Union of Concerned Scientists report

Union of Concerned Scientists report

Are electric cars like our Tesla really as green as we think. There is an interesting article from the NY Times. of COncerned Scientist&st=cse&%2359;s&scp=2

If this link doesn't work, go to the Times and search for "Union of Concerned Scientists."

They have looked at the "well to wheels" CO2 emission of an electric car using the Leaf as an example. I'm glad I live in the Seattle area (at least half the year) because we have a lot of hydro power.

Klaus | 15. april 2012

I wonder if this study took into account the carbon footprint of a gallon of gasoline before it ever gets to the tank of an ICE. I have no idea how much, but it certainly requires a lot of electricity to produce gasoline. I wonder what produces the power used by the refineries. Not to mention transport of the oil as well as the finished product.

BruceR | 15. april 2012

Reporter only hinted at the most important point. An EV is fuel agnostic. As the generator is made more efficient, your car becomes more efficient! No ICE or hybrid can make that claim.

BYT | 15. april 2012

And who funded these "Concerned Scientists" I wonder?

Brant | 15. april 2012

I have solar on the roof; my car will be running on 94% sunshine

BYT | 15. april 2012

I have 20 panels for solar on my home as well.

Brian H | 16. april 2012

It's actually a pressure/advocacy group. Members are anyone who pays a membership fee. One blogger--Anthony Watts, a California weatherman--registered his dog Kenji as a member.

Volker.Berlin | 16. april 2012

autobloggreen: How gas cars use more electricity to go 100 miles than EVs do

"Let's go over that again. If we simply count the electricity used to make the gasoline that gets burned in a normal vehicle, you need more juice than you do to move an EV the same distance. Of course, then you need to factor in the actual gasoline used (and the resulting CO2 emissions). Plus, don't forget, it takes a bunch of water to refine gasoline. Put this all together and you've got on hell of an energy efficiency argument in favor of plug-in vehicles."

Volker.Berlin | 16. april 2012

Elon Musk: "[...] you have enough electricity to power all the cars in the country if you stop refining gasoline. You take an average of 5 kilowatt hours to refine gasoline, something like the Model S can go 20 miles on 5 kilowatt hours."

Chris Paine (the "Electric Car" filmmaker) adds: "It does not include transporting it from the Middle East or Venezuela. The more efficient your refinery is, the lower that number is. The lowest number in the DOE study I read was 4, and the highest was 7, it depends on what your refinery is."


Volker.Berlin | 16. april 2012

"How much electricity is used refine a gallon of Gasoline?"

"Electricity Shortage in California: Issues for Petroleum and Natural Gas Supply"

mvbf | 16. april 2012

BruceR, for the most part you are right especially if you are talking regular gas. Diesel, in the form of biodiesel especially biodiesel made from local algae is a different story. Algae is one of the most efficient ways to capture the energy from the sun. I can imagine diesel cars becoming more and more efficient and less polluting the better we learn to process the suns energy this way, especially when taking the whole life cycle of how we get the fuel.

As the cost of running a car goes up, I have no idea which form of moving a cars, trucks, etc from point a to b will become dominant, but for our planets sake, I hope regular gas cars become a relic of the past.

jbunn | 16. april 2012

Pardon, but what an incredibly stupid article.

What is heavier? A pound of lead or a pound of feathers?

The car isnt a variable for CO2. Its not relevant. Its the generation of power thats the issue.

mvbf | 16. april 2012

You hear that Kenji?

Alastair.Nantes | 16. april 2012

In France, where I live, you get a breakdown of your electricity with your bill. My last one says my electricty come from the following sources:

81,0 % nucléaire, 10,7 % renouvelables (dont 7,9 % hydraulique), 3,4 % charbon, 3,0 % gaz, 1,6 % fioul, 0,3 % autres

Or in English - 81% Nuclear, 10.7% renewables (of which 7.9% is Hydro), 3.4% Coal, 3.0% Natural Gas, 1.6% Petroleum, 0.3% others.

While the NYT article is kind of fatuous, it is true that all our countries need to get with the program, not just us!

