How green they really are just depends. Electric vehiclesmight be the badge people wear to show off their environmental awareness. But EVs are not as easy an answer as composting your lunch or giving up plastic bags. Are Electric Vehicles Really Better For The Environment?
What is an EV Anyway?
When we say electric car, it’s complicated. A fully electric car uses only electricity to move it along. But a plug-in hybrid is a different beast – it mostly uses petrol or diesel but runs on battery electricity at other times. A hydrogen car is electric but you fuel it with hydrogen that converts into electricity. Each kind of EV has its own environmental footprint.
It also depends on whether we mean using the vehicle, making the vehicle, or producing the fuel to run it. Some people include all three and call it the lifetime environmental effect.
Using an EV is Definitely Green
There is no doubt about this one. EVs don’t use any fossil fuels, don’t blow out any poisonous gases over passers-by, and they are nice and quiet. This is where drivers of EVs earn their green credentials and the rest of us can watch them while they do it.
Making Batteries is a Problem
The main reason why manufacturing EVs is a problem is the lithium-ion batteries. The environmental cost of manufacturing them could be 15% higher than petrol cars. Most manufacturers make lithium-ion batteries in countries with heavily polluting grids, like Germany or Australia.
For example, building a battery for an electric SUV emits 74% more CO2 than a conventional SUV. In this case, smaller EVs are more eco-friendly than the largest ones. It usually takes 2 or 3 years for zero emission driving to make up for the carbon emitted in producing the batteries.
Producing Fuel is Still a Problem
In the US, the majority of power is coal-fired and the rest is hydroelectric. This means much of the electricity used by an electric car is “dirty energy”,. Until electric cars can run on renewable energy, it is doubtful whether they are any greenerthan a petrol car. Norway is a special case where hydroelectric energy almost entirely powers the grid. An EV there generates nearly 60% less CO2 over a lifetime than the most efficient petrol engine. But this impressive statistic relies on having a “clean” source of power.
Electricity generation is decarbonising faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world. Wind, solar, biomass, and hydro-electricity supplied 55 per cent of National Grid demand on 30 June 2019.
They do not emit poisonous gases in the street and they are also much quieter than standard cars. Once the rest of us can afford them, the early adopters will move on to autonomous electrics.