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Are Electric Cars Really Better For The Environment?

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Super Efficient Gas Powered Car

Unless they live off the grid, or purchase their power from a utility that offers renewable energy, most people are required to rely on fossil fuels for some of their electricity. This has many people wondering if they should forget about buying an electric car and focus on making their gas-powered vehicles as efficient as possible.

A few years ago, Brenden Koerner of Slate.com fielded this same question from a reader (the makes and models are dated, but the comparisons are still relevant). Here’s how he broke it down:

“The relatively fuel-efficient 2006 Corolla gets an average of 31 miles per gallon of gas, assuming it has a manual transmission. Over 100 miles, then, the Corolla will consume 3.23 gallons of gas, which in turn produces 63.11 pounds of carbon dioxide. (According to the Energy Information Administration, a gallon of gas produces 19.564 pounds of carbon dioxide—yes, seriously.) That figure, of course, doesn’t include the energy expended to pump the oil out of the ground, ship it across the oceans, refine it, and get it to your local filling station.

“Now let’s look at the Tesla Roadster over that same distance. Analysis by Automotive Testing and Development Services found that for every 100 miles of travel, a Roadster needs to be recharged with 31 kilowatt hours of electricity. (Only about 70 percent of that charge goes toward creating motion; the rest is lost due to inefficiencies in the charging process.) Generating a kilowatt hour of electricity produces an average of 1.55 pounds of carbon dioxide, which means the Tesla vehicle emits 48.05 pounds of CO2 per 100 miles.”

In a nutshell, this means that while not as green as we might assume, electric vehicles still come out ahead of cars featuring internal combustion engines, especially in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.

>>Up Next: Reasons Electric Cars Are Still Better For The Environment

Image Credit: Flickr – Jane Tierney

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Beth Buczynski

Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog or check out her blog.

106 comments

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2:08AM PDT on Jul 9, 2013

TY! I agreed I think the same!

9:09PM PST on Jan 22, 2013

Truncated! . . .
Finally, I am betting that Faye S. has never driven an EV. It was 3F this morning and my EV ran perfectly. My friends with gas engines could not start their cars . . .

9:08PM PST on Jan 22, 2013

There are a lot of missed points and misleading info in this article. For example:
1) comparing a gas-miserly Corolla to a Tesla Roadster EV (a $100,000+ high performance sports car) is idiotic. Similarly, you would not compare a Porsche to a Leaf. If you compare a Corolla to a Leaf, you would find that - even with coal-produced electricity - the efficiency of an EV (mine gets 119 MPGe) and the fact that central production of power is more efficient than millions of small gas engines makes the EV comparable to a gas engine at worst, and potentially far better.
3) Any electric item, be it a home, car, or lawnmower, offers the FLEXIBILITY to clean up the energy source in the future. A gas-powered engine allows NO flexibility. For example, if your local coal plants are phased out for natural gas (which is occurring across the country), if you install solar panels, or if you decide to purchase power from a supplier that provides electricity from wind/solar/hydro sources, your EV becomes MUCH cleaner. Your gas guzzler does not.
3) Environmental considerations aside, EVs are awesome machines that accelerate and handle beautifully, are quiet, and are simply fun to drive! They also require almost no maintenance (brake pads and rotating tires). They are worth getting for these aspects, alone. Its also fun to thumb your nose at the gas stations as you drive by.
Finally, I am betting that Faye S. has never driven an EV. It was 3F this morning and my EV ran perfectly. My friends w

3:08PM PST on Dec 24, 2012

Thanks Beth!

6:45PM PST on Dec 4, 2012

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7:10AM PDT on Jul 25, 2011

I like to think that I research issues thoroughly so I am embarassed to admit I never thought to consider the connection of increased electric car use to an increase in coal use! We just can't let go of our beloved fossil fuels, can we?!

5:56PM PDT on Jun 22, 2011

thanks

3:14AM PDT on Apr 23, 2011

thanks

6:43PM PDT on Apr 20, 2011

Merci pour l'info.

12:56PM PDT on Apr 20, 2011

Wind power is NOT an answer! Changing a stright wind in to a circuler wind? BAD idea! Use the wind DON'T CUT IT!

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