"What about the coal used to charge that electric car?"

It's a common criticism of the electric car. So do the naysayers have a point?

Electric vehicles are by no means "zero emission" if you look at their entire lifecycle. But as Melissa noted in her post on charging electric cars, these vehicles are still considerably more efficient than most of their gasoline counterparts. This viewpoint is echoed over at Renewable Energy World, where Max Baumhefner of the NRDC and Cecilia Springer of Climate Advisers review the current state of research on electric vehicle emissions. Using the typical mix of sources of the American electrical grid, they conclude, your average electric car emits half the emissions of your average new vehicle. (It still comes out on top when manufacturing emissions are factored in too.)

What's more interesting, however, is how this picture will change over time:

It’s essential to take a long view when examining vehicle electrification because the electric grid doesn’t stand still. Since the time we published that report, the EPA has adopted power plant standards for mercury and other air toxics, ozone-forming emissions, fine particulate pollution, soot and coal ash, proposed standards for greenhouse gases from new power plants, and has been directed by the president to adopt greenhouse gas standards for existing plants. Meanwhile, twenty-nine states have adopted renewable energy targets to reduce emissions. Driving on renewable electricity is virtually emissions-free.
The rapid growth of renewables, restrictions on power plant emissions, and a shift to cleaner fuels mean that carbon emissions per mile will continue to improve during the life of an electric vehicle.

But even this point undersells the value of the electric car.

From electric cars being marketed alongside solar panels to clean energy-powered charging networks and solar parking lots, electric cars can be a gateway drug for increasing renewables. After all, once you've declared independence from your local gas station, it's a logical next step to declare complete energy independence — installing solar panels for true emissions-free driving. And then there's the promise of smart grid-connected vehicles, storing excess energy and feeding it back when it is needed. (Tesla is also looking at recycling old car batteries into home storage systems.)

It's well documented that our relationship to the car is changing. And, as decentralized energy production becomes more common, our relationship to energy is changing too.

The confluence of these two trends may be more than the sum of its parts.

As if to illustrate that point, here's CNN reporting on Ford's cross-marketing of solar and the electric Ford Focus:

Related on MNN:

Electric cars are green, and they will only get greener
Emissions from electric cars are already low. As the grid gets greener, that will only improve.