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Electric Vehicles and Carbon Emission Info
Old 02-06-2011, 11:48 PM   #1
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Electric Vehicles and Carbon Emission Info

This seems like the best data I've found on just how much we could expect an EV to actually reduce carbon emissions. It lets you select from several areas in the US, and measure the carbon emission of the electrical generation to power the EV, and compares it to a hybrid (non-plug in). They also compare plug-in hybrids.

For much of the US, the EV actually creates more carbon emissions than a hybrid. The best case (California area, largely NG powered plants), the improvement is about 37%. Significant, but a long way from 'zero emissions' and all the hype, and largely offset by the 36% worse performance in other areas (midwest coal plants).

The Dirty Truth about Plug-in Hybrids, Made Interactive: Scientific American

Sounds like maybe EVs should be banned in some of those areas?


In my Chromium browser, it seemed like I had to click on the Zemi Media link and go back before it would load the interactive media?

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Old 02-07-2011, 07:40 AM   #2
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Seems the article misses a few things.
First, it apparently (I am not a subscriber so couldn't see the whole article.) omits hydro power. Reasoning that hydro power is not used in off peak hours.
Was any modeling done for different market penetration levels?
Right now, and in the next couple of years, the number of EVs is so small as to have little effect.

I do agree our grid is the area we need to clean up the most.
But I also believe many of the early adopters that are concerned abou the environment will offset their EV power needs with conservation and or Renewables.

Also, often not taken into effect, if you are going to take into account the CO2 emissions in the production and transport of electriciy, you should also compare that with the tailpipe PLUS refining and transport of the gasoline used (from refinery to gas station). Otherwise you are not comparing apples to apples.
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Old 02-07-2011, 08:29 AM   #3
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I couldn't read the full article either, I'll take a look at the library soon. But from the comments, it seems their view on hydro is that EVs are an added drain on the current grid, so any added power would come from the sources they mention. I'm not convinced that is a 100% correct way to look at it, but it is a consideration.

Are more hydro plants being proposed, or are we mostly tapped out on those (I don't know)? There is also the question about hydro actually creating large amounts of carbon, due to the die off of the vegetation from the damming.

Assuming that most EVs would charge overnight, I think the best way to look at it is how would any extra off-peak 'juice' be created.

This article (link from the comments):

Consumer Energy Center Renewable Energy

says that CA gets ~ 16.5% of its power from hydro - significant, but it isn't going to move the number that much (or maybe backwards if the carbon from dams is as bad as some indicate). If we assign zero carbon to hydro, it would take the CA # from 26.5% better for EVs to 31.7% better. But no offset for most of the country.

Further, that article mentions some hydro that utilizes "pumped storage", using the hydro for peaks, and then pumping the water back on the off-peak. They don't give a number for how much these are used, but clearly that hydro power would not be available for charging at night.

I won't accept those numbers as 'gospel', but I think there is something to them. EVs aren't near the pollution eliminators that most people think, and getting a million on the road by 2015 isn't going to be a drop in the bucket regarding pollution or even fuel gasoline use. Increasing the mpg of the rest of the fleet by just 0.5% would reduce fuel use more ( just 0.1mpg on a 20 mpg car ) and reduce carbon even more. That would be fuel not burned at all, so clearly zero pollution associated with that (OK, offset by whatever carbon might be used to produce whatever added pollution equipment might be required). Maybe this EV push is misdirected?

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Also, often not taken into effect, if you are going to take into account the CO2 emissions in the production and transport of electriciy, you should also compare that with the tailpipe PLUS refining and transport of the gasoline used (from refinery to gas station). Otherwise you are not comparing apples to apples.
I'm pretty sure (but need to verify) that they only counted the carbon emissions of the fuel consumed in each case. That seems pretty apples-to-apples to me. Why include the refining & transport of fuel to the gas station if we are not including the processing and transport of the coal or natural gas to the electric plants? I'm guessing they'd be small numbers in either case.

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Old 02-07-2011, 09:21 AM   #4
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The author provided additional input in the comments section:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/ar...ids#comment-44


comment #44 if that link does not take you directly there.

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Old 02-07-2011, 09:52 AM   #5
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Stick to all-American vehicles. Alas, coal-fired cars are scarce, but at least we can make diesel from coal.



That ain't soot. They're Freedom Fumes.

