Graph of the Day: Are hybrids cleaner than Tesla, or a Leaf?

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An electric car is only as good for the climate as the electricity used to power it. In states that rely on fossil fuels, plug-in hybrids are better than all-electric cars.

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Climate Central

An electric car is only as good for the climate as the electricity used to power it. And in states that rely heavily on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas for their electricity there are many conventional and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that are better for the climate than all-electric cars.

But that is just part of the story. Another critical factor is the carbon emissions generated when a car is manufactured. Emissions from producing the battery and other electrical components create a 10,000 to 40,000-pound carbon debt for electric cars that can only be overcome after tens, or even hundreds of thousands of miles of driving and recharging from clean energy sources.

This comprehensive state-by-state analysis of the climate impacts of the electric car, plug-in hybrid electrics, and high-mileage, gas-powered hybrid cars takes both of these factors into account – the source of energy for the power grid and carbon emissions from vehicle manufacturing.

We found:

  • In 39 states, a high-efficiency, conventional gas-powered hybrid, like the Toyota Prius, is better for the climate (produces fewer total “lifecycle” carbon emissions) than the least-polluting, all-electric vehicle, the Honda Fit, over the first 50,000 miles the car is driven.
  • In 26 states, a plug-in hybrid is the most climate-friendly option (narrowly outperforming all-electrics in 11 states, assuming 50:50 split between between driving on gas and electric for the plug-in hybrids), and in the other 24 states, a gas-powered car is the best. All-electrics and plug-in hybrids are best in states that have green electrical grids with substantial amounts of hydro, nuclear and wind power that produce essentially no carbon emissions. Conventional hybrids are best in states where electricity comes primarily from coal and natural gas.
  • For luxury sedans, in 46 states the gas-powered Lexus ES hybrid is better for the climate than the electric Tesla Model S, over the first 100,000 miles the car is driven.

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For the full report, and to see the interactive, info-graphic work, please go to the original post.

 

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2 Comments
  1. Albert Sjoberg 6 years ago

    There is a glaring flaw in this interpretation and the original report. Although the manufacturing costs are included that weigh heavily against all electric technologies due to the battery requirement, the carbon cost of refining the oil and bringing the fuel to the pumps is excluded.

    This is disingenuous as they have included the costs to generate the electricity required to charge the electric car.
    A similar argument rears it head every time someone argues that the carbon released in manufacturing photovoltaics outweighs their benefit in rooftop solar.

  2. Miles Harding 6 years ago

    The US version of the Australian report that ran here a few months ago. A similar finding was made where Victoria fared the worst because of the high proportion of energy coming from coal.

    Battery electric vehicles are much more flexible in the the way they are
    fueled. The worst case is coal fired electricity, in which case, the
    coal contribution dominates.
    At the other end of the spectrum, where renewables dominate, the long tailpipe emissions are close to zero.

    Another issue is the throw-away assumption made in the report. The consumer ideal where, after (10?) years, the product is thrown away and buried has to stop. EVs contain more material and should benefit more from recycling than would a fuel vehicle.

    One other aspect is that homeowners can make their own EV fuel — try that with a Prius!.
    For example: Installing an additional 1kW of solar panels translates to an average driving range of approximately 35km per day — completely powered by the sun.

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