Op-Ed Makes a Wrong Turn on Electric Vehicles

A recent USA Today op-ed by climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg attempts to recharge his false claims that electric vehicles are bad for the planet. Lomborg's numbers don't tell the real story, but unfortunately the paper's editors didn't catch the deficiencies.

Like he did in 2013, Lomborg insists that emissions from the manufacturing and powering electric vehicles from the grid make them little better than petroleum fueled vehicles. In fact, the Norwegian study that Lomborg references this time finds that electric vehicles even when you include battery manufacturing reduce carbon pollution by 26 to 30 percent compared to gasoline-powered vehicles.

Notwithstanding the mischaracterization of the study, Mr. Lomborg insists that vehicle manufacturing emissions outweigh emissions reductions during vehicle operation. He says that the point when cleaner driving offsets the more intensive manufacturing is about 50,000 miles. Then he suggests that the lifetime range of a typical electric vehicle like the Nissan LEAF is only 50,000. I doubt consumers are buying the LEAF with such low expectations. As my colleague, Max Baumhefner previously blogged, "[t]he premise that the typical electric car will only be driven 50,000 miles is fanciful." Electric vehicle manufacturers warranty their powertrains for at least 100,000 miles and some electric vehicle drivers have already hit that mark.

Lomborg also trots out the false notion that dirty coal plants are a primary source of vehicle charging. It's this uninformed view that leads him to state that electric vehicles will result in large damages to Americans' health. In reality, in the United States, the main source of electric vehicle energy is not coal. As we discussed previously, new electricity demand from electric vehicles is being met predominantly with natural gas power plants and renewable generation like solar and wind. Our own analysis with the Electric Power Research Institute and that of U.S. EPA bear this out. Our nation is not building more dirty coal plants to charge electric vehicles but, instead, coal plants are being retired today.

Looking to the future, electric generation is poised to get cleaner and cleaner. Commonsense power plant standards and rapidly growing renewable power will make the clean electric vehicles of today even cleaner for our kids. It's the combination of clean power and electrified vehicles that hold the key to a sustainable transportation future. This is why scientists have concluded that electric transportation plays a pivotal role in reducing carbon pollution sufficient to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Continued heavy reliance on oil (or dirty coal) won't get us there.