The EV Revolution: Cost, Performance, Safety, and Environmental Impacts

By Michael Brower, for Clean Energy Group. This blog is the first in a series exploring the topic of electric vehicles and equity. 

Photo Credit: Chiradech/Bigstock

Photo Credit: Chiradech/Bigstock

It’s stunning to think how far electric vehicles, or EVs, have come in such a short time. EVs have been around for as long as their gasoline- and diesel-powered counterparts, but it’s only in the last 10-15 years or so that their cost and performance have improved sufficiently compared to conventional cars that they are becoming attractive for everyday driving needs. Today, hybrid- and all-electric cars have become a common sight on city streets and highways. In 2021, in fact, some 10% of all new cars and light-trucks sold in the United States had electric motors, about one-third of which were powered entirely by batteries; and the proportion is growing fast .

And yet, it must be said that EVs remain largely peripheral to the daily lives of most people, especially to those living in historically marginalized and economically challenged communities. They’re seen as expensive, for one thing, and some of the leading brands are unapologetically aimed at upscale markets. Furthermore, the ways they can benefit local economies, environmental quality, and public health are rarely recognized or discussed.

So, what do EVs really have to offer if you’re among the majority of Americans who would find it challenging to purchase a Tesla ? This blog, the first in a series on the topic of EVs and equity, begins to explore this question by looking at cost, safety, and environmental impacts.

Types of EVs. EVs come in many types, from trolley cars powered by overhead lines to subway trains drawing their energy from third rails. Here we are concerned with road vehicles, including cars, vans, trucks, and buses. All have the following three main electrical components (Fig. 1):

  • an electric motor to drive the wheels
  • a battery pack to store electricity and send power to the motor
  • a charging system that connects to the grid and charges the battery

Hybrid EVs draw supplemental energy from on-board gasoline engines, making it unnecessary to find places to charge them (though many hybrid models now have plug-in options). But an increasing proportion of EVs sold today – around one-third in 2022 – are “pure” electric vehicles relying solely on their batteries to provide power.

All EVs have, in addition, sophisticated electronics to manage the power flow from battery to motor to wheels and the ability (with regenerative braking) to recover energy and send it back again to the battery; and they are equipped with familiar driver controls that make it easy for anyone who has driven an ordinary car, bus, or truck to manage their EV versions.

 Image Credit: Alternative Fuels Data Center, US DOE

Figure 1. Schematic of an all-electric car including batteries, charging and power conversion system, and electric motor. Source: US Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Center. For more information on electric vehicles, see US DOE, Electric Vehicle Basics. Image Credit: Alternative Fuels Data Center, US DOE – source

EVs in the Market. EV sales today are growing rapidly. In 2021, US sales of all-electric vehicles (excluding hybrids) nearly doubled over the previous calendar year, from 238,540 to 459,426, according to US government data.¹ Including hybrids, EV sales reached 1.4 million in 2021, 9.5% of all car and truck sales in the United States – up from 3.2% just 5 years earlier. The trend is almost certain to continue, and EVs will likely dominate the automotive market within a decade.2 The State of California, the country’s biggest car market, has announced that by 2035, all cars and trucks sold in the state will have to be zero emission vehicles (ZEVs), meaning mainly EVs.3 And other states are beginning to follow suit.4

Once popular mainly with environmental first adopters and technology enthusiasts, EVs are spreading to other consumers thanks to their declining cost and improving performance. According to a 2020 survey by Consumer Reports, around a third of American drivers would consider an electric vehicle for their next car or truck purchase.5 The Federal Government has set a goal that half of all vehicles sold in 2030 will be ZEVs, mainly EVs.

One of the leaders in this EV revolution has been Tesla, whose sleek and sporty cars have become a familiar sight on many US roads. But now nearly all auto makers have EV editions of their cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles. The best-selling vehicle – truck or car – in the US, the Ford F-150, now comes in an EV version, the F-150 Lightning. Other popular examples include early pioneers such as the Nissan Leaf and relative latecomers such as the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia EV6, and Rivian R1S SUV and R1T pickup truck. Even the iconic Ford Mustang comes in an EV version: the Mach-E, which was named one of Consumer Reports’ Top 10 cars of 2022.6

