The Question of Electric Cars – No Question at All

Frequently the question arises: “Are electric cars really better for the environment than internal combustion engine cars?”

Short answer: yes – electric cars are better in every state than driving an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle.

  • The question arises because electricity must be produced somehow, and in the USA electricity is often produced by burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.

There are two factors at play that make electric vehicles a better choice for the environment:

  1. The power mix of the United States has a significant portion of wind, solar, hydro and nuclear, which produce few or no greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Power plants are more efficient at generating electricity from fossil fuels than cars are – so even electric vehicles powered by natural gas-generated-electricity will usually get more bang for the environmental buck than simply burning gasoline in the engine of the vehicle.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published a study on the total greenhouse gas emissions created required to power an ICE vehicle compared to the greenhouse gas emissions from generating the electricity required to power electric cars. The results of this study are clear:

Here you can see the data from the Union of Concerned Scientists’ study, showing the equivalent fuel economy of one of these new electric vehicles in each area of the country:

Fuel economy equivalent by area of the country. Source: Union of Concerned Scientists.

If you’d like to use a tool to check electricity use in your specific area, you can use this tool. For example, if you’re up in Middlebury, VT driving a Tesla Model S – you’re getting the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions as 98 mpg ICE vehicle.

Furthermore, electric vehicles are actually getting more efficient over time – this is due both to improvements in technology and the improvements in the power mix of the United States: more and more renewable energy is powering the electricity grid in the US with coal becoming less common every year.

United States Electricity Mix 2007-2017
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists Data Source: US Department of Energy, Energy Information Agency.

This is a doubly positive trend because electric vehicles are themselves improving, while the electricity they use is becoming cleaner over time. Renewables make up almost 10% of electricity generated in 2017, and this will continue to increase every year for the foreseeable future.

So the answer is clear: electric cars are certainly better for the environment than old-school gasoline vehicles. Additional advantages of electric vehicles include better performance, less money and time for maintenance because they have fewer moving parts, and that they are a money-saver for their owners.

The Tesla Model 3, Prius Prime or Honda IONIQ Electric, all cost less than $30,000, meaning electric cars can provide better performance and are accessible to nearly everyone as of 2018.


Graham Majorhart is the co-founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral through

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.