By on February 1, 2016

2015 Nissan Leaf

Electric vehicles aren’t rollin’ coal anymore — or, at least, not nearly as much as they used to.

Reuters reports coal-fired electricity generation is now at a 35-year low in the U.S., and November 2015 was the fifth month in a row more natural gas than coal was used to produce electricity.

That’s not all. From Reuters:

With just one month of data missing in 2015, some analysts think power companies may have burned more gas than coal for the full year for the first time in history.

Oh, and guess what’s dirtier than natural gas when burned? You bet: gasoline.

The news comes as more and more SUVs and crossovers are making their way to private driveways and plug-in electric vehicles fall out of favor due to low gasoline prices.

Crude oil prices are currently hovering between $30 and $35 per barrel, resulting in sub-$2/gallon gasoline at the pumps.

Meanwhile, sales volume for the Nissan Leaf was nearly halved in 2015. Nissan sold 30,200 Leafs (Leaves?) in 2014. That number dropped to 17,269 units last year.

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60 Comments on “Electric Cars Aren’t So Dirty, Coal Power at 35-year Low...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    *Thinking cap on*

    What happens when nat gas gets expensive again?

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Hopefully people understand that just to refine a gallon of gas uses roughly 6kW of electricity. An EV will go almost 20 miles on that. There is also the energy needed to pull it from the ground, transport it and then finally pump it into your tank.

    • 0 avatar
      DeeDub

      A fair bit of natural gas also gets “flared off” during the extraction of crude oil.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      There are also times when the demand for electricity drops below what the baseline power plants are producing. If you’re charging at that time, you’re using energy that would otherwise go to waste.

    • 0 avatar
      Master Baiter

      “Hopefully people understand that just to refine a gallon of gas uses roughly 6kW of electricity.”

      kW is not a unit of energy.

      • 0 avatar

        While KW is technically incorrect (it should read KWH (kilowatt hour) ) It’s a bit pedantic to obsess over it kind of like gas vs gasoline gas isn’t really correct but it became a accepted shorthand.

        • 0 avatar
          chuckrs

          KW vs KWH confusion is a problem in assessing the viability of wind. Averaged over a year, a nameplate-rated 1 MW turbine will probably produce at a power rate of 300KW if all goes well. In order to get that 300KW average power rate, interconnect lines have to be sized to handle 1MW power rate. My town was looking at a 1.5MW turbine for town services but the interconnect cost to the grid made it uneconomical, even to the local greens.
          By comparison, a power plant aims to average not 30% capacity, but over 70% for old ones and 90% for new ones.

          • 0 avatar

            So is it uneconomical because capacity is left unused much of the time. Or could it be interconnect fees are high, just because…. the utility says so.

          • 0 avatar
            chuckrs

            @JP White

            The only way you’ll get 100% of the power rating out of a turbine is if you can find a site that blows at the maximum design wind speed 100% of the time, never less.

            Re: utility interconnect cost. This is the cost of constructing a whole new transmission system from the turbine site to the grid substation. It isn’t right next to the site. While a utility might like to give a drop dead quote, that wasn’t the case here. Generally, part of the overhead of wind power is is having to tie in diffuse energy generation and to do so with over-sized lines to handle the rare occasions when the wind is really blowing hard.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Someone should go hug a fracker.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Be my guest.

      Those of us who actually know the facts about electricity generation will note that 2015 was the first year in which the majority of new electric power generation capacity added in the US was sustainable (wind, solar and hydro).

      That green energy sustained these gains in the face of $30 oil is impressive. In the last decade, the cost of wind generated power has declined by 60% and solar by 80%.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      I live in Oklahoma. OG&E (our electric company) asks us to pay a premium if we would like to receive our electricity from wind power instead of natural gas, as though they can split who gets power from where, and as though wind power were much more expensive (even Honduras has wind farms). Then they got a law passed that if you put solar cells on your roof in a grid-tied setup, you have to pay a surcharge for being connected to the grid because they maintain the infrastructure – even though the first $30 of the electric bill is for maintaining infrastructure. Hug a fracker? There are doors in my house I can’t shut any more due to the earthquakes and my foundation settling. We don’t have enough money to fix our roads, but instead of raising the gas tax (lowest in the nation!), they keep building toll roads.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        “… There are doors in my house I can’t shut any more due to the earthquakes and my foundation settling. We don’t have enough money to fix our roads, but instead of raising the gas tax (lowest in the nation!), they keep building toll roads.”

        Fossil fuels will put up a hell of a fight (via lobbyists in our “bought and paid-for” halls of government) before the people wake up and realize that we have to change our energy policy.

        There *will* be pain during the transition (how to pay for infrastructure, taxation, etc.) that will slow the transition, and the FF lobby will highlight these negative aspects using economic fear tactics (since FF’s are so cheap, for now).

