The author bases much of his claims on the experience of Netherlands, a country that is leading in the deployment of electric vehicles. Like many countries, the Netherlands gets its electricity from a number of sources, including coal. Reading the article, you would get the impression that the country relies on coal for much of its power—but exactly how much Dutch electricity is coming from coal? According to the author’s own research, less than 30% last year.
The critical mistake made in this article and by many other critics of electric vehicles is that electricity does not have to be perfectly clean to make EVs a better choice than gasoline vehicles for reducing global warming emissions. Our recent report found that driving an EV anywhere in the U.S. produces less global warming emissions compared to an average new gasoline vehicle. Over two-thirds of Americans live in areas where driving an average EV is better than the most efficient hybrid gasoline vehicle on the market. Based on today’s sales, the average EV in the U.S. has emissions equivalent to a gasoline car getting 68 MPG.
Nowhere in the U.S. has a coal-only grid, but even in coal-heavy countries like Japan or China, EVs still produce lower global warming emissions than the average new gasoline car. And by plugging vehicles into the grid, EVs are able to benefit from global warming emissions reductions over the vehicle’s lifetime, often about 15 years. U.S. electricity has gotten cleaner over the past three years and should continue to improve through Renewable Energy Standard commitments and the implementation of the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan.
There are also local benefits to reducing tailpipe emissions cars spew in densely populated cities that we also expect to decrease as electricity gets cleaner. Using worldwide data for assessing the current impacts of EVs is not appropriate because these impacts mostly depend on the region where an EV is driven. And often EVs are in driven in areas where there is less dependency on coal generation, as we see the E.U. and U.S. reduce their reliance on coal.
In our report we look at not only global warming emissions from driving an EV, but also emissions from producing battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) similar to two of the most popular BEVs on the market today: the 84-mile midsize Nissan LEAF and 265-mile full-size Tesla Model S. Even though the global warming emissions from manufacturing a BEV are higher than similar gasoline cars, mostly due to the lithium-ion battery, the additional emissions from manufacturing are offset within 6 to 16 months of driving.
While electric cars are clean and getting cleaner, we also need to lower emissions from gasoline cars through strong fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards. Pitting electric vehicles against cleaner gasoline vehicles is a false choice: cutting oil use and moving toward cleaner electricity worldwide are both vital to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. EVs are a part of the solution. You can check out our EV tool to see the global warming emissions from an EV in your area.]]>
So what’s next? How do we produce even cleaner EVs and encourage their deployment across the country?
Given the potentially major role of battery electric vehicles (BEVs)—if they are widely deployed—in reducing global warming emissions from the transportation sector, we recommend the adoption of innovative policies in the following areas: (1) increased renewable electricity generation; (2) advanced battery technology; and (3) facilitation of electric vehicle accessibility.
How electricity is generated greatly affects the global warming emissions of electric vehicles, both in their manufacture and operation. As such, renewable electricity will be the main mechanism for reducing global warming emissions from electric vehicles (EVs).
Congress should enact a federal Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), and encourage the strengthening of state RESs, as an effective method for decreasing the global warming emissions from electricity generation (and consequently, EVs). Over the past 15 years, state-level RESs have proven to be one of the most successful and cost-effective means for driving renewable energy development in the United States. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some kind of RES. The Figure below shows the stringency and type (mandatory or voluntary) of each state RES from Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). California recently expanded the nation’s largest market for renewable energy by increasing its RES to 50 percent by 2030. Earlier in 2015, Hawaii increased its RES to require 100 percent renewables by 2045. Other state governments should follow suit.
Consumers and organizations should invest directly in renewable energy technologies. Homeowners, businesses, and diverse institutions can also accelerate the transition to greater renewable energy use through on-site generation, green power purchasing, and REC purchases. Net metering allows consumers who generate their own electricity from renewable technologies—such as a rooftop solar panel or a small wind turbine—to feed excess power back into the electricity system and thereby “spin their meter” backward. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia now have net metering requirements.
