Electric Cars Cause Lower Carbon Emissions than Petrol Cars

A new study shows that the idea that electric cars could actually elevate carbon emissions is baseless in virtually all parts of the world.

Already under current conditions, driving an electric car is better for the climate than conventional petrol cars in 95% of the world. Image Credit: University of Exeter.

There has been general speculation whether or not electric cars are actually “greener” when production emissions and electricity generation are taken into account.

However, a latest study conducted by the universities of Exeter, Cambridge, and Nijmegen reports that electric cars result in lower carbon emissions, even when considerable amounts of fossil fuels are still used for electricity generation.

According to the study, it has been found that, under present conditions, electric cars are better for the climate compared to the traditional petrol cars in 95% of the world. Places such as Poland are the only exceptions since its electricity generation is still predominantly based on coal.

The mean lifetime emissions generated from electric cars are up to 70% lower when compared to petrol cars in countries such as France and Sweden (which generate a major part of their electricity from nuclear power and renewables), and approximately 30% lower in the United Kingdom.

In some years, inefficient electric cars will also be less emission-intensive when compared to a majority of the latest petrol cars in several countries, as the production of electricity is anticipated to be less carbon-intensive than at present.

According to the predictions of the study, in 2050, every second car on the streets could be electric. This would bring down worldwide CO2 emissions by up to 1.5 gigatons annually, which corresponds to the entire present-day CO2 emissions of Russia.

The study also analyzed the use of electric household heat pumps and identified that they too generate lower emissions compared to fossil-fuel alternatives in 95% of the world. It is expected that in 2050, heat pumps could bring down global CO2 emissions by up to 0.8 gigatons annually—which is approximately equal to current annual emissions of Germany.

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.

Dr Jean-Francois Mercure, Global Systems Institute, University of Exeter

The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil-fuel alternatives,” he added.

In other words, the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions is essentially a myth. We’ve seen a lot of discussion about this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths. We have run the numbers for all around the world, looking at a whole range of cars and heating systems.

Dr Florian Knobloch, Study Lead Author, Department of Environmental Science, University of Nijmegen

Knobloch continued, “Even in our worst-case scenario, there would be a reduction in emissions in almost all cases. This insight should be very useful for policy-makers.”

Globally, the research investigated the present and future emissions of several types of vehicles and home heating options. It split the world into 59 regions to consider the variations in technology and power generation.

In 53 of these regions—such as China, the United States, and all of Europe—the results of the study demonstrate that heat pumps and electric cars are already less emission-intensive compared to fossil-fuel alternatives.

These 53 regions represent 95% of heating demand and global transport. Moreover, with energy production being decarbonized globally, Dr Mercure stated that “last few debatable cases will soon disappear.”

The team performed a life-cycle evaluation where not only greenhouse gas emissions from using heating systems and cars, but also those from the waste processing and production chain were calculated.

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.

Dr Florian Knobloch, Study Lead Author, Department of Environmental Science, University of Nijmegen

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