According to researchers, electric cars are already more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels in almost every part of the world. They say electric vehicles are “a choice you won’t regret” even though the power grid isn’t exactly eco-friendly.
Previous comparisons have shown that petrol and diesel cars have lower net CO2 emissions over their lifetime than battery-powered vehicles. But the analysis often only compares two car models. In contrast, Florian Knobloch of Radboud University in the Netherlands and colleagues looked at the average emissions across many classes of vehicles to get a clearer global picture.
Researchers examined the projected average CO2 emissions over the life of a car, including during production, during use, and during demolition, for all conventional and electric cars sold in 59 regions worldwide in 2015. This represents 95 percent of the past current global crossroads.
They found that EVs already had lower net CO2 emissions in 53 of the 59 regions. Only in areas where there are heavy coal-using countries, such as India and Poland, are emissions from electric vehicles worse than conventional gasoline and diesel cars.
The same goes for heat pumps, a more environmentally friendly alternative to domestic gas boilers that use electricity to generate heat. They are considered the key to decarbonizing heating.
Combined with data from sources powering the region in 2015, they found that the average electric car is more environmentally friendly than the average new petrol car if its grid emits less than 1,100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour.
Electricity supplies in many countries have seen major increases in renewables over the last five years, so Knobloch said electric cars are likely to get even better now. For example, the average CO2 intensity for electricity in the UK – CO2 emissions per unit of electricity generated – was 215g CO2 per kilowatt hour last year, compared to 443g CO2/kWh in 2015.
Researchers predict that the gap between fossil fuels and electric vehicles will only widen as the electric grid becomes greener. They expect the average CO2 intensity of electric vehicles to be 20% lower in 2030 than in 2015 and 30% lower in 2050.
The implications for government are clear, Knobloch said. “You don’t have to wait. Despite all the uncertainties and fluctuations, electrification has net benefits. Don’t get confused by all the different outcomes out there. It’s already a decision you won’t regret.”
We do not yet have clear data on the exact amount of CO2 emissions from electric car battery production. However, Knobloch said they found that “even if you factor in significantly higher or lower battery emissions, our results are still valid.”
Mike Berners-Lee of the University of Lancaster in England said that despite the carbon benefits of today’s electric cars, we still need to reduce the number of vehicles and buy cars with smaller engines to fight climate change.