Thursday, January 5, 2012

Can EVs Save Us from Pollution during the Inversion?

CNN Money has an article on the growing number of electric vehicle (EV) models coming to market this year.  Market share will be limited for most, but is this the start of the long anticipated EV revolution?

How about an all-electric RAV4 for your trips to the Wasatch Range?
Further, could a transition to EVs eventually lead to improved air quality during inversions?  The reduction in tailpipe emissions would likely help.  On the other hand, the power for EVs has to come from somewhere, and in Utah, that could mean increased emissions from coal-fired power plants.  Thus, local air quality benefits derived from an EV revolution could come with some regional and global caveats.

For example, an article by Andrew Revkin on his DotEarth blog in October describes a UN report that concludes that in China "electric vehicles produce more CO2 per mile than a gas powered car because the power source is coal (my emphasis)." 

However, one of the co-authors of the UN report, Lucia Green-Weiskel, comments later in the article that the situation in the US is, as a whole, not as bad as China because 50% of our electricity comes from less carbon-intensive sources (e.g., hydro, nuclear, natural gas, wind, and solar) and only ~45% comes from coal.  Nevertheless, in Utah, 81% of the electricity is produced by coal, so EV usage here would likely be more carbon intensive than the US as a whole.  

I personally see many benefits from an EV revolution and hope it happens.  The above analysis is provided merely to illustrate the importance of an end-to-end analysis of costs and benefits from energy production to energy consumption.  Emissions change with a transition from gas to electric powered cars, but don't necessarily stop.  Much depends on how and where the electricity is produced.


  1. Jim,

    It is interesting that there are over a 100 Leafs gliding around Tucson now. My wife loves hers and there's a local club of electric fanatics here. Almost all of the members also have solar panels on their homes and so are actually generating more power than needed to keep their cars going.

    However, considering the cost of solar panels and the electric car, it means that it's going to be a long while before folks struggling to make ends meet could ever consider an electric for local driving. Bob

  2. Bob - the Earth intercepts something like 165,000 terawatts of sunlight, so it's good to hear some people are putting it to good use! The issue you raise with regards to the pricing of energy is a key component of the climate challenge. One of my favorite articles on the need for cheap, clean power in mass quantity is


  3. Ok, maybe we should all do some simple math. Take the amount of money you spend every year to purchase, insure, fill with gas, and maintain each car you own. Now look at how that car is driven for 20 minutes each way, alone, each day. If you could walk 5 minutes to a train, then ride for 20 minutes while reading or prepping for your day . . . at 1/4, or less, of the cost, would you do it? That's the reality of our future . . . get used to it. If you really think about it, because we only live on this ball for 85 years or so, we don't really OWN anything. Shit, let's share. It is way more fun!!

    . . . and to hell with building trams for rich people between the Canyons and Solitude. ted Wilson, you just lost any respect you had. trains and tunnels are where things need to go. they are easy to maintain, fast, cheap, and will be used by all.