# Electric cars aren't very green

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum

They do ok in stop-and-go in the city but otherwise you're just moving the emissions around.

This one is pretty green:

Of course, whether electric cars are bad for the environment (when compared to gasoline powered cars) depends almost entirely on how the electricity they use is generated. While electricity from coal is used to power cars, they are inevitably going to be worse than cars driven directly using gasoline. But if clean power, such as nuclear, solar, geothermal or wind are used to supply the electricity cars use, then they are much better for the environment. In most real-world applications, a mixture of power sources are used, and it is the proportional mix that determines the outcome.

The difference today is not in the actual emissions due to the cars, but rather in their potential to be dramatically reduced in the future - it is a lot harder to make carbon neutral (or very low carbon emission) gasoline than it is to make carbon neutral (or very low carbon emission) electricity.

Gasoline cars are not very 'green' at all. Electric cars may or may not be; they don't so much move the emissions elsewhere, as they move the decision about emissions elsewhere.

Gasoline powered car drivers are choosing to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide. Electric car drivers are handing that decision to their power generator (which in some cases may be themselves - for example if they use their own solar array or wind turbine to charge their car; but in most cases is a utility company).

This article is basically a very obscure way of saying that the mixed generation model used to make electricity in the USA has too many high-CO2 emitting components to make buying an electric car a viable way to reduce CO2 emissions in the immediate term. I doubt that anyone is surprised about that; but given the strong political pressure to generate electricity by lower CO2 emitting means, it seems plausible that buying an electric car will help somewhat by the time that the car reaches the end of its life. Thinking only about the immediate term is what got us into this mess to begin with, and here we see a strong argument for why such thinking needs to stop.

#### Jimmy Higgins

##### Contributor
article said:
In 38 states, an electric car purchase reduces air pollution in that state.
I'm confused. Isn't power typically generated within that state itself? I'm having a difficult understand of why buying an electric car for primary use in Ohio would affect the environment anywhere else, unless the authors are contending that air pollution from a power plant shifts out of the state.

The paper is behind a paywall. Don't know whether they are worth the nominal $5 fee. #### Bacillus anthracis ##### Member If nothing else, the less oil we have to import, the better off we are. I've clung tightly to the fantasy of not having to be embroiled in the Middle East ever since 9/11 due to the development of non-fossil fuel energy. Imagine if Dubbya would have said, "There won't be a gasoline engine in a privately owned vehicle 10 years from now." We could have done it. And it would have been cheaper than the Iraq war. But plastics. Fuck. #### Derec ##### Contributor I wonder who the study was financed by. The thing is that electric cars are still quite an immature industry with much improvement potential. But we will never get there if we do not start. So even if the findings of the study were 100% correct it would still not be an argument against electric cars. A couple of thoughts: - I would say most drivers in major metro areas in the US experience "stop and go" traffic on a regular basis. Rural drivers are not the major demographic for electric cars at this time. - Even if electric cars partially shift pollution from cars to power plants it still makes sense to shift pollution away from populated cities to less populated power plant sites. And this is not only air pollution from nitrous oxides, unburnt hydrocarbons or particulates, but also water pollution from things like oil leaks. - Composition of electricity production will change over time. And if a charger station is solar powered it nips that argument in the bud anyway. - As manufacturers gain more experience and as production numbers improve the production processes will become more efficient and use less energy per vehicle. - Electric cars need less service and fewer parts. Things like oil changes, various sensors, various pumps, catalytic converters, spark plugs, filters, etc. do not apply to electric cars. Transmissions are a lot simpler and thus require less service. And even brake pads do not wear out as fast due to regenerative braking. Parts and service take up energy and resources and I very much doubt those were included in their calculations. Last edited: #### Derec ##### Contributor I'm confused. Isn't power typically generated within that state itself? No, electricity can move around. The US Electric Grid I'm having a difficult understand of why buying an electric car for primary use in Ohio would affect the environment anywhere else, unless the authors are contending that air pollution from a power plant shifts out of the state. Well things like CO2 are global anyway whether they leave your tailpipe or a power plant's smoke stack. For other pollution, it is both more manageable and less harmful to humans if it is shifted to power plants and away from cities. #### Loren Pechtel ##### Super Moderator Staff member I wonder who the study was financed by. The thing is that electric cars are still quite an immature industry with much improvement potential. But we will never get there if we do not start. So even if the findings of the study were 100% correct it would still not be an argument against electric cars. A couple of thoughts: - I would say most drivers in major metro areas in the US experience "stop and go" traffic on a regular basis. Rural drivers are not the major demographic for electric cars at this time. And cars like the Prius have the same benefit. - Even if electric cars partially shift pollution from cars to power plants it still makes sense to shift pollution away from populated cities to less populated power plant sites. And this is not only air pollution from nitrous oxides, unburnt hydrocarbons or particulates, but also water pollution from things like oil leaks. But the real problem is the CO2--and that doesn't matter where it's emitted. - Composition of electricity production will change over time. And if a charger station is solar powered it nips that argument in the bud anyway. This isn't an argument--you get the same benefit if you simply connect the cells to the grid directly. - As manufacturers gain more experience and as production numbers improve the production processes will become more efficient and use less energy per vehicle. - Electric cars need less service and fewer parts. Things like oil changes, various sensors, various pumps, catalytic converters, spark plugs, filters, etc. do not apply to electric cars. Transmissions are a lot simpler and thus require less service. And even brake pads do not wear out as fast due to regenerative braking. Parts and service take up energy and resources and I very much doubt those were included in their calculations. But they have those expensive battery packs that will in time run out. I don't think we have good figures on what the repair costs will be. #### Jimmy Higgins ##### Contributor No, electricity can move around. The US Electric Grid I'm having a difficult understand of why buying an electric car for primary use in Ohio would affect the environment anywhere else, unless the authors are contending that air pollution from a power plant shifts out of the state. Well things like CO2 are global anyway whether they leave your tailpipe or a power plant's smoke stack. For other pollution, it is both more manageable and less harmful to humans if it is shifted to power plants and away from cities. This in no way addressed my comment. #### TV and credit cards ##### Veteran Member I'm confused. Isn't power typically generated within that state itself? I'm having a difficult understand of why buying an electric car for primary use in Ohio would affect the environment anywhere else, unless the authors are contending that air pollution from a power plant shifts out of the state. The paper is behind a paywall. Don't know whether they are worth the nominal$5 fee.
Electric power is usually generated within the state. At least that is the goal. But when maintenance, weather, and/or equipment casualties conspire, electricity has to be purchased from another region to meet demand. This happen often enough that electric utilities dedicate employees just to the buying and selling of electricity. It was some time ago I witnessed this but with the exception of Texas (prices set), they have their own little commodities market going on with each other. I don't know if and to what extent regulation comes in to play here, but they will make each other pay dearly at times.

