Episode 113: If I buy a plug-in electric vehicle, how much will it help the environment?

This week, Jeremy Michalek, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the Vehicle Electrification Group, explains how electric vehicles can sometimes cause more harm than good for the environment.

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Costs and Benefits of Electric Vehicles in the United States [video]- Carnegie Mellon Department of Engineering and Public Policy

Electric Vehicle Adoption Potential in the United States [video]- Carnegie Mellon Department of Engineering and Public Policy


Transcript

HOST: If I buy a plug-in electric vehicle, how much will it help the environment?  On this week’s Energy Bite, Jeremy Michalek, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

MICHALEK: Plug-in electric vehicles can create less air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions than traditional vehicles- if they are charged with clean electricity. But not all regions have clean electricity.

Electricity can be generated from pollution-emitting sources like coal or natural gas, as well as cleaner sources like wind, solar, hydro, or nuclear power. And different regions use different mixes of these and other sources.

HOST: When are plug-in electric vehicles not helping to reduce pollution?

MICHALEK: Plug-in electric vehicles may not be a good choice if you live in a region that gets much of its electricity from coal.

For example, in the Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Washington, DC region lifetime emissions from a battery electric vehicle, like a Tesla Model S, can cause two to three times as much cost to human health, the environment, and infrastructure as a gasoline hybrid like a Toyota Prius.

This could change in the future as we move toward cleaner sources of electricity. If we clean up the grid enough, electric vehicles can offer big advantages for the environment.

HOST: Would you choose an electric vehicle based on your region’s source of electricity? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.  
Energy Bite is a co-production between 90.5 WESA and Carnegie Mellon’s’ Scott Institute for Energy Innovation.

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