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Driving An Electric Vehicle Is Far Cleaner Than Driving On Gasoline


Driving an electric vehicle (EV) has obvious climate benefits: zero tailpipe emissions. But because EVs are charged by power grids that burn fossil fuels, they aren’t necessarily zero-carbon. An EV’s carbon footprint depends on whether its power comes from renewables or fossil, and quantifying exactly how clean EVs are compared to gasoline-powered vehicles has been tough – until now.

New data shows that in every corner of the United States, driving an EV produces significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than cars powered only by gasoline, regardless of the local power mix. Today, an average EV on the road in the U.S. has the same greenhouse-gas emissions as a car getting 80 miles per gallon (MPG). That’s up from 73 MPG in 2017, and far greater than the average gas-powered car available for sale in the U.S., which hit a record 24.7 MPG in 2016.

Average miles per gallon equivalent of electric vehicles, 2018


Average EV emissions have continued to decline over time thanks to accelerating coal plant closures and the decarbonization of America’s power sector (down 28% since 2007), so while burning gasoline won’t get much cleaner, driving on electricity can get cleaner every year – saving billions in health expenses and climate impacts along the way.

Average U.S. EV Emissions Equal 80 MPG In A Gas-Powered Car

The EV emissions analysis comes from the Union of Concerned Scientists(UCS), and is based on transportation fuels emissions estimates from Argonne National Laboratory and power plant emissions data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

UCS finds driving on electricity is far cleaner than gasoline – charging up an EV equals 50 MPG for 75% of U.S. drivers, and it’s much higher in regions where clean power composes a significant portion of the power mix: 102 MPG in New England, 109 MPG in California, and a whopping 191 MPG in New York State. UCS also provides comparative emissions data down to the zip code via their online calculator – for instance in my Oakland, California zip code the average new car powered only by gasoline gets 29 MPG compared to 114 MPG for an EV.

This difference between gas-powered cars and EVs is important to U.S. climate change concerns. A typical gas-powered car emits around a pound of carbon dioxide per mile traveled, and the U.S. reached an all-time high of 3.17 trillion annual vehicle miles traveled in 2016. As a result, transportation sector emissions supplanted power plant emissions as America’s top source of emissions for the first time in 2016, while electricity emissions continued a decade-long decline.

Tailpipe emissions also carry a hefty human health price tag: The American Lung Association says gasoline-powered transportation costs $37 billion in hidden impacts like asthma attacks, premature deaths, lost work days, and hospital visits across just 10 states.  Since Americans won’t stop driving cars any time soon, the cars on our roads must be as clean as possible – to get serious about cutting emissions, we must rapidly electrify transportation.

EV Sales Increasing In Time to Tap Cleaner U.S. Electricity

EV sales are rising in the U.S. just in time to capitalize on the influx of cheap and clean generation coming online across the country. EV prices are falling rapidly, and many analysts project they will soon overtake gas-powered engines as the primary source of new car sales in America.

200,000 EVs were sold across the U.S. in 2017, up from 158,000 in 2016, and sales grew an average of 32% annually between 2012 and 2016. More than 760,000 EVs are currently on the road, and while EV sales are slightly more than 1% of total U.S. light-duty vehicle sales today, they could compose 65% of all new U.S. light-duty vehicle sales by 2050.

U.S. electric vehicle deployment forecast to 2050


These rapid market expansions are happening due to rapid technology cost declines – lithium-ion battery prices have fallen 73% since 2010 and could decline another 70% by 2030, pushing EVs to price parity with gas-powered cars by 2025.

The emissions-reduction potential of EVs may hinge upon the U.S. grid’s power mix, but nearly every power plant retired since 2008 has been powered by fossil fuels, and the wave of utilities retiring coal plants sped up in 2017. Renewable energy cost declines have fallen apace, making renewables the cheapest available source of new electricity without subsidies in 2017, helping push renewable energy up to 18% of total U.S. generation – double the amount from a decade ago.

The effect of all this clean electricity being added across the country is clear in the emissions profile of EVs – driving an EV has gotten much cleaner in nearly every region of the U.S. in the past decade.

