A nonprofit group focused on climate change issued a research report Thursday that sheds light on some common misgivings about electric cars. First, would the environmental damage of generating the electricity make a plug-in car dirtier than a car that uses gasoline? And second, would the carbon emitted in making the battery cancel the carbon savings from driving a plug-in car?
It turns out that in Washington state, all-electric cars make sense, because they achieve the equivalent of 383 miles per gallon of fossil fuel, the report by Climate Central says. That’s because 76 percent of electricity in the state is generated by hydroelectric dams, while only 3 percent is derived from coal. The advantage here is second only to Vermont, which uses predominantly nuclear power, supplemented by hydro and other renewable energy sources. Idaho, Oregon, and California are similar to Washington.
Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, Wyoming, and New Mexico rank as the dirtiest states for power generation. In such states, a gasoline-only car that gets just 34 to 37 miles a gallon would be cleaner than an all-electric car. South Dakota ranks fifth for its clean hydropower, while oil-rich North Dakota has one of the dirtiest electric grids, ranked 42nd.
“An electric car is only as good for the climate as the electricity used to power it,” the report begins.
Below is an interactive map showing the most climate-friendly cars in each state.
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Climate Central found 37 states where a gasoline-hybrid Toyota Prius is more benign than an all electric Nissan Leaf, after 100,000 miles of driving. Hybrid cars pair a gasoline engine with a battery that constantly recharges from the kinetic energy of the moving car. The hybrid batteries require less energy to make than an all-electric battery. A Chevy Volt runs for about 40 miles off a plug-in battery, and carries a gasoline engine to extend its range. (General Motors this week reduced the sticker price by $5,000 to about $35,000, not including another $7,000 or so in possible government rebates, CNN reported.)
Washington, Oregon and California are developing the West Coast Green Highway, in which charging stations are provided every 25 to 50 miles, allowing all-electric driving. The cleanest cars for Washington state were the electric Honda Fit, the Nissan Leaf, a plug-in Toyota Prius, Ford Focus Electric, and Ford C-Max Energi.
Scientists have identified carbon emissions as a contributor to global warming. In Washington state, transportation is the leading source of CO2 pollution.