Why EVs are still cleaner than gasoline vehicles in the Southeast

Guest Blog | December 9, 2014 | Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles

Late last week, a response piece, Blowback: Why zero-emission electric cars are still dirty by Dr. Sam Shelton was published in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (AJC). I admire the work that Dr. Shelton has done over the years on energy issues in Georgia, and we agree on some of the points made in the article – specifically that electric vehicles (EVs) are not emissions-free and that life cycle greenhouse gases must be accounted for. However, key factors have been overlooked on the benefits and value that electric vehicles on the road today are providing to our region. We know this is a common question for many people and want to clarify a few points. 

The approximately 45 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) that was referenced in the article is likely from the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) 2012 State of Charge report.  The analysis utilizes 2010 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data and takes into account the emissions from electricity production across the United States.  In the Southeast, with one of the “dirtiest” grids in the country, driving a Nissan LEAF today is equivalent to driving a gasoline car that gets ~45 mpg.  This is similar to a Toyota Prius, and it is better than most other gasoline vehicles on the road today.

In other regions of the country, such as New York or even North Carolina, with cleaner electricity grids, EVs produce lower emissions than even the most fuel-efficient hybrids. Thus, driving a Nissan LEAF in New York and North Carolina is equivalent to driving a gasoline car that gets 84 mpg or 60 mpg, respectively. That’s pretty impressive.  And, when exclusively powered by a renewable source of energy, like solar or wind, an EV produces the emissions equivalent of a gasoline-powered vehicle that gets 500 mpg. 

Furthermore, oil isn’t getting any cleaner, but electricity is. Since UCS’ State of Charge report was released, Georgia has made significant strides in cleaning up its grid. Georgia Power has retired numerous coal plants, is using more natural gas, and has dramatically increased its use of solar and wind. With these changes, driving an EV in Georgia today is cleaner than it was a year ago, and it will only get cleaner as the state continues to incorporate more renewables. The MPGe of driving an EV will therefore continue to rise in the years ahead. Overall, EVs are helping reduce transportation-related emissions, saving consumers money on fuel costs, and providing economic benefits to the state.   

As Dr. Shelton himself has said: “As the world’s largest consumer of oil, the U.S. is left with only one legitimate response to reduce price: We have to reduce demand… For our national security and economic health, we have to get serious about a long-term energy policy based on the facts.”

We couldn’t agree more. It’s the reason I drive a Nissan LEAF, and it is a great reason to push for more electric vehicles on the road.


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