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Study: Electric Vehicles Have Little Impact On Emissions

Electric Car
Leoneda Inge

A new North Carolina State University study challenges common assumptions connecting electric vehicles and lower emissions.  

Joseph DeCarolis is an assistant professor of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at NC State. He says, believe it or not, electric drive vehicles or EDVs, have little impact on reducing emissions of nasty air pollutants like carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

“There’s no free lunch with this stuff," said DeCarolis.

DeCarolis says even if as many as 40-percent of passenger cars on the road were electric, national emissions wouldn’t change much.

“It’s not a good idea for policy makers to simply incentivize the purchase of these vehicles and expect emission benefits to accrue," said DeCarolis. 

DeCarolis says what could affect U.C. emissions is the cost of oil, the cost of natural gas and the cost of batteries.

“If you charge a plug-in hybrid or a battery electric vehicle with dirty electricity, you’re just exchanging tail pipe emissions for upstream emissions from electric power," said DeCarolis.  " I think we expected to see, though, some effect of an emissions benefit, some sub-set of the scenarios.  It was just hard to find that.”

DeCarolis is senior author of the article, “How Much Do Electric Drive Vehicles Matter to Future U-S Emissions,"  published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

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