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Electric Car Charging Can Create More Emissions Than Fueling

New study shows that in regions highly dependent on coal for electricity, plug-in vehicles are not always more green.

By Claire_Martin Apr 19, 2012 8:18AM
Chevrolet Volt photo by ChevroletEighteen percent of Americans live in regions where charging an electric vehicle like the Chevy Volt, which burns no gasoline, emits more global warming pollutants than some gasoline-fueled cars do, according to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Whereas electric vehicles that are charged with renewable sources of energy, including wind and solar power, produce almost no global warming emissions, those charged on grids dependent on coal-burning power plants have much higher emissions. 

The worst region in the country for charging emissions? The Rockies. "The Rocky Mountain grid region (covering Colorado and parts of neighboring states) has the highest emissions intensity of any regional grid in the United States, which means an [electric vehicle] will produce global warming emissions equivalent to a gasoline vehicle achieving about 33 mpg," according to the study. "Gasoline-powered cars with fuel economy at this level include the Hyundai Elantra (33 mpg) and the Ford Fiesta (34 mpg)."

While charging in this region is still an improvement over the emissions generated by the majority of fuel-burning vehicles, it's not the zero-emissions equation most people think they're signing up for when they buy an electric vehicle. 

"This will certainly make it clear that even with no tailpipe emissions, there are emissions associated with charging [an electric vehicle]," Don Anair, one of the UCS researchers, told the Detroit Free Press.  

The good news is that electric vehicles do minimize emissions in most of the country. On the coasts, where grid energy is cleanest, charging an electric vehicle produces emissions equivalent to a gasoline-burning vehicle that gets as much as 50 miles per gallon. In Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida and parts of the South and Midwest, that number drops to 41 to 50 miles per gallon -- similar to what hybrids achieve. In most of the Midwest, the average is 31 to 40 miles per gallon. 

Cutting back further on emissions will require a larger effort, according the UCS study: "[Our] nation’s reliance on coal-powered electricity limits electric vehicles from delivering their full potential," UCS researchers wrote. "Only by making improvements to our electricity  grid—by decreasing the use of coal and increasing the use of clean and renewable sources of electricity—will electric vehicles deliver their greatest global warming and air pollution benefits."
Apr 20, 2012 10:24AM
No, really? you mean the "green" machines are just as bad????

Am I the only one who can say "I told you so"?

Think about it, in BUILDING the machine you have to burn other fuels= emissions.
Most power in the country comes from burning something= emissions

So, plugging in your P.O.S. Volt results in 0 emissions from YOU but accelerated emissions from the power company,coal miners,natural gas drillers, etc etc.

There is no such thing as "zero" emissions, even WALKING has a large environmental impact.

The true answer to the "green" people is to think smarter and use common sense, two things that are severely lacking in this country.

Apr 20, 2012 4:19AM
The Green Thing

In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized to him and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. The former generation did not care enough to save our environment."
He was right, that generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But they didn't have the green thing back in that customer's day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she was right. They didn't have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby's diapers because they didn't have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts - wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady is right, they didn't have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn't have electric machines to do everything for you.

When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power.

They exercised by working so they didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right, they didn't have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water.

They refilled their writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But they didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.

They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances.

And they didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn't have the green thing back then?

~Author Unknown~

No trees were harmed in the creation of this email, though numerous electrons were inconvenienced.
Apr 19, 2012 8:47AM

Strange.  Just the other day, on this same website, I read an article explaining how plug-in vehicles are greener then their gasoline counterparts in all parts of the country, including the coal powered areas. 


Different studies produce different results.  I would be willing to be that in both cases, the studies discovered what they WANTED to discover in the first place.

Apr 20, 2012 6:23AM
Well now who would have thought that the energy companies lie to us. Clean Coal, huh never seen it held it or smelled it. It must be real though because thats what their ads say. Smile
Apr 20, 2012 9:12AM
Electric cars.....just another part of Al Gore's/Barry Obama's green scam.  How much do you want to bet the Obama won't be buying a Chevy Volt when he's kicked out of office in January?

The good news is we're now just counting the days until Barry Obumbler is out of office.  Can't wait.  I agree he won't be buying a Volt when he gets out of office, but not for the same reason as you.  I think he won't be getting one because when he made that statement he was as insincere and lying like he always has since kicking off his 2007 campaign.  Flip-flop doesn't even begin to describe it.  Feel betrayed?  Feel let down?  Me too.

Apr 20, 2012 6:41AM
Electric cars.....just another part of Al Gore's/Barry Obama's green scam.


Apr 19, 2012 9:04AM

don't forget to pay your one thousand dollars per year for road and highway upkeep that you are not paying at the pump!

You might want to double check that number.  Last year I paid less then $300 for road and highway upkeep through taxes at the pump.  And I drove more then 30k miles last year.

Apr 20, 2012 5:55AM
Electric cars.....just another part of Al Gore's/Barry Obama's green scam.  How much do you want to bet the Obama won't be buying a Chevy Volt when he's kicked out of office in January?  Not because he doesn't want to, but because they'll be permanently out of production by then due to lack of demand.
Apr 19, 2012 8:48AM

i agree 100%. then there is always nuclear power plants (you know the trade off with nuclear fuels).

don't forget to pay your one thousand dollars per year for road and highway upkeep that you are not paying at the pump!

Apr 19, 2012 4:00PM
Just wondering  does this method of converting emissions used to generate electricity to charge an electric vehicle to MPG really makes that much sense? Using there thinking,  a  gas-only powered vehicle(Fiesta, Elantra, etc) operates on gasoline that also has additional emissions related to drilling, shipping the oil to refineries, and then trucking the fuel  to gas stations(many additional sources of emissions I surely missed) and thus would have a far worse "MPG equivalent" rating.
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