Enthusiasm for electric vehicles is high these days, and for good reason. With a significant increase in range and variety, and with EVs reaching price parity with internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and trucks, these clean, green machines are much more attractive to a wider range of folks. How green are EVs though, and have you ever thought to ask: Is my Tesla coal-powered?
The answer to that question largely depends on where you live. The greener your state’s electricity grid, the less likely your EV is powered by burning fossil fuels. In this regard, Oregon, with over 50% of its electricity coming from renewables, is the cleanest place to charge an EV at the moment.
Unfortunately, if you live in one of the major coal-consuming states, chances are your EV isn’t quite as green as you’d like. It will still be greener than an ICE vehicle though!
States where coal powers electric vehicles
Based on consumption in trillion British thermal units (Btu) for 2018 (the last year for which figures are available), the leading states for energy consumption from coal are:
- Texas – 1189.3
- Indiana – 985.7
- Ohio – 717.8
- Illinois – 704.6
- Missouri – 668.2
- West Virginia – 661.8
- Kentucky – 655.9
- Pennsylvania – 644.1
- Michigan – 506.1
- Wyoming – 455.7.
States like the ones listed above burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, and your EV is no exception. If you pull in to charge your Tesla at a charging station in states that have electricity grids still largely powered by coal, your EV isn’t as green as it could be.
Even if your home state isn’t on this list, though, that’s no reason for complacency. A new study published in the journal Nature looking specifically at what powers cannabis cultivation in states across the US also offers a wider appreciation of where your energy comes from.
Coal powered energy still prevalent
Researchers found, for instance, that a large proportion of energy produced in Colorado and New Mexico comes from coal. The rest comes largely from natural gas. Montana also relies heavily on coal. Nevada is predominantly powered by natural gas, as is California! And even Oregon relies fairly heavily on natural gas (though more so on hydroelectric, like Washington State).
If you want to charge an EV in Alaska, chances are that electricity is coming from natural gas, coal, or petroleum, though hydroelectric and some non-hydro renewables are also in the mix there.
Phasing out coal generated electricity
The good news is that almost all new power plants built this year will not be fossil fuel based and that more coal and petroleum powered plants are being closed. Around 30% of the power capacity being retired in 2021 is from coal plants; nuclear accounts for 56% of retired capacity.
Given that energy demands are increasing across the US, what’s replacing those old, dirty power stations? Just 16% of new power plant capacity for 2021 will come from natural gas, and those are predominantly concentrated in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Happily, the remaining 84% of new plants will generate power using renewable energy sources, mostly wind and solar power. The proportion of energy from renewables is expected to rise from 20% in 2020 to 21% in 2021 and to 22% in 2022 according to the IEA.
This shift in the power production landscape puts the lie to the idea that wind and solar are prohibitively expensive and an economic threat. Indeed, most big utility companies have already pledged to cut carbon emissions and adopt the use of renewables.This includes significant solar capacity in Texas, which will hopefully give EV users (and everyone else) more options for switching away from electricity generated by burning coal.
Alternative EV charging options
Check with your local energy providers to see if they offer a renewables option. If not, consider installing a solar carport, solar driveway or solar roof to charge your EV.
You could also avoid reliance on some fossil fuel power by installing a home wind turbine or microhydro system.