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Coal Powered Electric Cars – Fact and Fiction

“The electric car doesn’t do any good because it’s just powered by coal” gets repeated by the oil industry, by news pundits who ignore fact checking, and even by some environmentalists.

In the past three years of writing about electric cars, I have yet to meet an electric car driver or fleet manager who only uses coal power. If you own an electric car and only use coal power, please leave a comment at the end of the article that mentions what you drive and the state in which you live. In the United States, 36 states have utility-scale wind power, so the comment will not be from one of them.

In 2011, over half of the 18,000 electric cars were delivered to states that have zero coal-power plants. In 2012, 60,000 to 100,000 electric cars will be primarily be delivered in zero-coal states. My Nissan Leaf is powered by my utility PG&E with a typical California energy mix of 47% natural gas, 20% nuclear, 16% large hydro, and 15% other renewables. Yes, during peak summer afternoon demand, PG&E does import 2% coal power from other states, but I charge my electric car off-peak after 10 p.m. Many electric car drivers participate in utility programs that offer lower prices for charging off-peak.

By 2020, California utilities plan to have 33% of delivered power from renewables including wind, solar, geothermal, biomethane and waste. By 2050, SMUD, a leading utility, plans to be 90 percent renewable as it implements energy storage that enables renewables to be used 24/7 and as it implements smart grid and smart pricing to make demand more level.

Electric Cars Ride on Sunlight

Many early adopters of electric vehicles are also early adopters of solar power. Jackson Browne rides on sunlight, powering his Chevrolet Volt with the solar on his roof. At Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corp showed me their solar carport with charge units for their 291 electric vehicles used daily.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance is leading the volume manufacturing of electric cars. The Nissan LEAF has a growing presence in the United States and Japan, the Renault Fluence in Europe and Israel. Renault is installing 55 MW of solar parking structures at its manufacturing sites. Solar parking structures increasingly include electric car charging.

With plans for 250 more charging stations on its campus, and a goal to make 5 percent of its campus parking EV-ready, Google’s installation is the largest workplace charging installation for electric vehicles in the country. Much of the charging is done with renewable energy, including Google’s solar covered parking. No coal power is used in charging vehicles. Google has invested over one billion dollars in renewable energy, accelerating development of 1.7 GW of RE.
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