A new analysis of electric vehicles (EVs) versus their petrol and diesel counterparts has been released by European clean transport lobby group Transport & Environment (T&E), and it puts to bed once again misconceptions that EVs have higher emissions over their entire life cycle.
While electric cars have the distinct advantage on internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in terms of tailpipe emissions, critics claim that the energy embedded in the production of electric vehicle batteries outweighs the benefits.
But according to T&E, they are gravely wrong.
The report, released in tandem with a new online tool that helps European drivers see how clean electric cars are, brings together up-to-date data and projections that its authors say shows that the average electric car in Europe is already three times more efficient than its fossil-fuelled equivalents from cradle to grave.
The data combines the life-cycle emissions data from car production, battery production and fuel (petrol and diesel but excluding biodiesel) or electricity used to drive a vehicle.
The tool allows users to select a vehicle segment and source of electricity for battery production, as well as the country in which the vehicle is driven, and shows that even in countries with carbon-intensive grids such as Poland, electric cars are still ahead in terms of overall emissions.
‘This tool puts to rest the myth that driving an electric car in Europe can be worse for the climate than an equivalent diesel or petrol. It’s simply not true. The most up-to-date data shows that electric cars in the EU emit almost three times less CO2 on average,” said T&E’s transport and e-mobility analyst, Lucien Mathieu, in a statement.
“Electric cars will reduce CO2 emissions four-fold by 2030 thanks to an EU grid relying more and more on renewables. If European governments are serious about decarbonising during the crisis recovery, they must speed up the transition to electric vehicles,” Mathieu says.
The report echoes research published in March by Nature Sustainability, which showed that in 95% of the world, including coal-loving Australia where the emissions savings would be greater as high emissions SUVs were replaced by electric SUVs, a switch to electric vehicles would result in a reduction of greenhouse gases.
While that study showed that a transition to electric vehicles in some regions like coal-heavy Poland and Estonia might lead to an increase in emissions, the new report suggests that even in a worst case scenario where an electric car was driven in coal-heavy Poland with a battery made in emissions-intense China, there would still be a 22% saving in CO2 emissions compared to diesel vehicles and 28% compared to petrol vehicles.
In a best case scenario, for example a medium-sized EV that emits about 47gm of CO2 per kilometre driving with power generated from largely renewable sources (the report uses Sweden’s hydro power as an example), the difference between carbon emissions is as much as five-fold, where the diesel equivalent emits 234gm/km and the petrol vehicle 253gm/km.
By 2030, the life-cycle emissions of electric vehicle improve further, thanks to the expected increase in renewably-sourced energy to charge them.
According to T&E’s report, the life-cycle emissions of an EV in 2030 reduces by 41% on average across Europe in the medium-sized car category, bringing its emissions from 90gm of CO2 per kilometre in 2020 down to 53gm/km in 2030, resulting in a four-fold improvement (4.2 times better than diesel and 4.5 times better than petrol) in average.
When switching large, executive cars to electric the advantage over ICE equivalents is even better, with a reduction of up to 80% in carbon emissions, says the T&E report.
T&E also notes the future outlook is possibly even more encouraging than its modelling shows, as technology improves including increases in battery energy density and efficiencies of scale as battery production increases. It also notes that as battery recycling increases, there are further carbon emissions savings are gained.
“The potential of electric cars to mitigate CO₂ emissions is crystal clear : on average EVs are close to three times cleaner than diesel and petrol cars today. Discussing whether or not coal-fuelled electric cars are better or worse for the climate than conventional cars is no longer relevant (EVs are 30% cleaner even then).
“The urgency should be placed on accelerating the transition to electric mobility while at the same time decarbonising the electricity grid. Awaiting for the grid to decarbonise before shifting to zero emission mobility would increase further CO₂ emissions and would seriously compromise any chances of reaching the Paris Agreement,” the report concludes.
The full report can be downloaded from the Transport & Environment website at the bottom of this page.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.