuel…

Yes, they have a $5,000 dollar EV point-of-purchase credit which reduces the price of the car before sales taxes. So it ends up being worth more than just $5K depending on your tax district.

Colorado is still a purple state, so it is somewhat schizophrenic on energy issues. Denver/Boulder/Front Range trends more pro-green energy, while the rural areas surrounding it trend pro-fossil fuel. The resulting energy policy ends up reflecting that reality.

It’s embarrassing how low Colorado ranks, especially with all the sunshine they have.

Or install your own solar and give grid averages the middle finger and laugh at them.

Even if you live in the worst grid area, you may have alternatives to beat you local grid averages:

1) Install solar
2) Install home wind
3) Join a solar or wind collective.
4) Sign up for alternative electrical power through your local utility, with programs like WindSource, etc.

Even the light blue states, EV+Solar beats gas powered hybrid.

The problem with that line of thinking is that you’re still consuming the marginal KWh of electricity – if you weren’t driving using that energy, it would be displacing coal/nat gas somewhere else.

Erik, your equation fails to account for the gasoline that would otherwise be consumed. You have failed to balance the entire equation when you say this:

“if you weren’t driving using that energy, it would be displacing coal/nat gas somewhere else.”

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Here is the full balance of the equation:

“if you weren’t driving using that [solar] energy, it would be displacing coal/nat gas somewhere else, and you would be burning 3-4 times as many BTU’s of gasoline.”

Do you see where your equation fails?


I think the two are completely independent of each other:

Buying an electric car displaces gasoline.

Buying solar panels displaces either natural gas or coal.

Buying an Electric car may also drive up usage of coal and or natural gas depending on the mix of the grid.

It’s not about the BTUs it’s about the CO2 and emissions.

That’s what I believe as well: circumvent the whole bloody grid by first conserving, then creating, your own electricity, either by your own efforts or through a neighborhood collective.

If every rooftop were covered with solar panels, soon enough it wouldn’t matter terribly much how a power company made its electricity, or what exorbitant prices it charged.

When the battery dies on BEV, it will most likely be junked. Seeing how less than 200 miles range EV will degrade 50% or more in about 10 years while ICE cars keep going with minor repairs to even 20 years, it’s not clear if BEV are better if manufacturing them make significantly more emissions.

I project that SparkEV would degrade 50% between 9th and 12th year by using some good looking math (not accurate, just good looking). It’d be tough to use it with 50% capacity gone.


SparkEV — Your numbers for the SparkEV are not representative of EVs/PHEVs in general.

Numbers for Volts and Tesla’s have been posted many times suggesting that the battery will likely long outlast the useful life of the car the vast majority of the time.

I think SparkEV does quite well compared to Leaf, probably eGolf. Other sub 200 miles range EV might be comparable to SparkEV.

For PH, they will last lot longer. My regular Prius lasted 12 years and 149950 miles before the battery died, so much bigger LiIon battery PH should last lot longer (200K+ miles). But my point was regarding BEV, not PH.

With the Leaf enough of them sold that a battery replacement should be affordable. That is less clear with the Chevy Spark EV or e-Golf. If EVs really catch on battery prices should come down a lot and replacement battery service should be easier to come by.

Yep, I expect there to be relatively affordable batteries available for used Leafs: used but still in decent shape, or rebuilt, or aftermarket new, if you have a 7 year old Leaf that is otherwise in great shape but the battery is dying, then it will be worth it to spend $3-4k on another one.

Obviously if the Leaf with dying battery is not in very good shape then it will probably get scrapped instead of investing big money.

That’s some awesome detailed data analysis there SparkEV!

> would degrade 50% between 9th and 12th year

That’s severe, and I doubt any upgraded pack will be on offer, and even if so, price might not be worth it, over a new EV.

Yeah, and that’s my point in my original comment. That’s why high manufacturing emissions makes it uncertain, at least until lot more 200+ miles range BEV come to market. Still, if the battery emits lot more emissions, that could also be dicey.

Minor repairs for 20 years, well, that’s a stretch. Of course you don’t mention miles driven, which is what matters, not how old the car is.
I have a car with over 200k which costs me, on average about 1k a year over the past 4 years, averaged out. Planned obsolescence makes cars more expensive as they get older, and you have to replace parts that were designed to last for the life of the car.
Also your battery degradation schedule seems highly unlikely.

I’m using the data that I collected over a year, take it for what it is. As I mentioned in the blog post, “All data and analysis are completely subjective, probably wrong, and should not be trusted!”

I’m estimating 10K miles per year, so 20 year gas car would have 200K miles before junking. Up to that point, it’d probably cost less than $500/yr on average maybe a spike of $1000/yr. That’s “doable” for typical household, but $6000 for a new battery (Leaf price, SparkEV battery costs $35K from dealer) is not easy, even if that’d last another 10 years.