In some deregulated utility markets, consumers have the ability to select their power provider. In those locales, choosing a provider that supplies electricity from renewable sources or that maintains a green pricing program may be distinct options. States offering this type of choice for at least some consumers include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia. The District of Columbia offers such a choice as well.
Purchasing RECs, which are available nationwide, is another option. RECs are directly tied to electricity generated by renewable sources and are sold in a voluntary market.12 By providing additional revenue for renewable energy projects, the purchase of RECs can help increase the supply of renewable electricity.
Policies that support additional battery research and development should be pursued in order to increase EV batteries’ efficiency, lower their costs, and reduce the global warming emissions attributable to them from their manufacture and at their end of their service lives.
Congress should continue to fund federal battery research programs in order to reduce battery costs and increase EV affordability. Government investment in battery technology has already played a significant role in reducing battery costs. In 2007, lithium-ion batteries cost about $1,000 per kWh, but by 2014 they were at $300 per kWh.
Several federal programs played important roles to make this achievement a reality, mostly run by the DOE. Research funded by the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and Joint Center for Energy Storage Research helped to modify batteries for EV use. ARPA-E and the DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office are presently funding research into novel battery chemistries, which have the potential to greatly extend batteries’ range and durability, and funding technology- transfer processes to expedite such improved batteries’ commercial availability.
Congress should fund programs that facilitate battery recycling or reuse. Although today’s market for recycling large lithium-ion batteries is limited, given that most of the first-generation EVs have not reached the end of their service lives, it is important to ensure there will be a ready market for used batteries when their time comes.
A 2013 survey conducted by UCS and the Consumers Union found that 42 percent of American households, representing nearly 42 million American homes with a vehicle, could benefit today from using an electric vehicle. To help EVs grow into this large potential market, their upfront costs must be reduced.
Congress should protect the existing $7,500 federal EV tax credit and reinstate the infrastructure tax incentive. Offsetting EV purchase prices through incentives such as the $7,500 federal tax credit and additional state tax credits have helped stimulate the markets for EVs across the country. In California, for example, more than 3 percent of new vehicle registrations were plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicles in 2014. Governor Jerry Brown has also set a goal of 1.5 million zero-emissions vehicles on the state’s roads by 2025. California was an early adopter of state-level incentives for EVs, influencing others—Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont—to follow suit. These eight states’ governors have signed an agreement establishing action plans in each state that would put a total of 3.3 million zero-emissions vehicles into service by 2025.
Congress should support unifying guidance on charging installations. At present there are three ways to charge EVs: AC Level 1 and Level 2 chargers; and DC fast chargers. Each type of charger replenishes the lithium-ion battery at different rates. Typically, the Level 1 charger adds two to five miles of range per hour, the Level 2 charger adds 10 to 20 miles of range per hour, and the DC fast charger adds 50 to 70 miles of range in 20 minutes. There also are various types of connectors and plugs for EVs. The DC charging connectors are not uniform across all vehicle manufacturers. Tesla has its own connector and charging infrastructure, which can only be used by Tesla owners. Nissan, Kia, and Mitsubishi vehicles use a different type of connector, and BMW and Chevrolet utilize yet another connector. This situation can make understanding charging difficult for potential EV drivers.
Congress should fund programs and partnerships for more charging stations. The DOE is currently running a workplace-charging challenge, which encourages employers, through industry pledges, to provide charging access to their staffs. This is especially important for consumers, such as residents of multiunit dwellings, who may lack such access at home. The DOE also offers valuable information for these residents on overcoming such obstacles at home, and it provides case studies on how the dwellers of apartment or condominium buildings in various cities succeeded. Congressionally funded programs should give priority to projects that install charging stations in locations with proximity to many potential consumers and where the proposed location is appropriate for the type of charging proposed.
