News stories diminish the positive climate impact of an electric car by the way they report on the link between electric cars and sources of electricity. It definitely matters whether the electricity you use to power your car comes from coal or some other source, but next time you see one of those articles pay attention to what they aren’t telling you.
First, no matter how you generate it, even through 100% coal, an electric vehicle (EV) still accounts for lower emissions than a conventional gas car. Next, only 45% of American electricity is generated from coal (and that percentage is ever-decreasing). Indeed, in California, less than 1% of the electricity is generated from coal, and EV-related emissions here is only a tenth of that produced by burning gasoline.
But the real story about gasoline versus electricity is that electric cars ONLY use electricity, while gasoline powered cars are using up BOTH gas and electricity since so much electricity is used in the extraction, production, and distribution of gasoline – something the news articles don’t take into account. The remarkable reality is that you can travel farther in an electric car on the amount of electricity used to get a gallon of gasoline to your local station than a gas car can travel on that same gallon of gasoline. And what is the significance of this concerning emissions? That there is therefore, in net effect, a total savings of over 100% of the emissions of a gas car when you use an EV, because you not only save 100% of the gas emissions, but you are also saving 100% of the emissions that would have been produced in generating the electricity required to bring that gasoline to market, which more than offsets the electricity actually used by the EV!
We are using 6 times more oil than we are discovering, and the oil being discovered is requiring ever-more amounts of electricity to extract, transport, and refine. For example, the “tar sands” oil being debated in Canada requires open pits dug by tractors, trucks to transport the tar sands, tremendous heat and water and chemicals to extract the oil (it takes two tons of tar sands to produce a single barrel of oil), and more heat and chemicals and extra-strong pumps to transport the viscous oil, and an unusually large amount of energy to refine. All of this takes more and more electrical energy, creating a vicious cycle of ever-higher amounts of emissions. By contrast, the electrical grid used to power EVs is getting ever-cleaner thanks to more renewable energy sources that perfectly power EVs with no emissions at all. EVs are environmentally, as well as economically and geo-politically, vastly superior to conventional cars. Drive guilt-free!