ICEVs can be kept running for 20 years, sure. In my experience, that means putting about $1k/year into the car after about 10-12 years. With newer cars, it’s maybe 15 years. But figure $500/year for 15 years and then $1k/year for 5 more. That’s $12,500 for repairs over 20 years. That’s not all that much. Then again, it will buy my Leaf 2 new batteries. I’m over 5 years and the original battery is still going strong (~80% on a 2012 Leaf, more than enough for my needs). With my usage, I would guess a single battery replacement would get me to 20 years (not that I intend to keep the car that long, mind you).

I agree. I think SparkEV is being way too generous about the longevity of ICEs. My last cars I kept for 15 years and I decided it really wasn’t worth it in the end. Repair costs just got too high after a point. You can keep them running, but it’s going to cost you and that’s even if you drive few miles.

Brian, if your battery is 80% in 5 years, that’s the same as my estimate for SparkEV in linear trend shown in blog post.

Then in 20 years, your battery would be about 20% of original capacity, assuming linear trend. Can you really drive a car that gets less than 17 miles range? You’d want to leave few miles as a margin, so practical range would be maybe 10 miles.

Realistically, I suspect you can use about half (about 30 miles plus margin). That will occur as I described, at which point you will most likely junk your car and get a new one since the battery will cost more to replace than a new car lease.

Eyeing the chart above, at the 100k miles mark you’ve saved enough emissions to “pay” to manufacture a new battery pack, based on today’s grid emissions average (looking at initial manufacturing, I would guess battery is 1,200 to 1,500 lbs of the total ~2,500 lbs).

I’m in an area that is dominated by hydro, so I’ll have saved many times more than that. So will definitely be better from an emissions perspective to replace the battery. I also think the cost argument doesn’t wash either – I’ll replace the battery (even if it is only in-kind), because the rest of the car will still be fine and it will be far cheaper to spend $6k on a battery then to get a new car.

Above chart is comparing PH vs BEV. ICE would have even lower manufacturing emissions since there’s no big battery.

For those who charge using renewables, EV is without a question better for emissions. But as of now, that’s not the case for many in US.

SparkEV, why would you junk a valuable battery? Even if it has just half of its original power it still has a lot of uses that will mean that most batteries are re-purposed at the end of their automotive life.
Right now it looks like most packs, other than early Leaf packs, that is, will be lasting 10 to 15 years, then they will be repurposed for 5 to 10 years. By that time, it is likely that many, albeit not all, of the materials used to make them will be recycled.
Losing 20% of your range on a short ranged Leaf is a problem, losing the same amount on a longer range Bolt is much less of a problem.

Most of the early Leafs will get 10 years use out of their batteries, I’d say. Hot climate cars or frequent fast-charging will not make it that long, but Leafs in moderate climate with moderate use should still be useful after 10 years.

Ziv, if the battery has degraded so much that it can’t even drive between DCFC in your route, new car (hopefully EV) will be purchased, which uses a new battery and emissions associated with making it.

Secondary use for batteries is different issue. If you’re counting on that, it makes things lot more complicated; lots of ICE parts get reused from salvage yards, too.

Years of usage of EV depends on your need. I described how I arrived at 50% in my blog post (distance between DCFC). If you’re willing to put up with even shorter range, EV could be usable much longer, especially if you drive fewer miles as the car ages. Again, I describe this in my blog post (exponential fit plot).

SparkEV, if the car is in decent shape and the battery is not, most of the time it will be worth it to buy a refurb pack, not a new car. Given the incredible depreciation most new cars experience the moment you drive them off the lot, keeping a BEV/EREV that needs a replacement pack makes sense most of the time.

You can already get refurb packs for the Volt for less than $3k if you return the old pack (CORE). The thing is that almost no one has had a Volt pack that needed to be replaced in the past 6+ years of Volt sales and service.

Nissan kind of shot themselves and their buyers in the foot by pricing their replacement packs at $5500. It is a bigger pack, obviously, so perhaps their options were limited. But I would bet that the price comes down over the next couple years.

I don’t know enough about Spark packs to speak to battery replacement on them.

In other words:

“Hey, do you remember a couple of years ago how we told you that you should buy a gas hybrid in your state? Well, it turns out for a lot of states that advice was short-sighted and is now wrong. You should have bought an EV instead.”

Hopefully folks will look at these two graphs, and realize that for a vehicle that will likely be on the road for around 20 years, that current grid averages are a very, very bad data set to use for making the decision between EVs/PHEVs and non-plugin hybrids.

My numbers are going up, in MA, since Pilgrim will be closing by 2019. Three Mile Island announced its closure, this week. Nuclear is ~37% of PA’s power. EV CO2/mile stats will be going up there, too.

Big progress in renewables would be in states like TX, with its ~12% wind power.
The reality for many, however, is increased renewables taking CO2 down slower than nuclear closures are taking it back up.