Congress should support and adopt uniform EV charging signage. As noted above, the many ways to charge an EV can be confusing to consumers. Similarly, the chargers that are available may be difficult for new drivers to find. Developing uniform signage that is clearly displayed would help new EV drivers know where to charge and also raise awareness of the accessibility of chargers for potential EV buyers. The DOE and Federal Highway Administration have developed such signage through the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which defines standards that apply to all types of traffic signs, but the proposed EV signs have not yet been finalized. Efforts to do so, and to implement these EV standards, should proceed, with increased use of the signs along interstates and other major roadways.
Bottom line: EVs are clean and getting cleaner. Getting more on the road will allow us to fully realize the benefits over time!]]>
Although a BEV has no tailpipe emissions, the total global warming emissions from operating it are not insignificant; they depend on the sources of the electricity that charge the vehicle’s batteries and on the efficiency of the vehicle. We estimated the global warming emissions from electricity consumption in the 26 “grid regions” of the United States—representing the group of power plants that together serve as each region’s primary source of electricity—and we rated each region based on how charging and using an EV there compares with driving a gasoline vehicle.
Emissions from operating electric vehicles are likely to keep falling, as national data from 2013 to 2015 show a declining percentage of electricity generated by coal power and an increase in renewable resources such as wind and solar. Additionally, the Clean Power Plan finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2015 offers opportunities for even greater progress, as states must collectively cut their power-sector carbon emissions 32 percent by 2030 (based on 2005 levels). Meanwhile, many EV owners are pairing electric vehicle purchases with home investments in solar energy. With increasing levels of renewable electricity coming onto the grid, with carbon standards for fossil-fuel power plants beginning to be implemented, and with continued improvements in vehicle technologies, the emissions-reduction benefits of EVs will continue to grow.
Global warming emissions occur when manufacturing any vehicle, regardless of its power source, but BEV production results in higher emissions than the making of gasoline cars—mostly due to the materials and fabrication of the BEV lithium-ion battery. Under the average U.S. electricity grid mix, we found that producing a midsize, midrange (84 miles per charge) BEV similar to a Nissan LEAF typically adds a little over 1 ton of global warming emissions to the total manufacturing emissions, resulting in 15 percent greater emissions than in manufacturing a similar gasoline vehicle.
However, replacing gasoline use with electricity reduces overall emissions by 51 percent over the life of the car. A full-size long-range (265 miles per charge) BEV similar to a Tesla Model S, with its larger battery, adds about six tons of emissions, which increases manufacturing emissions by 68 percent over the gasoline version. But this electric vehicle results in 53 percent lower overall emissions compared with a similar gasoline vehicle (see Figure below).
In other words, the extra emissions associated with electric vehicle production are rapidly negated by reduced emissions from driving. Comparing an average midsize midrange BEV with an average midsize gasoline-powered car, it takes just 4,900 miles of driving to “pay back”—i.e., offset—the extra global warming emissions from producing the BEV. Similarly, it takes 19,000 miles with the full-size long-range BEV compared with a similar gasoline car. Based on typical usages of these vehicles, this amounts to about six months’ driving for the midsize midrange BEV and 16 months for the full-size long-range BEV.
Meanwhile, the global warming emissions of manufacturing BEVs are falling as automakers gain experience and improve production efficiency. With a focus on clean manufacturing, emissions could fall even more. There are many ways in which the EV industry might reduce these manufacturing-related emissions, including:
We also made the below to summarize the results, and you can use our interactive tool to explore emissions from driving an electric car in your area. Please share to get the word out that electric vehicles are clean and getting cleaner!
If you have more questions about the report join us on Monday November 16th when my colleague Dave and I will be hosting an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit.
So there you have it. Electric cars are clean and getting cleaner, even on a life cycle basis]]>
The complexity of the grid complicates how we measure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from an electric vehicle (EV). Charging an EV at different times of the day or in different locations may change the electricity source that charges the EV, resulting in different GHG emissions. This challenge gets at the heart of an ongoing debate between average and marginal electricity.
Average electricity GHG emissions: This method averages GHG emissions from all electricity generation in a given region, treating all the electricity produced and consumed in the region equally. No matter how much electricity you use or when you use it, your electricity is assumed to be just as clean (or dirty) as anyone else’s in the same region. In essence, this approach assumes that any additional electricity needed to power an EV would come from the same mix of electricity sources (hydro, nuclear, natural gas, coal, wind, etc.) that provides electricity to meet current demand.
