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Electric cars have lower lifetime CO2 emissions than petrol or diesel cars

Tristan Shale-Hester 2019-08-30 13:50

New study reveals that EVs produce less lifetime CO2 than petrol or diesel cars in the UK due to the country decarbonising its energy

Electric cars in the UK are cleaner than their petrol or diesel counterparts even when their production is taken into account, thanks to the country’s continuing move towards renewable energy and decarbonisation.

On average, EVs are responsible for a quarter of the amount of CO2 that conventionally powered cars produce, a figure that increases to half when the car’s entire lifetime – including the process of battery production – is considered, according to a new study commissioned by Drax Electric Insights and conducted by Imperial College London.

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The study says that after two to three years the carbon emitted in producing the batteries for the most efficient EV models on the market is compensated for by zero emission travel. It acknowledges, though, that smaller EVs with modest batteries are more eco-friendly, with the largest electric models on the market needing up to three times longer to offset the carbon cost of their production – more CO2 is emitted in building the battery for a premium EV model than from recharging it over a 15-year lifetime.

The research also found that the increasing decarbonisation of the UK’s electricity supply – which is linked to the Government’s 2050 net-zero carbon target – is enabling EVs to become even more environmentally friendly. EVs bought in the UK today could be responsible for a tenth of the CO2 of a petrol car in five years’ time.

In fact, the report claims electricity generation is decarbonising faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world. Wind, solar, biomass, and hydro-electricity supplied 55 per cent of National Grid demand on 30 June 2019, breaking 2018’s record of 48 per cent.

Dr Iain Staffell from Imperial College London commented: “EVs have real potential to reduce our carbon footprint and help meet our net-zero carbon ambitions, despite some speculation about how clean they really are.

“An electric vehicle in the UK simply cannot be more polluting than its petrol or diesel equivalent, even when taking into account the upfront ‘carbon cost’ of manufacturing their batteries. The carbon content of Britain’s electricity has halved in recent years and keeps on falling, whereas conventional engine vehicles have very limited scope to reduce emissions over their lifetime.

“Any EV bought today could be emitting just a tenth of what a petrol car would in as little as five years’ time, as the electricity it uses to charge comes from an increasingly low-carbon mix.”

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