Keeping policy score, Nukes or CO2:
CA – favors CO2 over nukes
MA – favors CO2 over nukes
NE – favors CO2 over nukes
WI – favors CO2 over nukes
NY – favors Nukes over CO2
IL – favors Nukes over CO2
PA, CT, OH, NJ – debating Nukes over CO2
VT – Hmmm, going all-renewable, but if you consider the CO2 footprint of biomass, Vermonters have chosen higher CO2 per mile, since closing Yankee.

Uncomfortable choices have real impacts.

Completely agree. Hopefully the Westinghouse bankruptcy does not derail the two reactors under construction in SC and GA but the continued retirement of nuclear plants will pose a challenge even with greater renewables. At some point, widespread electric vehicle adoption is going to cause energy consumption to begin to rise again and it will be difficult to continue growing carbon-free energy without increased nuclear in the mix.

Well, I disagree. Hopefully Westinghouse’s bankruptcy is the death kneel for the industry. The failed reactors can be replaced with wind and solar for a much lower price.

The nuclear industry had more than 50 years to get it right and failed abysmally. It’s time to put a fork in nuclear power, it’s done.

The nuclear industry has gotten a lot right as well as some wrong.

It’s been the biggest provider of clean energy in the US for many, many decades.

If you are environmentalist and you are anti-nukes, you are either delusional or you are unable to understand the mathematics of energy production.

Glad to come back and see that, more than just a choice of “poison”, support for existing nuclear is increasingly seen for the practical impacts it has on maps like the above.

People underestimate how hard its been to change the more institutionalized environmentalist perspective. Full replacement by renewables would be great, in Utopia.

I hear you. It is kind of funny to see environmentalists tie themselves into knots trying to explain why one of the founders of GreenPeace, (and President of GreenPeace Canada for 9 years, plus he was aboard the Rainbow Warrior when it was sunk, so he is an environmentalist to the core) Patrick Moore is so strong a supporter of nuclear power.

The answer is pretty simple. Nukes aren’t perfect but they supply electricity at a price that is competitive and they do it with no real greenhouse gas emissions.

“NY – favors Nukes over CO2”

Not always. The Indian Point nuclear plant in the NYC suburb of Westchester County will close one of its two reactors in 2020, and close its second reactor in 2021. While NY Governor Cuomo is supportive of upstate nuclear plants, he was the driving force in closing Indian Point, rather than extending its useful life.


Sorry, but nukes are crap. Overly expensive and that not even going into waste issues or safety. California doesn’t need to keep nuclear plants growing. We’re putting in so much renewable power that it simply doesn’t matter. At current rates we’ll be over 50% well before 2030.

First, nuclear is simply not cost competitive, even with the enormous subsidies taxpayers provide (covering the insurance, waste costs, and then big tax incentives). As the top grade uranium ore is nearly gone, costs will go up steadily since far more ore needs to be mined and processed (releasing more CO2) with lower grade deposits. Building new nuclear plants now is absurd, existing ones are closing simply because the economics of keeping them open does not make sense, and repairs are very costly also.

As for biomass, it is not a source of CO2. It either decomposes naturally over time, releasing that same amount of CO2, or is used for power.

Don’t fool yourself about biomass. It’s a carbon source for sure, even if great care is taken to replant forests, you are still putting carbon in the air that would otherwise be sequestered for decades or even indefinitely, if buried in a deepening layer of topsoil within a mature forest.

It may be lower carbon than some fossil fuels, potentially even all fossil fuels, but when we’re cutting down forests in the southeastern US and shipping the woodchips to be burned in Europe, do you really think it’s carbon neutral?

I think there’s a bad flaw in this study.

Looked up the US energy mix on Wikipedia (sorry, didn’t know of a more authoritative source), and found that roughly 1% of US households are powered by coal.

Which is to say, coal is roughly 30% of the energy mix, but most of it must be going towards industrial use rather than residential use.

If that’s indeed the case, then it needs to be accounted for because the hybrid vs. EV recommendation will change significantly.

No, that isn’t right. There are many areas where the local grid, including all the houses, are powered by coal. If your local electrical power plant is coal, then you are getting coal-powered electrons when you flip a light switch or charge your EV.

Maybe I’m reading that chart wrong..

2/3 is still fossil east of the Mississippi.

I just wanted to point out that the picture used a car which uses 33 KWH / 100 miles for their analysis.

Which is close enough to every EV on the market.

2017 Leaf – 30kWh/100 miles
2017 eGolf – 28 kWh/100 miles
2017 Focus EV – 31kWh/100 miles
2017 Bolt – 28kWh/100 miles
2017 Model S75 – 34kWh/100 miles
2017 Model X75 – 36kWh/100 miles

Well your list proves the point that pretty much every affordable EV has better efficiency than the .33 kwh/mile used in the study.