Marginal electricity GHG emissions: Marginal GHG emissions are estimated by examining what power plants, or types of power plants, are likely to be used to match any additional (or marginal) demand. In this type of analysis, the electricity consumed by additional demand—such as a newly purchased EV—is assigned a different GHG emissions intensity from electricity used by existing electric loads. This often results in additional demand having higher GHG emissions, as renewable sources of electricity are not often on the margin, even though we continue to add more and more solar and wind to the grid.
While the debate may rage on among academics, new technology is helping render it moot, giving consumers more control over what powers their EVs.
Recently, eMotorWerks and WattTime announced they are developing a product that analyzes the electricity grid in real time, allowing EVs to charge when more renewables are producing electricity. Not only would this reduce the GHG emissions from charging an EV, but it could also smooth out demand from renewable sources, increasing the reliability of the grid as a whole. You can read more about pairing renewable electricity and EV batteries in another recent blog post I wrote.
The information collected from this type of technology could also be useful for researchers, who could then more accurately estimate the GHG emissions from charging. Compared to what is already available in EVs today, it’s not far-off tech, either. “Delayed charging” is already a feature in many EVs, allowing them to charge at night when electricity is cheaper.
The bottom line? EVs are the cleanest vehicle in most regions of the US (as our updated State of Charge shows) and getting cleaner as we add more renewables to the grid—and that benefits everyone.]]>
Batteries are retired either because the car itself is retired, usually after 10-15 years on the road, or because the owner wants to replace the battery (though, to date, this isn’t particularly common). But retired batteries often have about 70% of their capacity left—more than enough to establish a secondary market, where the battery can offer all sorts of applications. A secondary market is attractive to automakers, as it increases the value of batteries, and to consumers, as they can recoup some of the battery’s cost. And these batteries have a lot to offer! So some automakers and researchers are looking into how these batteries can be reused.
Pairing the used batteries with renewable electricity sources, like wind and solar, has a lot of potential. We know that renewable electricity sources are variable: they don’t always produce energy when we want it, but rather when the sun shines or the wind blows. Therefore, pairing a battery that can store some of that energy when it’s not being directly used could help with reliability. And there are a couple options for reuse with renewables being pursued by industry today: at the household and commercial scales.
The first option is for use in homes. For example, your neighbor has a solar panel on their roof and while they’re at work the sun shines producing electricity, but they use more electricity when they’re home in the evenings and need to turn on the lights. By putting together an old EV battery and the solar panel, they would be able to use a certain amount of electricity generated during the day at night for their lights. Using old EV batteries is one application, but you can also make new batteries to pair with renewable electricity sources. Tesla is making new batteries and putting a lot of effort into this household example of battery storage and renewables.
Another option is piling these used EV batteries up and tying them to larger installations of renewable energy, like a wind or solar farm. Wind and solar farms are often funded by utilities or private companies, but then sell the electricity to consumers. More batteries are required to store more energy, but then can also power larger buildings like offices or many houses. GM has decided to use old Chevy Volt batteries to store energy from solar and wind nearby and then use the energy from the batteries at its headquarters. And earlier the same week, Nissan threw their hat into the ring, announcing their partnership with Green Charge Networks to sell used Leaf batteries to companies.
Since many EVs and their batteries have not retired yet, we don’t know which battery end use is going to be most common—reuse, recycling, or just tossing them out. Certainly, we hope reuse or recycling of these batteries happens to utilize the remaining charge of the batteries and reduce the material constraints on new batteries that could lead to more greenhouse gas emissions. But a lot of this falls to which process is most cost-effective; with EVs just beginning to retire, it’s an exciting time to see what will happen.]]>
First, not surprisingly, costs have come down as government and industry have invested more and more resources in battery development. The exciting part is that the costs have come down more than experts predicted. And not only are we seeing more EVs on the road, with their prices falling, but we’re seeing new promises of larger battery EVs that will drive further distances on a full battery. A recently published journal article in Nature Climate Change looked at 80 studies that predicted years ago (2007 to 2014) where battery costs would be today and found that most experts thought battery costs would be around $410 per kWh. Today’s batteries actually cost more like $300 per kWh, despite starting at $1,000 per kWh in 2007.
