You’ve probably thought about this issue, or you’ve been at a party where some guy who hates electric cars will pontificate about how electricity also comes from fossil fuels. In an effort to really get into the importance of where you plug in your car, the Union of Concerned Scientists is set to release a report today about how the source of your electricity also determines the carbon footprint of your electric car.
The report focuses on the United States, specifically electric cars driven in Colorado as compared to California. They use the Nissan Leaf, the most widely available electric car in the country, as the example driven in both places. While the California Leaf has a minimal carbon footprint thanks to the state’s range of alternative energy sources. The Leaf driven in Colorado actually generates as much Greenhouse gas as a gas powered car with poor gas-milage, due to that state’s mix of fossil fuels used for generating electricity. In the European context this would mean that if you drive an electric car in Portugal or France, where most electricity comes from alternative (or in the French case nuclear) sources, then you’ll truly be reducing your emissions. But if you’re charging up every night in Serbia or Hungary, you’re using conventional thermal powerplant electricity (often coal) and therefore still producing a lot of emissions.
Unfortunately for customers, automakers always based their carbon emission performance reports on lab results which don’t take into account what country the car is being driven in. Beyond that, the individual doesn’t have much immediate power to change the energy source situation of their country. Two facts that have led to a continuing debate among some scientists about the benefits of driving electric vehicles versus the latest generation of gas powered cars.
Photo: WSDOT / flickr