All posts

Getting Around

Are electric vehicles as green as we think they are?

In spite of carbon-heavy manufacturing, EVs produce fewer emissions than their gas counterparts over their respective lifecycles

Adam Baumgartner
June 4, 2024
An electric vehicle drives majestically along a country road during golden hour

Over an EV's lifespan, its emissions will be lower than that of a gas-powered vehicle.

Electric vehicles are gaining more and more traction as climate-conscious ways to replace gas-powered vehicles. Car companies are proudly debuting electric alternatives to everything from compact cars to pickup trucks, with brands like Cadillac pledging to go all-electric by 2030. The U.S. government is adding charging stations to most major highways while offering significant financial incentives to Americans who purchase EVs.

But are electric vehicles really better for the environment than what's on the road today?

Emissions from batteries

A common argument against electric vehicles is that their batteries are costly to produce. It’s true that a new electric vehicle starts its life with about 80% more emissions than a comparable gas car. EV batteries are largely to blame. Most are made from lithium, a rare type of metal that’s difficult to mine and energy-intensive to work with.

But shortly after an EV gets on the road, its emissions savings start to make up for its production costs. A study from the University of Michigan found that EV emissions – including from manufacturing – become lower than emissions from gas vehicles after about 2 years.

People also wonder what happens to those lithium-ion batteries once EVs are no longer drivable. Because of the metal's value, most batteries are recycled for use in smaller devices. Nissan, for instance, recycles batteries from the Leaf to power portable devices in their factories. In California, some old EV batteries are used to store electricity from solar and wind power.

Emissions from charging

Another argument against EVs is that the electricity used to charge them is often produced using fossil fuels, which means charging still results in emissions. The U.S. Department of Energy found that even still, EVs produce fewer emissions each year than gas counterparts.

An EV's emissions are about 34% of a gas vehicle's emissions. Plug-in hybrids are the second most efficient, followed by hybrids, with gas vehicles in last.
“Using the nationwide average of different energy sources, DOE found that EVs create 3,932 lbs. of CO2 equivalent per year, compared to 5,772 lbs. for plug-in hybrids, 6,258 lbs. for typical hybrids, and 11,435 lbs. for gasoline vehicles.”

Additionally, zero-carbon energy is on the rise in the United States, becoming increasingly common and affordable. That means for some, charging is already emissions-free. If you’re like me and live in an area powered by natural gas, you can sign up for renewable energy programs through your local utility program (Canopy can help) or purchase RECs (Canopy can help there, too), yielding the same results as if you had charged your EV with renewables.

For those serious about savings and clean energy, installing home solar can be surprisingly affordable. Its other big benefits are monthly savings and energy resilience, though obviously its carbon-free energy production means clean electricity for your EV. (Guess what – we can help.)

EVs vs. public transit

Some people are reluctant to cheer on EV adoption because they fear it’ll discourage use of public transit. To be sure, public transit is among the most energy efficient ways for people to get from point A to point B, and America’s decarbonization efforts have to include expansions of bus and train service. Those efforts will come with the added benefits of making streets less congested and more walkable.

But only 45% of Americans have access to public transit at present. That’s to say nothing of transit’s reliability. In my hometown of South Bend, Ind., it would take me 60 minutes and 2 buses to get somewhere that’s only 10 minutes away by car.

Such logistics make public transit a challenge in many communities, and EVs could be a practical alternative to gas cars in those areas.

The right choice for the right people

Every new technology has its downsides, EVs included. They aren’t zero-emissions, nor do they help reduce congestion. But to be successful in fighting climate change, technology needs to meet people where they are – and a lot of people are in regions where cars are a necessity. If we can help reduce emissions without making life harder for each other, I think that's a win.

Who we are

Canopy is on a mission to remove fossil fuels from America’s homes, making our communities safer and more resilient. Whether you’re considering a new electric vehicle or are learning more about renewable energy for your household, we’re here to help.

Start reducing your company's emissions today

Join Canopy

News, advice, and more reasons you'll love our newsletter

Thank you for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from Canopy

All posts