There are a couple ways the battery cost reduction impacts the EV market. It could make current battery sizes more affordable or it could increase the range of the battery at a similar cost to current batteries, or a combination of both.
There has been a wave of industry announcements about increased battery sizes. Some of those announcements include GM introducing the Bolt, a new long-range battery-electric vehicle, Nissan hinting about a longer-range LEAF in the next couple years, and Tesla is building the Gigafactory, a battery production facility in the US. You can read more about the Gigafactory in one of my last blogs.
The other alternative is to reduce the costs of current batteries, keeping the size the same. The batteries currently available are about 25 to 30% of the cost of the entire vehicle. If we look at the Nissan LEAF with a 24 kWh battery, the current price ($300 per kWh) is around $7,200. Reducing it to $150 per kWh, or what experts think is the “sweet spot,” would make it $3,600. We wouldn’t expect all of those cost reductions to be passed on to the consumer, but hopefully it would have a significant impact on the total price of the car, making EVs even more accessible.
You may be thinking, well if we were at $1,000 per kWh in 2007 and now at $300, a $150 per kWh battery doesn’t sound so hard—so how do we get there? The challenging part is that as battery costs decrease it becomes harder to find places to cut costs. Still, with continued investment in battery research and development from the Department of Energy and national labs like Argonne National Lab, and with industry investments from Tesla, GM, and Nissan, I think we can get there. Technological advances from research and implementation and increases in production of current vehicles can also help bring costs down.
Reaching the “sweet spot” sooner rather than later will mean more affordable, cleaner, and longer-range EVs—and that’s cause for celebration!]]>
1. The facility has the capacity to build 200,000 batteries per year for vehicles, but is not operating at full capacity (yet!).
We toured around the warehouse, with a large clean room in the middle, stopping at various spots through all the processes of the batteries and even saw little golf cart-like vehicles driving around. It was a big building, but that’s what is required to build so many batteries. The actual square footage is almost 500,000 sq ft!
2. The facility employs around 1,000 people.
Although a lot of the processes are automated, there are still a bunch of workers overseeing the machines and inspecting the batteries. We saw many of them in action, both handling the machines and the batteries themselves.
3. It takes quite a long period of time to produce a battery from scratch.
There is a lot of testing, charging, discharging, heating, cooling, and ageing that happens over several weeks in order for the battery to be ready. And not every day are they producing batteries. Unfortunately, while I was there they didn’t have any batteries in the clean room actually being assembled because they were waiting on a shipment of materials. But I still got to see all the machines of the clean room from a couple different windows.
4. They do a lot of recycling.
There were bins of materials labeled for recycling—everything from cardboard boxes used for shipping things to the scraps of metals left over from producing the batteries. For many of these materials there are financial motivations to recycle, but they assured me on the tour they are doing everything possible to recycle everything they can.
5. They track their progress and strive for the most efficient battery production facility possible.
There is a board of data as soon as you walk into the manufacturing facility that measures a lot of different factors including safety of the workers, worker retention, water consumption, energy consumption, and even the related greenhouse gas emissions per battery. The emphasis on this presentation of data was obvious and they are proud to keep the facility safe and functioning as efficiently as possible. It’s a constant reminder to everyone that enters that they are striving for excellence.
If you’re interested in more details about the process check out Transport Evolved’s blog series on their tour of the battery facility.
Finally, here’s the video from Nissan that shows some of the employees in action—building those batteries!]]>
Usually analysts like myself focus on how cars and trucks could be more efficient, but sometimes it’s important to think about the transportation system as a whole. Such thought experiments can provide interesting insights…
1. If bikes were the norm we would use less gasoline, which would lead to cleaner air, more energy security, and fewer global warming emissions.
