Q&A – Is There Really Energy Savings With Electric Vehicles?
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Today’s entry: Brian, I have a topic I’d like you to address. Electric vehicles. It seems every environmental plan now includes adding them including Boca’s. My question is this. Are they really more energy efficient or are they the latest feel-good environmental trend that isn’t that effective? Those who push EV’s often ignore that it takes energy to create electricity to power these vehicles.
Bottom Line: You’re right, whether it’s President Biden talking about the Electric School buses that, ahem, he’s personally test driven, or Boca Raton’s new plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15% over the next three years, electric vehicles are red hot. In fact, it was just last week that the most sizeable EV purchase to date was made. Hertz announced it’d ordered 100,000 Tesla's to be deployed worldwide as part of their plan to create the largest EV fleet in the world. You’re also right that it takes energy to create energy. So, what’s the net-net of it all?
When digging for answers on this topic, it’s important to find the most current research available. Like all newer technologies that are quickly scaling, a lot has changed in a few years. The earliest models produced mixed results from an environmental perspective. While studies showed that there was net energy savings for about 95% of drivers of EV’s, much of the information revealed that the savings might have had as much to do with the typical habits of drivers of EV’s as the vehicles themselves. We’ve since seen bigger delineations and enhanced efficiencies from electric vehicles. 2018 in particular was a big year for overall improvements.
A 2018 study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found the 2018 model year vehicles saved the average user $632 in energy consumption annually. Additionally, they found there was additional environmental benefit due lower maintenance in EV’s due to fewer moving parts, having no exhaust system, less demand on vehicle cooling systems, not needing to change oil, fan belts, air filters, timing belts, head gaskets, cylinder heads and spark plugs. In the study, the researchers found net benefit in every state with the use of EV’s for the first time. The comprehensive study which was reviewed by Harvard scientist James Anderson led to his conclusion that: Electric cars are vastly better than internal combustion devices. But still, when we’re talking about environmental impact specifically, the truest measure of impact is carbon footprint.
A recent study from MIT entitled, Mobility Of The Future – Examining future changes in personal mobility produced an answer based on current EV technology. In their study they illustrated the environmental benefit of electric vehicles is somewhat mitigated due to higher output that’s required to produce EV’s - most specifically the batteries used in the vehicles but that use of the vehicles is far more efficient compared to their gas-powered counterparts. Here are the two most relevant numbers.
- Carbon output per mile for the average EV: 200 grams
- Carbon output per mile for the average internal combustion vehicle: 275 grams
So, the net-net of it is that the average electric vehicle currently available will produce 27% less carbon over the life of the vehicle. Meaningful from an environmental perspective, yes. Lower than many who’re among the strongest advocates for the vehicles? Probably. Now, like all technologies, efficiencies will continue to be realized. The average fuel efficiency for gas-powered vehicles today is 25 mpg. That’s more than double the 12-mpg averaged in 1975. In the MIT study, they project that based on current trends, carbon output from EV’s will drop by another 75% from today’s levels.
So, the net-net of it is that the carbon output of EV’s are now a little more than a quarter lower than their internal combustion counterparts today and will likely continue to build upon that progress at a much faster rate than fuel-powered vehicles in the future. Therefore, if environmentalism is the priority of a government or a family when buying new vehicles, making the move to EV’s can be justified.