Figure 2. Sales and leases of new electric vehicles in the United States, 2011-2021. Source: US Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Figure 2. Sales and leases of new electric vehicles in the United States, 2011-2021. Data Source: US Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The Cost of Owning EVs. With their hefty battery packs, electric cars and other vehicles generally cost more upfront than their gasoline- and diesel-powered counterparts. At the same time, they cost less to drive – both in maintenance and in fuel costs. While the comparison depends on details such as financing costs and depreciation, the cost of fuel and electricity, and other factors, studies show that the total lifetime cost of owning gasoline-powered vehicles and EVs are similar. For example, in its 2022 Your Driving Costs study, the American Automobile Association (AAA) put electric vehicles in the second-lowest overall total cost category per mile driven, at 60.32 cents/mile, above small sedans (54.56 cents/mile) and below the average car (71.52 cents/mile), for vehicles driven 15,000 miles a year.7 This comparison includes tax credits that make EVs cheaper for some, but not all, buyers. Excluding tax credits puts the total EV ownership cost in the middle of the pack (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Annual cost of owning a new vehicle for selected vehicle types, broken down by operating costs (fuel and maintenance) and ownership costs (insurance, registration and taxes, depreciation, and finance). Assumes 15,000 miles/year. Following the AAA method, characteristics of a given vehicle type are represented by 5 top-selling models selected by AAA. Data source: American Automobile Association, Your Driving Costs (2022). To remove the effect of tax credits from the comparison, the registration and tax costs for EVs in this chart have been set equal to those for hybrid cars, whose battery sizes are generally too small to benefit from a significant credit.8

Let’s start with the upfront cost. While it’s not always easy to make head-to-head comparisons, new electric cars typically cost about $10,000-$15,000 more to buy than their conventional equivalents. For example, according to Car and Driver, in October 2022, a “basic” Hyundai Kona Electric was priced $12,700 above the conventional Kona, whereas the Ford F-150 Lightning with XLT trim was $13,800 more than the same version of the F-150. On an industry average basis, the gap is larger, in part because EVs – like the Tesla – tend to be aimed at the luxury market. Kelly Blue Book reports that the average new EV sale price reached $65,290 in September 2022, $17,200 more than the industry-average new car.10

While the gap is substantial, tax credits and other incentives can help close it. Since 2010, the US Federal Government has offered a tax credit of up to $7,500 for buyers of new electric cars and trucks. This credit, which was due to expire in 2021, was extended another 10 years to 2032 with the passage of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The IRA also introduced a one-time tax credit of up to $4,000 for buyers of used electric cars more than 2 years old, and it expanded the new-vehicle credits to include commercial vehicles for the first time.11

On top of the Federal tax credit, 31 states and the District of Columbia offer rebates or other incentives for owning an electric car or plug-in hybrid, according to the North Carolina Clean Energy Center.12 In Massachusetts, for example, electric car buyers can receive a $2,500 rebate on a new EV if the purchase price is less than $50,000.13 Combining both federal and state incentives, it may be possible to reduce the typical $10,000-$15,000 gap in up-front cost by one-half or more.

Unfortunately, the Federal EV tax credit – including the one for used cars – benefits only those buyers who pay enough in Federal taxes to be able to use them. Any unused credit cannot be refunded or carried over from one tax year to the next. This leaves many potential buyers – especially those of lower income – having to pay full price for EVs. There is discussion of changing this rule to allow credits to be applied at the point of sale, regardless of income tax owed, but no such change has been implemented yet. On the other hand, the IRA places limits on the maximum adjusted gross income for car buyers and on the purchase price of EVs to qualify for the tax credits, which are intended to encourage sales of less expensive vehicles to middle-income buyers.14

At the same time, EVs offer big savings in operating costs. The average cost of “fueling” electric cars is typically one-third that of gasoline and diesel cars, or less, depending on the type of EV and how and where it is recharged, the type of conventional car, and local prices of electricity and gasoline or diesel fuel. Because they have many fewer moving parts (such as pistons and transmissions) requiring lubricating fluids and prone to wearing out or failing, their maintenance costs are also lower than those of conventional cars. AAA estimates the average fueling cost of EVs at 4.04 cents/mile driven, compared to 12.51 cents/mile for the cheapest conventional category, small sedans. Combined with maintenance, the operating cost of EVs is 11.98 cents/mile, nearly 10 cents/mile less than small conventional sedans at 21.38 cents/mile. In a year of driving 15,000 miles, that amounts to an annual average savings of $1,410. Over 10 years, the savings can more than compensate for the additional up-front cost of EVs, especially if incentives such as tax credits are available.

