What exactly will you be plugging into if you buy an EV or PHEV?
Plug-in advocates in the U.S. like to point out that coal burning accounts for a little more than 50 percent of the total electricity produced in the United States. And they correctly point out that much of the plugging in will happen at night when power plants – coal and natural gas alike – have excess capacity that's just waiting to be tapped.
But, as much as we at SolarChargedDriving.Com support plug-ins and the mission to convert America – and the world – from filthy gasoline-powered vehicles to EVs, and despite the fact that studies have repeatedly shown that plugging into a 100-percent coal-fired electric grid is generally better for the environment than driving a gas stinker around, we think it’s misleading to quote national numbers on the electric grid.
W. Virginian plugs into far more coal than Californian
For example, the average Californian plugs his or her EV into a lot less coal than the average West Virginian.
To get a truly accurate picture of what you’ll really be plugging your EV or PHEV into you would need to track down the electricity production statistics for your own electric utility. Eventually, we may go to that local a level to help SolarChargedDriving.Com readers in the U.S. (and perhaps beyond) determine exactly what they will be plugging into – at least those living in major population centers.
For now, we’ll start with the state level, as that information is easier to access and to put together in an article form. And, although it’s clearly not as fine-grained or accurate as the electricity production statistics for your own utility, generally, it’s going to be a closer approximation of what individual electric car owners will be plugging their EV/PHEV into than a national statistic.
In this installment, we list the Top 10 States to live in the U.S. if you’re plugging a car into the grid. In our second installment, we’ll list the Worst 10 states to live in if you’re plugging an EV into the grid.
The states with the highest amount of electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydro power are ranked highest. We are aware of the environmental drawbacks of hydro power, especially its detrimental effect on aquatic life. However, as destructive as hydro power is on river ecosystems, it does not produce any air pollution, and, in contrast to nuclear power, does not produce a toxic waste stream lasting hundreds of human generations.
Generally, states with the highest percentage of electricity generated by the burning of coal (or, in Hawaii’s case, oil) are ranked lowest.
We draw our data and information from the web site GetEnergyActive.Org, which, among other things, offers an easy-to-use, interactive pop-up map of the U.S. which allows individual users to drag their mouse over each state and immediately get the energy mix data for that state (data used in the map are from 2006). Get Energy Active is sponsored by the Edison Electric Institute. Its members represent approximately 70 percent of the U.S. electric power industry.
The U.S. National Grid Mix
National grid mix numbers aren’t all that meaningful in terms of the question of individual plug-in car users, however, we know people love national statistics, so here are the national stats from GetEnergyActive.Org (the percentages are rounded and therefore do not add up exactly to 100%):
- Coal = 49%
- Natural Gas = 21%
- Nuclear = 20%
- Hydro-power = 6%
- Non-hydro renewable/other = 4%
- Fuel oil = 1%
Top 10 States for Plug-in Vehicles: Our list
1. IDAHO. With all due respect to Idaho, which boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the U.S., and the world, some of us might be surprised to see Idaho ranked No. 1 in anything. Yet, here it is: There is no better state in America to live in and own a plug-in vehicle than Idaho. Hydro-power generates a full 84 percent of Idaho’s electricity. Add “other renewables” into the mix, and it jumps to 90 percent! Natural gas, a clean-burning source of energy as far as fossil fuel sources go (the environmental impact of drilling for natural gas is another issue), accounts for almost all of the additional 10 percent. Less than one percent of Idaho’s electricity is produced by burning coal. Plug in in Idaho, and you can come extremely close to being able to saying you drive an air pollution-free car – even if you don’t solar-charge. And if you do solar-charge (and there’s plenty of sun in most of Idaho), you’ll be driving clean baby, really clean! The downside to your air pollution-free driving is hydro’s negative impact on river and aquatic life and ecosystems. But, other than a handful of solar-charged drivers in other states, no one is going to be able to top you, Idaho plug-in owners, on the air pollution-free driving front!
2. WASHINGTON. Hydro power is king in Washington, accounting for 75.4 percent of the state’s electricity production. Add in “other renewables” and nearly 80 percent of electricity in Washington is produced with essentially no air pollution whatsoever! Just six percent of Washington’s electricity comes from Dirty Coal. Plug an EV in Washington and you can truly say that you’re driving a nearly air pollution-free vehicle! Put up a solar system (especially in often sunny E. Washington), and you might come the closest of any homeowner in America to driving completely pollution free, even if you do plug in at night some of the time. Again, the downside to your air pollution-free driving is hydro’s negative impact on river and aquatic life and ecosystems. But, other than those neighboring Idahoans -- and a handful of solar-charged drivers in other states -- no one is going to be able to top you, Washington plug-in owners, on the air pollution-free driving front. So go ahead Washingtonians, plug on in!
3. OREGON. Oregon, which gets 70 percent of its electricity from hydro power, makes it a Top Three sweep for the Northwest United States. Add other renewables to the equation and 74 percent of the electricity generated in Oregon can be said to be generated air-pollution free. Natural gas accounts for 22 percent of Oregon’s electricity. Coal generates just four percent of it. Drivers of the American Northwest, plug in today!
