web stats
ElectricVehicles | Community

Fifty Shades of Green:
The Varied Environmental Impacts of Electric Vehicles

The term electric vehicle can refer to multiple technologies including plug-in hybrid, fuel cell electric, and battery electric. Conventional hybrid vehicles have an internal combustion engine just like conventional cars, can be fueled with gasoline like conventional cars, but also have an electric motor and battery to enable the car to be powered either by the internal combustion engine or the electric motor. Although opinions differ, conventional hybrid vehicles are not usually included among electric vehicle technologies. Over 380,000 hybrid cars were sold in the United States in 2016, and many consider the conventional hybrid vehicle design a transition technology, allowing consumers to gradually transition from conventional, internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles.

Closest in design to the conventional hybrid car is the
plug-in hybrid which has both an electric motor and a conventional internal combustion engine; the large battery which powers the electric motor can be plugged in to recharge it. When the battery runs out of charge, the internal combustion engine takes over and the plug-in hybrid operates like a traditional car, whether on diesel or on gasoline. While the plug-in hybrid has longer overall range than a battery electric vehicle, its purely electric range is shorter than that of a battery electric vehicle.

fuel cell electric vehicle converts hydrogen gas into the necessary electricity to power an electric motor and battery. Fuel cell technology is relatively new and does not yet have widespread consumer appeal and application.

battery electric vehicle has an electric motor and no internal combustion engine. It is entirely powered on electricity which is drawn from the power grid (by plugging the vehicle in) and charging a battery pack for use. Like most electric and hybrid vehicles, the battery electric vehicle (or BEV) turns off when idling and uses energy from braking to recharge the on-board battery.

Over 540,000 electric vehicles (BEV or plug-in hybrid) are now on the roads in the United States. California leads the charge with the most electric vehicle sales in 2016 and the most overall electric vehicles on the roads, while Wyoming comes in last in this regard.

Both plug-in electric vehicle technologies (
plug-in hybrid and battery electric) have greatly reduced tailpipe emissions compared to conventional vehicles which operate entirely on internal combustion engines. Battery electric vehicles, in particular, have zero tailpipe emissions and emit no greenhouse gases during use. While almost all BEVs are more environmentally friendly than vehicles using conventional internal combustion engines, the environmental advantage varies by state, depending on how the electricity used to charge the vehicle is generated.

The Fifty Shades of Green (variations in environmental impact of electric vehicles by state) can be explored by clicking on a state of interest in the map of the United States at the top of this page. States which rely heavily on coal for electricity production provide less net environmental benefit in electric vehicle use while states which rely more heavily on renewable energy sources like wind and hydroelectric power have greater net environmental benefit.