Electric Cars Unevenly Green Around World — Study

Remember the argument that electrified vehicles like hybrids, plug-in hybrids, “range-extended” hybrids, and electric vehicles are supposedly not as “clean” as gasoline-only autos? A new study by Shrink that Footprint (StF) discharges much of that fallacious argument.

The argument works in theory because of carbon emissions generated by coal and oil-burning power plants. These emissions are added to the total carbon footprint indirectly contributed by EVs, which produce little to no such emission themselves. Given that logic, StF’s study shows roughly equal at most in emissions between gas-powered cars and EVs in primarily coal-burning countries like India and China. (Note that both countries are struggling with suffocating amounts of air pollution, a fact ignored by EV opponents.)

Chevy Volt

Chevy Volt (image copyright EarthTechling)

Change the power plant, though, and EVs advantages over fossil-fueled vehicles becomes apparent. Chinese and Indian EVs, according to the study, emit roughly between 250 to over 350 grams of carbon emissions per kilogram (g CO2 e/km). That’s equivalent to full gasoline vehicles getting 20 to 30 mpg. Vehicles in the United States, Mexico, and Turkey emit around 200 g CO2 e/km. This is due to less use of coal as fuel for power plants. U.S. EVs emit roughly the same emissions as gas-powered compacts and subcompacts, or around 40 mpg.

Carbon emissions plummet in highly industrialized, but green-friendly, countries such as Germany. The European country, along with Japan and Italy, utilize cleaner fossil fuels such as natural gas and alternative power sources as hydro-electric and nuclear. Carbon emission from such countries are 170 g C02 e/km, with gas-powered vehicles having to achieve mid-to-high 40s mpg to get such numbers.

The figures get better in countries such as Canada and France, which rely almost solely on hydro-electric and nuclear power for their power grid. Emissions is 115 g CO2 e/km while they’re double-digits in France at 93 g CO2 e/km. Fuel economy figures? Gasoline-powered vehicles in those countries would have to achieve 87 mpg (Canada) and over 115 mpg in France in emissions to achieve such low figures.

But the countries with the lowest carbon emissions are Ireland and Paraguay, with the latter edging out the Emerald Isle, which had been low emissions champion for years. Both countries utilize hydro-electric power to meet their energy needs, including powering their EVs. Gas-powered would need to get over 200 mpg to meet those countries’ carbon emission levels, which is 70 g CO2 e/km.

“This work highlights just how much the climate benefit of going electric varies around the world,” states Lindsay Wilson, the major author of the study. “To achieve their carbon reduction potential electric cars need to be deployed in tandem with low carbon electricity.”

Joel Arellano is a writing professional for over two decades, working in such diverse industries as finance, aerospace, telecomm, and medical devices. He has covered the automotive industry for more than six years, and his articles and blog posts can found on at Autoblog, Autoblog Green, Automotive.com, motortrend.com, trucktrend.com, and automobilemag.com.


  • Reply February 18, 2013

    Paul Scott

    If anyone has a problem using dirty electricity to power an EV, they shouldn’t be using that same dirty electricity to power their homes. Get your home on renewable energy (solar or wind) and then your car will run on the same clean energy.

    This is not rocket science. Please use your head.

  • Reply February 23, 2013


    This a very long time debated issue, mostly sponsored by status-quo industry. You don’t have to be an “Einstein” to know that most power plants are located out of city limits, therefore widespread adoption of EVs. will solve urban air and noise pollution, to say the least. If you want to see the potential of a cheap EV with unlimited range of operation, please check http://www.ev-motion.com. Our patent US 8256553 was issued last September.

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