Here at MD, we have had spirited debate about electric motorcycles. Some of the issues include the relatively short range offered by these vehicles and their high initial purchase price. Maybe you have been taking for granted that electric vehicles (both cars and motorcycles) are more climate-friendly than their ICE competitors.
To answer the last question, you must of course consider the entire carbon footprint, including but not limited to the source of the electricity used for the vehicle. Many states use dirty fuels such as coal and petroleum to generate a large percentage of the electricity available to electric vehicle owners. Furthermore, according to the study we are about to reference, electric automobiles (and the thinking may extend, to some extent, to electric motorcycles) start life with a large “carbon debt” as a result of “emissions from producing the battery and other electrical components.” In other words, it is dirtier to produce an electric car than an ICE car. That may, or may not hold true for motorcycles, but an analysis found at the Climate Central web site appears to offer very useful information broken down by states (did you know that Vermont creates cleaner electricity than any other state?). Here is the “Executive Summary” from the very lengthy Climate Central report:
An electric car is only as good for the climate as the electricity used to power it. And in states that rely heavily on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas for their electricity there are many conventional and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that are better for the climate than all-electric cars today.
But that is just part of the story. Another critical factor is the carbon emissions generated when a car is manufactured. Emissions from producing the battery and other electrical components create a 10,000 to 40,000-pound carbon debt for electric cars that can only be overcome after tens, or even hundreds of thousands of miles of driving and recharging from clean energy sources.
This comprehensive state-by-state analysis of the climate impacts of the electric car, plug-in hybrid electrics, and high-mileage, gas-powered hybrid cars takes both of these factors into account – the source of energy used to power the car and carbon emissions from vehicle manufacturing.
- In 40 states, a high-efficiency, conventional gas-powered hybrid, like the Toyota Prius, is better for the climate (produces fewer total “lifecycle” carbon emissions) than the least-polluting, all-electric vehicle, the Honda Fit, over the first 50,000 miles the car is driven.
- In 26 states, an efficient plug-in hybrid is the most climate-friendly option (narrowly outperforming all-electrics in 10 states, assuming a 50:50 split between driving on gas and electric for the plug-in hybrid), and in the other 24 states, a gas-powered car is the best. All- electrics and plug-in hybrids are best in states with green electrical grids with substantial amounts of hydro, nuclear and wind power that produce essentially no carbon emissions. Conventional hybrids are best in states where electricity comes primarily from coal and natural gas.
- For luxury sedans, in 46 states, the gas-powered Lexus ES hybrid is better for the climate than the electric Tesla Model S, over the first 100,000 miles the car is driven.
Of course, many “climate studies” are politically charged and biased. Our review of this study indicates to us it is fairly balanced, but your opinion may differ. Nevertheless, if you really want to know the facts about the full carbon footprint of electric vehicles, there is some very useful information in this study. Some of the charts contain fantastic summaries of electrical generation sources, state-by-state, for instance. If you don’t read the entire report (it is quite long), skim it and look at some of the charts.