Are electric cars really better for the environment than petrol or diesel cars? Some people claim that the production of an electric vehicle (EV) produces a similar amount of pollution than a gas-powered car’s tailpipe.
Why are “green cars” important for the environment?
Before we debunk the green EV myth, let’s talk about why green vehicles are important for our environment.
In 2001, the third United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report projected that during the next 100 years, we would witness higher maximum temperatures, more hot days and heatwaves, an increase in the risk of forest fires, and substantially degraded air quality as a result of climate change.
Fast-forward to 2020, over in California, more than 3 million acres of land were burned, record temperatures were reached, and air pollution skyrocketed. The burnt orange skies looked like something from a post-apocalyptic film.
All of these occurrences have one thing in common: they were fueled by climate change. This convergence is one of the strongest signs that the catastrophe climate scientists have warned us of for years isn’t too far off in the future; it is here now and can no longer be ignored.
One of the primary reasons that electric cars were introduced into the market is the concern over greenhouse gas emissions and their contribution to climate change. Decreased air pollution due to the elimination of the exhaust pipe in EVs help to combat this issue.
But, what about the fossil fuel used to produce an electric car? Will it still be less polluting than a gas car?
Fact: Electric cars produce almost 3x less CO2 emissions than fossil fuel vehicles
On average, an electric car emits almost three times less CO2 than an equivalent petrol or diesel car when comparing the lifecycle emissions.
Lower emissions in all scenarios
The green credentials of an EV depend on how power is generated in the city you reside in. If the electricity is generated using fossil-free energy, such as solar or wind power, then your driving will be free of emissions. If you charge your car with electricity that comes from a local power plant that’s powered by fossil fuels, well then, it won’t be emission-free.
Fortunately, in most European countries, you can choose charging points that use renewable electricity. 93% of the EU population has the option to use 100% renewable electricity to charge their vehicles.
Moreover, the continuing improvement of energy production techniques and advanced battery technologies will result in less reliance on critical raw materials like copper and aluminium, which are used in the production of lithium batteries in EVs. This means that electric cars will get greener as the means to produce and power them begin to leave less of an environmental impact.
Still, electric cars lead to lower overall CO2 emissions, even if the electricity used to power them comes from fossil fuels. Let’s take a closer look at the different scenarios:
In the worst-case scenario, an electric car with a battery produced in China and driven in Poland still emits 22% less CO2 than diesel and 28% less than petrol.
In the best-case scenario, an electric car with a battery produced in Sweden and driven in Sweden emits 80% less CO2 than diesel and 81% less than petrol.
In Europe, 58% of electricity generation is already carbon neutral. And the situation continues to rapidly improve: Electric cars will reduce CO2 emissions four-fold by 2030, thanks to the EU grid relying more and more heavily on renewables.
The carbon footprint of fossil fuels
One element that is almost always overlooked is the CO2 emissions of getting fossil fuels from the well to the gas pump. This involves pumping oil in a certain location, transporting the raw oil to another location for refinement, and then the logistics of transporting the refined petrol and diesel fuels to resellers.
The carbon footprint of the oil pumping, refinement, and transportation of fossil fuels can range from about 0.4. kilograms per litre to 0.8 kilograms per litre. This CO2 equivalent includes not only CO2 but also other global warming gases such as methane. This is a hefty percent of the roughly 9 kilograms of emissions from burning the gasoline.
Electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions
For even further proof, EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions. A switch from an internal combustion engine (ICE) car to an electric one eliminates all direct emissions during the use of a vehicle. This is a massive benefit for our air quality, especially in metropolitan cities.
According to the World Health Organization, outdoor air pollution causes 4.2 million premature deaths every year. And with the apparent events happening in places like California, this is only going to rapidly get worse.
While there’s no denying that EVs emit less CO2 while in use, it is true that the production process of an average EV results in 15% more emissions than the production of a gasoline car. But, that is why there is already a push to use recycled materials in order to decrease the lifecycle emissions of electric vehicles.
If you’d like to learn more about EV emissions check out our previous blog post on electric car pollution facts.
What about the effect of EVs on the power grid?
With more and more EVs on the road, this raises questions about the effects of electric cars on the power grid.
According to a study by McKinsey & Company, their analysis suggests the projected growth in e-mobility will not drive substantial increases in total electrical-grid power demand in the near future. This means there is no need for new electricity-generation capacity for the time being.
Though there won’t be any significant increase in total power demand due to the uptake in EV sales, it will likely reshape the electricity load curve. This will mostly be due to an increase in evening peak loads when people charge their EVs at night. However, this effect will only represent a relatively small percentage at most.
Even then, an easy way to mitigate this is for EVs to charge when the power consumption is otherwise low and production high: for example during a workday when the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and the daily electricity consumption isn’t at its peak.
In addition, the use of smart charging solutions can control the timing and amount of power used. Smart charging allows charging station owners to monitor, manage, and restrict the use of their devices remotely to optimize energy consumption.
Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) services are also already commercially available. V2g enables electricity to be returned to the grid from the car batteries, the same way that stationary storages are connected to the grid.
More electric vehicle charging myths
This was just one of many myths about electric car charging. Stay tuned as we debunk more EV charging myths. This is the first in our myth-busting blog series, where we set the record straight and address some of the most common misconceptions.
If you’d like to learn more facts about electric vehicles and EV charging, take a look at the comprehensive guide below.