New ranges of electric trucks and SUVs are hitting the roads. Automakers are marketing vehicles like Tesla’s Cybertruck, Ford’s F-150 Lightning, Rivian’s R1T pickup truck and GMC’s Hummer EV to customers who prefer to drive large vehicles regardless of fuel efficiency. These new electric vehicles promise drivers the same rugged performance as a combustion engine without burning a drop of oil, with marketing materials bragging about their “watts to freedom” power, torque and acceleration.
But as electric vehicles grow, they consume more energy and, indirectly, generate more carbon emissions. Electric vehicles recharge their batteries by connecting to power grids, which generate most of their electricity by burning fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas account for nearly two-thirds of global electricity production. Until electric utilities switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like wind and solar — which, even with ambitious goals, won’t happen until the 2030s — electric vehicles the most extreme will generate carbon emissions rivaling some hybrid and gas-powered cars.
But even these inefficient electric vehicles can play a role in reducing carbon emissions, if they can convince people who drive gas-guzzling cars and trucks to go electric.
Comparison of EV emissions with gasoline cars
For decades, regulators have assigned hybrid and gas-powered cars a miles-per-gallon (MPG) rating, which measures a car’s fuel efficiency by measuring how many miles it can travel on a gallon of fuel. essence. Regulators give electric vehicles a comparable “miles per gallon equivalent” (MPGe) rating, which measures how far an electric vehicle can travel on 33.7 kilowatt-hours of electricity (roughly the same energy content as a gallon of electricity). ‘essence).
The electric Hummer, for example, has an efficiency rating of 47 MPGe. That’s better than the best-selling gas-powered car on the market, the Toyota Corolla, which gets 30 MPG. But that’s almost three times less efficient than the best-selling electric car on the market, the Tesla Model Y, which scores 125 MPGe.
Miles per gallon is a consistent measure of a car’s carbon emissions. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, burning one gallon of gasoline still releases about 8,887 grams of carbon dioxide. So a Ford F-150 will emit about 444 grams of CO2 on average for every kilometer driven, no matter where it is.
But MPGe is a more fuzzy measure of a car’s carbon footprint, because producing one kilowatt-hour of electricity will create different levels of carbon emissions depending on the mix of fuel sources that a company runs. electricity uses. Globally, producing one kilowatt-hour of electricity emits an average of 475 grams of carbon dioxide, but the figure varies widely from region to region. For example, the average is lower in the EU (231 grams) than in the US (about 386 grams). So the same electric vehicle will create 40% less carbon emissions in the EU than in the US.
Almost every electric vehicle on the market will produce less carbon emissions than a gas-powered car no matter where you charge it, with the exception of the electric Hummer. If loaded onto the world’s average electric grid, the 4.5-ton Hummer EV is worse for the climate than many smaller, more efficient gasoline-burning cars.
But even gas-guzzling electric vehicles can help reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector, as electrifying the least efficient cars and trucks has significant climate benefits. The Hummer EV, for example, generates 62% less carbon emissions than the gasoline-powered Hummer H1. Drivers who switch from a gas-guzzling van to an electric van will reduce carbon emissions more than drivers who already drive a gas-efficient sedan and switch to an efficient electric sedan.
“If you’ve ever talked to a guy who owns a big truck and you’re like, ‘You know what to do? You should get a Nissan Leaf, it’s going to laugh in your face,” said Sara Baldwin, director of electrification policy at think tank Energy Innovation. “I’ve been doing this job for 17 years and I’ve come to terms with the fact that you just can’t change people’s minds about everything. So let’s buy them similar cars [to what they’re already driving] and make them as clean and sustainably constructed as possible. »