Measuring the Environmental Performance of EVs


  • The electric vehicle you buy today will get cleaner each day you drive it and will last longer with less maintenance and fuel costs than traditional gas vehicles
  • Various factors like location, time of day, and the energy source will determine the emissions from an EV

The Eco Scorecard: Electric vs. Gasoline

When it comes to vehicle emissions, it’s not just what you emit, but when and where.

The environmental power of electric vehicles (EVs) is the overall reduction of emissions plus the consolidation of emissions in both time and geography.

Gas vehicles emit pollutants along commute routes and at the local level. These emissions accelerate climate change and create local air quality issues that impact health and economic development.

Emissions from EV charging

An electric vehicle's emissions are complex to determine, as they are specific to the grid location and time of charging.

The EV itself releases no emissions when driving. Instead, the emissions of EVs are generally consolidated to overnight hours at a handful of power generation stations. These power stations can create drastically lower emissions than the thousands of distributed car engines they replace – especially when these power stations have advanced emission controls, renewable technologies, and steady utilization.

In Texas, for example, energy during overnight hours can often be yielded from heavy wind generation that creates a very low emissions profile. So, when and where you charge can influence the emissions created by generating that energy, in addition to the price of energy during the charging session.

Unlike gas vehicles, your EV drives cleaner every day as the grid lowers emissions with a constantly improving mix of generation resources like wind and solar.

Emissions from EV manufacturing

While electric vehicles present a significant step towards improving local air quality and fighting climate change, they're not without their own environmental impacts – especially when it comes to the manufacturing process.

Most (if not all) EVs drive off the lot with an "emissions premium." This term refers to the greenhouse gases emitted during the production of the EV itself, particularly its battery. The production of lithium-ion batteries, the heart of most EVs, is energy-intensive and involves materials that must be mined and processed.

For the time being, the consensus among environmental researchers is that you may need to drive around 20,000 miles to "pay back" the emissions premium incurred from the EV's manufacturing. This figure, however, is a moving target. It varies based on the EV model, the energy source used for electricity to charge the vehicle, and improvements in manufacturing processes.

Despite this challenge, there's a silver lining. The automotive industry and battery manufacturers are acutely aware of these issues, and they are actively seeking solutions to mitigate the environmental and ethical impacts of EV production. Innovations in battery technology, recycling, and material sourcing are among the top priorities.

It's also important to consider the broader picture. While the manufacturing phase of EVs is more emissions-intensive compared to conventional vehicles, the total lifetime emissions (including both manufacturing and operation phases) of EVs are typically lower. This is because EVs emit no tailpipe pollutants and, depending on the electricity source, are significantly cleaner over their operational life.

Understanding the complexities of EV emissions highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to sustainability. It involves not just the end-use of products but their entire lifecycle – from raw material extraction to manufacturing, usage, and eventually recycling.


Merge Electric Fleet Solutions helps businesses gain the economic and environmental benefits of EVs: Get in touch

See related article: EV Economics – Breaking Down Upfront Costs vs. Long-term Savings


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