Alastair (American living in France)

digitaltim | 16. april 2012

I alway find the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory energy usage charts of interest when trying to understand the well-to-wheel (or really just source to sink) question...


digitaltim | 16. april 2012

...hit submit to quickly...

If the electrification of transportation really happens, we are going to see a huge transfer of usage (and wealth) from big oil to electric utilities. The generation source will have to modernize and get more efficient in many ways - heat loss in the power plants, transmission line losses as well as the input energy source.

It is going to be a fun ride getting there!!!

Brian H | 16. april 2012

Fascinating chart. Note that most of the energy generated/used is actually wasted -- "Rejected Energy" is 56 of the 98 quads!! Generation and transportation are the two biggies in the 56.

digitaltim | 16. april 2012

Brian H.

Yep - I just finished a 20+ year career in energy (jumped to health care) - there's lots of opportunity there.


Tom A | 16. april 2012

The dog thing is amusing, but a red herring.

The deal with the Union of Concerned Scientists is no different than, for example, Consumer Reports.

I'm a "member" of Consumer Reports, which means I pay a yearly membership fee. The fee pays for their research, which includes a subscription to their published work. However, as a member, I'm not one of the people that tests the products.

The same is true of the Union of Concerned Scientists. I'm a "member" of UCS, which means I pay a yearly membership fee. The fee pays for their research, which includes a subscription to their published work. However, as a member, I am not one of the scientists doing the research. Neither is Kenji.

Tom A | 16. april 2012

jbunn: unless I'm missing some sarcasm, what are you talking about?!? The car is a huge part of the equation. Well-to-wheel efficiencies are the critical point, and the car has a lot to do with it.

The gap between ICE vs. fossil-based EVs (excluding renewables in the extreme case) is already in the EV's favor from the "well" (drill hole, mine, etc.) to the car, but then, when you continue to the wheel, EVs put the last nail in the ICE coffin. Evaporative emissions, tailpipe emissions and waste heat in the ICE look silly compared to the EV (no emissions at all, minimal heat losses).

The car is even more important because of the individual nature of maintenance. Many US States currently do not have mandatory safety or emissions inspections. Some of those States have highly-populated cities and counties that have imposed such requirements on themselves, like in northern Virginia, but most of Virginia has no emissions inspections. The cars get filthier and filthier, and so the well-to-wheel efficiencies just keep getting worse, as does the air we all breathe.

William13 | 16. april 2012

The "Union of Concerned Scientists" started life as an anti nuclear advocacy group. They claim science but have a history of advocating positions that are politically motivated and slow to change like most institutions.

My main gripe would be their anti nuclear energy stance rather than a stance saying build newer safer nuclear. All other forms of energy generation have been demonstrated to be much worse than nuclear even if you include Chernoble and Fukishima. Count direct and indirect deaths per joule or devastated land or global warming.

mvbf | 16. april 2012

There are reasons I disagree with you William. However, instead of debating the topic with you, it would probably be more interesting for anyone interested in the topic to read some of a foremost thinkers in energy debate the topic. Here is the link:

jbunn | 16. april 2012


In the article they were assuming the same car. A Leaf. In the second paragraph the author states that the power consumption between the two cars is equal.

Given that, why not reduce the problem by removing irrelevant information? Since the power consumption between the two drivers is equal, we can ignore the identical Leafs and their identical drivers. It's info we don't need.

The source of power, IS important.

William13 | 16. april 2012

@mvbf thanks for the link. Interesting but like you reading that debate only reinforces my view which opposes yours.

William13 | 16. april 2012

Btw the pro nuclear side won the final vote.

mvbf | 16. april 2012

I am not interested in the final vote as much as attempting to take my own and others blinders off and trying to see a problem from more sides. The problem is being human we will always heavily filter what we see to rationalize our views (me included). I will read the pro nuclear side with as an open mind as I can muster if you read the anti nuclear side the same way.

My5bAby | 16. april 2012

More BS. It's really really sad.