Performance Characteristics. EVs have both positive and negative performance aspects, as well. On the plus side, they can achieve better acceleration than most gasoline- and diesel-powered cars, thanks to the high torque generated by electric motors. The Tesla Model S “Plaid” holds the world time record for 0-60 mph (1.98s), just beating out a number of luxury Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Bugatis.15 What’s more, because their motors work well over a wide range of RPM, they need no transmissions, making them simpler to operate and maintain and less prone to breakdowns.

On the other hand, EVs generally have a shorter driving range than their conventional counterparts. The median range for EV cars on a single charge is 230 miles,16 whereas a comparable gasoline-powered car can drive about 400 miles on a tank of gasoline. Long-range EVs exist (e.g., the Tesla Model 3 Long Range can go 345 miles on a single charge), but they require more batteries and therefore cost more. Their limited range and the lack of public charging options in some areas can create “range anxiety” among EV owners and prospective buyers, which discourages EV use.

The challenge of limited range is compounded by the fact that it can take much longer to fully charge an EV than to fill the tank of a conventional car or truck. The fastest-charging “Level 3” stations can charge a typical EV in 15 minutes to an hour, but they are still relatively uncommon. “Level 2” stations offer a full charge in several hours and are becoming more widespread at sites where commuters and employees can leave their cars plugged in much of the day. “Level 1” chargers run off standard house current and are the slowest, typically requiring 1-2 days for a full charge.

However, for most everyday driving needs, the usual EV range is more than enough, especially if the car or truck can be plugged in at a home or at a commuter charging station from time to time. The average daily driving distance in the United States is only about 40 miles, just a fifth of a typical EV’s range.17 Consequently, a once- or twice-a-week charging schedule works for most people.

At the same time, the availability of Level 2 and Level 3 charging stations is rapidly increasing. Some EV manufacturers, like Tesla and Ford, have invested in their own Level 3 networks to encourage vehicle sales. In addition, the Federal Government’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula program, signed into law in 2021, is providing $5 billion to fund a fast-charging L3 network every 50 miles of national highway. So far, 35 state plans have been approved to receive funding.18

Figure 4. Two approaches to EV charging: Left: The Tesla network of fast charging stations can deliver 100 miles of range in 10 minutes, ideal for highway settings. Right: Community curbside charging, such as this prototype L2 charger from Itselectric, delivers the same range in about 4 hours, and is more suited to workplace and home. Photo Credit, Left: 24K-Production/Bigstock. Photo Credit, Right: Itselectric.

A variety of state and local initiatives are also under way to make publicly accessible Level 2 chargers more widely available. New York City, for example, has deployed over 100 public Level 2 chargers in curbside and other accessible locations. Smaller towns such as Malden, Massachusetts, are following suit.19 A Federal fund of $2.5 billion (the Discretionary Grant Program for Charging and Fueling Infrastructure) is aimed specifically at funding these initiatives, with 40% being reserved for disadvantaged communities.

Aside from these public initiatives, many homeowners and business owners are opting to install Level 1 and 2 chargers on their own property. The cost need not be prohibitive. The average installation cost for a Level 1 charger – which can be plugged into any 120V outlet – is just $300-$600, according to A Level 2 charger, which requires a 240V outlet, is pricier at $600-$1200. Additional costs may be incurred if work is needed to install an outlet near where the EV is parked.20

And yet, home-based charging is not an option for many renters and apartment dwellers, as well as others without a garage or private parking space. This has led to what some observes call a “desert” of low-cost charging options in urban centers as well as economically challenged and historically marginalized communities.21 Along with the higher up-front cost of EVs and the limited applicability of tax credits, this further discourages the adoption of EVs by people living in such communities. Focused effort and targeted resources are needed to address this gap.

Safety Considerations. The main difference between conventional and electric vehicles from a safety standpoint is that EVs have battery packs, whereas conventional cars have fuel tanks. News stories around battery fires tend to grab the public’s attention, but gasoline and diesel fuel carry their own safety risks. Conventional cars sometimes catch fire (over 100,000 automotive fires occur each year22), and gasoline alone is implicated in over 10,000 deaths annually, mainly from burns and chemical poisonings.23 In the long run, reducing the use and prevalence of gasoline in our transportation economy may be one of the most significant health and safety benefits of the EV revolution.

