Wait, electric vehicles aren’t green? Or maybe electric cars are just “dirtier than you think.”
Either way you’d like to phrase it, it was a big day for Big Oil when The Economist, that bastion of financial prudence and myth debunking, published a tale titled “Cleaner than what?” in late 2014. Referencing a study about life-cycle emissions comparing EVs versus other cars, The Economist circulated numerous myths about electric vehicles, several of which made the rounds online.
Here is your Cheat Sheet to debunking four of those myths.
Myth 1: EVs are not clean
We start with an easy one. If you drew one conclusion from the study The Economist cited, it would be “coal is dirty.” University of Minnesota researchers studied the impact of transportation options (i.e., gasoline cars, EVs, diesel cars, and others) on air quality in the U.S. Their findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirm what we have known about electric vehicles for a long time.
We find that powering vehicles with corn ethanol or with coal-based or “grid average” electricity increases monetized environmental health impacts by 80% or more relative to using conventional gasoline. Conversely, EVs powered by low-emitting electricity from natural gas, wind, water, or solar power reduce environmental health impacts by 50% or more.
When you use coal to power electric vehicles, it’s not a winning formula; when you used greener power sources, EVs are much better for the environment and human health than gasoline cars.
Myth 2: Americans charge EVs on coal
“Even a battery car running on the average mix of electrical power generated in America is much more hazardous than the conventional alternative.” That’s the sentence closing the first paragraph of The Economist article.
The “average mix” means averaging the amount of coal used in Kentucky’s electric grid with the average amount of coal used in California’s grid (and so on). That’s not how the system works. Folks out in La Jolla aren’t fed shovels of Kentucky coal when they plug in a Nissan Leaf to drive from San Diego to the O.C.