Electric Car – It’s not just plug in and we’re “Green”


It is interesting how we seem to be talking about electric cars – as if they are inherently – “green”.

They are not.

The “green-ness” of a car has to do with several factors – but primarily – the fuel that it runs on and how far it can go with that fuel.

Gasoline powered cars are considered green if they can go relatively farther on a gallon of gas then other similar cars.  (My little Prius would rank high both in absolute and relative terms – My Egos Lexus 600h would rank high in relative - but not absolute terms…)  Gasoline powered cars have made great strides over the past years in getting more miles out of each unit of gas…(more would be better of course).

And lets be clear – it would be best not to have to use gasoline at all….if there were some other – non-emitting way to power our fleet.

Ok – Electric Cars.

It seems as if the eco world or at least many in the press seem to think that when you plug in and charge a battery – with electricity – somehow that is green and clean.  Well – it just is not that easy.  What matters is the fuel mix that generates that electricity – and critically - the marginal fuel (not the average of the State of country) that will be needed if a large portion of the vehicular fleet is to become electric.

What does this mean??

Electric cars in France – Oui, Oui!

Electric cars in Pennselvanyia – Non, Non!

Electric cars in Seattle – Ok….

Electric cars in Ohio – No….

Why the difference?  Well the difference is in the fuel mix used to generate electricity at that location. 

France is basically a Nuclear Powered nation.  The electricity generated in France is not producing CO2 (nuclear waste yes – CO2 – no).  In the US, states like Ohio and Pennsylvania generate electricity primarily by burning coal, while in the Pacific Northwest we have much more hydro generation.

The point is – who is talking about marginal generation?  Who is talking about where this extra power will come from?

Is the public being fooled (possibly) led into a corner that is not being well explained by our leaders in Washington or in Detroit…?

Most likely the marginal fuel for our nation (given a major conversion to electric vehicles) will be nuclear power.  This is easy to see when listening to Sec. of Energy Chu, and is becoming more and more clear as the two sides in Congress look for common ground.

We do not think Nuclear energy is a bad thing.  But it is absolutely a sensitive topic – and one that the American public should be informed about as opposed to blindly led into.

It seems like when it comes to climate change education this is a very good topic for a High School science class.

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  1. Felix Kramer of the superb Cal Cars.org has been speaking and teaching about this misunderstood topic for two years now.

    Do yourself a favor and read:
    EPRI-NRDC Definitive Study: PHEVs Will Reduce Reduce Emissions If Broadly Adopted Jul 19, 2007
    Bottom line: plug-ins actually get greener as the grid gets greener. No other fuel does that.

  2. dan says:

    Felix – thanks for your note…there is no clear path to making the grid cleaner…if it were cleaner – then the plug-in would be cleaner – as would the light in your kitchen…the issue is what fuel do we use to make these things happen?


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