Its long been a claim of electric car critics that the vehicles marketed and advertised as “green,” are actually worse for the environment than their internal combustion counterparts due to the nature of battery production, and the source of electric power used to charge the batteries. So what do the people who manufacture electric cars think of those claims? Nissan Executive Vice President Andy Palmer thinks, “It’s complete bull****.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Palmer -- who's also head of Nissan’s global EV rollout -- responded with the bovine waste term after an argument was made at the Tokyo Motor Show that coal-sourced electricity is equally as bad for the environment as gas and diesel powered cars.
“I think its complete bullshit," he said. "First of all, if you talk about tank-to-tank, the amount of CO2 consumed from creating the electricity to getting it to the car – is it zero emissions? The answer is no, you consume carbon energy in creating the energy, and that’s true. But if all your electricity is created by coal, it’s a fact that the CO2 consumed at the level of the electric vehicle is lower than the level of CO2 emitted by the equivalent gasoline car.”
In other words, even running purely on coal-fired electricity an electric car like the Leaf would still be better for the environment than a gas-powered car.
What about an electric car compared to a hybrid, rather than a gas-powered car? “If you were to do that compared to a hybrid,” Palmer said, “It’s true that if you’re on 100 percent coal a hybrid emits lower CO2 than an electric car.”
The Morning Herald is quick to point out that no country in the world depends solely on coal for their electricity. The source of electricity worldwide varies based on a regional or even local level. The paper alleges in the Australian state of Victoria, an electric car (in this case a Mitsubishi i) would produce 130 grams of CO2 for ever kilometer traveled, 25 grams per kilometer more than a Toyota Prius. The Mitsubishi would produce more CO2 in Victoria than the Prius, because Victoria gets the majority of its electricity from brown coal. However, in the Australian state of New South Wales, where power comes from cleaner black coal, a Mitsubishi i would be linked to 106 grams of CO2 per kilometer. In Tasmania, which gets the vast majority of its electricity from hydroelectric dams, the i would produce the equivalent of just 13 grams of CO2 per kilometer.
The story is much the same in the United States, where some states get their electricity from “greener” sources than others, making EVs like the Nissan Leaf better for the environment in some states and worse in others. For example, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania gets most of its electricity from nuclear power, while California sources most of its electrical supply from hydroelectric dams. An electric car operated in either of those states would in theory be much ‘better’ for the environment than if they operated in West Virginia, which gets nearly all of its electricity from its vast coal reserves.