By George Soto
There is also a great deal of uncertainty about the emissions associated with the production of batteries for electric vehicles, with several studies producing very different figures.
As battery prices fall and car manufacturers begin to include larger batteries with extended range, battery manufacturing emissions may have a greater impact on the climate benefits of EVs. The production of electric vehicles leads to significantly higher emissions than the production of gasoline cars … which is mainly due to the production of batteries. A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative found that producing batteries and fuels for electric vehicles leads to higher emissions than producing an automobile. But these higher environmental costs are offset over time by the higher energy efficiency of electric vehicles.
While charging batteries can increase pollution in power plants, the overall emissions associated with driving electric vehicles are still generally lower than those of gasoline-powered vehicles, especially if electricity is generated from renewable energy sources such as wind. As with greenhouse gases, electric vehicles, even when connected to the grid, emit fewer pollutants than traditional vehicles. And when you charge your electric car with electricity from renewable sources of wind or solar, emissions are zero, both when the car is running and when generating electricity.
According to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, electric vehicles tend to have lower fuel and maintenance costs than gas-powered vehicles, making them cheaper over the life of an internal combustion engine. Even when using fossil fuels, EVs contribute to lower emissions than ICE cars. Even when charged with electricity from the grid, electric vehicles generate only a third of the greenhouse gas emissions that a gas-powered vehicle produces, largely due to their high energy efficiency.
Overall, the best way to maximize the environmental benefits of an electric vehicle and minimize the associated wheel-to-well emissions is to generate electricity from renewable energy sources. If you can charge your car with fully renewable sources, like the solar panels on the roof of your garage, you can drive as much as you want without any emissions. There are fundamental limits on how efficient gasoline and diesel vehicles can become, while low-carbon electricity and improved battery production efficiency can reduce a significant portion of industrial emissions and almost all emissions from automotive electricity.
In geographic regions where relatively low polluting energy sources are used to generate electricity, plug-in vehicles generally have a life-cycle emission advantage over comparable conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles. For example, while the charging capacity of electric vehicle batteries has increased, the mileage per charge of these vehicles remains more limited than that of gasoline vehicles. The “greenness” of a hybrid depends on how many kilometers are driven on electricity and how the car is charged.
The life cycle emissions of electric vehicles or PHEVs depend on the source of electricity used to charge them and vary from region to region. In most countries, most of the life cycle emissions of electric cars and traditional cars come from vehicle operation-exhaust pipes and fuel cycle, rather than from automobile manufacturing. Most power plants generate emissions, and additional emissions are generated at each stage of the power generation cycle.
For example, if you charge your electric car in Colorado, you are likely to have higher wheel-to-pit emissions than anyone charging their car in Massachusetts, because most of Colorado’s electricity is generated from coal, while Massachusetts prefers more clean natural gas as its main source of energy. Nevada, where Tesla’s Gigafactory is located, has electricity that averages about 30% lower in terms of carbon intensity than the U.S. average. Despite the fact that the electricity they get comes from fossil fuel sources, they consume much less of it, so their emissions are much lower. Electric vehicles are four times more efficient than gas vehicles, which means they need less energy to travel the same distance.
Plug-in hybrids combine an electric motor with a traditional gasoline engine and generate some emissions while driving. Plug-in hybrid EVs have a gasoline engine that fires when the batteries are depleted, usually after 15-50 miles.
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