4. MAINE. Surprised that we’re all the way to No. 4, and California is still not on the list? So are we. But the fact is that often brutally cold and cloudy Maine produces more of its electricity from renewable energy forms than the Sunshine State. According to GetEnergyActive.Org, 27 percent of Maine’s electricity is generated by non-hydro renewable and other. Yes, some of that total comes from biofuels, including wood. But add in another 25 percent from hydro-power and more than 50 percent of the electricity you’re drawing for your plug-in in Maine, is being generated by renewable energy forms. Natural gas accounts for another 43 percent, meaning something approaching 95 percent of the electricity produced in Maine is generated by reasonably clean forms of energy. Of course, about three percent of Maine’s electricity is produced by burning oil, and another two percent by coal (again, our percentages don’t add up exactly due to rounding of GetEnergyActive.Org’s numbers). Maine gets an extra thumbs up in our book for producing zero percent of its electricity via nuclear while also doing an excellent job of harnessing the power of renewable energy forms.
5. CALIFORNIA. Some might be surprised that California isn’t No. 1. After all California is king of the counter-culture and it’s supposed to be on the cutting edge of virtually all trends, including the growing ‘green’ trend. Instead, it sits behind Maine and all of the Northwestern states in our Best States to Plug In your Plug In rankings. Of course, far more people live in California – approximately 37 million -- than in Idaho, Washington or Oregon. In fact, far more people live in California than in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington combined (about 12 million). It therefore takes far more electricity to keep the lights on in California than in any of the top four plug-in states listed above. In fact, California consumes more electricity than any other state – except Texas (which consumers more even though it has 12 million fewer people than California). So what is the Golden State’s electricity grid mix? According to GetEnergyActive.Org, hydro produces 22 percent of California’s electricity and non-hydro renewable + “other” account for another 12 percent. That means that about one-third of the state’s electricity is generated by renewable energy forms. Natural gas accounts for the bulk of California’s electricity at 49 percent. Coal provides just one percent of California’s electricity. So, generally, you can feel fairly good about yourself if you plug in your EV/PHEV in California. Of course, you can feel even better about plugging in your plug-in if you plug your home into solar. Indeed, especially if you live in sunny Southern California and interior parts of California – and, of course, you own a home (we recognize that not everyone does) -- you will see quick payoff for plugging your home, and your car, into a home solar system (for example, see ‘EV Nut sticks it to Big Oil, fills up with sun’)
6. SOUTH DAKOTA. This is a shocker for us: South Dakota generates 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy forms (48 percent = hydro, two percent = non-hydro renewable and other). However, pretty much all of the rest of its electricity comes from the burning of coal (47 percent). The latter fact is why we rank South Dakota – which produces a higher percentage of its energy via renewable forms than California – lower than the Golden State. Additionally, South Dakota isn’t exactly friendly to residential renewable energy investment, especially solar. In fact, it is currently one of the worst states to go solar in due to little to no state and state-mandated utility incentives (such as rebates) for homeowners. So, by all means plug in your plug-in in South Dakota, but don’t expect to be able to partially, or fully solar-charge it – unless, of course, you’ve got wads of cash to overcome the lack of solar rebates and incentives in South Dakota.
7. MONTANA. With 37 percent of its electricity generated by hydro-power, Montana, like South Dakota, would actually appear to outperform California (34 percent) on the renewable energy front. However, we rank it sixth because Montana produces very little of its electricity via ‘non-hydro renewable and other’ (just .3 percent). Additionally, the burning of coal accounts for 61 percent of Montana’s electricity generation, far more than California’s tiny one percent from coal.
8. MINNESOTA. Minnesota makes it into the No. 8 position in our Best States to Plug In a Plug-In rankings due to the comparatively high amount of electricity it generates by non-hydro renewable and other forms, seven percent. Another one percent produced by hydro pushes the total of electricity generated by renewable energy forms to eight percent. Of course, 60 percent of Minnesota’s electricity is generated by the burning of coal. So, before you plug in your plug in (or within a couple years of buying one) if you can, put up solar panels and/or a residential wind turbine to help offset the state’s comparatively heavy reliance on coal.
9. NEW HAMPSHIRE. In New Hampshire, 13 percent of electricity is produced by renewable energy forms (this includes hydro), and just 17 percent by the burning of coal. However, nuclear energy generates 42 percent of New Hampshire’s electricity. If you’re pro-nuke, by all means plug in your plug-in and don’t change a thing. If you’re not (and we’re not), then consider putting up solar panels on your home or planting a home wind turbine in your yard (if you have a home or yard) to help offset New Hampshire’s nukes and/or the 17 percent of its electricity that comes from the burning of coal.
10. NEW YORK. If energy diversity is your gig, New York is the place to live – and plug in. Nuclear energy accounts for the most electricity production in The Empire State at 30 percent. Natural gas (29 percent) is close behind. Hydro power is next at 18 percent with non-hydro renewable and other accounting for an additional three percent of electricity produced. Coal (15 percent) and oil (5 percent) round out the diverse mix for New York.
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