This study explores suitability of battery electric vehicles in the United States by considering their potential market share and operations costs as well as the state-specific variations in electricity generation profiles, given current government policies and the social acceptability of the technology. A performance assessment is developed to compare each state and identify major policy efforts that are needed to increase the environmental and economic competitiveness of electric vehicles. A novel multi-criteria decision-support framework, integrating Life Cycle Assessment, Data Envelopment Analysis, and Agent Based Modeling, is developed. To this end, the environmental and economic impacts of battery electric vehicles are calculated based on three scenarios: an average electricity generation mix, a marginal electricity generation mix, and a solely renewable energy mix with 100% solar. The states are classified, each requiring different policy strategies, in accordance with their performance scores. The results provide important insights for advancing transportation policies and a novel framework for multi-criteria decision-making in the future analyses.
Electric vehicles (EVs) coupled with low-carbon electricity sources offer the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and exposure to tailpipe emissions from personal transportation. In considering these benefits, it is important to address concerns of problem-shifting. In addition, while many studies have focused on the use phase in comparing transportation options, vehicle production is also significant when comparing conventional and EVs. We develop and provide a transparent life cycle inventory of conventional and electric vehicles and apply our inventory to assess conventional and EVs over a range of impact categories. We find that EVs powered by the present European electricity mix offer a 10% to 24% decrease in global warming potential (GWP) relative to conventional diesel or gasoline vehicles assuming lifetimes of 150,000 km. However, EVs exhibit the potential for significant increases in human toxicity, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and metal depletion impacts, largely emanating from the vehicle supply chain. Results are sensitive to assumptions regarding electricity source, use phase energy consumption, vehicle lifetime, and battery replacement schedules. Because production impacts are more significant for EVs than conventional vehicles, assuming a vehicle lifetime of 200,000 km exaggerates the GWP benefits of EVs to 27% to 29% relative to gasoline vehicles or 17% to 20% relative to diesel. An assumption of 100,000 km decreases the benefit of EVs to 9% to 14% with respect to gasoline vehicles and results in impacts indistinguishable from those of a diesel vehicle. Improving the environmental profile of EVs requires engagement around reducing vehicle production supply chain impacts and promoting clean electricity sources in decision making regarding electricity infrastructure.
The electrification of passenger vehicles has the potential to address three of the most critical challenges of our time: Plug-in vehicles may produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions when powered by electricity instead of gasoline, depending on the electricity source; reduce and displace tailpipe emissions, which affect people and the environment; and reduce gasoline consumption, helping to diminish dependence on imported oil and diversify transportation energy sources. When all costs are added up, we find thousands of dollars of damages per vehicle (gasoline or electric) that are paid by the overall population rather than only by those releasing the emissions and consuming the oil. These costs are substantial. But, importantly, the potential of plug-in vehicles to reduce these costs is modest: much lower than the $7,500 tax credit and small compared to ownership costs. This is because the damages caused over the life cycle of a vehicle are caused not only by gasoline consumption, which is reduced with plug-in vehicles, but also by emissions from battery and electricity production, which are increased with plug-in vehicles.
California is planning to spend $40 billion to build a high speed rail system from San Diego to Sacramento. Advocates argue that high speed rail will save money and improve the environment, while critics claim it will waste money and harm the environment. What accounts for these diametrically opposed views about a technology that has been operating in other countries for decades? And what can transportation analysts offer to inform the debate? Disagreements about the cost and environmental impacts of high speed rail can arise when analysts examine only the most direct effects of the rail system, and compare those to only the direct effects of road and air travel—-the two transportation modes from which high speed rail will likely draw passengers. But transportation energy use and emissions result not only from the direct effects of operating the vehicles but also from indirect effects, such as building the infrastructure, producing the fuels, manufacturing the vehicles, maintaining the system, and disposing of materials at the end of their lives. The full range of emissions from automobile travel, for example, includes not only tailpipe emissions but also the emissions created by building roads and parking garages, manufacturing cars, extracting and refining petroleum, and, finally, wrecking yards and tire dumps. One approach to environmental and cost-benefit analysis that takes both these direct and indirect effects into account is life-cycle assessment. In this article we use life-cycle assessment to compare the energy use and pollution emissions of high speed rail and its competing modes.