Leaf - Is it really eco friendly?

Nissan Leaf - The company claims it to be 100% electric car with zero gas and no tailpipe. Amazing!

I was wondering about a world where we had only electric vehicles. Suddenly, I had a question pop up. How is electricity generated? US electric power companies have to provide the sourcing of electricity. So, it was easy to look up in their website the basket of resources which ranged from thermal to nuclear. I was able to see that electricity is generated mostly from thermal power plants. These plants use coal, oil or natural gas. I checked a few websites for carbon emissions and did a quick math to find we are back to ground zero.

Carbon emissions when thermal power is generated:

Coal...                1020 g/KWh
Oil...                     758 g/KWh
Natural Gas...   514 g/KWh

Carbon emissions when a car burns fuel: 

Gasoline...   2.33 kg/l
Diesel...       2.66 kg/l

A car similar to Leaf in the normal segment will average 15 km/l while the Leaf averages 4.4 km/KWh.

Making calculations for the amount of carbon emissions for every single kilometer based on the available information,

Normal Car (Gasoline)...   155 g
Normal Car (Diesel)...       177 g

Leaf (Electric) - It does not emit anything directly. Its all about the source!

Coal...                  232 g
Oil...                     172 g
Natural Gas...   117 g

There will be no difference if the electricity is sourced from coal generated plants, rather it will be responsible for more carbon emissions. It'll make a world of difference if we are able to find a clean fuel to generate power. Renewable sources? May be!

Until then, electric or not, we leave more or less the same carbon footprint!

Picture from the test drive:


  1. True.. ofcourse, there are hydro and wind powered generators too.. But your analysis does bring the other things to perspective. But i was wondering - isn't the amount of fossil fuel that goes into generating electricity much lesser than the amount that gets used up by vehicles? I mean, if you do the math this way - Consider the average number of vehicles using up fossil fuel and compare that to the amount used to generate electricity to run that many vehicles.. And then compare the emissions. Over all, if all cars were leaf, isn't the fuel used less and hence the carbon foot print too? I am sure you will be able to analyze and probably come up with a no :P

  2. Yeah! There are other ways to generate electricity but it only confirms the fact that the amount of power generated for cars using fossil fuels is worse than the cars burning them directly!

    Overall if all cars were LEAF, we would leave a bigger carbon footprint and not as the company advertises... we need to find a greener and a sustainable energy source to keep up with the technology...

  3. I was wondering if a compact nuclear power cell can be discovered that supply electricity to power the car, so that there wont be a need to charge the car daily. If human could make a computer in the size of a room to a palm top size, achieving this also could be possible in near future. Of course cost of the car will be much higher initially but it takes lot of optimization and cost reduction strategies to achieve the desired cost level.


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