Not all electricity is the same

California’s new law requiring solar panels in new residential builds has just gone into place.  That’s pretty cool– I’m hoping that the resultant increase in demand will cause technology improvements that will make solar worth it for my house by the time we need a new roof.

California already has cleaner energy which means it’s a great place to drive an electric car.

But not every state gets a lot of energy from renewables and (not great but still) relatively cleaner forms of energy generation such as nuclear power or natural gas.  Some still have electricity generation that may be dirtier than the same amount required to fuel a gasoline-powered hybrid car.  In these places, it’s better for the environment to buy a hybrid than to buy an electric vehicle.

Here’s an article from 2015 that describes this situation in more detail.

And here’s a nifty NYTimes article from 2018 that shows where your state gets the majority of its energy (or at least where it did back in 2017):

The US government also has a tool that’s hopefully more up-to-date (but actually looks like it’s still using 2017 data) that provides a ton of information on energy generation and consumption by state.  You can see why CA is a great place for electric cars, but say, West Virginia should stick to hybrids.

What kind of electricity do you have?  Has this influenced your decision about what kind of car to buy?


13 Responses to “Not all electricity is the same”

  1. abe Says:

    We have mainly hydropower here. I adore my 2000 Echo as it was a gift from a dear friend who died years ago. I can’t see buying a new car pretty much ever unless it dies (knock wood). I don’t know how to evaluate it quantitatively, but I figure that continuing to use an old thing is better for the environment than buying a new one.

  2. CG Says:

    I had no idea my state got so much of its energy from nuclear power…interesting.

  3. teresa Says:

    Knowing CA has a relatively clean energy mix made buying an EV seem like the obvious decision (as a household that could readily afford it and needed to replace a car). It helped reinforce decisions to switch from gas to electric heat and to replace our second (hybrid SUV) vehicle when the Tesla truck comes out in a couple years instead of driving it indefinitely ourselves (even though I have sort of mixed feelings about that). And now it’s making me consider getting an electric water heater whenever ours need replacing, which would leave the oven/range as our only gas appliance.

    The medium-long range plan has been to put solar (tiles or panels) on and install powerwalls when our roof needs to be replaced, or sooner if we have the time/cash/energy to organize a non-urgent major home project, which google solar says should be able to cover at least our current energy use. So very selfishly I’m hoping the new law will increase the number of local contractors doing solar installation and drive down costs in addition to pushing innovation.

  4. bogart Says:

    I bought my current (gas) car when EVs were much less of a thing and am not currently in the market to replace it, though have at times thought about doing so (EV instead of GV). Does it matter that although we’re in a primarily coal state, we pay (a tiny bit) extra to have our electricity sourced by renewables (through Arcadia power, no affiliation)? I’ve never been clear if/how much this really helps, or whether we’re just shifting ourselves but not affecting overall usage.

  5. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I’m also hoping that the increase in required solar means that we might be able to afford solar in the next few years!

  6. Debbie M Says:

    My state is way better than expected:
    * more natural gas than coal, but also:
    * wind is replacing coal and also overtaking nuclear power. And shockingly:
    * “Texas adopted a renewable energy requirement in 1999 , requiring the state to install 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2025. It has already reached that goal.”

    My utility provider allows us to pay extra to have our electricity come from wind, and I do that. Of course, it all goes into the grid, so really I’m using whatever, but I’m definitely subsidizing wind so we have more of it. Ah, I see you’ve linked to an article above, which I almost decided I wasn’t in the mood to read, but it was actually quite fun to read! Though kind of depressing. I have considered buying extra RECs, but my budget is kind of tight these days.

    I buy my cars old, and I heard that hybrids use a lot of resources just to build, so I’m currently still satisfied with my 2008 Toyota Corolla. I was around during the 1970s and have been super annoyed that all the progress made in reducing gas usage has gone into creating more SUVs and pick-up trucks. Also, The mileage of the Yaris was just as bad as for the Corolla. Apparently low-mileage cars have been built but do not sell well, at least in the US.

    My boyfriend has a gas-guzzling truck he loves, but I’ve convinced him to drive my car instead whenever he has a longish trip. We get about 32 mpg. On my latest trip to my Mom’s, I tried to stay behind the slowest vehicles I could find (they were already blocking traffic), but still spent a fair amount of time going 70 mph, but I managed 39 mpg. (Why haven’t they changed the maximum speed limit back to 55 mph?) I never drive anywhere within 2 miles of where I live, nor do I drive to downtown, though I will ride with my boyfriend when he does so. I never go to Trader Joe’s (across town) unless my boyfriend is already going. And I drive to friends’ houses for socializing.

    To actually answer your question, the type of energy I have has not influenced the kind of car I drive because I buy only affordable, durable ten-year-old cars. (Nor any other decision; I assume less is better for both electricity and natural gas. Fracking has made me angry about natural gas and thus less thrilled about my gas water heater, furnace, and oven.) However, when I renovate to have covered parking for at least two cars (more if I add one of those backyard cottages), I will make sure there are appropriate outlets. Perhaps by the time I need a “new” car, ten-year-old Teslas will be affordable and available. I am also fantasizing about Tesla’s gorgeous solar roof shingles and hope they will be ready when I replace my roof soon-ish.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I remember a while back when gas prices were higher, people were making money fixing up Geo Metros because they had such good gas mileage. My first boyfriend drove one around in high school!

  7. Matthew D Healy Says:

    Wind power has continued to grow here in Iowa, which makes sense because Iowa is very windy. I see some Solar panels here and there, but Iowa’s not very sunny plus I notice many of those Solar panels are covered with snow right now; wind is a much better match for Iowa’s climate. We’ll soon be at roughly 60% wind. Coal is now below 25%, mostly for times when the wind doesn’t blow. Natural gas is about 15%. Nuclear/Other is under 5%, and I think that’s mostly imported from Illinois because I don’t think Iowa has any nuclear power plants. Nor does Iowa have much potential for hydropower: while Iowa is NOT as flat as coastal people think, its hills are not very high. Within our Town in Connecticut there was more elevation difference than the entire State of Iowa has got.

    When we lived in Connecticut we paid a somewhat higher rate for wind power; doing that in Iowa would seem redundant.

    Current car is a 2013 Corolla, which we plan to keep for at least a few more years. Whenever we do replace it, probably we’ll get a Prius. We’re renting an apartment at present, so plugging the car in overnight is not an option available to us. I suspect really widespread use of electric cars will require substantial government intervention to make charging stations ubiquitous.

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