Electric and gasoline vehicles: a comparison

Something that has been bothering me lately is the idea of electric cars. I mean, in theory we get most of our electricity from burning coal right? So what makes it better than gasoline? Or when we decide to get electric cars are we deciding to use solar powered chargers?

I decided to do a little digging.

Hybrids are getting a lot of attention right now with Telsa Motors becoming more popular around the country. I even saw one around my small town the other day – so that’s saying something.

I’ve always shied away from electric vehicles under the assumption that they were just as bad for the environment as gasoline powered ones. I was sort of right. The carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, in 2012, accounted for 44 percent of global greenhouse gases. It’s our third most used fossil fuel behind nuclear and natural gas (don’t even get me started on fracking).

But coal isn’t our only source of electricity. Here is a breakdown of where we get electricity from the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

  • Coal = 33%
  • Natural gas = 33%
  • Nuclear = 20%
  • Hydropower = 6%
  • Other renewables = 7%
    • Biomass = 1.6%
    • Geothermal = 0.4%
    • Solar = 0.6%
    • Wind = 4.7%
  • Petroleum = 1%
  • Other gases = <1%

It’s just as possible to power an electric vehicle with solar, hydro, or wind. Solar powered electric vehicle stations are popping up like daisies all over the country.

So, how much greenhouse gases do electric cars produce verses gasoline powered? The average EV driving on electricity produces global warming emissions equal to a gasoline vehicle with a 68 MPG fuel economy rating. By the end of their lives, the average gasoline powered car will create 57 metric tons of global warming emissions, compared to the 28 metric tons an electric vehicle would.

Most of the greenhouse gases created by any vehicle, comes from building the object itself. Think about it. They have to mine the materials for the car, transport the materials, build the car, then transport it to a lot to be sold. But electric vehicle production results in higher emissions than the making of gasoline cars—mostly due to the materials and fabrication of the lithium-ion battery. A Nissan LEAF typically adds a little over 1 ton of global warming emissions to the total manufacturing emissions, resulting in 15 percent greater emissions than in manufacturing a similar gasoline vehicle.

However, replacing gasoline use with electricity reduces overall emissions by 51 percent over the life of the car.

Basically, driving the car offsets the the amount of emissions created by making it. I like to think of it in terms of money. You may spend more money buying a car such as a… Mini Cooper, but you will spend a lot less money buying gas than you would say a… Suburban.

I would definitely purchase an electric vehicle if I could charge it in my area, but until charging stations become more widely available I don’t see many increases in purchases. At the same time, you won’t see more charging stations until there is a greater need.

As always, let me know in the comments below what you think AND if you have an electric vehicle charging station near you!

I don’t own the main photo, it belongs to The Electrical Alliance. 

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