The United States’ transportation sector is undergoing a major shift towards sustainable energy and electric vehicles to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and combat climate change. Incentives have been updated to encourage domestic production of battery packs, electric motors, and EV charging stations, in addition to sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
However, assessing an electric vehicle’s total carbon footprint and environmental impact against that of gasoline vehicles is crucial to understanding which vehicle design is better for the planet. While electric cars have zero tailpipe emissions, their low-carbon advantage decreases dramatically if the power plant charging the EV is not using renewable energy sources.
Manufacturing, destruction, and recycling of an electric vehicle are other important factors to evaluate an EV’s complete carbon footprint. A complete greenhouse gas emissions life cycle analysis, including CO2 emissions from lithium-ion battery production and overall vehicle manufacturing, must be done to compare electric cars and conventional vehicles.
While electric vehicles may not be entirely environmentally friendly, they do have advantages, especially when charged by clean energy sources. The EPA’s data confirms the high CO2 emissions from EV battery manufacturing, but shows the life cycle advantage of electric cars – IF charged by clean energy sources. Unfortunately, coal and natural gas remain the primary source of electric energy across the US, which means most EVs transfer greenhouse gas emissions to a power plant’s smokestack.
If electric vehicles are not the only option for clean transportation, buyers looking to reduce their carbon footprint should consider a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), such as the Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid and Toyota RAV4 Prime. PHEVs are eligible for the same tax credits given to EVs and offer between 25 and 50 miles of electric-only operation. Even when their electric range is fully depleted, PHEVs still deliver higher MPG ratings than traditional gasoline vehicles.
While some automakers are moving towards an all-electric fleet, PHEVs are seen as an alternative form of electrification that provides the best of both worlds – zero emissions under most driving conditions, with highly reduced emissions when operating in hybrid mode. Until the US electric grid is primarily powered by renewable energy, PHEVs can reduce both emissions and fuel costs, often at a lower price than a similarly-sized electric vehicle.
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