Dirtiest Country For Electric Cars? India; Cleanest? Paraguay

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Indian traffic [Image: Flickr user Peter Eich]

Indian traffic [Image: Flickr user Peter Eich]

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Electric cars are often described as "zero emission vehicles".

That's true, to an extent - you won't find a drop of any substance eminating from their non-existent tailpipes. But naturally, they get their energy from somewhere, and that somewhere is a country's electricity grid.

Those can be less than clean, as China's recent smog problems from coal-burning plants illustrate. It means China is a pretty bad country to run an electric car.

Bottom of the pile: India

According to Shrink That Footprint (via The Guardian), India is the dirtiest country in the world in which to run an electric car, thanks to an electricity grid dominated by high-carbon coal.

That puts the carbon dioxide emissions equivalent of an electric car in India are a staggering 370 grams per kilometer. 70 g/km of that figure results from manufacturing (the figure is 40 g/km for a gasoline vehicle), the rest is down to the dirty electricity that powers it--when it's working at all, that is.

For comparison, equivalent CO2 from the same vehicle in the U.S. would be 202 g/km. In the U.K, 189 g/km. In Canada, it's only 115 g/km. In nuclear-dominated France, that figure drops to 93 g/km, and right at the bottom of the chart are Iceland and Paraguay, with figures of 70 g/km.

Both countries generate their power from entirely low-carbon sources--geothermal in Iceland, and hydropower in Paraguay. Post production, lifetime CO2 emissions in both countries are almost zero.

In these two countries, an electric car would already have worked off its manufacturing emissions next to a gasoline car in a matter of months.

MPG equivalent

To put those numbers into an understandable format, Shrink That Footprint has worked out the MPG equivalent for an electric car powered on each grid.

In the U.S, when grid emissions are taken into consideration, the average electric car has an MPG equivalent of around 40 mpg.


It's far more complicated than that in reality, and we're guessing that figure doesn't take the well-to-wheels oil chain process into consideration--but for the purpose of this comparison, it's easiest to stick with 40 MPG.

The estimate well-to-wheels for a gasolione car in 2010 was 465 g/mi, or 744 g/km... but then you'd need to look at where coal comes from, or uranium, or the materials to build wind turbines. In other words, it gets far too complicated for reasonable comparison.

We'd also note that this figure is rising anyway--the U.S. grid, like many Western nations, is getting cleaner.

In India, with its entirely coal-generated electricity, the same electric car would be as dirty as a car doing only 20 mpg. China is marginally better, at 30 mpg. The U.K. would come out at 44 mpg, France at a plug-in hybrid-rivaling 123 mpg, and Paraguay at 218 mpg.

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Comments (24)
  1. Where the car is built and driven/charged are usually completely different. So, using that assumption is a poor way of approaching EV's emission by this study.

  2. Last time I looked, neither Iceland nor India really produce any EVs on global scale.

  3. You're becoming quite annoying. Someone has to tell you this... What does making a product have to do with anything and especially this article? Iceland hardly makes anything, so does it mean they have no cars at all? They may not make the buses for example yet they run them on fuel cells with hydrogen generated entirely using geothermal energy. The point of the article is that running an EV in India wouldn't contribute to cleaner environment due to their dirty and inefficient energy generation - you might as well run on gasoline - maybe that's why it doesn't make sense to make the EVs there? And just to add to your ignorant post, quite a few early (and current) EVs in the UK are Indian made. There's no need to comment on everything...

  4. Well, "At the cleanest end of the scale, manufacturing emissions play a huge part in just how clean a vehicle is."

    So, unless you know both the manufacturing process of the car AND where the car is used, you won't know for sure the emission level.

    A car that is built in China running in US will still be better than a car that is built in India and running in Iceland.

    That is my point. Most of those "so called studies" doesn't really give enough tools for readers to full analyze all the different mix and match situations.

    And for your information. If you don't want read my post, then don't read it. You are just as annoying when you don't have clue on what you are talking about. It is NOT your job to police the comment section.

  5. I love this jewel...

    "So, unless you know both the manufacturing process of the car AND where the car is used, you won't know for sure the emission level.

    A car that is built in China running in US will still be better than a car that is built in India and running in Iceland."

    How did you come up with that? So no one but YOU out of sheer genius and vast knowledge are aware of the differences between Chinese and Indian manufacturing processes involving the same imaginary EV that would be running in the US and Iceland respectively. You just ran data on the fly in your head and decided that imaginary Chinese EV in US = better, Indian EV in Iceland = worse. Wow, just wow...

  6. I guess you didn't get my point. My point was that unless you combine both the soource of the grid and manufacturing for EACH Particlular model and case, it would be hard to compare them.

