This isn’t the normal Voltaic coverage area, but a graphic by Bill Marsh in the New York Times comparing the LEAF to the Altima caught our attention as we are eyeing low-carbon alternatives to the current company car.

To us, what was surprising about the analysis was not only how much cheaper it was to run the electric car basis, but how little we might save on carbon on a per-mile basis. Here’s the original analysis.

Bill Marsh / The New York Times

Using the data from this analysis, we ran a few quick numbers and figured out that if we were pulling electricity from the “average” grid, we could get the same per-mile carbon footprint from a car that got 38 miles to the gallon as we could from the LEAF. That definitely seems doable.

However, averages don’t really make sense when you pull from the grid. We live in New York and drive 95% of our miles within a 50 mile basis. So again, we adjusted the numbers, this time based on the EPA’s eGRID emissions factor – and adjusted for the actual emissions in each region in the United States relative to the average used in the New York Times analysis.

It turns out that the emissions per mile vary wildly depending on the source of electric power in your region.
1. In certain areas of the country (like Denver), you could emit less carbon per-mile than a the LEAF simply by buying a car that gets better than 26 MPG. If you’re worried about carbon, don’t get an electric car, get a Prius or one of lots of other cars that get pretty respectable gas mileage.
2. For Voltaic, assuming we filled up in New York City, we would need a gas car to get better than 70MPG to better the LEAF in terms of carbon-per-mile. For us, something like the LEAF makes sense. If we can figure a way to power it 100% from solar or wind, then we could get that carbon per mile down even further.

If you want to see extrapolate “break-even” point between a typical gas powered car and the LEAF in your region, simply figure out which eGRID region you’d be drawing power from by looking at this map.

Then lookup in this table below. The Breakeven column gives you the mileage your car would need to get to match the LEAF’s carbon output per mile.

Acronym Region CO2 per MWh CO2 per Mile for Leaf Breakeven MPG for Car
AKGD ASCC Alaska Grid 1,285 63 39
AKMS ASCC Miscellaneous 536 26 93
AZNM WECC Southwest 1,253 62 40
CAMX WECC California 681 33 73
ERCT ERCOT All 1,253 62 40
FRCC FRCC All 1,220 60 41
HIMS HICC Miscellaneous 1,344 66 37
HIOA HICC Oahu 1,621 80 31
MROE MRO East 1,692 83 29
MROW MRO West 1,723 85 29
NEWE NPCC New England 828 41 60
NWPP WECC Northwest 859 42 58
NYCW NPCC NYC/Westchester 705 35 70
NYLI NPCC Long Island 1,419 70 35
NYUP NPCC Upstate NY 683 34 73
RFCE RFC East 1,049 52 47
RFCM RFC Michigan 1,651 81 30
RFCW RFC West 1,552 76 32
RMPA WECC Rockies 1,906 94 26
SPNO SPP North 1,799 88 28
SPSO SPP South 1,624 80 31
SRMV SERC Mississippi Valley 1,004 49 49
SRMW SERC Midwest 1,779 88 28
SRSO SERC South 1,495 74 33
SRTV SERC Tennessee Valley 1,541 76 32
SRVC SERC Virginia/Carolina 1,118 55 44
US Average 1,293 64 38

5 Responses to Carbon Footprint of Electric Car Depends on Where you Live

  1. RaphaelR says:

    I’m glad to see someone looking seriously at the environmental and carbon consequences of plug-in hybrid electric cars; it is a very interesting and challenging topic. Are we actually building a more sustainable planet? We all want the answer to be yes, and it can be very exciting to assume electric cars will be the perfect answer. But as with most matters in energy, the devil is in the details, and the details are often complex! The environmental company, Carbon Lighthouse, conducted an in-depth quantitative analysis on this topic:

    http://www.carbonlighthouse.com/2011/08/the-coal-powered-electric-car-part-i/
    http://www.carbonlighthouse.com/2011/08/the-coal-powered-electric-car-part-i-2/
    http://www.carbonlighthouse.com/2011/08/%E2%88%AB-the-coal-powered-electric-car-part-iii/

  2. admin says:

    Good point. I think the cost savings argument is going to be more effective than carbon savings argument for most people anyways. $12k over 100k miles is a big difference.

  3. Clint says:

    So, which part of the Altima carbon footprint takes into account the mileage required to transport gasoline to filling stations, nationwide? Is it the 72.8 lbs or 17.7 lbs? What about the footprint of all of the hummers, jeeps, tanks and jets flying over the Middle East to protect oil prices from fluctuating and affecting our entire economy?

    • admin says:

      The New York Times analysis doesn’t go into detail but if the transport is included, it would be in the 17.7. The analysis doesn’t include these other items. We’re in no way trying to attack electric cars (especially if they’re powered by clean sources), we were mainly surprised that the carbon footprint didn’t come out better than it did.

      • Clint says:

        I wasn’t implying that you were attacking the elctric car. I was, through sarcasm, showing that the Bill Marsh’s analysis was likely very, very incomplete. Not only that but he also uses a per tank (or full-charge) cost estimate, to show a smaller difference in dollars saved.

        If he did something like this:

        $0.02/mile * 100K miles = $3,000
        $0.15/mile * 100K miles = $15,000

        He would have shown how drastic this could be on people’s budget, once EV’s reach economies of scale.

        He also didn’t compare a vehicle that gets on 20 MPG. But, I digress…

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