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Article by Climate Central claims that hybrids are better for climate than Leaf or Tesla in most states

If using a little electricity (like plug in hybrid) is better than an all gas car how can an all electric vehicle be worse by using more electricity and no gas?

Even a pure coal grid has an efficiency of about 30%. ICE cars are only about 20%-25% efficient. Coal is a little more carbon intensive than car fuel so it comes out around all square.

Take the average US grid mix and all electric comes out way ahead. Plus new built power plans will be gas in the US (as spark spreads are well above dark spreads) with an efficiency of up to 60% (CCGT), so greater electricity demand will replace car fuel with nat gas at the worst and regenerative power at best.

So extra power demand is much cleaner than existing supply. Every extra electric car will generate an extra power need that is going to be generated much cleaner than existing mix.

It is simple math, but they must have skipped that lesson.

We need to update the electric grid, and shut down all coal fired power plants and replace them with clean energy alternatives. I live in Washington State, where we produce most of our energy through Hydro power, but I also produce all my own electricity through solar panels and am a net producer averaged over the year. Folks who live in the states with antiquated energy production can offset those impacts by adding solar panels if they have the solar exposure required.

It is simple math that is pretty well spelled out on the Tesla website. It is too bad that they don't give the details for their calculation of the carbon cost of the batteries as assumptions made in that analysis are not alway accurate for the Tesla.

The primary point of the article is that the production of batteries is the big culprit here, that they produce carbon emissions of tens to hundreds of thousands of miles of gas use. Changing to solar and wind won't get rid of those emissions. So it seems like the natural implication is that we should be working on making battery production use less energy. Or at least, less carbon-producing energy.

These arguments that it uses more energy to build the device than to use it always seem suspicious to me though.

So I guess we don't have to include all of used motor oil that the hybrids will be generating. And while we're at it, let's forget about the transport of the fuel to the gas station and the electricity that runs the pumps as well. Those hybrids are probably using earth-friendly coolant and transmission fluids as well. Sounds like Exxon / Mobil math is being used here.

I read somewhere that Tesla has a plan to recycle the used battery packs as well.


can't say anything about the accuracy of the article but they did calculate that in:

A gallon of gasoline releases about 19 lbs of CO2 when burned. To these CO2 emissions we must add the GHG emissions associated with extracting, transporting, and refining the crude oil used to make that gallon of gasoline. When these are included, the total GHG emissions for using gasoline in a car come to 25.9 lbs of CO2-equivalent per gallon.

source of that estimation:

This estimate is for gasoline from conventional crude oil, as calculated by the Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) Model, version 1_2011. (See Figure 2 in A. Burnham, J. Han, C.E. Clark, M.Wang, J.B. Dunn, and I. Palou- Rivera, “Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Shale Gas, Natural Gas, Coal and Petroleum,” Environ. Sci. Technol., 46:619-627, 2012).

on behalf of the battery:

To calculate the emissions associated with vehicle manufacturing, we looked to the growing body of literature on full lifecycle assessments of electric vehicles (Hawkins, 2012b). In the manufacturing of two similar-sized cars the battery is responsible for almost all of the difference in emissions between an electric car and a gas-powered car. Based on several studies for smaller vehicles, the battery takes roughly 50 percent more GHGs to manufacture than the rest of the vehicle (Hawkins, 2012; Hawkins, 2012b, Samaras, 2008), but the exact difference depends on the types of cars being considered, the type of battery and on a range of other assumptions made in the analysis.

sure they can turn numbers in such an articles but they surely did cover up some of the more obvious ones.

Comparing a MS to a prius is silly. Totally different uses capabilities and market. I'd like to see them argue the MS is better for the environment here in Texas than the 15MPG V10 M5 I replaced with it. A small motorcycle is better than all these shouldn't we argue the Prius is a polluter by comparison? While we're at it the emissions from my bike or roller blades are better still but I'm not getting on the tollway with those:)

Figures never lie, but liars figure their on outcome.

There was a fairly well done article in Scientific American (I believe all though it escapes me now) that looked at "equivalent miles". What they looked at was CO2 emissions based on power source and gas mileage. (yes transport of fuel, waste and other factors were consider - that was what made it so good).

The article then said how many MPG a car would have to get in order to be the equivalent of a BEV. For states with lots clean energy (like Washington) the number was something on the order of 150MPG. In my state (Calif), the number was 90 MPG. But for the north east and midwest, the number was dramatically lower. A BEV in Colorado or the North East was the equivalent of a car getting 45MPG (in terms of CO2 emissions).

So yes, in Colorado or Connecticut, driving a hybrid MIGHT well be more environmentally sound. Maybe not be much, but by some. None of the mileages was ever below 40 MPGs that I recall so there is no comparison to SUVs (in any state). Texas, with all of its Oil and wind based energy came in at around 70MPG so there is no hybrid that makes sense in Texas.