    My estimate (might NOT be completely correct) is due to the mention of adjusted MPG for India and China where one is about 20mpg and china is equivalent at 30mpg. And if you use solar in the US, then the "50%" improved in difference between China and India would make a major difference in the total emission for those cars operated in Iceland and US (with solar).

    It seems to me that your biggest issue is with China. B/c you get very "emotional" with that topic. Maybe we should just leave that topic alone, shall we?

  7. @Jan,

    Just so you know, just b/c I don't agree with your arguement on the topic of pollution in Beijing, it doesn't mean you are right or I am wrong. It is my right to comment on the topic that I want. Your attitude toward this is extremely annoying or silly. Just b/c you like to read GCR, it doesn't mean other readers can't like it too and post something you don't agree with. Last time I looked, the people that "police" the right to comment is NOT you. Maybe you need to get a life and focuse on your own post instead.

  8. Not sure I'm the one who has no life... Like I said you're the first to comment on everything, multiple times, responding to yourself, and you don't really know crap in most cases. Yes, we know you have the Volt and everything revolves around it and Chinese "progress and development" can suck it and choke as far as I care since you've brought it up.

  9. Not my job to police but I can tell you that you're clueless and spamingly annoying whenever I want to. Last time you checked India didn't make EVs... You might want to check again and respond to yourself twice and mention your Volt somehow while you're at it.

  10. @Jan: First, please keep it polite and don't attack other commenters directly. The word "crap" generated a profanity alert, so please watch your language.

    Second, India is home to a company called Reva that has made tens of thousands of electric cars. They wouldn't be street-legal in the states except as low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles, but they were sold in the U.K. as the G-Wiz a few years ago. FYI.

  11. There are more comments in this thread
  12. Funny thing is - Reva (with its G-Wiz) was actually one of the largest EV manufacturers just a few years back !

  13. It's actually wells to wheels though I was equally skeptical. The reports by the concerned scientists have the EVs pegged to ~30 MPG in Nebraska and the Dakotas and ~ 50 MPG in the Northwest, so 40 for the entire country is quite believable.

  14. Indeed it is well to wheels.

    FYI the difference to the UCS report is that this one accounts for different manufacturing emissions between EV and petrol.

    If you assume they are the same (like UCS) the US figure is 50 MPG, more in line with the concerned scientists average.

    Nice write up! Though i'd definitely change this given the chance '465 g/mi, or 744 g/km' ;-)

  15. "In India, with its entirely coal-generated electricity"

    Hmmm ... I don't think so. They have a lot of hydro-electricity as well.

  16. True and including nuclear, 37% of their electricity comes from "clean" sources which ranks them quite highly (definitely higher than China even with its lovely Three Gorges Dam.) However, their coal efficiency sucks.

  17. Actually, it is the coal that sucks. It has high ash content (IIRC).

  18. I guess your "hot button" is the China vs. India issue or China in general. But let us leave that aside and try to be polite about the topic since you like to get "emotioinal" over anything to do with China.

    It is true that China's grid is dirty and lots of it comes from coal. But China consumps about 4x more electricity than India (still less than US on per capita basis). But its "clean energy" is actually far greater than India's but since it consumes so much, the % is worse.

    Wind: China 62GW vs India 18.4GW
    Solar: 3.3GW vs. 1.1GW
    Hydro: 210GW vs. 37.3 GW
    Nuke: 11.3GW vs. 4.7GW

    Can China and India both improves their e-source? Absolutely. China is top 3 in growth of Wind/Solar/Hydro energy and India is planning for the same.

  19. Problem with relative comparisons is they ignore the absolute values. Just as comparing the relative cleanness of EVs by country ignores the less clean vehicles on the roads of these countries… We don't need relative arguments; we need absolute solutions!

    Fact: China on track in 2013 to use as much Coal as the rest of World combined! http://go.usa.gov/49HY http://twitter.com/EIAgov/status/296243740236984320/photo/1 - via: @EIAgov

    The fact has lttle to do with EVs… just some insight on emissions from one country. [!!!!!]

  20. I agree. China has many areas to improve beside just its cars. Its power grid and industrial pollution contributes to majority of the pollution. Its farm equipment and transportation equipment are far dirtier than the cars. Not to mention all the pollution generated from residential heating based on coal and charcoal during winter.

  21. Here we go again talking about "well-to-wheels" costs of powering an electric drive vehicle using 5-6 year old data! Clearly the objective of this study is to make the 0.1% of the cleanest vehicles on our planet cleaner so we won't be concerned with the other 99.9%.

    Why just compare EVs & not compare all vehicles, considering drilling wells is not necessary to power EVs? Such comparisons only invoke negative criticism on my mud being dirty'er than your mud! If petroleum is added to the the mix, all mud is cleaner.

    note: Regions of planet with the most EVs have the greenest electricity! The reality of electrical power is it is & will continue to get cleaner & greener, unlike any fuel elements derived from drilling wells, or digging holes.

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