Are Electric Cars Really More Environmentally Friendly?

Are Electric Cars Really More Environmentally Friendly?

[INTRO ♪] Telling people that buying an electric car is a great way to fight climate change is a pretty reliable way to start an argument
in some circles. People will say that you still burn fossil
fuels with electric cars – it just happens at the power plant instead of the engine. And while that’s at least partly true, over their lifespans, electric cars don’t
consume anywhere near the fossil fuels that gas-powered cars do — especially in the
United States. With electricity getting cleaner all the time, they’re even better than you might expect. There are a few variables to keep in mind
though, starting with the cars themselves. In the US as of 2016, the average pure-gasoline passenger car goes about nine kilometers for each liter of gas it burns, or about twenty-two miles per gallon, but that’s just an average. Some go four kilometers or so; others go fourteen. But the fuel efficiency hits higher highs, and lower lows, when we start talking about hybrid cars or trucks on the interstate. Plus, the act of manufacturing a car leads to greenhouse gas emissions — whether it’s electric or not. So does refining gasoline. But the major complicating factor here is
electricity. And where you live determines how clean your electricity really is. Most electricity in the US uses a combination of natural gas, coal, and nuclear fission
– with a bit of water, wind, solar, oil, and a few others thrown in. But those numbers change from state to state, and depend on things like local natural gas
sources or how windy it is today. For example, Alaska has plenty of natural
gas and hydroelectric resources, so its power
plants create very little waste when generating electricity. That means a full electric vehicle charge using Alaskan electricity creates roughly the same emissions as a gas engine that drives 48 kilometers per liter or 112 mpg. That’s roughly five times the national average, and two or three times better than even some of the best hybrids. It’s pretty efficient! But at the other extreme are places like Colorado, which, energetically speaking, is one of the dirtiest states. Sorry Colorado. About half of Colorado’s electricity is
from coal, which produces more emissions than just about any other source. But even there, electric cars still outperform gas cars. A full charge off of Colorado electricity equates to about twenty kilometers per liter
(46 mpg) – about double the national average, based on
2016 figures. That’s pretty good. Better still, most of the country is closer to Alaska’s numbers than Colorado’s. It comes down to this: Power plants are just better at making power than car engines are. One reason is that they’re simply bigger. Bigger things don’t waste as much energy
staying hot — and that makes them more efficient. And the story is similar across most of the
world, although again the details change depending
on where your electricity comes from. In countries that tend to use more coal, like India or China, electric cars break even with the average gas-powered car in the US
— although they’re still less efficient than the average Indian gas-powered car. But in water-powered Paraguay or geothermal-rich Iceland, gas engines need to get more than 90 kilometers per liter to beat an electric
one. So are electric vehicles really more efficient
than gas? Yes, they absolutely are – unless you have some very dirty electricity. So much for the “well, actually”s. But climate change isn’t just one problem; it’s a hot mess of many problems at once. And it’ll take some pretty radical changes from people all over the world to keep that hot mess from getting even hotter. Thanks for asking. Before you go, you may or may not be aware that I wrote a book! And that book… is out in paperback now. I didn’t tell you about it when it was just
hardcover, but now you can get it in value discounted, not-as-hard edition! It’s a book about a girl who gets famous
on the internet, which is something I know a little bit about. And it’s also about like, space aliens,
some. So if sci-fi mixed with fame destroying people sounds like an interesting story to you, check it out! It’s available wherever books
are sold. It’s called An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. [OUTRO ♪]

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. Been wondering this for a while? Are you guys Canadian? You keep using metric units of measurement but it seems like ya'll are Americans.

  2. Here cars go like 15-20 km/L easily …. But the cars in US have more power I guess … Would take mileage over power anyday … Even SUV that have like 1500-1600 cc go like 18 in some cases ..and they could easily touch 140-150 while the normal everyday do a 100-120 easily … Without any problem but 150 is too much for them

  3. All the resources that go into making those massive battery packs are terrible for the environment. INTRESTING that you ignore this fact completely

  4. More places need to have electric car chargers to get electric cars more adopted. If I take my electric car on a trip, most hotels don’t have charging stations to plug your car in.

  5. Please please take into account the amount of electricity needed to refine gasoline! Electric cars will always be cleaner than gas cars, because they don't need all the electricity necessary to refine their source of power. Just take a look at the fullycharged pilot: also this episode:

  6. I think the question is, "would it be better to buy a used gas car or a new electric car?" If you buy a new electric car how far would you have to drive it for the emissions to be equivalent to buying a used 30mpg car. The emissions it took to make that car have already been spent, buying a new electric car is putting new emissions into the atmosphere because it is brand new. Of course if you buy a used electric car I would agree that is better for the environment.

  7. Making a hydro power car will be the next thing. Every planet has water, space travel. And a huge potential for energy

  8. Doubt the #s are accurate in cold and hot climates. Batteries lose energy and capacity in extreme climates, and Hank didn't even touch the subject of battery production and disposal pollution/contamination.

  9. I welske ypn to cose go a segjfe of…. Hold on let me wipe the grease and oil off my hands..

    I welcome you come spend time maintaining a wind turbine..

  10. Lame complaint: Hey at 2:02 why are you using a picture of Mt Shuksan from Washington State which derives 80% of it's electricity from hydro-electric dams to represent Colorado? Rocky mountains not good enough?

    Real concern: why don't more people carpool?

  11. You're not even mentioning one of the most controversial areas of the debate though. The mining for the batteries is terrible for the environment.

  12. I’d love to buy an electric car in the near future, but until more charging stations pop up in the public space, it’s difficult to justify buying one in my area

  13. So you answered whether they are more efficient at producing power, but that's only one of many variables. What about production or recycling/destruction? The numbers you cite make electric cars sound just barely better, but the numbers cited by those "well, actually"s would make that "barely better" be significantly worse overall.

  14. All this talk about batteries is silly. In less than a decade there have already been significant improvements in battery technology, including materials used to manufacture them. Now that there's a huge demand, innovations will continue at a rapid pace. Just increasing the capacity of batteries alone will ultimately reduce the number of cells needed for each vehicle. The evolution of battery technology will far out-pace efforts to clean up ICE, which manufacturers have been trying to do for decades, and only because of government mandates. You can argue all you want about EVs vs ICE, but the reality is we are running out of oil. This transition is NOT an option. It's a mandate! Keep driving ICE vehicles and there will be that much less oil for the production of other things we don't yet have a viable replacement for. If you think about all of the things we depend on that originate from oil, fossil fuels are the easiest and most practical of them the eliminate. Stick your head in the sand all you want, but one day, when you pull your head out, it will be under water!

  15. Can't people just buy a green power plan?… Oh, I forgot that the US and some other countries don't have common carrier utilities.

    Here in Denmark, for a 5% premium, you can just buy electricity from new sustainable sources (older ones are cheaper, but buying from new ones sustains a higher demand pressure.)

  16. I love how the batteries were conveniently not mentioned.

    And those batteries are totally clean. I mean mercury, lithium and all the other hazardous materials are easy to mine and even easier on the environment. And they never need to be replaced…

  17. Fossil car emissions = what comes out the tailpipe.
    EV emissions = what comes out the tailpipe + production of fuel.
    When will emissions be calculated on equal terms?

  18. You forgot about factors like CO2 from manufacturing of cars, maintenance cost and also replacement of parts and lifecycle of the car in general, and electric car might be useless after 5-6 years but regular cars you can have for many years. Not at all impressed with your video at all this time.

  19. "9 Km/L or 22 MPG"
    Me: [Weeps in Australian] What does that calculate out to in Liters/100Km?

    (yes, I can do the math – just pointing out a stupid system of measurement)

  20. Not to "well, actually" you, but it gets muddier still when you account for the power grid's efficiency at transporting electricity: poorly insulated lines, aging infrastructure, patches on top of patches. It'd be really interesting to see research on how much difference we could make by making grids more efficient.

  21. You buy a Tesla because Elon musk, not because the environment. Stop this nonsense, it's a great car that makes you feel like Noone else

  22. What about the damage and cost to the environment that comes with lithium mining? And transporting those chemical? And disposing of them? If you've never seen a lithium mine, Google it.

  23. Odd how there was no mention about how polluting lithium mining is. If we all drove electric cars we would be in serious trouble.

  24. unless you live where it gets 40 below, in which case your car battery will drain faster than it can charge on a standard outlet.

  25. Thanks a lot from Italy to make these videos, I speak about you guys all the time I have the chance to do so and I share most of your videos with family and friends. You're the best and I hope to know you for real once if you intend to come to Italy or if I'll have the chance in the near future to come to the US and see where and how you do your "magics". Hugs from Genova, Paolo Albi.

  26. Please use L/100km… average for a regular diesel car is around 5L/100km
    Electric vehicle is around 150Wh/km which equals 1,5L/100km equivalent gas consumption (1L of gas equals ~10kWh of energy
    Electric cars are just more efficient at using energy. Above 90% efficiency, whereas gas engine are in the 35-40% efficiency

  27. Would be interested to hear about the environmental costs of potentially increased e waste with electric cars (eg batteries, circuit boards, etc).

  28. Electric cars tend to be heavier which requires more energy to move them forward, and energy efficiency (regardless of whether you're driving on gas or electricity) depends on how fast you go.
    If you still have a working gas car it's probably not a good idea to change it for an electric car due to the additional carbon emissions of its production, but if you are going to get a new car anyway, it might be worth it to get an electric car, especially with the expectation that our energy will become cleaner in the long run. But even more so the speed at which you drive is something to pay attention to, as the energy efficiency of all cars goes down if you drive faster, so try leaving a bit earlier than you normally would and drive maybe 20km/h (about 12mph) less than usual (do of course keep safety in mind, sometimes it can be dangerous to drive too slow compared to the other traffic)

  29. How about all the diesel cars that get 60+ MPG. ALSO, what about all the fossle fuels burnt to build these massive dams and other plants? The environmental impact they have in the land, especially dams. Also building all the infrastructure to support them? Also all the manufacturing process of batteries and the land fill being filled with their chemicals as the packs die over time? I've got motors and vehicles from the 50s still running today. Build things to LAST not to replace in less than 10 years. Fix old stuff. Long story short, neither are great solutions.

  30. Sweeping under the rug the fact that to build ANYTHING, you need to mine things: that's destroying ecosystems, participating in global warming by reducing the size of the carbon pumps.

  31. Electric cars in the UK 'simply cannot be more polluting than a petrol or diesel equivalent' over their lifetime, says new in-depth study:-
    Source= Daily Mail.
    Your thoughts?

  32. We need some videos about manufacture and disposal of the batteries. Every source I see glosses over it or goes way beyond me.

  33. Didn't even go into how damaging to the environment it is to mine for resources for the batteries both from a carbon emissions standpoint or an ecological damage one. Or the fact that said batteries have to be replaced at least once every 10 years if not sooner depending on usage, and that in colder climates the batteries can fall to about 50% their normal efficiency meaning they only get about half the range on the same amount of electricity.

  34. The irony behind EV's (electric vehicles) is…no one really wants them, not as they are now, except for an extremely small minority and outlier niche groups. In fact, the world, as a whole, has pretty much snubbed EV's. Electric car adoption worldwide is only at 2.2%. Even in the U.S., of all the cars sold in 2018, only ~2% of them were EV/PHEV's combined; with 98% of the population still preferring a regular gas-powered car as their principal means of transportation. Until EV carmakers can bring the price down DRASTICALLY, decrease the recharge time SIGNIFICANTLY, and increase the range – to equal that of ICE vehicles – there will be no EV "revolution" or mass adoption anytime soon. EV's just aren't "there" yet for the vast majority of consumers.

  35. you have totally missed  the carbon footprint of the construction of the petrol vs electric cars , just the batteries alone more than cancel out the mpg saving they are ecological nightmares the production of which fuels modern day slavery and small local wars over the heavy metals etc used in the battery which will be dead in 6-7 years = car useless unless thousands spent on new battery while the good old petrol car will give good service for 20 years and as for where you got your average mpg ? Santa Pod ? most petrol cars will give 40+ mpg average now and diesels 70+ , electric cars are another pie in the sky idea which will never work for most people , millions of charging cables running across pavements….Mmmm vandals will have field day and theft of your shiny new electric car for it`s battery , just give us the water powered technology.

  36. What I would like to know is does the harvesting of rare-earth metals used in electric vehicles and the undisclosed discrepancy in lifespan of a vehicle where you are required to purchase another one affect the result. These seem like very large contributing factors that should be addressed as well.

  37. The title of the video and the content seems to suggest that CO2 is the only environmental concern. Not whether power generation devastates more land (verdant valleys flooded for dams, forests cut down for solar farms, etc.), or requires more resources in construction.

    What about mining for rare earths for wind turbines and EV electric motors in China when it could be more environmentally friendly if mined in North America? What about solar and wind requiring anywhere between 10-80 times more copper, steel and concrete compared to coal fired power plants or nuclear plants for the same power generated over a given period of time? Again, much of this is mined in countries with patchy environmental controls.

    Don’t get me wrong, we need to move off of coal but let’s not distill the argument down to one factor. Mines and hydroelectric dams devastate the countryside but often far away from where self-righteous city-dwellers live so they don’t seem to care.

  38. They should have at least mentioned that in some places, hybrid cars are comparable to electric cars in terms of pollution but can cost significantly less. It's not a all-or-nothing game. We should be trying to reduce CO2 emissions wherever we economically can.

  39. You forgot to mention how much pollution making those batteries create… infact, you'll need to run the electric car on your stats for about 5 years just to offset the pollution that was made by making that electric car… and by the time you run the car for 10 years, the batteries need replacement and guess what? Another 5 years to offset the new batteries… and I'm not even taking into account disposing of the batteries… electric cars is NOT the future, HYDROGEN cars are. And many petrol cars can be converted overnight….

  40. Regarding Colorado, what you omitted was the fact that in addition to driving the car, you need to run the HEATER in order not to be too cold in the car. Gas engines recycle the heat that is already produced and otherwise wasted by combustion, electric vehicles need to use battery power for heat and that takes a lot of energy from the battery. True "mpg" figures need to consider how the car is used, not just how it is driven. Number two, electric vehicles are made smaller than gas powered vehicles, you dont put an electric engine in a semi, you put it in a Smart and vice versa, you dont put diesel engines in a Tesla, you put them in trucks. Electric vehicles get better mileage because they are built lighter and smaller: Compare a gas engine'd motorcycle to an electric powered motorcycle and you see that the electric vehicle is impossibly useless.

  41. While they may be more efficient, are they more environmentally friendly? What about the fact that electric cars are run off giant batteries that (in the case of a Prius) lasts only around 8-10 years before needing to be replaced or repaired? Batteries are terrible for the environment and as far as I know there is no environmentally friendly way to dispose of battery acid

  42. Yeah but if you buy a car having a completely useful one… You're just polluting. Buy an electric (if you have the means) if you were already planning to buy a new car

  43. My car gets close to 60 miles/gallon (3.75l/100km), which is why I'll be keeping it for a while longer. As soon as solid-state-batteries alow ev's to drive more than 800 miles per hour of charging, and we finally get fusion power on the market, i'm switching!

  44. now recognize that any electric requires batteries and confirm their cradle to grave carbon footprint. but, that might not sound as good, which is likely why it was omitted.

    nice try to spin it, though.

  45. Dang Hank! You only examined the actual energy the cars use during driving. There are tons of comments already here showing how you missed the energy inputs in manufacturing vehicles (this is extremely hard to measure).
    You also missed the point of why electric vehicles are so much more efficient driving compared to conventional vehicles: A Tesla has a direct drive motor on each wheel, the only source of major efficiency loss being the friction of the tire on the pavement. A conventional vehicle looses energy at each point of power change – pistons to cams to the transmission to the drive train and then to the axles.

  46. Personal expense is going to be interesting. At the moment they are being sold on the cost to charge being 10% or less in comparison to fuel. But, considering all the companies going about installing charging points include several big name oil companies? I suspect that wont last long. Give it a few years, that 5 bucks you're paying to charge will become £50. A major markup on the cost per KWh from the grid and a real money spinner.

  47. 1. Cars are very small scaled power plants, and are thus much less efficient and fit to generate power than a large scale, efficient, industrial plant. 2. A sizable percentage of energy produced is not of fossil fuels, and most people charge their EVs at homes and EV stations that ad likely to get most of their energy from solar in the first place.

  48. What about water combustion engines? Many made and can work, as shown for 10+ years… yet energy companies / governments are NOT going to allow mass production as no money to be made…. 👍🇦🇺

  49. The biggest thing I hear people say in regards to this topic is to just drive your car as long as you can. A lot of the carbon footprint in a car is in the creation, so it's always better to use things longer than to keep buying new things.

  50. Down voted. Compare the efficiency of an electric car in winter in Colorado vs a gas car in Colorado and tell me electric is better.

    It's not. Gas cars, heat is free, electric cars, not only do you need to waste batteries to heat the cabin, you need to also heat the batteries. This costs range and dramatically reduces the relative fuel efficiency.

    Is it negligent reporting like this which causes people to lose traction on the arguements. Its negligent and dishonest.

  51. Electric Vehicles are not clean.
    It takes carbon and silicone based meterials in manufacturing to produce them. Coal, Nuclear Hydroelectric, Wind and Solar plants all are polluters. Why I say this is simple, it's the manufacturing of raw materials into refined meterials to build the parts.

  52. Our battery tech still sucks. Sure, it's somewhat better than it was 150 years ago, but not by nearly enough.
    We need higher energy densities with some method of quick recharge.
    You see things occasionally about new tech and discoveries, but it seems none have made it to market for some reason.
    I don't think there's any conspiracy, but rather it didn't turn out to be as good as first thought, or too expensive, or still under development, or whatever.
    Still, it's sad that nothing seems to be reaching market.
    A lot of the ones I've seen articles on talked about having three times the energy density of a lithium ion battery. Now that would likely be a real change for electric vehicles.

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