2009 UCS data in the graphic below shows just how fast EV MPG has risen: New England jumped from 75 MPG to 102 MPG, California accelerated from 78 MPG to 109 MPG, and New York State surged from 115 MPG to 191 MPG.

Average miles per gallon equivalent of electric vehicles, 2009


Smart Policy Can Help Drivers Go Further, Cleaner Than Ever Before

Decarbonizing our power supply is integral to making EVs cleaner, but truly plugging into the potential of EVs to decarbonize the U.S. transportation sector requires policies to accelerate consumer adoption of EVs:

  • Federal and state subsidies, which have been among the most effective policies to promote EVs up to this point, can be phased out as decreased battery costs and increased EV production lowers overall vehicle costs.
  • Governments and private entities can also accelerate EV adoption by expanding charging station access through consumer incentives, updated building codes, or permitting utilities to build charging infrastructure – which in turn allows utilities to increase stagnant power sales and increase grid stability.
  • Automakers themselves can increase EV adoption (and boost their own fortunes) by increasing awareness about the cost advantages of their ever-increasing assortment of EV models for sale – consumer awareness of EV availability continues to lag behind the number of electrified vehicles on the road.

Charging can also become a way to reduce the cost of renewables.  Unlike necessities like lighting, device charging, or air conditioning, electric vehicle charging is one of the most elastic sources of electricity demand – as long as charging is available, fast, and convenient.  Momentary fluctuations from wind and solar due to gusts of wind or cloud cover can be easily offset through managed EV fleet charging, and EVs can soak up excess renewable energy at cheap charging rates when solar or wind electricity is plentiful.

Vehicle electrification is a critical aspect of transportation sector decarbonization, and America’s rapid power sector decarbonization means EV drivers can go further, cleaner than ever before.

By Silvio MarcacciCommunications Director at Energy Innovation, where he leads all public relations and communications efforts.



28 Comments on "Driving An Electric Vehicle Is Far Cleaner Than Driving On Gasoline"

  1. MASTERMIND on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 1:34 pm 

    Bullshit! A small BMW or Honda produces less emissions than a Tesla model 3. Once you include the battery manufacturing and charging it. And considering you can’t take an EV out of the city. They are pretty much useless to most people. And only around 1/3 of Americans have garages to charge them. Most people who live in cities park on the street. EV’s are a cult purchase for rich yuppies who drive them as a status symbol.

  2. rockman on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 2:42 pm 

    MM – And some more gray clouds to go along with those silver linings:

    “200,000 EVs were sold across the U.S. in 2017…” Over 17 million ICE’s were sold in the US in 2017. IOW EV’s made up 1.17% of the vehicles sold in the US last year. They can spin the % increase in EV sales all they want. It doesn’t change the fact that for EV sold last year almost 90 ICE’s were sold.

    And 2/3 of the electricity powering the hundreds of thousands of new EV’s in China is generated from burning coal. BTW 60,000 of those EV’s sold in the US last year are being powered by electricity generated by burning coal.

  3. Outcast_Searcher on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 3:04 pm 

    Good old Mastermindless. Ranting instead of facts. If you didn’t constantly prattle completely useless drivel, making you lack any credibility, maybe people could take you seriously about some issues.

    Let’s keep pretending things never change and technology never changes. How has that worked out for you re electronic technology in recent decades?

  4. MASTERMIND on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 3:24 pm 


    Here is my source and facts..Careful what we wish for!

    I even included a picture of the mining trucks they use to mine the lithium for EV’s 1200lb batteries…They burn around one gallon of fuel every 30 seconds! So if you want to increase oil demand keep buying EV’S! LOL

  5. MASTERMIND on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 3:29 pm 


    Good points..Yes if you do the math the numbers just don’t add up! The only good EV is a golf cart! Im sure when Tesla finally goes bankrupt though there will tons of movies made called ‘Who killed Tesla?”..And they will falsely claim the big bad oil industry.

  6. asg70 on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 3:41 pm 


    Well gee, I guess we should just keep driving gas cars. So much for concern over oil supplies…

  7. Kenz300 on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 4:06 pm 

    Electric 🙂
    No stopping at gas stations, no oil changes, less over all maintenance, no emissions, no noise..
    Electric cars, Electric taxis, electric trucks, electric trains and trolleys, electric buses, electric excavators, electric ore haulers, electric scooters, electric bikes, electric lawn mowers, electric snow blowers and electric tools.
    The future is electric. Fossil fuels are the past. Clean air is possible and you save money too.

