The Environmental Benefits of Electric Vehicles as a Function of Renewable Energy
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CitationCornell, Ryan P. 2017. The Environmental Benefits of Electric Vehicles as a Function of Renewable Energy. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThis project analyzes the relative benefits of electric vehicles (EV) as compared to their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts. Specifically, I contrast the air pollutant related social costs that can be quantified and assigned to each type of vehicle. These costs are based on the externalities (per metric ton) associated with carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds. The difference in social costs is defined as the appropriate EV Subsidy, where a positive EV Subsidy indicates that the social costs for an electric vehicle are less than the social costs for an internal combustion engine vehicle. My research was centered around answering the question: What impact does the percentage of renewable energy have on the appropriate subsidy for an electric vehicle and how does the percentage of renewable energy impact the GHG mitigation potential for electric vehicles? I hypothesized that the negative environmental impact for a 100% renewable energy powered electric vehicle would be lower than the impact from an internal combustion engine vehicle with an efficiency of 80 miles per gallon, that the appropriate federal subsidy for a 100% renewable energy powered electric vehicle would be over $3,000 (when compared to an internal combustion engine vehicle with an efficiency of 25.4 miles per gallon), and that a 100% renewable energy powered electric vehicle would produce 50% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than an internal combustion engine vehicle with an efficiency of 80 miles per gallon.
I employed Argonne National Laboratory’s GREET Model, the AP2 Model, and a variety of meta-analyses to determine these social costs. Each cost is a function of a variety of factors. Social costs for the internal combustion engine vehicle strongly correlate with the vehicle’s miles per gallon, while the social costs for an electric vehicle strongly correlate with the percentage of renewable energy. Many studies look at a static grid, but I analyzed the impact that renewable energy has on the disparity in social costs between electric vehicles and gasoline-powered vehicles. Additionally, my model disaggregates grid-based and non-grid-based production costs, which allows production-based social costs to accurately reflect that percentage of renewable energy that is entered into the model. I conclude that the environmental benefits of electric vehicles are directly related to the level of renewable energy in the grid. The EV Subsidy for the 2016 grid (13.3% renewable energy) and an average internal combustion engine vehicle (25.4 miles per gallon) was $2,376, while the EV Subsidy for a 100% renewable energy grid reached $3,988. A 100% renewable energy grid also produced an electric vehicle with significantly lower social costs than a gasoline-powered vehicle with an efficiency of 80 miles per gallon (EV Subsidy = $1,071).
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