July 15, 2024

How electric cars are impacting emissions and climate change

5 min read
How electric cars are impacting emissions and climate change

Driving from Savannah to Seattle takes a little under two whole days — an estimated 43 hours behind the wheel, burning gas while taking in 2,880 miles of the American countryside on the most direct route.

Since switching 112 gasoline-powered vehicles with 91 hybrid and 21 electric cars, the City of Savannah has saved 440.42 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the same amount of emissions from that Savannah to Seattle drive 379 times over based on Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas equivalency estimates. 

All charged up 
EVs are the future of cars – and Savannah will be an EV epicenter as the site of a Hyundai manufacturing plant. This multi-part series examines what has sparked the broadening embrace of these vehicles locally, nationally and around the globe.

Tuesday: The EV age and climate change
Wednesday: Consumers and automakers embrace EVs
Thursday: Charging stations and other EV challenges

Electric vehicles stand to pack a punch where Georgia pollutes the most. According to Drawdown Georgia, an initiative road mapping solutions to climate change, the transportation sector has the highest emissions out of any sector nationwide, statewide and in Chatham and Bryan counties. In 2020, Georgia emitted 98.3 metric tons of carbon emissions according to federal government data collected by Drawdown Georgia.

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The dawn of the EV age: Why drivers are embracing electric cars, soon to be made in Savannah

What’s the difference?: EV vs. hybrid vs. gas-powered cars

Bringing down emissions

Beyond government agencies and municipalities, nonprofits are getting in on the strategizing to approach Georgia’s carbon emissions goals.

Blair Beasley is the director of climate strategies for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, which helps fund Drawdown Georgia. Before working in this role, Beasley worked for years in Washington, D.C. with the Energy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, drafting policy solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

“Drawdown Georgia is really focused on solutions. So we don’t want to just point out the problem but also help people plug into how they can be part of the solution,” Beasley said.

How electric cars are impacting emissions and climate change

Steve Schulte and Andy Resende have a “zero emissions” tag on the front of their Tesla.

Savannah efforts to go green

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Critics warn bill before General Assembly threatens local embrace of clean energy

Partnering with experts, Drawdown Georgia is releasing “climate solution toolkits” to answer commonly asked questions on climate solutions. The first they’ve released is on adopting electric vehicles, answering questions about how far the vehicles can drive on one charge, what the costs associated with EVs are, as well as the environmental impact of the switch.

“We think about both emissions coming from the tailpipe, or not the tailpipe, from electric vehicles as well as this kind of lifecycle analysis,” Beasley said.

She said it’s a common misconception that electric vehicles pollute just as much as cars when taking into account all the emissions that go into producing an electric vehicle.

“The research shows that’s just not true,” she said.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t room to continue making EV production more environmentally friendly in the future — nor that there’s no role in decreasing emissions for walking or biking instead of driving — but Beasley said taking into account producing the EV batteries, manufacturing the frames and taking into account electricity used to fuel the cars, EVs overall decrease the greenhouse gas emissions of a vehicle.

A Volkswagen ID.4 charges at the City of Savannah Charge Point space on Bull Street. The spot offers two hours of parking while charging.

A Volkswagen ID.4 charges at the City of Savannah Charge Point space on Bull Street. The spot offers two hours of parking while charging.

Read More: Emissions data aims to help Georgians target climate change solutions, energy poverty

“I think it’s an important question when you’re thinking about addressing climate is to realize that there is an important role for individual action, but the problem is actually a much larger systemic problem,” Beasley said.

EVs can do a lot to decrease an individual’s carbon footprint, but also that larger change, outside the hands of individuals, is key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions writ large.

Where Savannah is making gains

At a larger scale than individual drivers, municipalities are jumping in on electric vehicles as a way to make whole cities more eco-friendly. According to Nick Deffley, the City of Savannah’s sustainability director, Savannah has made big gains by making the big switch.

Last May, the city started leasing its “light duty” fleet of vehicles, and in doing so replaced those 112 gas-powered cars with 91 hybrids and 21 electric cars. Beyond saving the emissions from 379 trips to Seattle from Savannah, Deffley said the city will be saving an estimated annual $95,379 in fuel from the hybrid cars and the EVs will save another $28,512. By replacing old gasoline cars with more efficient ones, Deffley said the city saved another $71,984 in fuel costs, plus an estimated 255.89 metric tons decrease in carbon emissions.

Nick Deffley

Nick Deffley

By 2035, the City of Savannah is aiming to have all electricity consumed community-wide to be generated from clean and renewable energy. By 2050, Deffley said, the goal is to have all other fuel sources to be generated from renewables, so while there is not a specific carbon emissions reduction goal for the city it is an underlying objective to reach bigger goals.

Beyond plugging in electric cars, Deffley said the city is working to make sure the electricity going into EVs is produced sustainably. The City of Savannah, partnering with other municipalities around Georgia, is opining into the Georgia Power strategic plan for the next decades to advocate for cleaner energy generation industry-wide to help lower Savannah’s emissions.

While many might be motivated to shift to EVs based on the dollar value in savings alone, swapping gasoline vehicles for EVs is already starting to tick down Georgia’s greenhouse gas emissions. With local governments already pocketing the savings and building out the infrastructure for communities to plug in, communities are getting more prepared for EVs in Georgia.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Electric vehicles can help reduce Georgia emissions. Here’s how


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