However, EV batteries also present safety hazards, notably related to fire and electric shock. Lithium-ion batteries store an enormous amount of energy in a relatively small package, and battery fires can consequently be very difficult to extinguish. In one much-publicized incident, the battery pack in a Tesla car that had been damaged in an accident caught fire weeks later in a California junkyard. After multiple attempts to put the 3000F fire out, the local fire department finally had to submerge the car in a pit filled with water.24

Such incidents are nonetheless rare. Though objective data are elusive, the risk of fire appears to be far lower for EVs than for conventional vehicles. Tesla claims a rate of one vehicle fire per 210 million miles driven for its cars compared to 1 fire per 19 million miles for conventional cars.25 One reason this may be is that gasoline catches fire much more easily than batteries do: all that is needed is a spark coming into contact with fuel from a ruptured tank. Another reason may be that battery packs are encased in crash-resistant housings which protect them from damage in most accidents. The shock risk is also low, as the high-voltage circuitry (ranging from 100 to 600 volts dc) of EVs is shielded by insulation and designed to shut down immediately when there is a disruption.

Environmental Benefits and Risks of EVs. Performance, price, and cost of ownership are not the only things consumers care about when they consider buying an EV.

A big reason EVs are becoming popular is their substantial environmental benefits. Since they don’t burn fuel, EVs emit no tailpipe pollution that might be breathed in by their passengers or other motorists and pedestrians. The American Lung Association (ALA), among other public health groups, has estimated the health damage of automotive air pollution (including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and fine particulate matter) and the potential benefits to human health of replacing gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles with electric vehicles.26 They find that over the 30-year period from 2020 to 2050, transitioning to EVs and non-combustion sources of electricity would avoid 110,000 premature deaths, 2.7 million asthma attacks, and 13.4 million lost work days, as well as some $1.2 trillion in economic damage. According to the ALA study, the transition to EVs would disproportionately benefit low- and medium-income communities and people of color, who are more likely to live in densely populated areas and near transportation corridors.

Even considering the emissions from power plants that generate the power used by EVs, they are much cleaner than conventional cars.27 Per mile driven, for example, EVs are typically responsible for less than half the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of gasoline powered cars. This is both because power plants run more efficiently than gasoline engines, and because a portion of the electricity we use comes from non-fossil-fuel sources (hydro, renewables, and nuclear). In fact, if they are recharged entirely from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, the GHG emissions of EVs drop to zero. Hence, moving from conventional vehicles to EVs not only directly benefits human health, it also helps mitigate climate change.

Like every technology, EVs have negative environmental impacts, as well. Just like conventional cars and trucks, they are made of steel, plastics, and other materials whose manufacture consumes energy and produces pollution. In addition, almost all EVs today employ lithium-ion batteries. The mining of lithium and other materials in these batteries can have severe impacts on local communities, including the diversion of scarce water supplies from human needs and toxic chemical spills, as well as (in some countries) abusive labor practices such as the use of child labor.28 The recycling and safe disposal of lithium and other battery materials such as nickel and cobalt are also lagging behind the rapid growth in EV use.

Despite the issues with lithium-ion batteries, many environmental advocates support transitioning to EVs while also urging the industry to accelerate the development of more efficient recycling processes and more sustainable battery alternatives.

COMING NEXT MONTH: Part two of the EVs and Equity blog series will consider the role EVs can play in meeting the economic, environmental, and public-health needs of communities. The blog will look closely at initiatives like electric school buses, which represent one of the leading ways EVs can improve the health of children.


Michael Brower is the former President of AWS Truepower, LLC, a global renewable energy consulting firm, and the former Vice President for Renewable Energy at Underwriters Laboratories. A physicist by training, Michael is currently a partner at Clean Energy Ventures Group.


