It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that using an electric vehicle is like taking advantage of renewable energy. People often assume that because electric vehicles don’t spew any emissions, they’re 100 percent green.
However, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project’s (SWEEP) new report, “Transportation Fuels for The Southwest,” puts an end to that misconception. The report provides critical information that may help the Obama Administration focus on exactly where and how to meet its goal of putting one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. States, too, will benefit from the study.
The SWEEP report examines whether an electric vehicle can actually be viewed as “clean” in each of the six southwest states–and found surprisingly big differences from state to state. The authors base their conclusions on an analysis of the fuels that make up the utility electric mixes in those states.
In general, electric vehicles make most sense in states whose utilities use green resources that will charge the cars, the authors found. If utilities use dirty resources to charge the cars, the net result will likely be higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
This all is pretty common sense. However, the report’s details yield interesting conclusions. For example, the report quantifies emissions from electric vehicles in each state, allowing policymakers to compare the “clean electric vehicle” states with the dirty ones.
And just how unattractive are electric vehicles in the “dirty” states? Coal-based Wyoming looks pretty ugly compared to Arizona.
In 2013, using an electric vehicle in Arizona would yield a 33 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to using a gasoline-fueled car, the report found. By comparison, electric vehicle use in Wyoming would yield a five percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions, says Mike Salisbury, author of the report and a transportation program associate at SWEEP.
Colorado is expected to clean up its resources over time, and will see substantial reductions in coal use by 2020, says Salisbury. So that state should promote the use of the clean cars.
Interestingly, the report found that under certain circumstances, even in the dirtier states, it makes more sense to use electric vehicles.
“For Salt Lake City, we found, given the relatively dirty power mix in Utah, there were still significant benefits for encouraging electric vehicles because of the terrible urban air pollution problems in that city,” says Salisbury. The power plants that would charge the electric vehicles aren’t located near the city and don’t contribute to urban air pollution, he says. So the emission-free vehicles would give a big boost to air quality in that city.
In addition to studying the fuel mixes of the states, the report examined policies encouraging electric vehicle use. In some cases—but not always—the cleaner states boasted the best electric vehicle policies.
“We found that Wyoming had no support for electric vehicles and the dirtiest fuel mix,” says Salisbury. “Colorado, with a cleaner mix, had the strongest support for electric vehicles.” Nevada, on the other hand, has a clean electric mix but not much support for electric vehicles.
It’s time to implement policies that will support electric vehicle use in those clean states, the report says.
As for the Wyoming-like states of the US, we need to pretty up their electric mixes as soon as possible. Only then will electric vehicles meet the expectations of those who think a green car is a clean car.
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