EVs Being Cleaner Than ICE Cars Is Not a Matter of If: It Depends on When


GREET (Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy Use in Technologies) is a model that allows measuring emissions from manufacturing up to the end of a car lifespan. Reuters used it to analyze the emissions from a Tesla Model 3 in the US, and the model concluded that the car would only be cleaner than a Toyota Corolla after 21,725 km (13,500 miles).

That happened because the U.S. has 23% of its electricity coming from coal power plants. In Norway, energy generation comes primarily from hydropower, which helps the Model 3 be cleaner than a Corolla after 13.518 km (8,400 mi).

We are unsure if the GREET model considers the emissions related to oil product manufacturing to calculate how clean or dirty ICE vehicles are. If it doesn’t, it should, as the video below demonstrates. If the energy spent to power oil pumps in the U.S. alone in a month was used to power electric cars, it could feed 17,363,841 Lucid Airs in a month or 1,446,987 Airs in a year.

According to Reuters, a Model 3 charged in Poland – where most electric energy comes from coal power plants – would only pollute less after 126,655 km (78,700 mi). That would be disputed by Transport & Environment, for example. In a study published in April 2020, T&E said electric cars are three times cleaner than ICE vehicles.

If one medium-sized EV had its battery pack made in China and was charged in Poland, that would be the worst-case scenario for it. Yet, it would emit 40.95 metric tons of CO2 over 225,000 km, which T&E considers as the lifetime for such a vehicle. That would mean it emitted 182 g/km of carbon dioxide.

A medium-sized diesel car would emit 52.65 tons of CO2 (234 g/km), and a gasoline car of the same size would emit 56.93 tons of CO2 (253 g/km). In other words, even in the worst possible conditions, an EV would still be 22.2% cleaner compared to a diesel car and 28.1% less pollutant than a gas-powered automobile. Use EVs as the reference and diesel cars will pollute 28.6% more, while vehicles burning gasoline would emit 39% more carbon dioxide. You can check T&E’s emission calculation tool right here.

Even if the EV battery pack emitted much more CO2 right off the bat, it would not take that much mileage for it to compensate for electricity generated with coal. Apart from that, EVs do not pollute in big cities, something that protects the health of the people who live around them. In this war of numbers and assumptions, that’s what concerned car buyers should consider in the first place.