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Electric Cars Are Getting Greener, Says UCS Report

The Union of Concerned Scientists latest report shows that a conventional car needs to get 80 mpg to have the same carbon footprint as an electric car in America today. That’s up from 73 mpg last year as the grid continues to get greener.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has updated its information on vehicle emissions and finds that a conventional car in America today needs an average fuel economy of 80 miles per gallon to have the same carbon footprint as a typical EV. Last year, that number was 73 miles per gallon.

UCS EV emissions 2018

Why the change? That’s simple. The utility grid is getting greener. 10 years ago, coal accounted for about half of all electricity in America. Today, less than a third of electricity comes from burning coal and 10% comes from renewables like solar and wind. Going forward, virtually all new electricity generation will be from renewables, which now cost less to install than natural gas powered generating facilities. For comparison purposes, look at the same UCS graphic for last year.

mpg equivalent electric car emissions by state

The good news revealed by these latest UCS findings is that electric cars can continue to reduce their carbon footprint in the future as the grid gets greener. No one can make the same claim for existing cars with internal combustion engines. And newer EVs are even more efficient. UCS highlights the Hyundai Ioniq BEV, Prius Prime, and Tesla Model 3 as three cars now on the market that have significantly lower carbon footprints than similar models from just a few years ago.


Knowing that EV opponents will have objections to the latest numbers, UCS provides a detailed explanation of its methodology, complete with links to its sources of information so doubters can access the data themselves to make sure the scientists are cooking the books, as many of the paid mouthpieces for the Koch Brothers are trained to suggest.

“To compare the climate-changing emissions from electric vehicles to gasoline-powered cars, we analyzed all of the emissions from fueling and driving both types of vehicles. For a gasoline car, that means looking at emissions from extracting crude oil from the ground, getting the oil to a refinery and making gasoline, and transporting gasoline to filling stations, in addition to combustion emissions from the tailpipe.

“For electric vehicles, the calculation includes both power plant emissions and emissions from the production of coal, natural gas and other fuels power plants use. Our analysis relies on emissions estimates for gasoline and fuels production from Argonne National Laboratory and power plants emissions data recently released by the US EPA.”

Going Green Was Never More Important

The Union of Concerned Scientists concludes its 2018 report with this plea. “The falling emissions from electric power over the last decade also highlights the need to work to clean up electricity generation and transportation now. While we are moving in the right direction with renewable power and growing numbers of EV models, it takes time to replace existing power plants and gasoline cars. It’s vital that we accelerate the adoption of EVs, even if all power is not yet from renewable or low-carbon sources.”  Amen.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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