Electric vehicles have been billed as the sustainable alternative to gas-guzzling cars. But that hasn’t always been the case, particularly when coal-fired electricity is used to recharge the battery.
Yet with solar and wind power booming in the U.S., and natural gas supplanting coal, the low-carbon EV dream is finally becoming a reality, a new analysis says. Automakers are also unveiling new and better electric car models, making it easier to ditch gasoline-fueled cars.
Electric vehicles are now “unequivocally” the cleanest cars in the country, based on a national average, the research and journalism group Climate Central reported on Wednesday.
That’s an improvement over the group’s previous analysis, which found that a fully gas-powered hybrid car was better for the environment than an electric car, based on the national average, over 100,000 miles of driving.
“In more and more of the country, new electric cars are becoming the greenest option on the market, even when you consider the source of the electricity they use,” Eric Larson, an energy systems analyst at Climate Central and the report’s lead author, said in a press release.
“More electric car choices are coming online, and the country has been gradually reducing the carbon intensity of electrical grids in recent years,” he said. “That means Americans now have many more options if they want to drive cleaner cars.”
The analysis updates previous reports and is posted on a new interactive website, Climate-Friendly Cars. Visitors can search by U.S. state to see how all-electric, plug-in hybrids, and conventional battery hybrids compare from an environmental standpoint.
The climate-friendliness of a particular model varies from state to state, since the best types of car are still determined by the local electric grid.
In 37 states, an all-electric car emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to the most fuel-efficient gas-powered car, over the first 100,000 miles driven. But in 13 fossil fuel-dependent states, a gas-powered car is still the cleanest choice for car owners, the Climate Central analysis found.
EV drivers aren’t limited to the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model X, two early popular models of all-electric cars. For instance, in a state like New York, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, BMW i3 BEV 60 ah, Fiat 500e and VW e-Golf also rank among the climate-friendliest options.
Thanks to the growing variety, at least five all-electric car models are more climate friendly in 28 states compared to the “greenest” gas-powered car in that state, the report found. Within 24 states, plug-in hybrids, which can run on either gasoline or an electric charge, are also among the top environmentally friendly options.
States where electric cars are by far the best option for the climate include California, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington.
Among the states where gas-powered cars are still the lowest-emissions options, thanks to their big base of coal-fired power plants, are Indiana, Kentucky, North Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia.