Electric vehicles are touted as “zero-emissions” vehicles in all of their advertising. In the case of the vehicle itself, this is absolutely true, since there is no fuel being burned in the vehicle, and therefore no emissions of any kind. Once you get outside the vehicle, though, and consider the charging station and what part of the power grid it’s connected to, things start to get a little fuzzy. As it turns out, there are different shades of green when you take into account what is at the source of the electricity going into your electric vehicle.
According to my calculations, in at least 33 US States, electric vehicles are indeed greener than their gasoline-powered counterparts. The power grid in these areas is supported by a mix of nuclear, wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. On the other hand, there are a few states where driving an electric vehicle generates more carbon dioxide emissions than the typical conventional vehicle. The power grid in these states is supported mainly by coal, oil, and natural gas.
In the rest of the world, too, there are many different shades of green. In a recent report released by Shrink That Footprint, covering a number of countries where electric vehicles are gaining a foothold, it was found that electric vehicle emissions vary greatly depending on what kind of energy goes into them.
Paraguay, for instance, produces five times more hydroelectric power than it uses, and electric vehicles there generate about 0.25lbs/mi of carbon dioxide. India, on the other end of the scale, is mainly powered by coal, and electric vehicles there generate about 1.31lbs/mi of carbon dioxide. The US is still fairly fossil-fuel heavy, and the average electric vehicle here generates 0.72lbs/mi carbon dioxide.
Where you charge definitely has an impact on your carbon footprint, and different shades of green can be found everywhere. Perhaps the best thing you can do, besides moving to Paraguay, would be to install solar panels or wind turbines to offset or possibly eliminate your electric vehicle carbon dioxide emissions.