- As manufacturers gain more experience and as production numbers improve the production processes will become more efficient and use less energy per vehicle.
- Electric cars need less service and fewer parts. Things like oil changes, various sensors, various pumps, catalytic converters, spark plugs, filters, etc. do not apply to electric cars. Transmissions are a lot simpler and thus require less service. And even brake pads do not wear out as fast due to regenerative braking. Parts and service take up energy and resources and I very much doubt those were included in their calculations.

But they have those expensive battery packs that will in time run out. I don't think we have good figures on what the repair costs will be.
These numbers from Consumer Reports look pretty good: Prius Battery Packs.
Toyota guarantees them for 10 years/150k miles. They look to be holding their charge for over 200k miles. Depending on what area of the country you live in, that's likely the life of the car given that the cost of a new battery pack plus install is about \$3,500. So says Popular Mechanics.
I think Derec makes a good point. Even the best vehicles start to get into repair costs after 100k miles so the fewer moving parts (and seals that hold back fluids that leak on the roads that wash into the sewers that end up in our water) to wear out, the better.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
And cars like the Prius have the same benefit.

- Even if electric cars partially shift pollution from cars to power plants it still makes sense to shift pollution away from populated cities to less populated power plant sites. And this is not only air pollution from nitrous oxides, unburnt hydrocarbons or particulates, but also water pollution from things like oil leaks.

But the real problem is the CO2--and that doesn't matter where it's emitted.

- Composition of electricity production will change over time. And if a charger station is solar powered it nips that argument in the bud anyway.

This isn't an argument--you get the same benefit if you simply connect the cells to the grid directly.

No, you don't. The 'benefit' is transportation without emissions. You can generate as much clean electricity as you like, but if you don't have electric cars, the amount of gasoline burned by cars will remain the same.

#### Loren Pechtel

##### Super Moderator
Staff member
And cars like the Prius have the same benefit.

But the real problem is the CO2--and that doesn't matter where it's emitted.

- Composition of electricity production will change over time. And if a charger station is solar powered it nips that argument in the bud anyway.

This isn't an argument--you get the same benefit if you simply connect the cells to the grid directly.

No, you don't. The 'benefit' is transportation without emissions. You can generate as much clean electricity as you like, but if you don't have electric cars, the amount of gasoline burned by cars will remain the same.

But until we do a cleaner job of producing the power all we are doing is moving the emissions from the car to the powerplant.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
And cars like the Prius have the same benefit.

But the real problem is the CO2--and that doesn't matter where it's emitted.

- Composition of electricity production will change over time. And if a charger station is solar powered it nips that argument in the bud anyway.

This isn't an argument--you get the same benefit if you simply connect the cells to the grid directly.

No, you don't. The 'benefit' is transportation without emissions. You can generate as much clean electricity as you like, but if you don't have electric cars, the amount of gasoline burned by cars will remain the same.

