“Electricity has to come from somewhere. How can electric vehicles be better when they are powered by coal in Ohio?”
This is a common comment heard while attending electric vehicle (EV) promotional events throughout the state. While it is true that a majority of Ohio’s electricity is produced by coal, EVs today are already cleaner than all but a few internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and will be cleaner than all of them in the future. The reason is a combination of the extremely high efficiency of EVs over ICEs plus the transition of our grid to cleaner energy sources.
In the last five years, we have witnessed a drastic change in the way our electricity is produced. According to the Energy Information Administration, over 82% of Ohio’s electricity production came from coal in 2010. By 2015, this dropped below 59%. The biggest contributor to this change is the conversion to natural gas for electricity which increased from 5% to 23% over the same period. Natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide compared to coal, a major climate change causing greenhouse gas (GHG). It also produces less pollutants like such NOx (nitrogen oxide) and sulfur when compared to coal.
Further, while there is contention about the contribution of methane leaks during natural gas production to the contribution of global warming, a new Union of Concerned Scientist study paints a revealing picture about well-to-wheels emissions – the emissions from fuel extraction all the way through to actually driving the electric vehicles. Their study concludes that driving an EV is better than the average internal combustion engine vehicle anywhere across the United States, with large variability depending on what region you live because of the source your electricity.
However, the greatest factor in the lower net greenhouse gases (GHG) of EVs is their high efficiency. For example, the 2017 Nissan Leaf has a fuel economy rating of 112 MPGe (the equivalent to MPG expressed in units of electric energy). Electric engines are about 4 times more efficient in their use of energy than ICEs. Greater efficiency per mile simply translates into lower GHG emissions.
In Ohio, reports reveal that you would need to drive a vehicle that gets at least 44MPG in order to produce less emissions than the average EV—mainly achieved from displacing petroleum emissions which the EIA accounts for over 33% of Ohio’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With a national fuel economy average of roughly 24.8 MPG for all U.S. vehicles, this is a task not achieved by the vast majority of models. For regions like the northeast and northwest, this number is even higher, doubling and tripling their GHG mitigation in some cases. See the map below for a full breakdown by region.
Additionally, people today can choose how their energy is produced. You can select a provider that produces electricity from renewable sources such as wind or solar, essentially eliminating your carbon footprint of driving altogether! You can use this tool by Ohio.gov to find alternative energy providers which also includes pricing and renewable energy content.
Finally, let’s not forget about the benefits from decreasing localized air pollutants from tail-pipes that have been shown to increase the risk of diseases and lead to unhappiness. By removing these from our cities, we can increase the well-being of our residents.
The Union of Concerned Scientists have an interactive tool that can calculate how electric vehicles stack up against traditional gas-powered vehicles in your zip-code.
Ohio Energy Production date provided by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).