How to Calculate Electric Vehicle Emissions by ZIP Code and Model

, senior policy analyst, Clean Vehicles | November 17, 2015, 9:35 am EST
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Internet! As you may have heard, the UCS Clean Vehicles squad just released a new report that definitively answers the question: are electric vehicles (EVs) cleaner than gas-powered vehicles? After two years of gathering and crunching data, we found that the average battery electric vehicle sold today is responsible for less than half the global warming emissions of comparable gasoline-powered vehicles.

So yes, EVs are awesome for the environment – and your wallet. But just how awesome? To help you #humblebrag about how clean EVs are in your neck of the woods, we developed this handy online tool that calculates emissions for almost every EV on the market for every zipcode in the U.S. Check it out and share it with your networks. I’ll give you unlimited internet points.

Already own an EV or thinking about purchasing one? Use the calculator to see how EVs stack up against each other and against their plug-in hybrid and gasoline-powered counterparts in your zip code.

Screenshot of new UCS EV emissions calculator. Click to check it out!

Screenshot of new UCS EV emissions calculator. Click to check it out!

Why do EV emissions vary?

Because the way electricity is produced varies across the country, the emissions of EVs vary depending on where they are plugged in. Residents of Lexington, Kentucky, for example, get over 50 percent of their electricity from coal, which emits between 1.4 and 3.6 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt hour (lb. CO2e/kWh). Natural gas, by comparison, emits between 0.6 and 2 lb. CO2e/kWh and renewables like wind or solar emit nearly 0 lb. CO2e/kWh, though there are relatively small amounts of emissions associated with the construction and transport of solar panels or wind turbines.

But driving an EV in even a relatively dirty electricity grid is still clean. A 2015 Nissan LEAF driven in Lexington, KY is responsible for about as much GHG emissions as a gas-powered vehicle that gets 50 mpg. And, in areas of the country that have relatively clean electricity grids, EVs crush. Charging and driving that same LEAF from my friend’s pad in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, New York, produces the emissions equivalent of a gas-vehicle that gets 88 mpg. See how EVs fare in your area.

Over two-thirds of Americans live in a region where the average EV contributes lower emissions than a 50mpg gas vehicle.

Over two-thirds of Americans live in a region where the average EV contributes lower emissions than a 50mpg gas vehicle.

How can EVs get even cleaner?

Since we first published our State of Charge report in 2012, the environmental performance of EVs has improved. Two-thirds of all Americans now live in areas where driving an EV produces the climate emissions equivalent of a 50 mpg gas-powered vehicle, up from 45 percent in 2012, and UCS has continued to push for policies like the Clean Power Plan that would reduce national electricity sector emissions by an estimated 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

But the environmental performance of EVs can get even better. Reaching the UCS goal of a national grid composed of 80 percent renewable electricity would reduce driving-related EV emissions by 84 percent while continuing to save you money on fuel and repairs compared to their antiquated gasoline-powered counterparts.

Read more by downloading the full report, or use our interactive tool to explore EV emissions in your area.

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  • Michelle Davis

    This is baller.

  • I simply don’t buy this methodology. I live in Utah where virtually all the electricity comes from coal, yet you’re telling me to buy a BEV instead of a Prius?

    • MrWoolly

      Yup. Compare 50MPG for a Prius with a drive train at double the ICE efficiency and even Coal is less polluting per mile when used in a pure EV.