Common arguments about how electric vehicles cause more emissions than traditional vehicles when the electric grid is coal-powered are actually wrong. Still, it’s certainly true that a cleaner grid is needed to fully realize the benefits for climate change. Beyond the climate, part of the appeal of EVs is also the improved air quality, of course, and here the grid can be even more important. In the wrong situation, switching to an EV just moves the air pollution from the street to the power plant.
A team led by Northwestern’s Daniel Peters decided to have a particularly detailed look at this issue, examining several scenarios of grid generation and EV adoption in the US. The results show that even with today’s grid, switching to EVs produces significant benefits.
The researchers used simulated hourly air pollution data from vehicles around the country, along with emissions data for power plants. This went into a model of weather over the course of a year (2014, as it happens), which also simulated important chemical reactions and natural emissions of compounds that interact with pollutants. The resulting air quality simulations were applied to an EPA population health model to show the expected impact on human health.