        FF’s are a major industry in the U.S. of A., and the changeover (while inevitable) will disrupt the job market, but it has to happen.

        The switch-over to natural gas will tempt us to reach a “plateau” in our downward CO2/methane emissions, which worries me, because undocumented methane emissions from all of the fracked wells probably makes the California disaster look small by comparison.

  • avatar

    Regardless the price of gasoline, until these car companies get serious about building BIGGER EV that somehow cost roughly the same (or less) than their equivalent sized counterparts…people will keep choosing Crossovers, SUVs, Trucks and big cars.

    The MALIBU with a full EV 200 – 300 mile range and NO changes to interior space would be AWESOME.

    The IMPALA with a full EV 200 – 300 mile range and NO changes to interior space would be BEYOND AWESOME.

    STOP MAKING STUPID, UGLY, SMALL CARS and build stuff designed for BIG, TALL AMERICANS WITH WEIGHT ISSUES – and THEIR KIDS.

    If it don’t fit a family of 4, don’t bother.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    The plunging price for renewables is great news for anyone who breathes.

    If it’s ever finished, the Southern Company’s plant in Kemper County, Mississippi may eventually show “clean coal” power to be feasible after all. But at six times the cost per kW of a natural gas plant, there probably won’t be any more such gasify-and-capture coal plants built in North America.

  • avatar
    redapple

    Hurry, Hurry. Now.

    Shut down all coal NOW. Ours are 98% cleaner than 30 years ago.
    Put up more bird choppers. US should pay 45 cents/kWh. Not the 11 cents/ kWh I m paying now.

    Just dont tell anyone China is adding 3 coal plants a month. Exhaust stack straight out the roof ( 100 % dirty. No controls. )

    I m so glad we are killing our country to make up for China.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      What evidence do you have that windmills kill any more birds than coal power plants?

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      You do know that China is building a lot of nuclear (almost all the new nuclear plants in the world) plus they are turning off a lot of the old coal plants along the way too, right?

      • 0 avatar
        RideHeight

        “You do know that China is building a lot of nuclear…”

        I really need to get back on the wagon of learning hanzi. I want to see which characters Chinese have decided sound like Chernobyl when it comes time to reference it. And then I want to hear them say it!

  • avatar
    RobertRyan

    Still burning non renewables to create electricity. Percentage of non renewables to do this awfully high

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Natural gas seems like too valuable a resource to be using for base loads in stationary power plants. But it should be plentiful for my lifetime, so I can’t complain. Cheers.

  • avatar
    Speed3

    I’m just going to make prediction that renewable energy continues to get cheaper and EVs will get cheaper, and better, and someday maybe even Silverados and F150s will be electric. Don’t bet against technology.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    “Shut down all coal NOW. Ours are 98% cleaner than 30 years ago.
    Put up more bird choppers. US should pay 45 cents/kWh. Not the 11 cents/ kWh I m paying now.

    Just dont tell anyone China is adding 3 coal plants a month. Exhaust stack straight out the roof ( 100 % dirty. No controls. )

    I m so glad we are killing our country to make up for China.”

    Sounds like beerhall talk. Where is a link to proof that typical US coal plants are 98% cleaner than 30 years ago?

    Bird choppers? Do just a tiny bit of research into what kills birds.

    Also do some research about awareness in China of pollution and what they’re doing about it. The US is going to suffer further from a negative trade balance with China while China surges forward in this field while the US lags behind developing sustainable energy technology – partly because so many Americans believe in nonsense on the subject. Hollowing out the economy because Americans are willing to do so for cheap clothing and trinkets is one thing, but falling behind in energy technology will be even worse.

  • avatar
    Duaney

    I’m not sure of the emissions controls power plants use when burning propane, but every home furnace, stove, space heater burning propane has almost no technology to reduce emissions. With the sophisticated emission controls on gasoline engines, they’re WAY cleaner than burning propane.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      Hm… interesting. Do you have information (website) regarding pollution of gasoline engine verses propane burning? I was under the impression propane and LP were quite clean.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        Both LP and natural gas are quite clean when burned in an internal combustion engine. When burned in a range or a furnace as an open flame at atmospheric pressure, the emissions from either of these is nearly 100 percent carbon dioxide and water vapor. That’s why a gas range is practical, it doesn’t pollute the house.

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          LP was a semi-common fuel in tractors in the 1950s and into the ’60s, especially in the South, where it was much cheaper than gasoline or diesel.