(1) US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Other sources may differ.
(3) Specifically, battery-powered EVs, or BEVs. Electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells (FCEVs) are another zero-emissions, but are likely to lag well behind BEVs in popularity because of the cost of hydrogen fuel and lack of a fueling infrastructure.
(7) See The costs in each type are defined, in accordance with AAA’s method, by 5 top-selling vehicle models selected by AAA. AAA provides a driving cost calculator for individual car models at
(8) The Federal tax credit for new cars starts at $417 for a car with a 5 kWh battery and increases by $417 for each kWh in increased battery capacity, up to $7500. Most standard hybrid cars have much smaller batteries than this, though plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), which are becoming more popular, have larger batteries. A typical all-electric EV has a battery capacity of 50-100 KWH.
(9) Not all EVs have conventional equivalents. For those that do, some manufacturers charge a smaller price premium, and others a larger one. See:
(11) Unfortunately, the rules governing the new- and used-vehicle credits, which include price caps and local-content requirements, are complicated, and not every electric vehicle qualifies. A good summary of the tax credit rules and list of qualifying 2022 and 2023 vehicle models are available at See also
(12) The North Carolina Clean Energy Center maintains a database of available EV financial incentives in the United States. A summary can be found here: See also
(13) See
(17) The average annual driving distance is 15,000 miles, implying an average daily distance of about 40 miles.
(18) For a summary of Federal funding programs for EV charging, see; and
(19) On New York City’s program, see On Malden, see
(26) See In the AAA base case scenario, it is assumed that 100% of new light-duty vehicles (including cars, vans, and pickup trucks) sold will be all-electric by 2035, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (including buses and trucks) will reach that milestone by 2040.
(27) This online emissions calculator allows the GHG emissions of different EV models to be compared with conventional cars:
(28) See

Looking Back: Five Energy Equity Takeaways from 2022

Author: Seth Mullendore, Clean Energy Group | Projects: Resilient Power Project, Energy Storage Policy and Regulation, Hydrogen Information and Public Education

Photo Credit: Berkeley Lab

Photo Credit: Berkeley Lab

A new year is upon us. This will be a big year for Clean Energy Group (CEG). We were founded 25 years ago, back in 1998 when solar and wind were more of a hopeful concept than the disruptive reality they have become today. Considering the events of last year, 2023 looks to be a pivotal year for the energy sector as well. Major new legislation is poised to usher in a wave of additional federal support for the clean energy transition, and many state policies, programs, and planning processes are incorporating stronger language to prioritize energy equity, but 2022 also saw the rise of false solutions and emerging battlelines as fossil-fuel interests fight to remain relevant.

Here are five key takeaways from 2022 that will impact the advancement of CEG’s clean energy equity work in 2023.

#1: Inflation Reduction Act

No 2022 energy list would be complete without mentioning the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The massive bill includes an estimated $369 billion in funding and incentives for a wide range of energy technologies. Of particular note is the ten-year extension of the clean energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC), creating a decade of market certainty for clean energy developers. Among many other things, the IRA extends ITC eligibility to stand-alone energy storage, allows for easier transferability of tax credits and a direct payment option for nonprofit entities, and includes incentive adders for energy communities and low-income communities. There is a lot in there, though not all of it is positive, which is discussed more in the False Solutions takeaway below.

We’re still waiting for crucial details about how various programs and incentives will ultimately be rolled out, but it’s safe to say that the IRA is a game changer for the clean energy transition that is likely to further catalyze the shift to solar, wind, and energy storage over the next decade. The legislation’s impact on energy equity – who benefits from clean energy investments and who continues to be unjustly burdened by fossil emissions – is less clear. The intent is there, as justice and equity are prominently featured in the legislation and certain funds are earmarked for disadvantaged communities, and we’re already seeing renewed interest from equity-focused solar and energy storage projects with improved economics under the new incentives. Clean Energy Group and our many allies in the environmental justice space will be monitoring the implementation of programs closely in 2023 and working to ensure that investments and benefits are equitably distributed.

#2: Energy Storage

It’s official, energy storage is here to stay. For the near-term, that largely means lithium-ion batteries, though technology competitors are beginning to gain ground in the stationary storage space.

Despite an ongoing global pandemic, soaring inflation, and supply chain headaches, developers still managed to install record levels of battery storage across the country this year. Recent projections from the Energy Information Administration (which is typically conservative in its renewables and storage projections) expect utility-scale battery capacity to grow by fourfold over the next three years, reaching 30 GW / 111 GWh by 2026. The story is similar for customer-sited, behind-the-meter battery storage projects, particularly residential batteries. California continues to lead the way, with an estimated 81,000 home solar+storage systems operating in the state representing nearly a gigawatt of capacity, but strong markets have emerged in other states as well. We are officially past the days when energy storage was deemed “too expensive” to have a meaningful impact on the energy system, though, without targeted incentives, storage remains unaffordable for most low-income households and community-based organizations.

