Electric Cars Aren’t As Green As You Think

Sorry Folks, Electric Cars May Not Be As Green As You Thought To Be

Elon Musk is deeply concerned about how automobile emissions are destroying the world as we know it and hence, the man is a fervent proponent of electric cars (and also, hence Tesla Motors). But are electric cars really as green as we think? Well, you don’t need Adam from truTV’s Adam Ruins Everything to tell it is not quite so. First of all, where do you think the electricity that your lovely Tesla Model 3 needs is from? The grid, of course and where did the grid get the electric energy from? Obviously, the power plants. Now, the source of the electricity pretty much determines whether the electric car you drives is mostly green or not.

If the grid’s electricity is from the good’ol coal burning plant, which U.S. has an abundance of them, then your spanking new Tesla, or whatever electric vehicle you may have, is hardly consider ‘green’. The cars may not contribute to carbon emission but the source of the energy required to drive them does and if more folks drive electric the result would pretty much the same as gas-powered cars. While it is true that air quality will improve, but it won’t be good to the planet as a whole unless the sources are green too like, you know, from wind farm, solar sources et cetera.

That said, green sources are theoretically ideal (and awesome), but their yield at this point leaves much to be desired. So when it comes to the question of are electric cars as green as we thought, the answer is not quite for now. It will be when the day comes when mankind can totally dependent on green energy without the green energy sources competing with the scarce usable land we have. Even then, there’s another contradicting issue and that’s concerning the making of cars which the process in itself is a substantial carbon emission generator.

The key is not changing car like you change clothes. When more people feel compelled to change car often, the demand fuels the manufacturing which will inevitably bumps up the carbon emissions. That means, the world maybe better off if you keep driving your trusty gas or hybrid ride as long as it is still efficient (get your car serviced regularly!). It seems like owning an electric seems counterintuitive, but it is not entirely true either. This is where Tesla Motors’ Powerwall and Solar Roof comes into play. If you could generate enough green energy to power your home and your electric ride(s), then you’d be really slashing your carbon footprint. Then again, that’s only beneficial to our good’ol little blue marble if many people do so.

Anyways, we shall say more and leave it to Adam to ruin treehuggers’ dream.

P.S. We are in no way against electric cars. We love all manner of things in electric, but we just thought that manufacturers should do what Tesla Motors is doing: considering the bigger picture rather then solving the immediate issues. Just saying…

Image: screengrab from YouTube video.

  • Jason Willhite

    I have solar on my house and charge my Leaf using them – in central Arkansas. A couple of years ago I stopped renting my electricity and decided to invest instead. You probably don’t rent your possessions, why would you rent your electricity?
    Also, try looking at the EROI of petroleum now compared to a century ago and decide for yourself if ecomically it will make sense to extract fuel when the EROI is close to 1:1. It is sobering.

  • 30% of EV owners have solar panels. Only 30% of power in the US comes from coal. So only .7*.3=21% of EVs are powered by coal (in the US. In other countries, they use even less coal.)

    Besides that, refining oil into gasoline is very energy intensive. A huge portion of emissions from gas cars, which Adam entirely ignores, is the process of extracting, transporting, and refining oil. That entire process ends up generating more pollution than simply burning coal to charge an EV.

    So even if an EV is one of the 21% powered by coal, it still has fewer emissions than a car that uses gas.

  • Null66

    Morons that cant do math. There are So many flaws with these assertions.

    First they account mine to wheel for electric car, but gas in the tank to wheel for gassers. Well guess what, it takes half the electricity required by electric car to produce the gas in the first place…

    Then they compare a model S (a large-ish performance luxury car) to the sluggish, penalty box prius. A like for like would be something along the lines of a 650 hp Cadillac, or Optioned out 5 series BMW, or large jag. Think 20’s highway. Electric car kwhr is closely tracked throughout their lifespan, but the gas cars are judged not by real world measures but by window sticker epa rating. You might get epa rating when nearly new, but not over the lifespan.

    Yes, a coal plant pollutes more than a gas car. But would charge thousands and thousands of cars… grid is 33% coal nationally. Most of the charging of electric cars is done off peak.

    Even excepting the locally produced power arguement, notice the worst places to charge an electric car are here they have the lowest market share. But even those areas of the grids are rapidly getting cleaner as they have some of the highest wind potential.

  • Owen

    The goal of this article and headline is to get attention. Of course the electricity comes in part from dirty resources but
    a) we have to start somewhere and
    b) Tesla is creating the entire solution showing that it can be done differently.
    Besides the cars Tesla is creating batteries and solar panels to prove that we do not need oil, gas or coal! Who else do we expect to do that? Detroit car industry? Oil industry? Washington dominated by lobbyists and selfish greedy Republicans?

    • Personally, I concur with you. Hence, the statement “It seems like owning an electric seems counterintuitive, but it is not entirely true either. This is where Tesla Motors’ Powerwall and Solar Roof comes into play. If you could generate enough green energy to power your home and your electric ride(s), then you’d be really slashing your carbon footprint.” 🙂