How Clean Is Your Electric Car? Online Tool Helps You Find Out

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EPA Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Tool

EPA Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Tool

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If you’re looking to buy an electric car, you’re probably familiar with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Fuel Economy website, which lists the gas mileage of every car on sale today along with the miles per gallon equivalent rating for every plug-in car. 

Unfortunately, the EPA’s MPGe rating isn’t the best way to work out how green your electric car is, but there is another tool you can use from the EPA that can help you figure it out. 

Hidden away as part of the “Energy And Environment” tab of the EPA’s vehicle comparison tool is a section that can calculate how much upstream greenhouse gasses your chosen electric car will be responsible for if it is charged with electricity from your local utility company. 

Available in grams per mile, U.S. tons per year, or metric tons per year, the calculator gives you an at-a-glance indication of real-world emissions. 

Admittedly, the tool can only give average figures based on the average power mix from your local utility, but we think it’s worth a look. 

Here’s how you use it. 

  • Head to the Beyond Tailpipe Emissions page

You’ll find the Beyond Tailpipe Emissions page hidden away in a little corner of the EPA’s website. 

While you can find it from the main page, the easiest way to get there is to follow this handy link.

  • Enter in your zip code

In order to estimate the total tailpipe and upstream emissions of your chosen plug-in car, the website needs to know where you live. Enter your zip code into the box provided, and then select your car’s year and model. 

  • Review the results

Once you click ‘calculate’, the site then uses U.S. Department of Energy data on energy generation in your local area to calculate the true carbon impact of your car. 

In the U.S., the current average non plug-in vehicle emits around 500 grams of CO2 per mile, while the national average for your chosen vehicle will also be displayed. 

In our first example zip code, based in Washington, DC, a 2012 Nissan leaf is responsible for around 190 grams of CO2 per mile. 

EPA Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Tool

EPA Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Tool

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But head west towards West Virginia, where a lot of electricity is generated from coal-fired plants, and the same car is responsible for emitting 270 grams of CO2 per mile driven. 

How clean is your car?

Remember, that the EPA’s tool can’t account for any solar panels or wind turbines you use to charge your car, and assumes that you’ll be charging it solely from power obtained from the local grid. 

Our quick illustration shows that the CO2 emissions an electric car is responsible for vary dramatically based on your location, but how green is your area and your plug-in car?

Let us know in the Comments below.


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Comments (5)
  1. This is the very tool I link to with my ICE vs. EV utility, which also lets potential customers compare side-by-side the greenhouse gas emissions of a gasoline vehicle of their choice:

    Of course, the EPA has yet to update this tool according to the most recent reduction in the number of coal-fired power plants, but it nonetheless clearly shows the advantage of driving an EV --even in areas like West Virginia or Wyoming.

  2. This is a gaping hole just waiting to be filled -->"Remember, that the EPA’s tool can’t account for any solar panels or wind turbines you use to charge your car."

    When is someone at EPA, NREL, UCS, etc. finally going to take a close look at home solar + EVs and do the full air pollution math on the following: 1) An EV charged directly, and 100 percent with solar electricity, during a sunny day by a home solar system; 2) An EV + PV solar offset situation where the EV owner, via home solar, during the day produces 100 percent equivalent of what he/she draws when plugging in at night.

    This analysis is absolutely crying out to be done by an science/engineering/environmental expert!

  3. There's another gaping flaw in the tool. For the Chevy Volt, it gives a flat CO2 number for any particular zip code. But the emissions of a Volt vary dramatically, depending on the mix of electric and gas-powered driving. That can vary from 0 percent electric to 100 percent, with very different CO2 numbers.

    I average about 80 percent electric miles in my Volt, which is fairly typical. But what mix did EPA use to come up with its number?

  4. (buzzer sound)

    Where is the calculations, if after 'filling up' our Coda every day, we still have a couple of dollars of credit from So.Cal. Edison every month? We are essentially paying 0$ for fuel for the Coda. And SoCalEdison will be sending us a CHECK.

  5. We have solar panels, obviously, heh.

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