Electric Vehicles Are Way, Way More Energy-Efficient Than Internal Combustion Vehicles

Out of the 8.9 million barrels of gasoline consumed daily in the U.S. on average, only 1.8 million gallons, or approximately 20 percent, actually propel an internal combustion vehicle forward. The other 80 percent is wasted on heat and parasitic auxiliary components that draw away energy. As the world begins its shift to EV proliferation, the good news is electric vehicles are far more energy efficient on the road.

A new set of graphics from Yale Climate Connections makes visualizing the efficiency gains of an EV over an ICE vehicle straightforward. Using data from fueleconomy.gov and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these graphics break down the energy waste in your typical gas-powered car.

The vast majority of energy wasted in an ICE vehicle is through the heat the engine produces, which you can literally feel radiating from under the hood. About 5 percent is lost through parasitic engine components including the cooling system, which draws on the engine’s own energy to help cool it down, about 4 percent is lost through the mechanical friction of the drivetrain and transmission components, and another 2 percent could be lost to auxiliary electrics like heated and powered seats, lights, and infotainment systems. In total, approximately 75 to 84 percent of the original gasoline’s energy is lost.

Compare that to only 31-35 percent energy loss in the average electric vehicle (average EV battery size is about 63 kWh), before factoring in potential recuperation from energy regeneration. Its losses can be broken down into approximately 10 percent of the source energy from the grid lost in the charging process, 18 percent lost to the drivetrain motor components, up to 4 percent lost to auxiliary components, and another 3 percent lost solely from powertrain cooling and other vehicle systems.

Comparing the two, “the rough math pencils out to the energy equivalent of around 2 million barrels of gasoline per day, which is a substantial savings over the 8.9 million barrels currently used,” according to Yale Climate Connections. But what about the power plants used to “refuel” those electric cars? Are they any more efficient than gas-powered cars? Well, yes. Much more efficient, in most cases.

“Even if the grid were entirely fueled by coal, 31% less energy would be needed to charge EVs than to fuel gasoline cars. If EVs were charged by natural gas, the total energy demand for highway transportation would fall by nearly half. Add in hydropower or other renewables, and the result gets even better, saving up to three-fourths of the energy currently used by gasoline-powered vehicles,” according to Yale Climate Connections. Right now, all of that energy is getting lost mostly to heat. What a waste. For more facts and figures, read the full Yale Climate Connections report here.

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