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As states continue to use less coal for electricity, driving electric vehicles becomes even cleaner

by Michael Sivak, Sivak Applied Research

Battery electric vehicles are only as clean as the energy source used to generate the electricity that powers them. The calculated relative amounts of well-to-wheels emissions of greenhouse gases from eight different energy sources are shown in the table below. (The calculations were based on the data developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists.) These results indicate that coal and oil are the energy sources leading to most emissions, and that hydro, wind, and nuclear are the energy sources leading to least emissions. On the two extremes, coal and oil result in about 176 times the emissions from hydro.

Energy source Proportional amount of emissions relative to hydro
Coal 175.9
Oil 175.9
Natural gas 87.9
Geothermal 16.5
Solar 14.6
Nuclear 2.2
Wind 2.0
Hydro 1

This brief study analyzes, for each individual state, the changes from 2018 to 2020 in the use of coal (one of the two most polluting energy sources) to generate electricity. (Oil is used relatively infrequently in the United States as an energy source for electricity. In 2020, only two states used oil to generate more than 3% of the electricity: 66% in Hawaii and 16% in Alaska.) The raw data (the percentages of electricity generated from different energy sources in the individual states) came from the Nuclear Energy Institute.

This study is an update of a study that examined the changes from 2008 to 2018. Therefore, the data for 2008 are included here as well.

The results indicate that the percentage of electricity generated from coal decreased (or stayed at 0) from 2018 to 2020 in 49 states. The increases occurred only in Alaska (from 11% to 13%) and Oregon (from 2% to 3%). For the United States overall, the use of coal to generate electricity decreased from 28% to 19%.

The table below shows the top 10 states in terms of the percentage of electricity generated from coal in 2008, 2018, and 2020.

Rank 2008 2018 2020
State % from coal State % from coal State % from coal
1 West Virginia 98 Wyoming 96 West Virginia 88
2 Kentucky 96 West Virginia 92 Wyoming 80
3 Indiana 94 Kentucky 75 Missouri 71
4 Wyoming 94 Missouri 73 Kentucky 69
5 North Dakota 92 Indiana 67 Utah 62
6 Ohio 86 North Dakota 66 North Dakota 57
7 Utah 82 Utah 65 Indiana 53
8 Missouri 81 Nebraska 63 Nebraska 51
9 Iowa 77 Montana 50 Wisconsin 39
10 New Mexico 73 Wisconsin 50 New Mexico

The number of states that generated more than 90% of electricity from coal decreased from 2 in 2018 to 0 in 2020. Analogously, the number of states that generated more than 10% of electricity from coal decreased from 34 in 2018 to 28 in 2020.

Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan.



The recent (last 3 months) experience in Europe is the opposite of this as gas has become very expensive and power companies have switched back to coal.
Hopefully, they will get the price of gas sorted and we can go back to gas to balance our generation.
(At least the wind is back)


The combustion of NG results in emissions of NOx (nitrogen oxides), carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, other volatile organic compounds, traces of sulphur dioxide and particulate matter residue.
Only Jackaces would find satisfaction in the reduction of a few % when compared to other fossils.


Great post!

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