No wonder electric cars aren’t selling!

While this probably isn’t the reason electric cars have not lived up to the hype and might only sell about 50,000 in 2012 (less than 1% of total sales), maybe it is a reason we shouldn’t encourage them (yet).

I had wondered before in areas with most electricity coming from coal, if electric cars were worse off than conventional gasoline cars, since the cars would be charged using energy from coal, and the negative impacts of coal would outweigh the positives of electric cars over traditional petroleum.  This study says YES coal is worse, and therefore electric cars are worse.

Ideally, electric cars would be re-charged with wind energy or some other renewable source..

Troy R. Hawkins, Bhawna Singh, Guillaume Majeau-Bettez, and Anders Hammer Strømman (2012). Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles Journal of Industrial Ecology DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00532.x

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One Response to No wonder electric cars aren’t selling!

  1. John says:

    I disagree with the title and tone of this post:

    1) The LCA you cite shows that on average, the GHG intensity of the current European electricity grid is low enough that electric cars today beat gasoline cars. This is highly consistent with the estimates of the ANL GREET tool for the US market (, and the relative advantage will only grow in the future as the electric grid decarbonizes (natural gas, wind, solar, geothermal, etc.) and the footprint of conventional fuels gets worse (e.g. oil sands)
    2) I don’t think that low EV sales numbers are a great proxy for consumer preference in the US, since the number of EVs on the market was extremely limited until very very recently. While there are something like 13 EV OEM models for sale in the US for the 2012/2013 model years, over the entire decade of 2001-2010 there were only a total of 7 different ones, and not all were available to the general public ( So it’s only been very very recently that someone living in Colorado like me could buy an electric vehicle from a mainstream manufacturer and have more than one choice- not exactly a highly developed market!
    3) I am unconvinced that there are many people out there making car purchase decisions based on LCA results, using GHG criteria or any other… it’s only very recently (EISA 2007) that there was much evidence that even energy policymakers took LCA results into account! 🙂
    4) Biomass->biopower->electric vehicles is likely a more efficient pathway than biomass->liquid biofuels->conventional cars ( So to the extent that battery technology improves on pace with or more quickly than cellulosic biomass pretreatment technologies, there’s a good chance that the combination of biopower and electric vehicles might outperform the competition in the future on both economic and a GHG mitigation basis.

    Coal->electricity->electric cars is a straw man. There is no subregion in the whole US electrical grid that gets more than 80% of their capacity from coal (, and nationally the share is only something like 45%. Even the Western Electric Coordinating Council- Rockies sub-grid that includes us here in Colorado is less than 70% coal fired, and (presumably) decarbonizing rapidly with the state-mandated phase-out of many front range coal plants to natural gas (depending on what you think methane leakage rates are for shale gas extraction).

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