Electric cars still release fewer greenhouse gases than gas vehicles - even if they're charged by energy grid that relies on 'dirty' power like coal

July 21, 2021 -

  • A new report indicates EVs are the greener option in Europe, the US and China
  • It studied ever stage in the life cycles of vehicles and fuels, from extracting raw materials through operation and eventual recycling or disposal 
  • Even in India, whose power grid relies on coal, EVs produce 19-34 percent less 
  • Building an EV is still more carbon-intensive than a traditional gas-powered car
  • But drivers recoup their carbon footprint after about a year

Although electric vehicles are garnering significant attention, critics question whether they're much better for the environment than gas guzzlers—especially if they're charged from a 'dirty' grid that relies on coal or other non-renewable sources.

However, a new report from the International Council on Clean Transportation(ICCT) indicates that EVs release fewer greenhouse gases over their lifetime, regardless of the grid they plug into.

'Even for India and China, which are still heavily reliant on coal power, the life-cycle benefits of BEVs are present today,' Peter Mock, ICCT's managing director for Europe, said in a statement.

The study looked at greenhouse gases (GHG) in Europe, the US, China, and India, which are responsible for about 70 percent of all new car sales combined.

According to the statement from ICCT, unlike other assessments, it considered both present and projected emissions 'attributable to every stage in the life cycles of both vehicles and fuels—from extracting and processing raw materials through refining and manufacture to operation and eventual recycling or disposal.' 

It dug into a variety of power sources, including plug-in hybrids, biofuels, hydrogen and electricity.

Building an EV is still more carbon-intensive than constructing an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, but EV drivers recoup their carbon footprint after a year or so, ICCT researcher Georg Bieker told The Verge.   

Over the lifetime of average medium-size electric vehicles registered today, emissions are already lower than comparable gasoline cars by 66-69 percent in Europe, 60–68 percent in the US, 37-45 percent in China, and 19–34 percent in India.

That gap will only grow as the electricity mix continues to decarbonize, the authors said.

'Only battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) powered by renewable electricity can achieve the kind of deep reductions in GHG emissions from transportation that comport with the Paris Agreement's goal of keeping global warming well below 2 °C,' the report indicates.

'There is no realistic pathway to that goal that relies on combustion-engine vehicles, including hybrids of any sort.'

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