(Coal fired power plants can have equipment that you won't find on a vehicle, such as stack gas scrubbers and particulate filters. We have lots of coal. Even if electric vehicles are ultimately coal-powered, the result should be less pollutants, and less imported oil.)
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Old 02-07-2011, 10:45 AM   #6
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(Coal fired power plants can have equipment that you won't find on a vehicle, such as stack gas scrubbers and particulate filters. We have lots of coal. Even if electric vehicles are ultimately coal-powered, the result should be less pollutants, and less imported oil.)
But that is the point of the article - a coal-fired electric car produces more pollutants. And regardless of what we can do, I haven't seen catalytic converters on a coal plant.

Sure we would use less oil overall, but I'm not convinced that is such a good thing if it is replaced with coal. Coal mines have a huge environmental impact, I would guess that overall it is much worse than drilling for the same amount of oil energy. Sure, there is the occasional high profile oil spill, but every coal mine is creating environmental damage, every day, and it doesn't make headlines because it is 'normal'.

I still fall back on conservation for most of these things. There is little environmental cost to a gallon of gas not consumed or a kWh of electricity not used.

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Old 02-07-2011, 11:48 AM   #7
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But that is the point of the article - a coal-fired electric car produces more pollutants. And regardless of what we can do, I haven't seen catalytic converters on a coal plant.
I was just suggesting indirectly that it's easier to design in or retrofit stack gas scrubbing on a small set of coal plants than it is to continually inspect, maintain, and otherwise repair a 100 million vehicle fleet. Particularly in view of how some folks around my neighborhood 'maintain' their vehicle fleets.

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Sure we would use less oil overall, but I'm not convinced that is such a good thing if it is replaced with coal. Coal mines have a huge environmental impact, I would guess that overall it is much worse than drilling for the same amount of oil energy. Sure, there is the occasional high profile oil spill, but every coal mine is creating environmental damage, every day, and it doesn't make headlines because it is 'normal'.
The good news is that by slowly migrating to an electric fleet of vehicles, we open up the possibility of switching power sources pretty easily. If we decide to go ahead with a move to more nuclear power for the electrical network's base loads, then we find ourselves with a fleet of (indirectly) nuclear powered vehicles.

That could be handy, what with Somebody Else holding a kill switch for part of 'our' oil supply.

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I still fall back on conservation for most of these things. There is little environmental cost to a gallon of gas not consumed or a kWh of electricity not used.
Absolutely. Higher efficiency, or conservation is probably the cheapest way to have a significant impact.
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Old 02-07-2011, 01:50 PM   #8
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The good news is that by slowly migrating to an electric fleet of vehicles, we open up the possibility of switching power sources pretty easily. If we decide to go ahead with a move to more nuclear power for the electrical network's base loads, then we find ourselves with a fleet of (indirectly) nuclear powered vehicles.
True. Electricity is just a transfer medium, and if our vehicle fleet were mostly plug-in, we could, theoretically, use anything to make the electricity.

But . . . cars only last about 10 years, and so we could switch to any new fuel for our vehicle fleet rapidly enough if the infrastructure were (some people say "was") in place. OTOH, power plants last a long time, and refitting them with pollution control technology seems to take a long time, too.

We'll probably end up with a mix of vehicles, some being plug-ins and many being powered by some type of liquid fuel like we use today. The energy density of liquid fuels is unlikely to be challenged anytime soon, and the infrastructure of fueling stations, storage, etc is already here. I think methanol (aka "wood alcohol") may end up being the liquid fuel of choice--it can be made economically from natural gas, it can be mixed with gasoline (M85) to operate in flex-fuel vehicles, it can be made from a wide variety of "junk" biomass (unlike ethanol) and in pure form it may be a good fuel for electric fuel-cell vehicles.
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Old 02-08-2011, 07:47 AM   #9
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I'm pretty sure (but need to verify) that they only counted the carbon emissions of the fuel consumed in each case. That seems pretty apples-to-apples to me. Why include the refining & transport of fuel to the gas station if we are not including the processing and transport of the coal or natural gas to the electric plants? I'm guessing they'd be small numbers in either case.

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Seems to me that the comparison should either be pump vs outlet to wheel, or 'well' to wheel in both cases.
When you take into account the generation and transportation of the electricity it seems to make a valid comparison you should also include the generation and production of gasoline.
If you want to include the mining of the coal, that is perfectly valid, but you then need to include the drilling and transport of the crude oil to the refiner.
I suspect the numbers are a lot bigger than you think. Especially if you include the expense of our presence in oil producing nation to keep those supplies secure (which gets very difficult to do, I prefer using the DOD numbers on that).