Here's the government's calculator. Even if I swap a coal intensive KY or VA zip code for my So Cal zip, the Model S is still better:

One thing that none of these articles every point out is that when you clean up the power generation, you instantly clean up every single EV on the road that relies on that power. You cannot do that with ICE vehicles because they will forever burn gas and spew CO2 and other toxic chemicals into the air. If you replace a coal plant with a wind farm or a solar thermal station, all of a sudden every EV that plugs into that power becomes much cleaner than before.

Why don't articles point that out? If they are trying to make the point that EVs are not necessarily "cleaner" right now, do they comprehend that situation can easily change tomorrow?

Am I the only one that bought a Model S because it was a better car? I can't really say that the impact on the environment was a motivating factor.

It really feels like these articles and all the other companies making electric cars are missing the point. The other electric cars seem to have all sorts of compromises because they're all about efficiency and being an electric car. They're slow and they have very limited range.

My Model S is a blast to drive. It's better than the M5 it replaced. It has a full charge every morning. It can beat just about anything else off the line and up to the speed limit. It feels nimble despite the weight. In my mind, it's the best car money can buy. It's great that it happens to be electric, but that's not why I bought it.

Comparing the CO2 of a Model S running on electricity to a super efficient (and unpleasant to drive) gas or diesel car might be an interesting exercise for some, but it's not really helpful for most. I have no doubt that the CO2 of my Model S is way better than my old BMW M5 which used to get about 12mpg. Not that it matters, that M5 felt so sluggish compared to the Model S that I would never go back to driving one.


Great post. It's exactly for the reasons you mention that the skeptics and especially the EV haters don't have a clue about Tesla. As I'm sure you know, they think the Model S is only about being green and sacrificing for the same.

Ever notice that the most virulent anti-smokers are often those who have quit smoking? Can't wait for the anti-EVers to have that Eureka moment.

Well, you could also compare the Model S to a lawn mower and say that the Model S is less environmentally friendly than a lawn mower. Or a bicycle, for that matter. The reason I purchased the Model S was because it gave me everything - performance, comfort, size, range and an environmental benefit. It's not just one thing, it's all of it!

It would be nice if they had some sort of "score" or "GHG per X miles" by the state's figures - and used a very efficient non-hybrid sedan - a VW Jetta TDI or Chevy Cruise or something, and see how that fits into the chart - are they also, in some heavy coal states, scoring better than the Tesla?

I'm curious. Even when you don't take manufacturing into account, the Prius is less GHG-polluting than the Tesla in a few very dirty electric states (N. Dakota, W. Virginia).

Well said @ampedrealtor...

This study is more of an indictment on how dirty it is (currently) for each state to generate its electricity, which it notes on Page 10 is generally getting cleaner (from 2010 to 2012 snapshots): -- so for the 50,000 mile (4 years approx?) and 100,000 mile (8 years approx?) figures the study throws around, that is based on energy cleanliness of 2012. As the electrical grid energy sources turn to more renewable sources from now and approaching 2020, certainly the EV carbon footprint will improve as a result for those 50,000 and 100,000 miles.

For manufacturing CO2 cleanliness, this study leans heavily on a Hawkins paper published in Oct 2012 "Comparative Environmental Life Cycle
Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles" -- which I believe has previously been discussed in this forum as being not so accurate with respect to Tesla.

Reading the entire report I find one flaw to their study under the Vehicle Manufacturing Emissions portion, ".... but the exact difference depends on the types of cars being considered, the type of battery and on a range of other ---assumptions--- made in the analysis. "

See that word, "assumptions". In scientific terms that is translates to, 'this is how we slanted the results to come out in favor of whatever we wanted.'

They are assuming what the CO2 is for the creation of the battery and 'other parts'. They actually have no clue what it really is.

Another note where they show their own data to be wrong.

(page 29 of their PDF about the manufacture CO2)
They say a Nissan Leaf takes 26,933 #CO2 to be created.
A gas car is 16375 (so about 10,000 for the BEV stuffs in a Leaf)
and a Prius is 15627 (less than a gas car YET it has and engine and a battery... WOW)

Another paper by someone else says to burn a gallon of gas in an ICE releases 14 pounds of CO2... go google it. It is just pure formula, no assuming.

It would only take a Nissan Leaf 18853 miles to start polluting less than a regular gas car if the ICE got 25mpg.

It would take the Leaf 36,340 miles to be cleaner than a Prius. That's at 45mpg which after having one for three weeks while my Tesla was in the body shop I discovered that the Prius does not get that gas mileage during my city commute work week.

Something tells me their calculations and 'assumptions' are WAY off in the gas burning part.

Sure the Leaf will burn coal in a bad state at a 40mpg average (according to their odd science which I now doubt) but cars don't just vanish after 50K or 80K miles. They get sold to someone else and driven more. So even in a polluting state a BEV will end up better off than an ICE or Hybrid.

I just can't really wrap my head around the numbers for a Prius. Some how it has an ICE and a battery and all the BEV stuff and it take less CO2 to create than a gas car. I do NOT buy that math.

Interesting, but what happens when you compare a Model S to a BMW 750i or a big S-class Mercedes? Not saying all MS buyers would have bought those instead, but I bet a significant percentage would have.

