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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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New Study Reveals Just How Much Cleaner EVs Are

Amid a global transport industry crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, a study from clean energy nonprofit Transport and Environment has added strength to the argument that EVs emit far less CO2 than internal combustion engine vehicles do over their lifetimes.

The UK nonprofit said in its report that it had taken into account all relevant factors, including the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the production of the electricity that feeds an EV as well as the emissions that accompany the extraction of mineral resources that go into EV batteries. They even factored in the costs of building a power plant.

The main finding of the study was that on average, electric vehicles, at least those in Europe, emitted three times less carbon dioxide than internal combustion engine cars. However, the location seems to be quite important for the overall emission level, the authors note.

"In the worst case scenario, an electric car with a battery produced in China and driven in Poland still emits 22% less CO2 than diesel and 28% less than petrol," the authors wrote. "And in the best case scenario, an electric car with a battery produced in Sweden and driven in Sweden can emit 80% less CO2 than diesel and 81% less than petrol."

The report confirms an earlier study by three universities—Nijmegen in the Netherlands and Cambridge and Exeter in the UK—that found EVs had lower CO2 emissions than gasoline and diesel cars in most of the world, or 95 percent, to be precise.

The argument against EVs' reputation as greener alternatives to ICE cars was based mostly on the fact that not all the electricity that power plug-in vehicles comes from renewable sources. Hence, the emissions resulting from the generation of that electricity must be taken into account.

Even so, suggesting that this makes EVs more harmful in terms of emissions than ICE cars is quite a stretch. After all, even if they are powered by electricity produced from coal, they themselves do not emit CO2—a fact that seems to have slipped through the cracks of the argument. And yet, with the evolution of Europe's energy mix, coal-powered electricity now only accounts for a small portion of the total. This portion, as of 2017, was a percentage point higher than the portion of renewables. Two years later, in 2019, Europe got more electricity from its renewable energy sources—including hydropower—than it got from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

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So, an EV, especially in Europe, would be more eco-friendly than a gasoline or diesel vehicle. 

But there are exceptions, noted by Dutch scientists: in Estonia, where most of the electricity is produced at oil-fired shale oil power plants, switching from an ICE car to an EV would actually increase emissions, and by a hefty 40 percent. Still, this is more of a special case than a solid argument against EVs.

Despite the growing evidence of EVs' beneficial effect on the environment in terms of CO2 emissions, the outlook for EV sales is not that great. Sales of electric cars could take a 43-percent dive this year, Wood Mackenzie warned earlier this month.

The reason: the travel bans in response to the coronavirus and a looming recession, which has dampened people's appetite for new purchases, especially costly ones such as a new car. The economic situation, the Wood Mac analysts also noted, is also likely to increase people's aversion to new technology adoption.

And then there's oil, trading at historic lows and US futures even briefly plunging deep into negative territory yesterday as traders offloaded their last May contracts. It's an undisputed truth that when gasoline is cheap, people stick to their ICE cars. Of course, incentives—read subsidies—could help motivate a change of mind. Still, right now, few governments can afford to offer additional financial support for the EV industry when every other sector is ailing, too.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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