Global implications of whole of life EV emissions

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Words: NZ Autocar
25 Mar 2020

In a recent NZ Herald article an expert in the field, Bjorn Lomborg, claimed that EVs are little better, well-to-wheel (whole of life), than ICE powered cars in terms of global emissions. Now a new study finds the exact opposite.

The investigation was carried out by scientists from the University of Exeter, Cambridge and Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and was published in Nature Sustainability. The authors reckon that EVs are better for the environment overall than gasoline-powered vehicles in 51 out of 52 global areas sampled.

The study looked at all relevant factors, including the production of the vehicles and their batteries, and electricity generation for EVs. They found that EVs are better than conventionally powered cars in most places. In some, like Sweden and France where power is produced mainly by renewables or nuclear means, they found average lifetime emissions from EVs are as much as 70 per cent lower. Even in the UK lifetime emissions are almost one-third lower, and experts there expect this to rise as the carbon content of electricity generation falls.

EVs were found to be environmentally friendlier in the majority of European countries, along with China and the US. It’s only in places like Poland where most power comes from burning coal that there is no advantage to running an EV. Presumably the same goes for Australia (there were six of 59 global regions where there was no advantage to running an EV).

This is not to suggest that EVs don’t pollute less once on road but the CO2 released in their manufacture and in the generation of electricity need to be factored into the overall emissions picture.

As an aside, the study also compared household heat pumps powered by electricity with heating systems run on fossil fuels. The result was similar, in that heat pumps reduce carbon emissions in 95 percent of the world.

The lead author, Dr Florian Knobloch, from the University of Nijmegen concluded "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.”

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