Electric vehicles (EV) don’t produce any greenhouse gas emissions via a tailpipe, in fact the all-electric Nissan Leaf doesn’t even have a tailpipe, but there are still global warming emissions associated with owning an electric vehicle. EV naysayers often cite the coal-fired power provider used to recharge an electric vehicle’s battery as proof that the EV still produces emissions and a new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists tackles that issue.


In the report, State of Charge (PDF), UCS researchers focused on three key issues:


  1. Is an electric car better than a gasoline vehicle on global warming emissions?
  2. How much does it cost to charge an electric vehicle in different cities around the country?
  3. How do EVs such as the Chevy Volt, Mitsubishi “i,” and Nissan LEAF compare with each other and with gasoline vehicles on global warming emissions and fueling costs?

The results vary by region as some parts of the country rely more strongly on coal-fired power plants while other regions receive energy from a variety of sources. On a national level, EVs do produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a gasoline-powered vehicle with a 27 miles per gallon fuel efficiency rating. The UCS report further breaks this figure down by region.


  • 45 percent of Americans that live in the “best” regions for cleaner electricity production will produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a 50 mpg plus rated hybrid
  • 37 percent of Americans live in the “better” areas of the country where the emissions created by recharging an electric vehicle put the EV on par with a hybrid that achieves 41 – 50 mpg
  • 18 percent of Americans live in the “good” region, areas more reliant on coal-fired power plants, and this puts an EV on par with a non-hybrid vehicle that achieves between 31 and 40 miles per gallon

In addition to comparing the greenhouse gas emissions of charging an EV with the emissions associated with some of the most fuel efficient cars on the road today, the UCS researchers also examined the charging costs in 50 cities. When looking at cities with the best rate plans, an electric vehicle owner could save between $750 and $1,200 a year on fuel when compared to a 27 mile per gallon vehicle refueling at $3.50 per gallon.


Overall, the electric vehicle bests even the most fuel-efficient vehicles in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel cost savings. As more electric vehicles are introduced to the market, including the summer release of the Honda Fit Electric, more Americans may find the data presented by the UCS an important part of their car-buying process.

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