New research has busted the myths around electric vehicles and emissions – confirming that in virtually every part of the world, including still coal-dominated Australia, switching to an electric vehicle will lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, confirmed that in 95 per cent of the world, switching to an electric vehicle from a petrol equivalent would lead to an overall reduction in greenhouse emissions, even when the full life-cycle of a vehicle is taken into account.
There has been some conjecture over the emissions savings that could be achieved by a switch to an electric vehicle, with myths being pushed by the likes of climate contrarion Bjorn Lomborg in the Murdoch media that electric vehicles have no environmental benefits as they still may still source their electricity from fossil fuel power stations.
But the study, led by researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands, working with the universities of Exeter and Cambridge, found that electric vehicles did indeed lead to lower emissions, even in regions where a large portion of electricity generation is sourced from fossil fuels.
In the remaining regions, where electric vehicles led to an increase in emissions, the electricity grids had very high emissions intensities, such as oil heavy Estonia, and coal heavy countries like India and Poland.
Normally that category would include Australia, but the study took into account the market share of different vehicle models in each of the countries, so while Australia has a similar electricity emissions intensity to that of Poland; Australia’s preference for larger higher-end vehicles meant that switching to electric vehicles would have greater overall environmental benefits.
It didn’t break down the country state by state, but other studies have already found that most states deliver emissions savings through electric vehicles, and the savings are greater in those states and territories with significant amounts of renewables, such as Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT, and will grow as the share of renewables increases to a nation-wide forecast of around 50 per cent by 2030.
The study also found that the benefits of switching to electric powered heat pump systems for heating and cooling would also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil-fuel alternatives,” lead author and environmental scientist at Radboud University Florian Knobloch said.
“In other words, the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions is essentially a myth. We’ve seen a lot of discussion about this recently, with lots of disinformation going around.”
The study found that in some countries that source high proportions of their electricity from zero-emissions energy sources, including wind and solar, the emissions reductions achieved by a shift to electric vehicles was as high as 70 per cent.
Based on a global average, electric vehicles would achieve a 30 per cent reduction in emissions per kilometre travelled, with this saving expected to increase as the adoption of renewable energy technologies grew.
This was particularly true in a scenario where countries are successful in achieving emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees.
The study predicted that based on current trajectories, half of all cars on the road could be electric vehicles by 2050, saving up to 1,500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually and by 2040, electric vehicles will be the environmentally better option in virtually every region of the world.
“Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths. We have run the numbers for all around the world, looking at a whole range of cars and heating systems. Even in our worst-case scenario, there would be a reduction in emissions in almost all cases. This insight should be very useful for policy-makers.”
The assessment undertaken by the researchers extended beyond just fuel use and considered the whole-of-life emissions impacts of the different vehicle technologies, including the emissions produced during production and disposal of the vehicles.
“Taking into account emissions from manufacturing and ongoing energy use, it’s clear that we should encourage the switch to electric cars and household heat pumps without any regrets,” Knobloch added.
Australia’s transport emissions have been steadily increasing over the last few decades, across almost all modes of transport. Greenhouse gas inventory figures show transport emissions increasing across both passenger vehicles as well as freight transport, as the economy and population grows.
Australia’s transport emissions have increased by more than 60 per cent since 1990, rising consistently year-on-year.
While emissions from the electricity sector have increased by over a third over the same period, they have fallen consistently over the last decade, as demand falls and the share of renewables has grown.
It’s not the first time that Dutch experts have debunked myths pedalled by the Murdoch media. See Dutch EV expert debunks Murdoch-pedalled myth about electric car emissions, and the Murdoch media has form on this subject. See Murdoch media claim EVs produce more carbon emissions than petrol cars is wrong
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.