As for conservation, I completely agree! The easiest, first step is conservation. It would be nice if more would do so

-edit- could not find the DOD link, however here is a full paper on military cost in the Persian Gulf: http://www.its.ucdavis.edu/publicati...3(15)_rev3.pdf

I still prefer using the military's own estimates though.
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Old 02-08-2011, 10:36 AM   #10
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Seems to me that the comparison should either be pump vs outlet to wheel, or 'well' to wheel in both cases.
Well-to-wheel makes sense for comparison purposes, but I don't see where a pump compares to the outlet at all. If we are trying to take even a rough look at carbon emissions, we have to include the burning of the fuel to drive the car. The electricity doesn't get to the outlet w/o burning hydrocarbon fuel for most of the US.

For the next few decades at least, burning hydrocarbons is an intrinsic part of the process for getting an EV to go a single mile for the average US consumer. We can't just ignore it.


Quote:
When you take into account the generation and transportation of the electricity it seems to make a valid comparison you should also include the generation and production of gasoline.
If you want to include the mining of the coal, that is perfectly valid, but you then need to include the drilling and transport of the crude oil to the refiner.
OK, anyone got numbers?


Quote:
I suspect the numbers are a lot bigger than you think. Especially if you include the expense of our presence in oil producing nation to keep those supplies secure (which gets very difficult to do, I prefer using the DOD numbers on that).
You are jumping from carbon emissions to $. We can discuss both, but let's not mix them. I can't see how 1 million EVs on the road (an ~ half percent reduction in gasoline consumption) is going to allow us to significantly change our presence in the Persian Gulf. Also consider there aren't any road taxes in that electricity.


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As for conservation, I completely agree! The easiest, first step is conservation. It would be nice if more would do so
And one of my gripes is, instead of subsidizing actual conservation, the govt subsidizes 'things'. A 95% furnace qualifies for a federal rebate, but a 94% doesn't, regardless of how I set my thermostat. I'm probably conserving more by repairing my old furnace over buying a new one, and keeping my heat low - It would be nice if more would do so - but no incentive from Uncle Sam.

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Old 02-08-2011, 11:00 AM   #11
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OK, I found something that looks to be relevant:

Electric car - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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An EV recharged from the existing US grid electricity emits about 115 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven (6.5 oz(CO2)/mi), whereas a conventional US-market gasoline powered car emits 250 g(CO2)/km (14 oz(CO2)/mi) (most from its tailpipe, some from the production and distribution of gasoline).[69] The savings are questionable relative to hybrid or diesel cars, (according to official British government testing, the most efficient European market cars are well below 115 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven, although a study in Scotland gave 149.5gCO2/km as the average for new cars in the UK[70]), but would be more significant in countries with cleaner electric infrastructure.
OK, so an EV appears to cut carbon emissions about in half (a long way from 'zero'), compared to a conventional gas powered car ( I'm not sure they adjusted for size here). But a hybrid improves significantly over that, so the delta would be pretty marginal. It just doesn't seem like some ant-pollution 'silver bullet' to me.

Quote:
In a worst case scenario where incremental electricity demand would be met exclusively with coal, a 2009 study conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature and IZES found that a mid-size EV would emit roughly 200 g(CO2)/km (11 oz(CO2)/mi), compared with an average of 170 g(CO2)/km (9.7 oz(CO2)/mi) for a gasoline powered compact car.[71] This study concluded that introducing 1 million EV cars to Germany would, in the best case scenario, only reduce CO2 emissions by 0.1%, if nothing is done to upgrade the electricity infrastructure or manage demand.[71]
And 1 million cars in Germany is a much bigger % of the fleet than the US.

Quote:
In France, which has a clean energy grid, CO2 emissions from electric car use would be about 12g per kilometer.[72]
Hmmm, if all the good-intentioned anti-nuke greenies in the 60's and on weren't so anti-nuke, maybe we could make some progress with EVS? 12g/km sure sounds like a significant improvement over 170gm/km in a compact car, or even the 115 gm/km from an EV in the US.

Looks like the greenies were wrong to be anti-nuke, and now they are pro-EV. Maybe we should be a bit more cynical this time?

edit/add: To be blunt - why the hell are our tax dollars going to support EV development? Makes no sense when conservation could do so much more for so much less.

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Old 02-08-2011, 11:11 AM   #12
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Previous studies of hybrid cars showed that the life-cycle (all-in including manufacture and end-of-life disposal) emisions of a hybrid was higher than a Hummer.

I suspect that the EV car is similar
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Old 02-08-2011, 11:53 AM   #13
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Previous studies of hybrid cars showed that the life-cycle (all-in including manufacture and end-of-life disposal) emisions of a hybrid was higher than a Hummer.

I suspect that the EV car is similar
Yeah, and a Hummer is better than riding a bike.

