How green are electric cars?
Every self-respecting environmentalist drives a hybrid or a plug-in. But these vehicles may not be as low-emission as many proud owners believe. While all-electrics produce zero emissions on the road, their batteries get their juice from power plants—many of which generate electricity by burning the dirtiest fuel of all, coal. By way of comparison, gas-powered cars produce an average of 411 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. In California, which has a high proportion of “clean electricity” from solar or wind power, an electric car produces 100 grams of greenhouse gas pollution per mile. If you’re recharging in Minnesota, though, where most of the electricity is coal-generated, that figure rises to 300 grams. As power plants get cleaner in the future, thanks to the continuing decline in coalfired plants and to carbon capture and other technologies, it’s more logical to focus on the source of the problem, says Qin Lihong, president of electric automaker NextEV. “It’s much easier for society to make hundreds of power plants better,” says Qin, “than change the hundreds of millions of cars in thousands of cities.” ■