Time to Buy an Electric Car?

electric carAs you probably know, one of the basic tenets of living a low-carbon lifestyle is to use everything as long as possible.  Then, if need be, reuse and then finally recycle or better yet, compost. Well, I don’t see myself composting my car, or even recycling it anytime soon, but it is in that gray area between “it runs OK” and “I need a live-in mechanic.”

Please know that I pride myself in holding onto cars for a long time. I’d still have my SAAB 900S (which had 300,000 miles on it ten years ago) if a drunkard hadn’t smacked into it while it was parked curbside. I loved that car. I cried seeing it smashed, its hatchback grotesquely twisted open, sides dented. We took so many fun ski trips together; skis strapped to the top, friends cozy inside, cruising up mountain roads. And, driving to the beach with four bikes crammed on top ‘cause everyone was training for triathlons. I can even remember when the speedometer turned its first 100,000 around a curve on Storrow Drive in Boston.

I don’t love my current car as much. It’s more of a utilitarian box with wheels. So, when it started to sputter, I started to daydream about a new low-carbon car. One of those electric cars I see gliding quietly around. Besides, my hiking, snowshoeing, mountain-driving days are fewer and fewer, so something without aggressive tires and all wheel drive would probably work for me 90% of the time.

And, I know what you’re thinking; building a new car is far from a zero-carbon emissions process. So, is a new electric car lower-impact or should I just hold onto the sputtering box? Thankfully, our friends at The Guardian have already looked into the carbon footprint of a new car.  The article talks about the complexity of gauging carbon emissions for the entire process of building a car giving a range of 6-35 metric tons per car. And, ultimately suggests that we keep our old cars. I’m not deterred.

I found a CAR carbon-footprint calculator – miracle!  Ok, let’s see what my box on wheels is costing the world in emissions. Oh, I’m sorry, based on this calculator, I’ve spewed 58.6 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere over the last ten years. That said, I think I have a case to buy a new car if my driving is creating approximately 5.8 metric tons a year. Then buying a small electric car that creates carbon emissions to build but none to drive might be worth it. Tiptoeing forward.

Ok, before you get all up in arms, I know that driving an electric car is just externalizing pollution to wherever your electric power is generated. On Bainbridge Island our power company Puget Sound Energy still gets 30% of its power from a coal plant in Eastern Montana.   (As you probably know, Sierra Club’s Coal-Free PSE campaign is trying to pressure them to replace coal with renewable energy. ) In fact, there is an interesting article on electric car emissions by country. The data is a little old, but it gives a nice overview of the impact of each country’s electric power generation on electric car emissions.

So driving electric cars here isn’t that much cleaner than some of their gas-powered counterparts unless they are powered by solar  (or other renewable) energy. Did someone say solar? That’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card, right? Guess who’s been working on solar car charging? Our friends at Sierra Club, along with Ford and a solar installer, SunPower that’s who.  This is hot off of the presses. I’m totally psyched because if I buy an electric car I want to power it with solar energy. I’m practically giddy. I was looking at solar charging stations for cars and they are super pricey, but if I can integrate solar power into our house and have that charge my new car — woohoo!

I’m going car shopping. I’ll keep you posted.

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