Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Kevin Bullis

A View from Kevin Bullis

Are Electric Vehicles Better for the Environment than Gas-Powered Ones?

Comparing electric and gas-powered versions of the same car show the environmental benefits of electric vehicles.

  • July 12, 2013

This week I met an owner of an Tesla Model S electric sedan who raised the question of whether electric vehicles are really better for the environment when you include the resources that go into making the battery and the impact of disposing of it. He was feeling uneasy about his environmental bona fides.

Renault recently made public a report that provides a fair assessment by comparing an electric version of its Fluence sedan with gas and diesel-powered versions of the same car. And it makes clear that electric cars are, indeed, better for the environment. The report is a life-cycle assessment, a “cradle to grave” analysis, including not only the emissions involved in using the car, but also the emissions from making it, the resources consumed in manufacturing, and a range of environmental impacts. It looked at not only greenhouse-gas emissions, but impacts on acid rain, ozone pollution, algae blooms, consumption of water and materials such as steel and copper, and total energy demand.

The study found that while the environmental impact of making electric vehicles is greater than for making gas and diesel vehicles, this is more than made up for by the greater impact of gas and diesel vehicles while they’re being used. This is true in terms of total energy consumption, use of resources, greenhouse gases, and ozone pollution. The electric vehicles were assumed to be charged from a grid that includes significant amounts of fossil fuels. (Other studies show that electric vehicles beat gas-powered ones in terms of greenhouse gas emissions even if they’re charged in regions that depend heavily on coal. Here’s one such study. In some areas, hybrids are a better choice than electric cars.)

Electric vehicles come out behind in two areas. They contribute slightly more to acid rain. And they’re slightly worse in terms of causing algae blooms than gasoline cars (but better than diesel). 

Hear more about global warming at EmTech MIT 2017.

Register now

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.