Electric Currents

Surprise! Recharging an EV in India Might Be Greener Than America

Dec 14, 2017

When Mercedes-Benz India CEO, Roland Folger stated that electric cars in India could end up being dirtier than diesel or gasoline cars, that got me wondering about just how "dirty" Indian EVs would be. You may be surprised by what I found. I was.

In a recent interview with the Economic Times, Folger stated the following:

"The energy mix shows that 50% is produced from coal, which is one of the cheapest and most polluting sources of power in the world. To power a 100km range-based car, you will end up polluting more by drawing power from these coal-based plants."

Now for Folger's observation to be accurate, we need to know what is the current power mix of India's electric grid. Here's the most recent graph I could find.

India Power Grid Mix Nov 2017

Admittedly all the black looks pretty bad. Nationally, 58% of the power fed into India's national grid comes from burning coal. Relative to the USA, where it's down to 31%, it's not that good.

USA Power Grid Mix 2016

However, in terms of overall fossil fuel usage, the two countries aren't all that far apart. Add up the coal, natural gas, and oil and India's mix is 66.2% while the USA is 64%. Granted, natural gas is a bit less dirty than coal, but both still emit way too much CO2, and methane is a much more potent green house gas than CO2. Where the USA leads in low carbon power production is in terms of nuclear power: 21% vs India's 2%.

However, when you compare renewables (hydro, wind, solar, biomass), India's percentage is double that of the USA: 31.8% vs. 13%. What the 2% "other" is isn't specified. Hydro large and small in India is more than double that in the USA. Wind is 50% more. Solar is four and half times higher in India.

Now, understand I am talking about percentages, no actual megawatts of power produced. But in comparing electric cars charged in India versus those charging from the US grid, it's percentage of mix that counts. In the US, there are regions of the country, as I assume is the same in India, where the grid is less carbon intensive than other regions. The graphic below shows which parts of the United States are relatively lower carbon than others: mainly the half of the country west of the Rockies. In my part of the country, a lot of power comes from coal as can be seen on Southwest Power Pool graphs posted most days to the Papio Creek Solar Farm twitter feed. Some days wind provides more than 40% of the electric power on the pool, other days it's half that, sometimes less, but generally, at least one third of the electric power on our regional power pool, which includes Nebraska, parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, comes from zero carbon sources. That's comparable to India.

Electric car equivalent mpg on US power grid

If an electric car charged from the Southwest Power Pool (https://spp.org) is equivalent to driving a gasoline engine car that gets 31-40 mpg, then presumably a similar car in India would have the same impact, would it not? And if that's true, then Herr Fogel's comment about electric cars being dirtier in India would be debatable in my book.

Look, both grids need to clean up their acts and more EVs on the grid, the more wind and solar utilities and independent power producers can add; and the less coal and natural gas both countries need to burn.

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