2. People would be healthier and happier.
3. There would be less ambient noise. Listen to how quiet my video is!
4. Less road maintenance.
5. More money in your pocket!
What additional benefits can you think of? I’d love to hear your answers below.
Of course there are limitations to trading in cars for bikes—and issues of social equality and economic justice to consider—but thinking about the benefits was fun to do while riding through the Iowa corn fields. Until next year, RAGBRAI!]]>
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to analyze the total impacts of a good or service. This analysis is often termed “cradle-to-grave” as it includes the extraction of raw materials used to make a product all the way to the disposal or recycling of the product at the end of its useful life.
The impacts most commonly measured are costs, energy, and emissions. The LCA of costs is a standard business tool, as accounting for all the costs of a good or service is necessary to determine if a good or service will be profitable and competitive. More recently, energy and emissions have become a larger part of the LCA dialogue spurred by growing concern of climate change and local health impacts.
LCA is important because it helps decision makers (whether policy makers, businesses, or consumers) better understand the true impacts of a given good or service. When the goal is to optimize or reduce the total costs, energy, or emissions, it is critical to look at the process holistically to avoid negative tradeoffs and unforeseen consequences. More information on this can be found in my previous LCA post.
The largest source of global warming emissions from conventional internal combustion engine vehicles comes from the tailpipe when the vehicle is in use. Battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles, on the other hand, do not have an internal combustion engine and thus generate no global warming emissions during operation. However, there are emissions associated with production of EVs and the fuel used to power them (electricity or hydrogen) that would increase the total global warming emissions associated with using the vehicles.
Regardless of whether EVs run partially or fully on electricity, producing the electricity used to charge them can generate global warming emissions. In State of Charge, my colleagues found EVs’ global warming emissions vary significantly based on the mix of energy sources used to power a region’s electricity grid. And just recently my colleague updated the main findings with the most current electricity data. Overall, the report finds, nationwide, EVs charged from the electricity grid produce lower global warming emissions than the average new compact gas-powered vehicle (with a fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon)—even in regions powered primarily by coal.In regions with greater proportions of renewable energy resources, EVs produce fewer global warming emissions than even the most fuel-efficient hybrids.
Since the State of Charge report, questions around EVs’ manufacturing- and recycling-related global warming emissions have become more prominent. While recent research suggests the additional components required for EVs (e.g., large battery storage) increase life cycle emissions, the increase is not sufficient to negate the environmental benefits of EVs over their lifetimes. Most studies agree U.S. EVs are cleaner than conventional vehicles, but how much cleaner is still being researched. However, the relative importance of manufacturing and recycling to overall vehicle emissions increases as cleaner sources of electricity generation are added to the grid and the emissions generated by using EVs decreases. In addition, mass-market EVs are in an early stage of deployment and new EV models with different technology approaches (e.g., range, battery chemistry, body design and materials) are rapidly entering the market. Manufacturing processes are likely to evolve and mature over the coming years, as are recycling processes that could change the amount of EV materials being recycled, reused, or scrapped.
At UCS I am investigating the impacts of current and future trends in manufacturing and recycling EVs in order to more fully assess the current and potential future emissions of these vehicles over their entire life cycle. This research, along with fuel-production research already published, is critical to determining how much EVs can contribute to reducing global warming emissions and oil use. So stay tuned!]]>
So I did a little calculation based on my experience at the pump.
Based on these simple assumptions I calculated, over the time I’ve owned my car (9 years) I’ve spent almost two full days (~39 hours) just standing at gas stations! And if I commuted to work by car or had a less efficient car, I would use a lot more gas and that amount of time would be even larger.
As far as “time-wasted” goes, this is not a very large number, but the thing that struck me is that EVs have the opportunity to basically give that time back to me.
If I plugged in an EV at home it would take seconds, not 10 minutes. And more importantly as I’m driving down the road, splitting time between visiting the many people I care about, I’d have that little extra time with them that I wouldn’t have to spend at the gas station.]]>