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How clean is the electric car?

David Rapson's research covered in the San Diego Union-Tribune

A recent story in the San Diego Union Tribune  focused on new work by a trio of UC Davis researchers on the environmental impacts of electric cars.  The paper, "From Cradle to Junkyard: Assessing the Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Benefits of Electric Vehicles" by James Arcsmith and David Rapson of UC Davis Economics and Alissa Kendall of UC Davis' Civil and Environmental Engineering, estimates the full life cycle environmental impacts of electric vehicles.  "One thing to understand about electric vehicles (EVs) is that they are not zero emission vehicles," says Rapson, "EVs are only as clean as the electric grid in which they are operating." The study finds great variation in the environmental benefits of EVs, reflecting the variation in electric systems around the country. In California, they estimate the net environmental benefits to be around $450 per vehicle, based upon the current electric system. "Of course, as the grid sheds coal and adds renewables, EVs will provide increasing GHG benefits nationwide. But we should keep in mind that conventional cars are also becoming much more efficient, making the total potential GHG benefits of EVs smaller than many people might think."