That was a laughable "study" from a marketing company. A better source would the lifecycle studies from such questionable sources as MIT and Carnegie Mellon.
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Old 02-08-2011, 11:53 AM   #14
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Previous studies of hybrid cars showed that the life-cycle (all-in including manufacture and end-of-life disposal) emisions of a hybrid was higher than a Hummer.

I suspect that the EV car is similar
I think those studies were flawed, maybe even bogus. There is an effect there, but it was way overstated in the study floating around the 'net.

But the extra components of the battery/motor in a hybrid do need to be considered in a true cradle-to-grave analysis. One of the things that really bugs me about the subsidies for hybrids is, those cars sit idle 22-23 hours a day. So those batteries/motors hardly get a chance to work off the energy it took to produce them. If we are going to subsidize hybrids, far better to apply the subsidies to high mileage, stop/go vehicles like delivery trucks, mail trucks, taxis, buses, etc.

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Old 02-08-2011, 12:13 PM   #15
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For much of the US, the EV actually creates more carbon emissions than a hybrid. The best case (California area, largely NG powered plants), the improvement is about 37%. Significant, but a long way from 'zero emissions' and all the hype, and largely offset by the 36% worse performance in other areas (midwest coal plants).
I'm not seeing the same numbers you're seeing. For the midwest regions, EVs are slightly better to slightly worse. Oh, now I see -- for the "Greater IL" region they're 36% worse (not to mention that they might have trouble starting in the winters?).

Yeah, EVs are better pollution-wise than hybrids for about 57% of the country (down to the local level). For gas consumption, of course, they're much better everywhere.

What's the problem here? Use hybrids where it's appropriate and use EVs where it's appropriate. It's not rocket surgery.
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Old 02-08-2011, 12:25 PM   #16
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Yeah, EVs are better pollution-wise than hybrids for about 57% of the country (down to the local level). For gas consumption, of course, they're much better everywhere.

What's the problem here? Use hybrids where it's appropriate and use EVs where it's appropriate. It's not rocket surgery.
I agree with you to a point, but there are several problems.

1) EVs are sold as 'zero pollution' - that's bogus. They don't make it clear to the average person the difference between 'tailpipe emissions' and overall pollution.

2) EVs are sold as some sort of solution to global warming - overall, there isn't much there in terms of carbon reduction.

3) Subsidies apply regardless of where they are purchased/used. Taxpayers are being told this is to help the environmental, while there is a good chance the EV could be actually hurting the environment.

Can't we do better?

If we are going to make meaningful progress on environmental matters, we need to use meaningful measures, not just some feel-good, hugs from a polar bear BS.

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Old 02-08-2011, 12:38 PM   #17
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I agree with you to a point, but there are several problems.

1) EVs are sold as 'zero pollution' - that's bogus. They don't make it clear to the average person the difference between 'tailpipe emissions' and overall pollution.

2) EVs are sold as some sort of solution to global warming - overall, there isn't much there in terms of carbon reduction.

3) Subsidies apply regardless of where they are purchased/used. Taxpayers are being told this is to help the environmental, while there is a good chance the EV could be actually hurting the environment.

Can't we do better?
1) They're sold as "zero emissions," which is technically correct. The cars themselves have no emissions -- the power plants do. It's somewhat playing word games but that's marketing for ya.

Nissan Zero Emission Website | Top

I haven't seen any ads promote the cars as "zero pollution."

2) 27% less in CA, the most populous state, sounds like a lot. 26% in TX, the 2nd most populous state, sounds like a lot.

3) Yes, the subsidies should be region based. However, that would add a level of government complexity and it would also make greenies in NY howl in rage.
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Old 02-08-2011, 12:53 PM   #18
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3) Yes, the subsidies should be region based. However, that would add a level of government complexity and it would also make greenies in NY howl in rage.
So? This is what bugs me, we are supposed to do things to appease 'greenies' whether what they propose makes sense or not.

Zero emissions conveys the same as zero pollution. It's more than a word game. Emissions are emissions are pollution are pollution, whether they come out of a tailpipe or a smokestack.



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Old 02-08-2011, 01:12 PM   #19
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So? This is what bugs me, we are supposed to do things to appease 'greenies' whether what they propose makes sense or not.
I think it's more of a lack of insight (to regional power sources) rather than appeasement.

Quote:
Zero emissions conveys the same as zero pollution. It's more than a word game. Emissions are emissions are pollution are pollution, whether they come out of a tailpipe or a smokestack.
It's marketing. If you want more regulation on this, write to your Congress critter.
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Old 02-08-2011, 01:29 PM   #20
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It's marketing. If you want more regulation on this, write to your Congress critter.
The congress critters approved this labeling!

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