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The Great Electric Car 'Zero Emissions' Boondoggle

Dec. 10, 2019 8:57 PM ETF, STLA, GM, TM, VWAGY, PEUGF, RNSDF, TSLA622 Comments
Jaberwock Research profile picture
Jaberwock Research


  • Electric cars are getting a lot of support from governments in the form of subsidies and friendly regulations. The basis for this is a targeted reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
  • However, a gram of carbon dioxide emitted from an ICE car's tailpipe has the same effect as a gram of carbon dioxide emitted from the stack of a power station.
  • In this article, I have made some simple calculations to figure out the real emissions from electric cars.
  • The results may be surprising to those who relate the term "Zero Emissions" to electric cars.

Although not directly concerned with investment, this article should be of interest to all long-term investors in the auto business, including Ford (F), General Motors (GM), Fiat-Chrysler (FCAU), Toyota Motor (TM), Renault (OTCPK:RNSDF), Peugeot (OTCPK:PEUGF) and Volkswagen (OTCPK:VWAGY), but especially those who are investing in electric car companies such as Tesla (TSLA) under the mistaken impression that they are somehow supporting sustainable transportation.

Governments have been promoting electric cars as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and averting the global warming crisis. They are often referred to as “Zero Emission Vehicles,” or ZEVs, as if the electricity for charging those cars magically appears at the charging point with no regard for how it is generated. In fact, the term “zero emissions,” or ZEV, has come to be synonymous with the electric car when referring to greenhouse gases.

While it is true that electric cars have zero tailpipe emissions, they do increase emissions at the power plant, and the effect of a gram of carbon dioxide on global warming is the same whether it comes from the exhaust of a car or the stack of a power station.

Politicians may be able to influence the perception of electric cars as zero emission, but physics and chemistry determine what happens in real life.

Emissions from power stations

In the table below, I have calculated the greenhouse gas emissions from power stations. I have included the emissions from the mining and transportation of coal and gas (sourced from UK environmental reporting data) and the emissions from methane leakage (sourced from this paper). Methane gas is about 25 times as strong a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide, on a 100-year cycle, so even though the amounts are small, the effect on greenhouse gases is significant.

For the purpose of simplifying the calculations, I

This article was written by

Jaberwock Research profile picture
I am a retired engineer and company manager. I do not have a financial background or offer financial advice.The articles I write are for interest only and I try to find subjects that interest both me and my readers.I usually take a small position in the companies that a write about, long or short, but most of my investments are in boring blue-chip dividend stocks.An engineering education has provided me with keen analysis skills. Working on projects in over 30 different countries and living on three different continents has given me a broad view of the world and a healthy skepticism about much of what I see in the financial media these days.

Analyst’s Disclosure: I am/we are short TSLA. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Very small position in long-term puts.

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