EVs greener than diesel even when charged with dirtiest electricity

Lifecycle emissions of an electric vehicle (EV) are lower than those of diesel cars, even when powered by the most carbon intensive electricity.

According to research by VUB university in Brussels, for independent European green travel campaigner Transport & Environment (T&E), EVs will get greener still as increased amounts of renewable electricity enters the grid.

Even in those countries in Europe with the greatest greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation - Poland and Germany - EVs still perform better than diesel models when analysing lifecycle emissions than a diesel car.

In Poland, the worst average of those countries monitored, EVs were still 25% greener than compared to diesel cars. In the greenest countries in terms of electricity generation, such as Sweden, that difference increases to 85%.

The UK's figures are not included in the report, but other sources show that the home average is around 265 gCO2/kWh for 2017, an improvement of 2016's approximately 300 gCO2/kWh. This would put the UK behind only Belgium, France, and Sweden in the reported figures, and ahead of the EU-28 average (see below).

EV climate impact in different energy mixes

Graph courtesy of T&E

As the EV market expands and becomes more established, plug-in cars will improve those figures further, with home and industrial energy storage often utilising second-life EV batteries.

Yoann Le Petit, clean Vehicles and e-mobility officer at T&E, said: "Today an electric vehicle driving on Polish electricity – the most carbon intensive in the EU – still has a lower impact on the climate than a new diesel car.

"With the rapid decarbonisation of the EU electricity mix, on average electric vehicles will emit half the CO2 emissions of a diesel car by 2030 including the manufacturing emissions."

An often cited example of 'hidden' EV emissions is the materials used in battery production such as lithium. Additional research by T&E shows that the availability of these materials will not be restricted in the coming decades, and is not expected to hamper the transition to EVs. Reserves for lithium for example have been estimated at 185 years.

Just 1.7% of the European new car market is made up of plug-in vehicles, though like the UK market, this proportion is growing. The UK is ahead of the curve on around 2.2% of new cars sold.

You can read the reports published in greater depth at the T&E website.

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Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:30th Oct 2017

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