  8. Dredd on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 4:36 pm 

    Antarctica is proof of it (Antarctica 2.0 – 4).

  9. Anonymouse1 on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 5:15 pm 

    Forbes, lol. Experts at drawing a lie, out of a truthful statement. Not unlike narrativeman. He likes to combines lies with truthful statements as well as part of his shills bag of rhetorical tricks. Yes, EVs are ‘cleaner’ at the point of use. (This is a truthful statement-in a very narrow sense). Everything else about the private 2 ton electrically powered lattle-fetchers, is dirty. From mining, to production, distribution, the roads they travel on, enforcement and disposal. IoW, the entire life-cycle of the EV is as every bit as ‘dirty’ as their oil-burning counterparts.

    The rhetorical trick Forbes is performing here is pretty standard. They even admit EVs are only as clean as their primary source. Sounds almost honest. Except, that is as far as they go. Tail pipe, and primary energy. That is it. No other embodied costs, energy or materials, are mentioned. EV’s will not save car-dependency and the suburban drive-shope-consume complex anymore than flying cars, robo cars, or zero-point energy cars would.

    Right KenZtard?

  10. Davy on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 5:27 pm 

    Weasel, Rockman is a respected contributor. You are an extremist anti-American prick, huge difference. He shows respect but you personify dirty and nasty. One needs only follow your gaudy dialect to understand where your brain is. I have never read a lie from Rockman. I have caught you in multiple lies and

  11. jawagord on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 5:40 pm 

    I was expecting a picture of Obama riding a Unicorn jumping over a rainbow to accompany this article. Not sure how plug-in hybrid vehicles count as EV? About the only thing I can agree with in this article is the low to zero tailpipe emissions of EV vehicles are good for the local environment (and by emissions I mean – Unburnt Hydrocarbons, Particulates, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrous Oxides

  12. Boat on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 8:53 pm 

    Never mentioned but loved every where is the gas saving/time saving zero turning radius mower. Thank God for this exceptional tech. Millions of kids are saved from horrible work and injury.

  13. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 2:42 am 

    Yes, thanks goodness for w/e the fook that is boatwetard. And don’t forget the miracle of flat-screen TVs either, retard. Think of all the millions of brain cells saved from horrible thinking and reflection.

  14. MASTERMIND on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 3:07 am 


    You dont save any money on gasoline because you have to buy an expensive 1200 lb 5k dollar battery every five years on average..You forgot to mention that little point. And electric trucks dont work because the battery weighs thousands of pounds and you can only haul less than half of what a normal truck would.

  15. Kat C on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 5:36 am 

    Further support for MM’s contention
    “Toyota is trying to make electrified vehicles less dependent on Chinese minerals
    Toyota’s new magnet for electric motors uses far fewer rare-earth elements.
    Rare earths may become increasingly expensive as electronic demand rises.
    China controls the vast majority of the market.”
    Note the word “trying” Besides the obvious political implications of depending on China if we go all electric car, there is the terrible pollution the mining is causing in China….but hey that’s not here right.
    And of course we have not yet seen the increase in windpowered ships (you know, ones with sails) to get those rare earths from China have we.
    Hmmm shipping emissions 17% of global emssions of CO2. Yet no word of the return of the clipper ship.

  16. fmr-paultard on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 7:49 am 

    kat c, be careful letting feminized brain have too much sway. i’m not anti women like eurotard. you’re talking to a chemist so keep that in mind.

    i’m disappointed to figured that dreamliner 787 was built by feminized brains. we seem to produce too many supertards with feminized brain.

    we need to train our supertards to understand that the manufacturing process is complex and thinking alone accounts for only a small effort. this is why gearheads excel in what they do. we let airbus eat our lunch and this is not good.

  17. fmr-paultard on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 7:51 am 

    please bro when you start your boring lab job please don’t grab luke 22:36, please? could you discuss your plan for breeding? i surmise your plan is nonstarter and you’re being bred instead. at least if we use luke 22:36 to defend christians they may let us breed them.