Two states announced new major storage plans in 2023, New Jersey and New York. In September 2022, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities released a draft proposal designed to catalyze the development of 2 GW of storage in the state by 2030. While the details have yet to be finalized, the draft proposal includes language and design considerations to help ensure that energy storage projects are developed in and designed to provide benefits to low-income and environmental justice communities. New York released an updated storage roadmap in the final days of 2022, laying out the state’s plan to install 6 GW of energy storage by 2030. The ambitious roadmap stipulates that at least 35% of state storage incentives must go toward supporting projects providing the highest level of benefits to disadvantaged communities, with a focus on reducing harmful emissions from fossil peaker plants.

It is encouraging that state and federal agencies have begun to realize the potential of energy storage in advancing energy equity through enabling local benefits such as reduced air pollution and increased energy resilience, a trend that should continue in 2023 and beyond.

#3: Energy Resilience

Clean Energy Group first began advocating for clean backup power solutions ten years ago, launching the Resilient Power Project in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. At the time, batteries were barely on the radar for energy resilience and few communities outside of the recently impacted Northeast region recognized the pivotal role of energy access during and after severe weather events. Last year, Clean Energy Group had more interest in our technical assistance program to evaluate the viability of solar+storage for resilience in marginalized communities than any prior year, with requests for technical assistance support from community-based partners in nine states and Washington, DC. These requests used to come in regional waves – when a disaster would strike an area, we would see a spike in interest. That has shifted to a constant stream of requests from communities across the country.

In all, Clean Energy Group supported solar+storage assessments for two dozen community-serving facilities in 2022, with 40% of technical assistance support going to BIPOC-led organizations. Beyond severe storms like Sandy and Hurricane Maria, there has been increasing interest in solar+storage for cooling centers to combat the devastating impacts of extreme heat, which contributes to more deaths each year than any other weather-related event.

Solar+storage is now laying down a proven track record as a reliable source of resilient power. When Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico last September, solar+storage kept essential services and emergency response up and running by powering fire stations, health centers, and other community facilities throughout extended grid outages. Sergeant Luis Saez of Fire Station Guánica in Puerto Rico put it well when he said, “We are very thankful for [solar+storage] being here. It got something out of our way – something that we should not be worrying about. When there’s an emergency, we should not be worrying about having power. It makes life so much easier for us. If there’s an emergency we can go out and respond to it and know that when we come back, we will still have power.”

#4: Grid Reliability

Raising concerns about grid reliability, keeping the lights on, has been a constant refrain from the fossil fuel industry and many electric utilities. There was a time when 5% solar and wind penetration was portrayed as a threat to the grid. In May 2022, the California Independent System Operator reported that the state met 99.87% of all electricity load with renewables for a brief period of time, breaking all previous records. Despite ever higher demonstrated levels of renewable penetration and a steadily increasing proliferation of clean, flexible resources (batteries, demand side management, virtual power plants), the specter of “reliability” is still held up as justification to keep gas plants operating in environmental justice communities and continue investing in new fossil infrastructure.

Last year, Clean Energy Group used data from the Environmental Protection Agency to map the injustice of peaker power plant siting, finding that two-thirds of peakers are located in lower-income communities and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions rates are 44% higher for peakers located near communities of color. We collaborated with local organizations in Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia to shine a light on the health disparities of peaker plant emissions in those communities. The clean energy transition will fail if it does not prioritize the retirement of power plants in our country’s most overburdened communities and does not prioritize investment in these communities to develop clean alternatives.

This transition from fossil peakers to clean alternatives began to take effect in New York City in 2022, accelerated by on-the-ground advocacy efforts and targeted opposition by the PEAK Coalition (New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, UPROSE, THE POINT CDC, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and Clean Energy Group). New York City residents are subject to emissions from 89 oil and gas peaking units with a capacity of 6 GW spread across 19 power plants, more than any other city in the country. As of the end of 2022, half of those power plants are actively engaged in shifting from fossil fuels to offshore wind and battery storage. Federal and state commitments to emissions reductions and support for enabling clean energy programs should further accelerate this transition in 2023.

