Your electric car runs on coal

Yeah, they have been talking about this issue for a while now. Any time you plug in an electric car, you don’t actually have a zero-emissions car, you have a displaced emissions car. The emissions from the power generation of your vehicle don’t come from your car, they come from a central power plant. In Seattle, that’s mostly Hydro Power, But we are the exception to the rule.

From USA Today (McPaper):

The expected introduction of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles could cut U.S. gasoline use but could increase deadly air pollution in some areas, two reports say.

That’s because a plug-in’s lower tailpipe emissions may be offset by smokestack emissions from the utility generating plants supplying electricity to recharge the big batteries that allow plug-ins to run up to 40 miles without kicking on their gasoline engines. Plug-ins, called PHEVs, are partly powered, in effect, by the fuel used to generate the electricity.

PHOTOS: Plug-in hybrids

About 49% of U.S. electricity is generated using coal, so in some regions a plug-in running on its batteries is nearly the equivalent of a coal-burning vehicle. The trade-off is one that even plug-in backers acknowledge. It could undercut the appeal of vehicles that appear capable of using no gasoline in town and hitting 50 to 100 mpg overall fuel economy.

If large numbers of plug-in hybrids were being recharged with power from the least-sophisticated coal plants, "There is a possibility for significant increases of soot and mercury," says a report by environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council. Soot particles can make it hard to breathe, especially for asthmatics. Mercury is toxic.

I still want one of these cars, because I think it is an easier problem to solve to clean up a few hundred power plants across the US, rather than a few million cars. But the problem doesn’t go away by buying the car…

Update: I posted this to Daily Kos and it is a really hot topic!

Plug-in cars could actually increase air pollution – USATODAY.com