Maybe I'm wrong but I bet the Model S is way more environmentally friendly than a large ICE luxury sedan or SUV with a big V8, no matter where you live.

If the Li Ion batteries can be recycled efficiently, wouldn't that skew the numbers in EV's favor?

Also, the newer methods of extracting oil (fracking) are more energy intensive and environmentally damaging. Era of 'cheap extraction' as we know it might be over.

Life cycle analysis is fraught with difficulties, do you include the weekend four wheel driving of the guys who mine the lithium? The CO2 released during the annual employee BBQ at the battery plant? Exactly what to include and not include is an endless unwinnable debate. What is certainly true is that batteries are energy intensive to produce and if we want the Model S to be more environmentally friendly then research in reducing that energy intensity should be a priority, and post EV use of the batteries should be an area of interest as then you amortise only a fraction of the embodied energy into its use in the EV and the rest into its use in stationary storage, and finally recycling as you then recapture much of the energy from manufacture into a new product. Second is the clean up of the grid. When I see charts like Table 2 of the report showing the MPG required to beat an EV or a hybrid I instantly think a static image is near useless. I would love to see them animate the image to show change over time because the MPG required to beat an EV is steadily and fairly rapidly rising as the grid CO2 intensity falls and the CO2 intensity of fossil fuel extraction rises. That is what annoys me most about studies such as this, they take a snapshot then either ignore or are oblivious to the fact that all their assumptions are changing over time fairly rapidly in favor of EV's.

It's good to extend the consideration to include battery manufacturing co2 cost, so that the picture is more complete, qualitatively speaking. Based on the postings above, the quantitative comparisons are much more complicated. The debate here suggests battery production efficiency and grid power source the two areas that EV can gain constant improvement.

Like some of the people above, I bought the car because it blew me away by its beauty, performance, and the thrill. The environmental thing is a bonus.

However, I plan to charge mine at work when available this year. The campus has one of the biggest solar farm in the state, which will favor EV in the calculations for sure.

Post EV use of the battery should be an area of intense interest because if we can use the batteries from current vehicles in stationary applications long after they stop being useful in a car then the huge component of embodied emissions attributed to battery manufacture can rapidly be slashed by 50+% even for vehicles already on the road. That would instantly turn these asessments on their head in favor of EV's. Using batteries for other emissions reduction projects during their use in a vehicle, I am mainly thinking of vehicle 2 grid technology here, would also cut the portion of battery manufacturing emissions which should be attributed to its use as a vehicle battery.

Oh, Brian, the world has passed you by, no one seriously claims CO2 is harmless these days, now we quibble about how harmful and how much is reasonable to spend dealing with it, but no one in serious circles still believes there is no effect from CO2 emissions.

Please let's not turn also this thread into frankly a very boring pro/anti greenhouse gas quarrel.

What this article and others fail to mention is that the ICE vehicles spew mush more toxic emissions other than CO2. The model S none.

When you figure in that Elon has transformed the Fremont plant to using some solar power to supply energy demand, their argument about manufacturing emissions goes down even further.

Now, as to the battery life: when the batteries lose some 30% of their storage capability is 8 years or more, Tesla Motors is going to replace them with new ones. What do you think Elon has planned for the old ones? Refurbish them or use them as is as a power storage unit? I'm one for the latter. Picture this, 50 battery packs (85KWh each) with all the cooling, wiring, and control hardware packaged in a cargo container. This would give anyone (utility companies, military, FEMA, etc...) a ready made, drop in power source of about 3MW of backup power (85KWh x 50 x .7% = about 3MWh).

I definately think Elon has thought this through and if I'm thinking of uses like the above, then you can be assured he's thought of it and is just the guy to make things like this happen over the next couple of decades.



Yes, we discussed that report in another thread at length. That is a thorough, and objective analysis of the Model S environmental impact. Puts my mind at ease, even though the primary reason for me buying is for the fun factor.

I believe that Climate Central is a legitimate climate change organization and take this article seriously. Since the article specifically mentions Tesla in the title I would hope for an official Tesla response.

Tesla previously stated position on the Go Electric part of the website was that the Tesla produces less CO2 per mile than gas powered cars, even in the coal burning states, due to the inherent efficiency of EVs over internal combustion engines. While I suspect that is still true, it does not seem to be stated as such on that section of the website anymore.

It is when you try and incorporate the carbon costs of manufacturing into the equation where things get more complicated, especially with EVs. Since I have seen really bad assumptions in past comparisons, e.g. all the aluminum comes from ore, while in fact it is 95% recycled, the details on how individual companies source and recycle their materials becomes key to an accurate and fair comparison. Does this article accurately reflect Tesla’s specific material sourcing and recycling efforts?

Again, since I believe that Climate Central is a legitimate climate organization and unlikely to be biased against EVs, I think that a response from Tesla addressing the lifetime carbon costs of their cars would be appropriate.

I have and will flag as inappropriate any response in this thread that attempts to turn it into a debate on AGW/ CO2, etc. There is at least one other long thread on that subject. We don’t need another.

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