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Are Electric Cars Really Zero-Emission? Find Out Here

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Electric cars are often pitched as the eco-friendly choice, since they produce no emissions at the tailpipe — but in the U.S., that’s not exactly true.

According to the EPA, building electric cars creates more pollution than building gas-powered cars, because it takes more energy to mine and manufactures the car’s battery.

But what about the other steps in the process of making an electric car? That’s where things get a bit more complicated.

You may wonder if the electric car is really zero emissions. It is true that electric cars are zero-emission vehicles, but that doesn’t mean they are not considered polluters. The electricity that powers the car comes from somewhere and that somewhere may be a coal-burning power plant.

When we think of electric cars, we tend to think of them as being green. After all, electric cars don’t produce emissions while driving, unlike the gas-guzzling cars of the past.

While it’s true that electric cars don’t produce emissions while driving, there are other issues that must be considered as well, such as the pollution produced by the electric power grid and the energy used to produce the batteries.

On the other hand, a green, or eco-friendly, transportation choice isn’t solely reliant on how the car was powered. There are eco-friendly ways of driving too!

Emissions from Hybrid and Plug-In Electric Vehicles

Are emissions from hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles a problem? Yes and no. Yes, because the electric grid is not 100% renewable and emissions from electric vehicles are generally greater than those from gasoline-powered vehicles. However, this does not mean that electric vehicles are bad for the environment.

A study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) determined that the environmental cost of producing a gallon of gasoline is greater than the environmental cost of producing a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity.

The study not only quantified the environmental cost of each but also examined the impact of marginal emissions. In other words, the study looked at the relative impact of each additional unit of electricity produced. 

How much greenhouse gas, or GHG, do hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles (HEVs & PEVs) emit over their lifetimes? The answer: it depends on how much electricity the vehicle uses, and the source of that electricity.

The goal of many people who drive hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles is to reduce their carbon footprint. But do they really? It depends largely on where you live. If you live in a region with a lot of renewable energy—like wind or solar—the CO2 emissions produced by your car on a daily basis are likely to be lower than those of a similar conventional car.

On the other hand, if you live in a region that relies instead on coal for energy generation, you will likely emit more CO2 than drivers of conventional cars, because electricity generation produces a lot of CO2.

Electricity Sources and Emissions

Just as the electricity used for home appliances is generated in different ways, electric cars have different ways of generating electricity. In general, they are very clean and non-polluting ways of producing electricity. However, different electricity sources have different emissions and pollution of some kind.

Electric cars have long been thought of as the car of the future: fast, quiet, and emission-free, they’re the complete opposite of the gas guzzlers of our current era. However, when you look into the electricity sources of electric cars, you may be less optimistic.

Although electric cars are sure to play a more significant role in transportation in the future, the electricity that fuels them needs to be produced in a cleaner manner first.

Although electricity is produced from a number of sources, including nuclear, coal, natural gas, and renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydro, it is a clean source of energy that causes few pollution problems. Each year in the United States, nearly 4 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity are generated.”

Energy consumption in electric vehicles

Electric vehicles (EVs) have been on the radar for many years, and with good reason. They’re less expensive to buy and maintain than their gasoline-powered counterparts, and they don’t produce any tailpipe emissions.

In addition, recent technological advances mean that some EVs can travel farther on a single charge than ever before. Still, most people aren’t quite sold on the idea that EVs are the future of transportation.

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably wondered how much energy your vehicle uses when you drive it. This question is especially important if you’re considering buying an electric vehicle (EV), where charging stations aren’t always available, so you have to plug your car into a standard outlet at home. 

How electric vehicles help to tackle climate change

Electric vehicles (EVs) are key to reducing the carbon emissions that drive climate change. Using figures from the UK government’s Office of Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), we have estimated that the number of EVs on the road globally will increase from 1 million in 2016, to over 100 million by 2040.

As a result, the total amount of carbon emissions from road transport will fall by around 4 billion tonnes by 2040, equivalent to almost the entire annual emissions of France.

In the last decade the number of electric vehicles in the world has grown. As of 2017 there are an estimated 3.2 million all-electric vehicles on the road worldwide.

The vast majority of these are in China because the Chinese government is strongly supporting electric vehicles. Several other countries are also aggressively deploying electric vehicles (e.g. Norway, Netherlands, USA, UK, Japan, India). The figure shows the number of electric cars in millions in the Netherlands, Norway, UK, USA and China in 2017.

Last Words

The last few decades have seen a lot of exciting developments in the world of transportation. Most of these advancements have come in the form of the traditional combustion engine and the hybrid engine. However, recent technological innovations have brought about a new alternative: the electric car.

You’ve probably heard that electric cars run on power from the electricity grid, where the source of that power may be a variety of things, like coal or nuclear energy. Isn’t that bad for the environment? The answer is yes and no. In most places in the U.S., electric power is generated from a mix of sources that includes coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, hydroelectric sources, and renewables like wind, solar, and geothermal.

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