          The biggest drawback of LP is that it has a lower density than gasoline or diesel, and so must be stored in larger tanks. Take a look at a diesel John Deere 4020:

          http://blog.machinefinder.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/JD4020-26K-ILsale.jpg

          Vs. an LP 4020:

          http://www.streamlineworkspace.com/thumbs/item/1024×768/15813/1764/r_121253-2.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Can you name a single powerplant that burns propane? I’m not aware of any.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Coal wasn’t considered “dirty” until Al Gore invented man-made global warming, and sold it to millions of low information voters.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s not true at all coal has been considered dirty for decades. NOX emissions are a lot higher with clean coal then NG. Numbers vary but they all agree that NOX is at least 30% lower with NG. So we are talking basic air pollution not global warming coal is a horrible idea.

    • 0 avatar
      glwillia

      You certainly live up to your name.

      Would you live next to a coal plant? Would you want your kids to do so?

      I’ve been to China, twice. Both times I was glad to leave so I could breathe again.

      • 0 avatar
        Master Baiter

        “I’ve been to China, twice.”

        Congratulations. I’ve been going to China two or three times a year for the last 10 years. Yes, the air is horrible, but it has no relationship to pollution associated with modern goal generation. If it did, the air in the southeast of the U.S., where most electricity is generated very cheaply with coal, would be polluted. I lived in the southeast for 15 years; the air there is not dirty.
        .
        .

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          As it turns out, enrolling at an accredited university program in environmental studies and completing that program is a great way to earn an advanced degree in environmental studies.

          Flying to China often is a great way to earn frequent flyer miles. I know this may be confusing, but having frequent flyer miles does NOT equate to expertise in the science of the environment.

          At the same time, you may have noticed that a lot of people in the Southeast of the US eat grits. Also, the air is relatively clean in the Southeast. However, that does not directly prove that eating grits will clean the air.

          Correlation and causality are different.

  • avatar
    redapple

    BRANDLOYATY

    Sounds like beerhall talk. Where is a link to proof that typical US coal plants are 98% cleaner than 30 years ago?

    OK- THEY ARE JUST AS DIRTY NOW AS THEY WERE 30-40 YEARS AGO.

    Bird choppers? Do just a tiny bit of research into what kills birds.

    WHATEVER. WINDMILLS ARE GREAT. LOVE THAT 35-45 CENT/KwH POWER.

    Also do some research about awareness in China of pollution and what they’re doing about it. The US is going to suffer further from a negative trade balance with China while China surges forward in this field while the US lags behind developing sustainable energy technology – partly because so many Americans believe in nonsense on the subject. Hollowing out the economy because Americans are willing to do so for cheap clothing and trinkets is one thing, but falling behind in energy technology will be even worse.

    YOU REALLY BELIEVE CHINA IS THE WORLD LEADER NOW IN GREEN TECHNOLOGY? AND WILL BE IN THE FUTURE? REALLY?
    MAN – I M GLAD I M NOT YOUR KID OR A KID IN YOUR CLASS.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      $0.40 per kWh sounds like an excellent way to encourage people to reduce their electricity usage and make less wasteful choices.

      I expect it would be much more effective than public service announcements and “Lights Out” campaigns etc. Quadruple the price then let market forces work to drive down consumption.

      This sounds like a fine idea, whether the power is coming from wind or fossil fuels.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I really don’t understand the people who go out and buy big cars *because* gas is cheap. To me, cheap gas says “How far can I get on $5?” Not, “That new Yukon Denali with the 6.2-liter looks really nice today…”

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    “Meanwhile, sales volume for the Nissan Leaf was nearly halved in 2015. Nissan sold 30,200 Leafs (Leaves?) in 2014. That number dropped to 17,269 units last year.”

    That’s not surprising. The Leaf comes from back when Nissan’s interiors were terrible. Cars are getting nicer pretty quickly – an interior that was just barely tolerable in 2014 is pathetic now. And the e-Golf went on sale in the 2015 model year, didn’t it?

    My wife wants a Leaf, but not until they update the interior.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I thought my former 12 Leaf’s interior was rather nice, actually.

      The Leaf is suffering from a quadruple whammy:

      1. Deplorable resale value.
      2. Significant battery/range degradation with miles/charges.
      3. Low gas prices. This trend took a while to affect Leaf sales.
      4. 200-mile range EVs in the next year.

      Many first adopters like me had pretty good experiences, but my next EV probably won’t be from Nissan. Wacky gas gauge, excessive battery aging, and clueless dealer support really turned me off. And then I saw the appallingly low price on my car when it was resold.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed.

        I would add to your list of the LEAF’s suffering as follows

        5. Too little too late. Other EV’s such as the BMW i3 are adding 50% more range this summer compared to the LEAF’s 27% increase in the 2016 model.
        6. B-Team engineering. 30kWh models in Europe have a temporary stop sale due to the new EVConnect being worse than Carwings it replaces. (causing frequent head-unit reboots).

        They have lost their way after such a great start.


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