When a few months ago ExxonMobil’s chief executive questioned the value of electric vehicles that are powered mostly by coal, he came up empty.
His argument: if such automobiles are juiced by electricity generated by coal, then the net value to the environment is zero and the whole movement is thus a way to make environmentalists feel good. Exxon, of course, is not a disinterested party. But folks who buy into Woods’ outdated line are missing key points. Coal-fired electricity is waning, and now provides just a quarter of the power mix, down from 50% a decade ago. Meanwhile, improvements in battery technology are making EVs ever more efficient and clean.
Ryan Cornell of Harvard University says that a traditional car using the internal combustion engine (ICE) will emit about 69 metric tons of CO2 over a lifetime, or 150,000 miles. But an electric vehicle (EV) powered 100% by coal will emit 66 metric tons of CO2 over the same time period, he figures. Given that nearly every grid in America hosts a number of fuel sources, that’s a conservative figure.
“The lifecycle EV carbon emissions for a vehicle powered by the 2016 US grid is 30.82 metric tons, while the emissions for an EV powered by 100 percent renewable energy is 6.3 metric tons,” writes Cornell. “An average internal combustion engine vehicle (25.4 miles per gallon) is responsible for 68.38 metric tons of carbon dioxide over its lifetime, while an ICE vehicle with a utopian efficiency of 80 miles per gallon accounts for 25.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide.”
Read more: Forbes