But until we do a cleaner job of producing the power all we are doing is moving the emissions from the car to the powerplant.

Which was EXACTLY the point you were disputing.

If you can't keep track of your own position, perhaps you shouldn't try to engage in the debate at all?

#### Derec

##### Contributor
This in no way addressed my comment.
I did. I addressed both the points of power produced in one state being used in another and the question of pollution moving across state lines.

#### Derec

##### Contributor
And cars like the Prius have the same benefit.
Yes, they do for this particular issue but they have other drawbacks (and which kind of car would be best for you depends on your circumstances).
However, the study compared EVs with regular cars which do not have the same benefit.
They also concluded that this makes EVs better than conventional cars in congested urban areas with a lot of stop/go traffic and I responded that most EV buyers live in those anyway.

But the real problem is the CO2--and that doesn't matter where it's emitted.
Yes, CO2 is highly mobile but it is not the only real problem. It is harmful to the climate but the pollution I enumerated earlier is directly harmful to people's health. And as far as CO2 emissions, this gives a contrary picture to that painted by the study in the OP.

This isn't an argument--you get the same benefit if you simply connect the cells to the grid directly.
Since the only reason Tesla bought and installed those panels is to power their supercharger - no you would not see get the same benefit. And you have to compare the supercharger with the whole well-to-pump infrastructure needed to get a gallon of gasoline to your tank which is bound to become more difficult and energy intensive as relatively easy oil gets used up.
And you didnt' even respond to my point about primary energy composition of US (and worldwide) electricity changing over time. EVs are still a tiny fraction of car sales and by the time they comprise a significant fraction - 10-15 years from now say - there will be more renewables and less coal in the energy mix.

But they have those expensive battery packs that will in time run out. I don't think we have good figures on what the repair costs will be.
The only way to find out for sure - and also to improve it - would be to produce and run EVs in the real world.
And yes, batteries are expensive both in terms of money and resources but they are warranted for 100k miles and just think of all the ICE-specific parts and consumables an average gasoline car uses in 100k. That adds up.

#### Loren Pechtel

##### Super Moderator
Staff member
And cars like the Prius have the same benefit.

But the real problem is the CO2--and that doesn't matter where it's emitted.

- Composition of electricity production will change over time. And if a charger station is solar powered it nips that argument in the bud anyway.

This isn't an argument--you get the same benefit if you simply connect the cells to the grid directly.

No, you don't. The 'benefit' is transportation without emissions. You can generate as much clean electricity as you like, but if you don't have electric cars, the amount of gasoline burned by cars will remain the same.

But until we do a cleaner job of producing the power all we are doing is moving the emissions from the car to the powerplant.

Which was EXACTLY the point you were disputing.

If you can't keep track of your own position, perhaps you shouldn't try to engage in the debate at all?

So, put the green power on the grid. There's no point to electric cars while we are using fossil fuels to generate electricity. (The regenerative braking of hybrids is another matter--that actually helps.)

#### +or-1

##### Member
You know, I last bought gasoline for my Chevy Volt in December.

#### Derec

##### Contributor
So, put the green power on the grid. There's no point to electric cars while we are using fossil fuels to generate electricity. (The regenerative braking of hybrids is another matter--that actually helps.)
Of course there is a point - and I've outlined some of those in my previous post. Is it your opinion that we should not produce electric cars at all until most fossil fuel plants are shut down?

#### Loren Pechtel

##### Super Moderator
Staff member
So, put the green power on the grid. There's no point to electric cars while we are using fossil fuels to generate electricity. (The regenerative braking of hybrids is another matter--that actually helps.)
Of course there is a point - and I've outlined some of those in my previous post. Is it your opinion that we should not produce electric cars at all until most fossil fuel plants are shut down?

If the objective is to be green, yes, we should focus on shutting down fossil fuel plants before we worry about electric cars.

Staff member

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
Of course there is a point - and I've outlined some of those in my previous post. Is it your opinion that we should not produce electric cars at all until most fossil fuel plants are shut down?

If the objective is to be green, yes, we should focus on shutting down fossil fuel plants before we worry about electric cars.

Because, sadly, humanity can only ever do one thing at a time.

#### Derec

##### Contributor
If the objective is to be green, yes, we should focus on shutting down fossil fuel plants before we worry about electric cars.

As bibly said, there is no reason not to do both in parallel. Especially since development and deployment of EV technology is a decades long project no matter when it is started. So why delay it by a few more decades.
And as I showed in my last post, the situation is not nearly as bad for EV environmental balance as the OP suggested - especially when considering where the bulk of EVs are sold.

If you compare this map to the one above you see that most EVs get sold in areas with electricity production such that you need a very high mpg gasoline car (95 for California, 75 for Pacific NW) to beat an EV on carbon emission.