#5: False Solutions

Solar and wind are now the least expensive sources of electricity generation on the grid. Energy storage is being deployed by the gigawatts each year. Study after study indicates that the US can achieve at least 80% to 90% emissions reductions using existing renewable and storage technologies. These facts make it particularly disappointing that the federal government has chosen to back the industry rush to embrace hydrogen and carbon capture in the electricity sector. These are expensive, unproven technologies that represent no more than false solutions for electricity generation and will result in serious public health consequences for surrounding communities.
Burning hydrogen in power plants and equipping power plants with carbon capture technologies will do nothing to reduce local air emissions poisoning environmental justice communities. In fact, research and real-world demonstrations have shown that such false solutions will further exacerbate emissions and public health disparities. Even worse, they barely reduce, or in some cases even increase, greenhouse gas emissions.

This is not to say that there may not be a role for hydrogen in decarbonizing certain sectors. There are compelling arguments that hydrogen could be a viable solution for truly challenging sectors like high-heat industrial processes and maritime shipping, but burning it for electricity or to heat homes and businesses is not a viable or clean path forward. As for carbon capture, it is unlikely to be a justifiable solution for any application.

These false solutions will be a battleground for energy justice in 2023 and for years to come.

The Outlook for Energy Equity in 2023

It is too early to definitely say whether or not 2023 will be a year of more inclusive energy programs and policies, more equitable distribution of energy investments, and a reduction in disproportionate harms impacting marginalized communities. It will most likely be a mixed bag, with successes in some areas and declines in others.

However, it is promising that more local, state, and federal decision makers are talking about equity, and more diverse voices are being heard when decisions are being made. Federal actions to prioritize equity in the energy sector, such applying the Justice40 Initiative to energy investments and the Department of Energy’s Energy Storage for Social Equity Initiative, show a real commitment to begin centering and prioritizing energy justice. Grassroots leaders and frontline organizations are increasingly getting the recognition and resources needed to battle entrenched fossil interests and strengthen the communities they serve. As always, there is still much work to be done.

The Top Five Fossil Fuel Industry Myths about Hydrogen

Author: Abbe Ramanan, Clean Energy Group | Project: Hydrogen Information and Public Education

Photo Credit: wedmov/

Hydrogen continues to receive a lot of attention as a fuel source, particularly with the rollout of new federal incentives supporting cleaner forms of hydrogen production. We at Clean Energy Group have documented the many reasons why the glut of blue and green hydrogen projects being proposed now are concerning, particularly for environmental justice communities.  

In a recent webinar, speakers Sean O’Leary from the Ohio River Valley Institute, Erik Schlenker-Goodrich from the Western Environmental Law Center, and I discussed some of these concerns, including the pervasive greenwashing of hydrogen. The top five fossil fuel industry myths that have been used to greenwash irresponsible hydrogen projects include:  

Myth No. 1 – Hydrogen is emissions free: While hydrogen does not produce carbon dioxide (CO2) when combusted, it does produce high amounts of the air pollutant nitrogen oxide (NOx). In fact, hydrogen produces six times the amount of NOx as natural gas when combusted.  

Myth No. 2 – Green hydrogen can help meet decarbonization goals: Green hydrogen is produced by using renewable energy to power a process called electrolysis. However, electrolysis is an extremely energy intensive process, and once green hydrogen is made, it must then be re-converted into electricity before it can be used. While there may be very specific uses for green hydrogen in hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as aviation, it is also a huge energy user undercutting renewable energy that could be going directly towards decarbonizing the grid.  

Myth No. 3 – Hydrogen can be safely blended in existing pipelines: Even at very low levels of blending, hydrogen can crack steel pipelines through a process known as embrittlement, leading to explosions and high amounts of leakage.  

Myth No. 4 – Hydrogen will save money: Hydrogen behaves very differently than natural gas. In addition to the pipeline issues mentioned above, most emissions control technologies in natural gas power plants are not equipped to handle large amounts of hydrogen. This means that beyond very low levels of blending, any pre-existing infrastructure will need to be retrofitted to safely use hydrogen, a very expensive endeavor.  

Myth No. 5 – Hydrogen does not contribute to global warming: Hydrogen is an indirect greenhouse gas that extends the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere. Due to its small molecular size, hydrogen is extremely prone to leakage. A recent study found that based on current projections, global hydrogen leakage rates could be up by 6.5 percent by 2050 – producing the warming  equivalent of 100 million to 200 million tons of CO2 in the atmosphere.  

As Erik and Sean discussed on the webinar, these myths are alive and well in the regional hydrogen hub projects being proposed in New Mexico and Pennsylvania, along with many more around the country. Combating hydrogen misinformation is one way to help support the efforts of the many environmental justice advocates pushing back against these irresponsible proposals.