Just because a car has a plug doesn’t make it zero-emissions. Powering an electric vehicle may involve energy from all kinds of sources, and sometimes that involves burning coal.
That’s the bad news. The good news is 66% of Americans now live in a regions where driving electric gets you the equivalent of 51 miles per gallon or better, according to research by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). In fact, the region where driving an EV is the greenest — 135 miles per gallon — may surprise a few people. It’s upstate New York.
The UCS study on life-cycle emissions from of EVs versus gas cars from November 2015 broke ground in several areas of the discussion. For starters, the researchers found that an electric car is responsible for half the emissions of a gasoline car from the cradle (i.e., mining for parts and production) to the grave (i.e., recycling and disposal).
Contrary to what some misleading reports may have you believe, the comparison is not even close in most parts of the U.S. When matching EV sales against the power plants in the areas in question, the UCS data showed drivers are getting 68 miles per gallon from plug-in vehicles. Renewable sources for electricity in California and Oregon are behind this incredible efficiency.
However, both states lag behind the upstate New York region where hydroelectric power is juicing the grid. The spectacular 135 miles per gallon leads second-place Alaska (112 miles gallon) by a wide margin. Rounding out the top five are the Northwest (including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, and Utah) at 94 miles per gallon, California (87 miles per gallon), and New England (86 miles per gallon).
Huge urban markets where EVs have not made a dent, including New York City and Philadelphia, also showcase impressive efficiencies (fifth and sixth in the U.S., respectively) when looking at the electric grid. The NYC metro area features power at the equivalent of 79 miles per gallon when driving, while Pennsylvania and South Jersey check in at 68 miles per gallon.
As the authors point out in detail, the numbers are getting better every year. The areas with the most renewables in the mix vaulted from 45% to 66% since the last study in 2009, giving EV drivers the top economy in the nation. Another 22% of the country achieves an economy of 41 miles to 50 miles per gallon. As for the worst regions for electricity production from renewable sources, the remaining 12% (31 to 40 miles per gallon) still do better than the average fuel economy of a new vehicle (29 miles per gallon).
Some will see this map as a blueprint for the future of electric car adoption in the Northeast. Others may see it as validation for the area where adoption has been the most significant to date. What can’t be disputed is electric vehicles are now greener than the average car in any U.S. auto market.
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists