Electric cars are supposed to be green machines: and to a point, they are. After all, you're not burning gas, so you're not churning greenhouse gases out your tailpipe. Unfortunately, though, just because you're burning less gas doesn't necessarily mean that you're doing much for the environment. After all, that electricity has to come from a generation plant, and those plants can be nastier than your car could ever dream of.
The Problem? Coal
Yep, the black rock we burn. Coal is appealing to generate electricity for two very simple reasons: it's cheap, and there's a heck of a lot of it. In fact, pound for pound, burning coal is three to six times cheaper than burning oil for industrial electricity production. That's why half the electrical generation plants in America use coal.
Here in the US, we've got lots and lots of coal, so shipping it across the country is a much cheaper proposition than other fossil fuels. The problem, of course, is that burning coal is really, really dirty. It’s so dirty that coal accounts for 27% of our greenhouse gas emissions...and that number is only going up.
In essence, depending on where you live, it might not matter if you drive an EV, because you'll still be burning fossil fuel in order to get that battery charged up.
Where Do Electric Cars Make the Most Sense?
Unsurprisingly, California comes out on top, as it has the cleanest electricity grid. It's closely followed by New York, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska; driving an electric vehicle there will give you emissions roughly equivalent to getting 70 miles to the gallon out of your car.
The state at the bottom? Colorado, with a coal-heavy grid: driving an EV there pretty much means you may as well save some money and buy a Ford Fiesta.
Making Your EV More Green
So, how can you, the private citizen who wants an EV and doesn't want to wreck the planet while driving, get some cleaner juice into your car?
First, regardless of where you live, look into personal electricity generation; there's no reason you can't install solar panels or a windmill on your property and use those to charge up your car. In fact, over time, it might even save you money, depending on your power bill and how often you drive your car.
Secondly, look for, and ask for, cleaner alternatives. This isn't just wind and solar power; for example, hydroelectricity can be a viable alternative in some areas, and believe it or not, nuclear power is much cleaner than coal. OK, so it makes nuclear waste, but that's stuff we can bury in a mountain. Some power grids allow you to choose which sources you get your energy from, and you can pick more environmentally friendly-methods.
Finally, if all else fails, trade in your EV for a hybrid, and simply avoid driving when possible. This'll have a few positive effects: for example, with less driving time, you'll have a lower auto insurance bill.
Remember: if you want to drive green, you can. Depending on where you live, it might just take a little more work.