15% better efficiency for the Bolt, at .28 kwh/mile is nothing to sneeze at, and will definitely change the analysis.

Look at the change from 2009. And then ask how reasonable is it to assume an unchanged grid in the life of a new car sold today?!?

When they give a recommendation based on the 2015 grid it not only means it’s already obsolete – the grid is cleaner now than two years ago, but also that there is a (not very well) hidden assumption that it’ll stay as this.

What’s more, while EPA consumption is quite realistic for electric cars, it systematically underestimates consumption for ICE. I’m absolutely convinced EVs are better ANYWHERE in the US, Europe, and developed nations elsewhere. Quite likely also in several developing nations like India.

Really, they are better in China too, even on the dirty coal plants – but maybe not if we only consider global warming. However, local pollution matters, and is a huge problem in China. Public transport definitely is needed, but the cars that are on the road better be electric!

Do these studies include the fact that electricity is used in refining gasoline? Approximately 5KWHr is used to refine one gallon of gas.

5KWHr is good for 15 to 20 miles of travel in an EV.

Energy, not electricity.

The electricity used to refine gasoline is marginal and at ~0,1 kWh per gallon.

That’s old fake news.


And on a similar, but different note:
“Elon Musk to Trump: You quit Paris, so I quit you” – http://money.cnn.com/2017/06/01/news/elon-musk-resigns-trump-adviser/index.html

So, will that drive up, or down, interest in the Model 3, and TSLA Stock?

$TSLA is slightly up today, and based on the amount of people giving Elon crap for being on the advisory groups in the first place, I’d say it will be a net gain for elon and tesla, more people will agree with his decision than against it.

Not surprising. My region is closing coal plants and opening natural gas and solar at a pretty good rate. Wind has been stalled due to numerous issues.

The biggest take away is that during your ownership of your ICE car (including non-plugin hybrids like the Prius), the resulting emission based on mpg will never improve. With PEVs, the emission will improve greatly as the grid gets cleaner over time. In addition, the owner can do even more to offset that with their own renewable energy purchase.

So, the “freedom” to improve your emission is what people should love. Drive EVs if you love freedom and control your own emission!

I’m somewhat confused by the difference between the Climate Central map at the top and the Union of Concerned Scientists Map for 2014.
I live in NM and owned a 2010 Prius and measured fuel efficiency was about 45 mpg (trip odometer divided by gallons purchased).
The CC map says NM is better served with a hybrid, but it seems the UCS map suggests EV pollution for AZ/NM is equal to an ICE getting 72 mpg. It appears CO is the only state where the Prius had less impact than the Leaf.

The graphic appears to show that at 100,000 and EV and a Hybrid are going to produce equal total emissions on average for us.

If its a hybrid vs. EV in one of the states with a larger percentage of coal produced electricity, that break even point is even further out and, if the hybrid does better than 46-50 mpg in those states, the hybrid would be the better choice.

This study is BS. Even if you drive on 100% coal generated electricity, the coal powered plant is more efficient than an ICE.
I find the UCS to be wrong frequently. Aren’t these same guys telling us that climate change can’t be controlled without nukes? Nevermind that solar and wind make more economic sense and can be built faster than any nuke plant.

It doesn’t matter if a coal plant at 30% efficiency is more efficient than a gas ICE. Coal has vastly higher carbon emissions per unit energy produced which outweighs the efficiency gain.

Plus you have grid losses, battery losses, and electric motor losses to consider.

There are many coal plants dating from the mid 1900s still operating with ZERO pollution control. These plants are gross polluters with a huge impact on human health throughout the US.

If you live in an area served by one of these old gross polluters as your primary electric source, then you’re not doing anyone any favors by filling up your EV from the grid.

Though, as noted in these comments, your old coal plant might (or might not especially now that Trump and the Republicans are in power) get replaced with a cleaner source during the lifespan of your EV.

UCS has always been focused on proving that the BEV is just as bad as ICEs because of the “long tail pipe” and of course they have always used coal as their reference point. Although they are quick to point out all the polluting points in producing electricity they completely ignore all the pollution produced in drilling, shipping, refining, and finally trucking gas to your local service station.

They are shutting down many coal plants in New Mexico and Arizona? Partly, because of renewables.

Even if 100% of the electricity is generated from Coal to power the Electric vehicles, its still cleaner.

Electric/Plugin vehicles have 120 MPGe which means a gallon of gasoline burnt in power plant generates 33 KWh which can power the vehicle for 120 miles.

On the other hand, gallon of gas can power a normal car for 35 miles and a Hybrid for 50 miles.

Coal’s emissions are only 50% more than Oil, but if it goes 200% more distance(3 times), its lot cleaner.

Actually only 35% of the power generated in USA comes from Coal, remaining 65% comes from other much cleaner sources.