Hybrids may be cleaner than EVs in some areas

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The benefit of driving an EV is dependent on how electicity is produced in a given region. Image: NNSANews/Flickr/CC BY-ND

A new study shows that, in general, charging electric vehicles produces less greenhouse gas than driving other types of vehicles. However, the findings differ by locality, and in some states, the study indicates, it may actually be more environmentally responsible to drive a hybrid, even though its internal combustion engine burns fossil fuels part of the time. However, less than 20 percent of Americans live in these areas.

Coal-burning regions

The study, conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, looked at how electricity is produced in various regions across the nation. Electricity is generated in various ways, depending much on the natural resources available to each region. The study concluded that, in areas where power production is largely dependent on coal, charging an electric vehicle could be more polluting than driving a hybrid vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

In areas that depend heavily on coal-burning generators, greenhouse gas emissions may be as thick as 340 grams per mile.

California and Texas

In California, which uses nuclear reactors and natural gas plants to produce the bulk of its power, keeping an EV charged is the equivalent of driving a gas-burner that gets 79 miles to the gallon. Try to find one of those.

However, in Texas, which has a significant number of coal-burning power plants, driving and charging an EV will give out the same amount of greenhouse gases as a gas-powered car that gets 46 miles to the gallon, or close to that of a hybrid Toyota Prius.

In some areas, such as Michigan, charging an EV is actually more polluting than driving a Prius.

Not a magic bullet, but still a help

The report points out that the electric vehicle is not the magic bullet to a clean environment. However, the danger of the report may be that some will see it as a condemnation of the EV in general and to use it as an argument that they have no value for the environment.

EVs still make sence for 82 percent

The good news is that only about 18 percent of Americans live in these regions. For the vast majority, going electric still makes sense, at least from an environmental standpoint.

[Looking for a hybrid or EV? We’ll help you find a car to buy.]

Always beats gas-burners

The study also showed that even in the dirtiest areas for electricity production, driving an EV is still 20 percent less-polluting than getting around in the average compact gas-powered car.

Don Anair of the Union of Concerned Scientists said:

“For people who might have had doubts about the climate benefits of electric vehicles, this analysis shows they’re positive, no matter where you live.”

EV owners drive cost down for others

Jesse Toprak, of the automotive pricing site TrueCar, said the study will likely not affect the behavior of consumers. Also, he noted,  consumers buying electrics now are also helping the environment by raising demand and driving down the cost of EVs, making them affordable for more consumers.


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