  18. Kat C on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 8:37 am 

    fnr-paultard my femine brain writes much more coherently than you do.

    On other blogs when I used a gender neutral name bloggers referred to me as male. You are letting your testosterone fed brain create bias based on my gender. From my experience being assumed to be male when I use a gender neutral name I gather that my comments are not different from other male comments.

    Please try to write clearly, stop insulting, and provide links to back your assertions.

  19. fmr-paultard on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 8:51 am 

    kat u’re too easily offended. it’d been sufficient to say i’d been patronizing. u creating endless drama

  20. _______..... on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 11:20 am 

    As long as the degenarate pig-apes feel the need to travel at more than 10mph you are all fucked but not because of co2

  21. Kat C on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 11:30 am 

    Oh come on paul. All the discussions on Peak Oil revolve into people being offended, insulting and creating endless drama and ignoring those who post coherent comments with documentation.

    You wrote “we seem to produce too many supertards with feminized brain.” Please explain how that is not insulting.

    If you disagree with any comment I have written, disagree with what I said and provide links to back up your claims (in dissertations and books these are called footnotes). Don’t refer to my gender. What is a feminized brain. Did Margaret Thatcher have one. Did Marie Curie have one. If you think there is some special feminizing factor, explain what it is and how it is unique to women’s brains and never seen in human’s brains.

    I made the testosterone comment to show you how silly the gender stuff is on a blog discussion for I can sling gender terms like anyone else if they are slung at me. I only do that when attacked because of course your gender has nothing to do with whether you are providing intelligent, logical information backed with some sort of proof.

    So all you guys here, forget the gender stuff and deal with the issues and facts.

  22. Kat C on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 11:31 am 

    ooops “never seen in men’s brains”

  23. kanon on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 11:31 am 

    Expect the fossil fuel fans to become more shrill as electric cars become more popular and renewable electricity production increases. Our “dependence” in fossil fuel powered transportation is as contrived as the Russia hacking story.

  24. Antius on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 12:55 pm 

    “What is a feminized brain. Did Margaret Thatcher have one. Did Marie Curie have one.”

    Women that find their way into science and engineering (like both of the above) tend to think analytically. This is a common male trait, less common in women. Not something you can really develop, you either have it or you don’t. That is why you see far fewer women in analytical jobs, like engineering. You either have a taste for that sort of thing or you don’t.

    Analytical women can be more fun to be around. You can watch sci-fi together. You can speculate on things that wouldn’t interest the average woman. But you are either born in that club or you aren’t.

    Men and women do tend to think differently and tend to gravitate towards different careers.

  25. peakyeast on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 1:46 pm 

    Far cleaner than my LUPO that gives me 90MPG in actual usage?

    But I have been in the US where even students drive Hummers while ignoring the abject poverty of others – it is hard to imagine something more wasteful and stupid.

  26. Kat C on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 8:28 pm 

    Antius it may be true that more men than women have brains that work better in jobs like engineering. There are also many men who don’t opt for engineering or the like. There are even men who are cooks, child care workers, and english majors. But the key word is more. So if one wants to criticize a post they can say “you don’t have a very analytical brain” and that would cover the women (larger percent) and the men (smaller percent). How much better to counter a post with facts and logic tho. If men want to brag on their more analytical brain they should use it to respond with well reasoned, logical posts that quote facts and support them with links.
    The name calling on this site is not the product of analytical brains although it doesn’t rule out that the name callers might have analytical brains. They are just not using them.

  27. Kat C on Tue, 27th Mar 2018 8:37 pm 

    Kanon….so where is the fleet of clipper ships that is going to go get our rare earth minerals for the batteries for these cars. And where are the replacements when they run out or China won’t sell them?

    Do we care that some are mined by children in Africa?

    Do we care about the pollution and poisoning of villages where rare earths are mined and refined?

  28. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Apr 2018 4:57 am 

    Reason why autonomous Tesla “driver” got killed. According to Tesla he ignored acoustic warnings from the auto-pilot. During the last 6 seconds before impact the “driver” did not have his hands on the steering wheel.

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