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Gas-powered cars are a leading cause of climate change. Nationally, transportation accounts for 28% of our greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other sector. Historically, electricity generation was the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, but thanks to advances in energy efficiency and cleaner energy supply (i.e. more wind and solar, less oil and coal), that is no longer the case. In Virginia, 45.6% of total greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector.
The consensus among energy experts is that in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently, we must rapidly increase adoption of electric vehicles.
In addition to contributing to global climate change, gas-powered cars are a public health menace. Internal combustion engines create air pollution in two ways:
All of these pollutants are responsible for a huge range of health problems, particularly eye, lung, and heart problems.
These climate and health costs add up, not only in terms of human suffering but also in dollars. In 2016, the American Lung Association estimated that the climate and health impacts of burning gasoline in the 10 states they studied cost $1.15/gallon. In 2015 in those 10 states alone, that came to $37 billion of costs related to burning gasoline that nobody paid for at the pump. As climate change worsens, we can only expect those costs to go up.
Switching from a gas-powered car to an electric vehicle (EV) has huge environmental and public health benefits. A vehicle running only on electricity has zero tail-pipe emissions. Even if you account for the emissions associated with producing the electricity to charge them, electric cars charged with electricity in Virginia produce far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than cars powered by internal combustion engines. These benefits will only increase over time as Virginia's electric grid gets cleaned up, thanks to state renewable energy policies.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has done the math and has a great EV Emissions Tool on its website. You can plug in your zip code and any make and model of EV to find out what emissions it would be responsible for, per mile driven.
On average, emissions of different types of EVs in Virginia are (data from UCS' EV Emissions Tool):
In sum, the benefits of electric cars are huge: we cannot meet our climate goals without them and they are crucial to bettering our public health.
Additional resource: MIT's Trancik Lab developed an awesome tool, Carboncounter, which allows you to compare the greenhouse gas emissions (lifecycle gCO2eq/mile) with the costs (vehicle, fuel, and maintenance) of available vehicle types. Check it out here.
You can compare different vehicle types (internal combustion engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-electric vehicles, etc.) or look up where a specific vehicle falls on the spectrum.
Electric cars offer clear greenhouse gas emissions reductions compared to gas-powered cars. However, lithium-ion batteries degrade over time, and at some point, after many years of use, an EV's battery will no longer be suitable for propulsion. At this point, the vehicle will need a new battery. Many people are rightly concerned about what will happen as more and more used EV lithium-ion vehicle batteries are retired. We have been following this issue and see that markets are already developing for the beneficial reuse and recycling of spent EV batteries.
In terms of reuse, there are policies and markets developing already for stationary storage using repurposed lithium-ion car batteries. As we add more renewable energy to our electric grid, we will need more stationary storage to provide power when it's not windy or sunny. We are already seeing the solar industry embrace storage. We anticipate that carmakers will become big players in this market as well.
We can also recycle the metals and other ingredients in the car battery. As with storage, a whole new industry can grow up over time as electric cars proliferate.
Imagine buying or leasing an electric car today and getting cash back when it's time to trade it in for a newer model because of the value of the battery for either reuse or recycling! We're not promising that, but we see it as a strong possibility.
See below for two excellent articles explaining the various ways that the "old EV battery" problem is likely to be solved.
Article from Bloomberg Businessweek on June 27, 2018Read the article
Article from Fleetcarma on July 23, 2018Read the article