Gavin Shoebridge – an electric vehicle nut, a keen environmentalist

                Electric Car Conversion Blog By Gavin Shoebridge

February 3rd, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Dirty Electric Cars Powered by Dirty Coal

Coal Fired Power Station

One of the most common questions electric vehicle proponents are asked is, “Aren’t you just moving the pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack?”, when it comes to using electricity generated from burning coal.

Most people are aware that coal is a dirty way to produce electricity, but what does this mean for electric cars that recharge off the coal power grid? Are they just as polluting as their gasoline counterparts?

Several investigations on this subject have been conducted from many different institutions and sources, but they all have one thing in common: Electric cars running off coal-fired electricity produce less Co2 per mile than gasoline cars.

What the reports can’t decide on however, is exactly how much cleaner electric cars are, whether or not to include the high efficiency of electric cars in their calculations, and whether or not to include pollutants with the Co2 output.

For example, The American Government Accountability Office reported that an electric SUV recharged via coal-powered electricity is only around 15% cleaner than it’s gas counterpart.
On the other hand a study from Environment Texas shows that electric cars powered by the same dirty coal generated power are 27% cleaner than gasoline powered cars.

In fact the same study states that “more than 40 recent studies show that plug-in cars produce lower carbon dioxide than traditional gasoline-powered cars”. This is good news for countries which have 100% of their electricity from coal (though fortunately, these countries don’t exist).

In countries which have cleaner electricity like France (mostly hydro & nuclear) the electric car produces 12 grams of CO2 per kilometer, compared to 120 grams for current ICE cars. That means the electric car is 90% cleaner to operate in France than it’s gasoline equivalent.

The promising news for environmentalists is that things will only get better from here on as most countries have clean or renewable energy plans already in action. For example, New Zealand currently produces 70% of it’s total electricity from renewable resources, with the goal of being 90% renewable by 2025.

Germany plans to be generating 100% of it’s electricity from renewable means by 2050. That’s certainly something to look forward to in the future. This means that if you’re fortunate enough to recharge an electric car from a completely clean and renewable resource, then the vehicle will operate without a single breath of Co2.

So for the time being you can relax. It seems you have nothing to feel guilty about when plugging in your electric car from coal generated electricity. The only question remaining is how many additional power stations are needed to cover the demands of all these electric cars?

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  • EVsRoll
    12:26 am on November 13th, 2011 1

    The key idea here is that not all power is the same. Not all utilities are the same. Therefore, you can not say that electric cars are dirtier than gas powered cars. It all depends on exactly where the power comes from.

    Some utilities use green power, some don’t. Some new cleaner power plants are coming on line. You need to check exactly where your power is coming from. Generalizations are not possible. Averages are.

    Details here:



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