High cost of coal and natural gas could make EVs, US grid cleaner this summer

Anticipated price hikes for coal and natural gas could lead to increase use of renewable energy in electricity generation, making both the grid and EVs cleaner, according to new United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) analysis.

EVs get cleaner along with the grid, and the EIA expects the grid mix to lean more toward renewable sources over the next few months. Wind and solar power will likely contribute more than 11% of U.S. electricity this summer, according to the EIA.

Renewable-energy use will likely continue to grow over the next two years thanks to increased generating capacity, the EIA predicts. Renewable energy will provide 22% of U.S. electricity generation in 2022 and 24% in 2023, up from 20% in 2021, according to the EIA.

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

As renewable energy sources grow, retirement of coal-fired power plants is also expected to continue. Coal’s share of generation capacity will decline from 23% in 2021 to 21% in 2022 and 20% in 2023, the EIA predicts.

However, despite an expected 59% jump in annual natural-gas costs for 2022, the EIA doesn’t anticipate a major decline in natural-gas generating capacity. The EIA expects natural gas to retain its 37% share of generating mix from 2021 into 2022, and drop to 36% in 2023 as renewable-energy capacity ramps up.

The EIA also expects overall U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions to increase 1.3% in 2022 and decrease by 0.7% in 2023, attributing the 2022 to increase to growth in transportation demand.

Natural gas flaring from oil well [licensed under Creative Commons from Flickr user Sirdle]

Natural gas flaring from oil well [licensed under Creative Commons from Flickr user Sirdle]

Changes in the grid mix affect the overall carbon footprint of EVs charged with grid electricity. The EIA just recently reported that California droughts will limit available hydropower, forcing the state to rely on more carbon-intensive energy sources and effectively increasing the carbon emissions of EVs. And more EVs potentially means less pollution from utilities, according to a recent study.

EVs have kept getting cleaner as the grid has shifted to more renewable-energy use. And that trend means the lifetime carbon footprint of EVs keeps getting better compared to gasoline cars, according to a 2021 Volvo study comparing the gasoline version of the Swedish automaker’s XC40 crossover SUV with the related C40 Recharge EV.

Meanwhile, greater ethanol in pump gasoline may worsen smog issues this summer. Goaded by lobbyists, the Biden administration is considering increasing the amount of ethanol blended into U.S. gasoline supplies to help lower gas prices. Studies have found ethanol can create worse smog in summer months and contribute significantly to climate change, however.

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