Michigan would get more benefit from electric vehicles if we cleaned up our power grid

Michigan might be leading the way in electric-vehicle (EV)​ research and development, but the state lags behind other regions ofthe country when it comes to taking full advantage of the environmental benefitsfrom EVs, according to a new report from the Ecology Center.

“The benefits are maximized when the power grid producing the electricity that charges the plug-in EVs is as clean as possible,” according to Charles Griffith, climate and energy program director at the Ecology Center. “When the fuels used to generate electricity at power plants generate global-warming emissions, the EV is only as emission-free as is the power grid that is used to charge it.”


To achieve the full ecological potential that EVs offer, a region’s power grid must reduce reliance on “dirty” fuels, namely coal and, to a lesser extent, natural gas. The mix of fuels currently used varies from region to region, with Michigan generating less electricity from renewable sources than nearly 30 other states.

“The good news is that the state has plenty of room for improvement, and some improvement is already on the way as Michigan approaches its mandated renewable-energy standard of 10 percent of electricity sold by 2015,” Griffith said. “But as Michigan considers policy options for the state’s electricity generation after that date, we ought to consider not only how we reduce emissions from the power-generation facilities themselves, but also how those choices affect the pollution calculation for EVs.”

In a 2012 report, the Union of Concerned Scientists compared the global-warming emissions from EVs with those from gasoline-powered vehicles in each region of the U.S.  They found that in regions with the “cleanest” electricity grids, charging EVs produces lower global-warming emissions than even the most fuel-efficient hybrids (the equivalent of 50 miles per gallon (mpg) or higher).  But in regions with the “dirtiest” grids, EVs are only as good as the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid gasoline vehicles (or the equivalent of 31 – 40 mpg).  Michigan is in that category today.

But in the coming years more and more regions of the country will be converting their power grids from dirty to clean, from coal and natural gas to solar and wind, as states adopt more aggressive renewable-energy standards.

According to the Ecology Center’s analysis of data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, if Michigan maintains its 10 percent renewable-energy standard through 2025, EVs will achieve the equivalent of 72 miles per gallon greenhouse gas equivalent, or mpgghg. But if Michigan were to receive 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, new EVs would achieve 97 mpgghg.

“Both projections top the projected best-performing gasoline and gas-hybrid vehicles of the future, which are not expected to surpass 60 mpgghg,” Griffith said.  “But clearly, more renewable energy leads to much lower emissions for grid-powered electric vehicles.”

“If Michigan decides to lead the country in its renewable-energy strategy, it’s also possible that we’d see a positive impact on EV production and adoption as consumers come to appreciate the additional environmental benefit of EV’s,” he said. “This would be a win-win: the state’s electricity production becomes increasingly sustainable and low impact, while a home-grown automobile industry off-shoot thrives and gains greater popularity due to its impressive contribution to reducing global-warming emissions.”

EcoLink — May 2013 Ecolink
An online publication of the Ecology Center

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