The Federal Government spends about $7,500 to subsidize every electric car sold in the United States. But why? If you thought it was because electric cars are better for the environment, think again…
A 2012 comprehensive life-cycle analysis in Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that almost half the lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions from an electric car come from the energy used to produce the car, especially the battery. The mining of lithium, for instance, is a less than green activity. By contrast, the manufacture of a gas-powered car accounts for 17% of its lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions. When an electric car rolls off the production line, it has already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emission. The amount for making a conventional car: 14,000 pounds.
While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide. This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile. But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.
So unless the electric car is driven a lot, it will never get ahead environmentally.
Chances that you’ll drive an electric car “a lot” are pretty slim considering their extremely limited range. The Nissan Leaf, for example, can only go 73 miles before (on a full charge) before needing to be plugged in again.
Despite all of this, and despite the fact that the cars just don’t sell, the CBO estimates that the Federal Government will spend $7.5 billion on electric cars by 2019.