What is obvious however is how desperate the establishment is. What's distressing is how complicit the news media are. I understand they need headlines to make sales & get viewers but it seems to me, "Affordable electric car that gets 160 miles per charge" would be a pretty good headline.

But they are funded/underwritten by the system. One nut talks about a car that has bricked and it's all over the place. A Volt catches fire weeks after crash testing and it's all over the place.




jerry3 | 16. april 2012

Well, very little bad happens to the Roadster. In general, news media wants either bad news or something they can turn into bad news.

jbunn | 16. april 2012

Oh, great... Now it's on MSN, and a bunch more people will get wrapped around the axle wondering if electric is clean or not....

jbunn | 16. april 2012

Actualy, let me amend that. The MSN article omits the phoney hypothetical comparison, and is much more clear.

Mark K | 16. april 2012


Mike_ModelS_P457 | 17. april 2012

I wonder what the % of Tesla owners / reservation holders is who have PV on their homes / plan to charge via a PV to some extent.

I saw a few in this thread mention so far. I have a 42 panel array (actually two 21 panel arrays to be percise) on my home in CT. I only spent $600 on electricity for all of 2011. While I expect to increase that spend with my Model S charging adding to my usage, but I will be zeroing out my spend on gasoline for my car.

Probably needs a stand-alone thread...

jd3tm | 17. april 2012

I am one of those Sig reservation holders with Solarcity PV - 38 panels which provide 110% of my annual Electric power needs. I have actually been "throwing away" power! That is to say that PGE is only willing to pay me 4cents per KWH at the end of the year for my "excess" delivered power.

I haven't done detailed calculations but will certainly be tracking usage once I have my Model S. Effectively, I will be "paying" 4cents per KWH to charge my Model S! yippee...


erik | 17. april 2012

No PV for me.
We have a 100% windpower contract with our e-provider (Greenchoice in the Netherlands), so no fossil fuels will be used to put a smile on my face to and from the office.

Jason S | 17. april 2012

PV with low annual payment to the electricity company here as well. Turns out I still use more than I produce, but it keeps the overall price low.

Liz G | 17. april 2012

Going Solar this year. Can't wait to give up burning dead dinosaurs.

flar | 17. april 2012

I'm a little above my pay grade here, but...

Well to wheel is clearly the fundamental analysis that needs to be measured (including all ancillary energy requirements like electricity used to refine, etc.).

But, it seems to me that "new fuels" aren't really a factor. If they are cleaner, cheaper, and/or more efficient, then they can exhibit all of those benefits in a power plant instead of requiring every set of wheels on the road to replicate the technology needed to use them and force it into a context where it is space-constrained, consumer friendly, and has to deal with wide variations of RPM and power loads. As such, they don't really change the "well to wheel" equations for ICE or electric in any drastic way. They may drastically affect ICE, but they would also have much the same benefit for the power generation end of EV.

A fundamental change in the way that an ICE works, regardless of what fuel you put into it, that matches the needs of an end-use vehicle might change that part of the formula. But currently all IC engines take the same approach of using explosions to keep a huge bunch of metal spinning around so fast that you can bleed a tiny part of that off to feed into a drive train without tripping it up. An electric motor has no "need" to spin for its own amusement. At least a power plant can keep the amused metal spinning in the optimal manner for bleeding off energy for its other purposes - turbines instead of IC for example?

Tiebreaker | 17. april 2012

This reminded me why I cancelled the subscription to my once favorite newspaper, The NY Times: it takes a somewhat credible report and produces a beautiful string of awesome words. That's it.

The report: it compares the cleanliness of electrical power generation, regardless of where it is consumed. Just pegs it on an EV, I guess just for effect (jbunn had it right). Could also have compared two identical homes. Also when comparing them to ICEs, it only quotes carbon emissions that the ICEs produce during propulsion, but not from the production of the fuel.

I would like to see this comparative report: on identical ICE cars, what is the cost (financial, environmental, national security etc) when propelled by fuel originating from different places? Like from domestic US oil, domestic shale, or from the middle-east, or from Nicaragua, or from off-shore drilling, or from the North Sea...? Which one is better?

Then compare it to EVs...