Stop The Lies! Electric Cars Do NOT Have Higher Emissions Than Conventional Cars

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A popular meme for those opposed to electric cars — that would be Charles Koch and his army of subservient minions — is that electric cars have higher carbon emissions than conventional cars. You see it all the time in supposedly ethical publications — a story planted by the anti-EV crowd suggesting that when you add up all the emissions associated with manufacturing an electric car, especially the battery, and include the emissions created to generate the electricity needed to charge it over its lifetime, the total is greater than it would be for a similar vehicle powered by a gasoline or diesel engine.

electric vehicle battery
Image credit: US Department of Energy

You only need to have the IQ of your typical head of iceburg lettuce to know that’s a lie, but urban legends die hard. What is really hard to understand is the lie is promoted by fossil fuel companies. In effect, what they are saying is, burning our products to make electricity is really bad for the environment but they obviously hope most people won’t make that connection. Good luck passing off that horse puckey on CleanTechnica readers!

Now at long last a proper scientific inquiry has been made to destroy this load of codswallop for good. The report, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, begins with  this abstract:

The electrification of passenger road transport and household heating features prominently in current and planned policy frameworks to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. However, since electricity generation involves using fossil fuels, it is not established where and when the replacement of fossil-fuel-based technologies by electric cars and heat pumps can effectively reduce overall emissions.

Could electrification policies backfire by promoting their diffusion before electricity is decarbonized? Here we analyse current and future emissions trade-offs in 59 world regions with heterogeneous households, by combining forward-looking integrated assessment model simulations with bottom-up life-cycle assessments.

We show that already under current carbon intensities of electricity generation, electric cars and heat pumps are less emission intensive than fossil-fuel-based alternatives in 53 world regions, representing 95% of the global transport and heating demand. Even if future end-use electrification is not matched by rapid power-sector decarbonization, it will probably reduce emissions in almost all world regions.

The study’s lead author, Dr Florian Knobloch from the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, tells the BBC, “The idea that electric vehicles could increase emissions is a complete myth. We’ve seen a lot of discussion about this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. We have run the numbers for all around the world, looking at a whole range of cars and even in our worst case scenario there would be a reduction in emissions in almost all cases.” The study also looked at residential heat pumps and found they also produce lower emissions than fossil fuel alternatives in 95% of the world.

“We started this work a few years ago, and policy-makers in the UK and abroad have shown a lot of interest in the results,” Knobloch says. “The answer is clear. To reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil-fuel alternatives.”

The study finds average lifetime emissions from electric cars are up to 70% lower than petrol cars in countries like Sweden and France that get most of their electricity from renewables and nuclear, and around 30% lower in the UK, where coal is still common.

The only place where an electric car or a heat pump might create more emissions than a conventional car or a conventional home heating furnace is in an area that sources all of its electricity from coal-powered generating plants. But if you live in such a place, consider relocating as soon as possible to prevent being poisoned by all the crud in the atmosphere.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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