Have you ever heard that electric vehicles (EVs) are just as bad for the environment as gasoline-powered cars? Don't believe it for a second! In this article, we'll bust that myth, plus other misconceptions about EVs.
EVs are a reliable vehicle choice.
You can save money in the long run with an EV.
EVs are better for our environment and health than traditional vehicles.
Generally speaking, EVs have a higher upfront price tag than gasoline-powered cars. But this fact alone doesn't give you the full picture of the true cost to own a certain car: even if you pay more upfront to buy an EV, you can often spend less over the car's lifetime.
For one, EV owners can save big on maintenance costs: because EVs have fewer moving parts than cars with internal combustion engines (ICEs), they don't require as many repairs or routine checkups as an ICE vehicle does. In fact, EV and plug-in hybrid car drivers pay about half as much to repair and maintain their cars!
Plus, there are local and federal incentives available that can help reduce the upfront cost of an EV. Incentives vary by location, but regardless of your state, the federal EV tax credit–available to EV purchasers in the U.S.–can help reduce the price of an electric vehicle by up to $7,500.
Lastly, in many areas of the country, fuel costs for an EV are also cheaper. Your savings here not only depend on regional gas prices but electricity prices as well–if you live in a state with low electricity rates, you can save thousands over the lifespan of your car by "fueling up" with electricity instead of gas.
Because upfront costs, fuel charges, and incentives differ by region and vehicle model, we'd be doing you a disservice by providing a rough estimate of how much you can save with an EV. Fortunately, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has made calculating costs and savings a bit easier! Using their Carbon Counter tool, you can compare both the environmental and lifetime costs of specific EV, hybrid and ICE car models and customize the data for your state.
(Oh...and did we mention that Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that EVs will reach upfront price parity with ICEs by the mid-2020s? So even though most EVs cost more upfront now, don't expect it to stay that way for much longer!)
Let's start by confirming one part of this statement: yes, EVs are not a pollution-free technology. Like with all other types of cars, manufacturing an electric vehicle requires the extraction and refinement of metals, transportation of materials, and the assembly of parts – all of which have pollution implications. Manufacturing batteries for EVs is a particularly emission-intensive process.
Plus (and forgive us for stating the obvious here), electric vehicles run on electricity. And electricity isn't always emission-free either, especially in the U.S. – in 2020, roughly 60 percent of utility-scale electricity generation came from fossil fuels. If you charge your EV with electricity from the grid, there's a decent chance that the electricity that runs your car comes from generators burning fossil fuels.
With that out of the way, the good news: on the whole, and even taking into account emissions from cradle-grave, EVs already produce less pollution than gas-powered vehicles. The average EV already produces the climate pollution equivalent of a gas vehicle that gets 88 miles per gallon (mpg). And the delta between pollution from EVs and ICEs will continue to widen for a few reasons:
Our country's electricity grid becomes cleaner each day! In 2020, renewable energy generation surpassed coal generation for the first time in 130 years. More and more states are passing 100 percent clean energy targets, and President Biden has announced a goal of reaching a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035.
EV manufacturers are working hard to improve the environmental impact of EV battery manufacturing; measures include developing cobalt-free batteries, as well as recycling and repurposing used batteries to reduce the amount of new material required for more batteries.
Even when you charge an EV with fossil fuel electricity, it is still more efficient than its gas-powered counterparts and converts more than 77 percent of electric energy from the grid to power at the wheels. In comparison, conventional gasoline vehicles typically convert less than 30 percent of energy from gasoline into wheel power.
And while discussing the lifecycle environmental impact of EVs, we'd be remiss, not to mention direct emissions. Driving an EV means no tailpipe emissions into our atmosphere – none! This helps improve local air quality, reducing the particulate matter pollution that increases instances of asthma, cancer, and heart disease: a recent report from the American Lung Association found that the widespread transition to EVs could help prevent more than $72 billion in public health costs!
If you still need convincing, we have a whole article devoted to comparing the lifecycle environmental impact of EVs and conventional gasoline vehicles – you can take a look here.
A decade ago, this critique had some validity. But EV technology has improved drastically since then, and today, the average range of an EV far exceeds the needs of the average American driver.
Many EV options today allow you to travel more than 200 miles on a single charge, including models from Audi, Nissan, Ford, Chevrolet, Kia, and Hyundai. Tesla also offers multiple models with ranges over 300 miles, and both Tesla and Lucid Motors have announced new battery technologies that will allow forthcoming models to travel as many as 400–or even 500+!–miles without recharging.
And if you do end up taking a long road trip in an EV, it's much easier to find a charging station than it used to be. In 2008, there were only 430 charging ports in the U.S. – by 2019, that number had grown to more than 68,000! Of course, there are more EV chargers available in some regions than others, so we recommend using tools like the EV Trip Planner to find EV charging stations along your route. We also have a separate article about taking a trip in an EV if you're looking for some tips!
After the Texas blackouts, many people are understandably worried about the impact of higher electricity demand on our grid. But EV adoption–especially at its current rate–isn't a cause for concern.
That's not to say that our grid could handle an immediate, 100 percent transition to electric vehicles – electrifying the entirety of U.S. transportation would add roughly 774 terawatt hours of electricity demand, which is roughly the same as the entire power consumption of the U.S. industrial sector. But our energy infrastructure can handle the transition to EVs at its current pace – as a country, we're already generating more electricity than we consume, and utility companies are gearing up for the expected growth, especially considering the revenue and grid service opportunities EVs provide.
On that front, there are some exciting advancements in vehicle-to-grid, or bi-directional, charging–while not commercially available yet, this technology will allow you to store excess energy in your EV battery and discharge it to either your home or the power grid. Utility companies will be able to employ this technology for demand response programs and use a fleet of EV batteries to store electricity from intermittent power sources (like solar or wind).
The best way to save money and the environment? Charge your EV with a home solar panel system! Sign up on the EnergySage Marketplace to see how much you can save with solar. If you don't have an electric car yet but plan on buying one soon, simply note it in your account so that installers can design your system with your future EV's charging needs in mind.