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April 17, 2012

New Consumer-Friendly Report on Climate Benefits of EVs

Electric car symbol croppedWhat are the climate and fueling benefits of switching to an electric vehicle in your home state?

In the "State of Charge," an important, in-depth, and much-anticipated report released this week on the global warming impacts and fueling costs of electric cars, our friends at Union of Concerned Scientists find that EVs have significant climate benefits over conventional gas vehicles across the United States.

The report, which I believe we will be referencing for months and even a couple of years to come, shows that all fully electric as well as plug-in hybrid vehicles, in every region of the country, result in lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) than the average 27 mpg compact cars sold today.

As we all know, gasoline powered vehicles result in significant greenhouse gas emissions, and the higher the miles per gallon (mpg) of a vehicle, the lower the emissions -- and fueling costs. While EVs use zero gallons of gasoline and produce zero tailpipe emissions, the electricity used to charge EVs does result in GHGs, and the amount varies by the region of the country and electricity sources. One of the very consumer-friendly aspects of this report is that is UCS has determined a "miles-per-gallon equivalent" for electric vehicles in terms of GHGs

The report breaks the U.S. into three types of categories: those that UCS says are good, better, and best for driving EVs -- with a focus on emissions. For the "good" regions (covering about 18 percent of Americans), including such cities as Detroit, Honolulu, and Denver, an EV produces GHGs equivalent to conventional or hybrid vehicles that get 31-40 mpg. For "better" regions (covering about 37 percent of Americans), including such cities as Tucson, Atlanta, and Miami, an EV produces the equivalent GHGs to conventional or hybrid vehicles that get 41-50 mpg like the Toyota Prius.

For the "best" cities to operate EVs (covering about 45 percent of Americans), including New York City, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Boston, an EV produces lower GHG emissions than a 50 mpg vehicle, besting all the hybrids currently available. In California, for example, EV emissions are equivalent to that of a gasoline vehicle rated at 79 mpg (nonexistent for the foreseeable future). I think it's worth noting that most EVs sold thus far have been in the "best" regions.

See the mpg equivalent for GHGs for an EV in your region.

The data is based on the electricity sources from 2007, when EPA grid information is last available, meaning that many EVs are slightly cleaner than this report indicates, since numerous grids are a bit cleaner today. On the electricity sources of the future, as we rely less on coal and more on cleaner sources of power, EVs get even cleaner.

Additionally, we are increasingly alarmed by the significantly higher GHGs that result from tarsands oil extraction. Certain parts of the U.S., such as the Midwest, rely more heavily on tarsands for gasoline, so this factor, too, may worsen the climate impact of gasoline cars driven in these areas.

The report also provides valuable information about electricity options -- that vary by city and state -- that will reduce emissions associated with EV charging (and overall electricity use). These include installing solar panels, choosing green power programs, and opting for EV-specific metering or lower rates for off-peak charging.

Finally, the report shows that, in addition to federal and some state tax credits that will reduce the cost of purchasing EVs, fueling EVs will result in major savings. Fueling an EV with electricity could save $4,500 over the life of the vehicle compared to the cost of fueling the most efficient hybrids with gasoline. Compared to fueling an average gas-powered compact car sold today, you could save as much as $13,000 over the life of the vehicle and never have to visit a gas station or contribute to Big Oil again.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Senior Campaign Representative for Electric Vehicles

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