Electric vehicles are essential to limit global warming. Experts say they need a clean power grid to maximize their potential.

Electric vehicles are gaining political popularity, with President Biden signing the Inflation Reduction Act which is investing $400 billion in energy security and the fight against climate change and California’s efforts to eliminate new sales gasoline cars. A simple shift to electric vehicles is crucial and significant in limiting fossil fuels and global warming, but without a clean power grid to support them, they cannot reach their full planet-saving potential.

Sam Houston, senior vehicle analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Transportation Program, told CBS News how efficient electric vehicles can be.

Passenger vehicles are one of the biggest sources of global warming emissions in the United States, according to a July report of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The group’s analysis found that over the lifetime of an electric car – from manufacture to disposal – it will produce around half the pollution from global warming that a vehicle would. gasoline or comparable diesel.

This graph shows lifetime global warming emissions from electric vehicles and gasoline-powered cars and trucks.

Union of Concerned Scientists Driving Cleaner Report

The group’s online vehicle emissions comparison tool shows, for example, that if someone drove a 2022 Toyota RAV4 plug-in hybrid car in downtown Tampa, Florida, they would get 52 miles per gallon of carbon dioxide equivalent — known as MPG-CO2e — compared to the national average of 22. The higher a vehicle’s MPG-CO2e, the less it contributes to global warming.

But how much less they contribute to global warming pollution depends on where they get their power.

“It’s very important to continue to work on grid cleaning progress as we embrace electric vehicles,” Houston said. “…There is no shortage of examples of events exacerbated by climate change, whether heat waves, fires, floods, hurricanes. The more we can do, the sooner we will, it will help alleviate these things, or at least not let them get worse.”

In 2021, renewable energies represent 12.2% of the country’s energy consumption and a little more 20% of electricity production. Fossil fuels, primarily natural gas and coal, accounted for almost 61% of electricity productionaccording to the US Energy Information Administration.

And while 94% of the transport sector depended on oil and natural gas, only 5% of energy consumed in the sector came from renewables — and less than 1% came from retail electricity sales, according to the EIA. All of the renewable energy consumed in the transport sector comes from biofuels.

A closer look at the electricity sector shows that 59% of its supply came from oil, natural gas and coal, while 41% came from nuclear and renewables.

The more transportation is electrified, the more electricity will be added and needed across the country, Lori Bird, director of the U.S. energy program at the World Resource Institute, told CBS News.

“We have to do it in a way that doesn’t stress the grid too much,” she said. “…It doesn’t matter how clean the network is.”

But the type of energy people use depends on where they live.

The United States installed record numbers of wind turbines and solar capacity in 2020 and 2021, she said, but the country needs to double those levels in the coming years and then “maybe triple after that.”

Electricity Maps has created a map showing the carbon intensity of different regions in real time. In the United States, the western parts of the country tend to have more carbon-intensive energy production from their local utility sources, while the northeast is significantly lower. Very few pockets of the United States, mostly small areas in Washington State, have extremely low carbon intensity.

The more renewable energy is used, the less carbon dioxide is needed to generate electricity and the less greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere.

“Renewable energy sources, such as wind, hydro or solar power, produce virtually no CO2 emissions, so their carbon intensity value is much lower and often zero,” according to the utility company. public based in London. national grid. “Using low-carbon electricity will reduce carbon emissions overall, especially if we use it during times when the greatest amounts of clean electricity are being generated.”

This map shows the carbon intensity of various utility providers across the United States. Green areas are the least carbon intensive, while dark brown areas are the most important.

Electricity cards

Houston said the Cut Inflation Act is “a step in the right direction” to address these issues and help curb the worst effects of climate change. Along with new incentives and tax credits to help consumers buy electric vehicles, it is also investing billions in tax credits for accelerate the production of solar panels and wind turbines as well as to build clean technology manufacturing facilities.

The more renewable energy the country uses, the cleaner the grid will be and the more efficient electric vehicles will be.

And this transition to a cleaner grid and more electric vehicles isn’t just good for the planet, it’s economically beneficial, Bird and Houston told CBS News.

Solar and wind power are already “very profitable” sources of generation, according to Bird. And they, combined with electric vehicles, will also save consumers money. Unlike natural gas, the cost of solar and wind energy are not as volatile as they depend on sunlight and wind rather than the availability of fossil fuels, which could reduce household energy consumption , even if you plan to charge an electric car.

Bird said charging her electric vehicle at home is about half the cost of gasoline, although she said the details would depend on the cost of gasoline and the type of vehicle.

“Generally, this can add up to significant savings,” she said.

The purchase price of electric vehicles has also come down over the years and will be even lower with the country’s new incentives. Maintenance costs also tend to be lower with electric vehicles, Bird said.

Houston said overall she is encouraged by the policies that have been put in place. They’re by no means perfect, she said, but everyone “feels more optimistic.”

“We’re really changing the dynamics of how the grid and the transportation system interact,” she said. “…It’s just an exciting trajectory to see and we just hope it can pick up speed…There’s always more to do, but every step in the right direction really matters.”

Teresa H. Sadler