Electric Vehicles emit as much carbon as fossil fuel cars? What rubbish!

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There is a myth, no doubt encouraged by the oil junkies, that Electric Vehicles are responsible for as much pollution to the atmosphere as fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Electricity has to be generated somewhere, and that process generates pollution anyway, so electric cars are no better than petrol or diesel vehicles overall, right?

This is a gross exaggeration. While power stations will emit carbon as long as they burn fossil fuels, giant electricity generation systems are far more efficient than dirty little car, van and truck engines. Furthermore, as renewables replace fossil fuel as a means of central power generation, this will become a completely redundant argument.

Electricity generation fuel mix

Let’s look at some numbers for power generation around the world. Canada has a great energy generation mix with 63% of its electricity being created through hydroelectric power plants and a mere 16% from fossil fuels.

The UK hasn’t got the ability to go to hydro to that extent but we have some of the greatest untapped wind, wave and tidal resources in the world, so we have the potential to follow in Canada’s footsteps by using our own energy mix. On 2015 figures, 64% of our electricity generation is from fossil fuels. 30% of the overall mix is from coal and this is falling dramatically as we close down coal-powered stations, while 34% of the overall mix is natural gas.

The US is broadly similar, using 33% coal and 33% natural gas – very comparable with the UK.

Well To Wheel

The next stage in debunking the crazy argument against electric vehicles is the efficiency of power production. Here’s a Well to Wheel calculation that shows the efficiency of power extraction per kilowatt of energy extracted at source.

Petrol (gas) vehicle engines are the least efficient, with only 12% of the latent energy in the fuel being turned into power. The rest is lost as heat and through unburnt fuel being ejected as poisons from the tailpipe.

Diesel engines are 18% efficient, but are choking our towns and cities with noxious by-products with every turn of the vehicle wheel.

The overall fuel-efficiency of EVs depends on where you live, and how the electricity they use is generated. In Canada, 51% of the sourced energy is turned into power. In the US and UK with their relatively dirty fuel generation, this is only around 32%.

So, even in what some people refer to ‘the dirty old man of Europe’ (the UK) EVs convert well over 100% more energy into forward motion than do vehicles with a petrol or diesel engine.

Overall emissions

So now we have shown how energy is extracted and compared efficiency of the fuels used, let’s look at the CO2 emissions per kilometre of EVs versus petrol-engined cars. We have chosen the Tesla Model S 85D and an average US fossil-fuelled passenger car.

The comparison is run on the energy mix of Canada and the US, and is based on the UN’s Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN).

The average US passenger vehicle emits 0.281kg of CO2 per km.

The Tesla Model S, like all electric vehicles, varies its emissions impact according to the energy mix of the country it is driving in. In clean Canada this is 0.034 kg of CO2 per km. In the US and UK this is around 0.106 kg of CO2 per km.

The bottom line: Percentage reduction in CO2 emissions

So how much less-polluting overall is an EV over fossil-fuelled cars?

In Canada EVs, compared to the average US passenger vehicle is 88% more efficient.

In the US and UK, EVs are on average 62% more efficient.

To be perfectly clear: You are reducing your carbon emissions by nearly 2/3rds by switching to an EV, today!

The clean future

The National Grid as a source of vehicle energy generation is getting cleaner and cleaner. Solar energy has been used more than coal on several occasions in the UK, and coal is being phased out of the energy mix.

No matter how oil junkie governments fight their public, there is a growing belief that we should get on and dump fossil fuels. There are UN targets for clean energy generation too, and we are certainly heading in the right direction.

Overall, in 5 years’ time the energy mix will be dramatically different in the UK, and EVs will have far lower ‘emissions’ than even they do today.

One question that can’t be ignored is that as EV use increases, so grid power demand will increase. This may slow the switch to renewables, but it won’t stop it altogether. New technologies and power sites are coming on-stream all the time.

The green revolution is here to stay and YOU should join it right now. A trip to your local EV-dealer is called for. So book an electric car test drive today!

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3 Comments

  • Peter Kelly Reply

    I generally agree, but the determination of efficiency ‘from well to wheel’ is enormously complex and fraught with difficulty, so is always open to question.

    For instance, does the drilling, extraction, and refinement of oil take greater or less power than obtaining gas (assuming a gas fired power station)? How much energy does it take to transport the fuel to its distribution point and how does that compare to line losses for electricity?

    These are just tiny parts of the whole equation, which needs to take into account the making and potential recycling of the whole car.

    I do think EV are much the best, but providing an undoubted case is far from easy.

    • ADMIN Reply

      Hi Peter,

      Thank you for your comment. While I do agree that an accurate measurement of Well to Wheel is pretty much impossible due to several variables. However, bringing the Well to Wheel argument does help in some ways to magnify the life time efficiency of an EV compared to an ICE.
      But of course the best way to really appreciate an EV is to drive one or book a free test drive on this site.

  • Richard Shrubb Reply

    Peter – I wrote this article and you raise a fair point.

    Simply, you are correct in that Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) for power stations will be easier to extract than oil to petrol.

    I’ve found a pretty extreme analogue to this – Canadian Tar Sands vs crude oil. The paper whose abstract you can see in the link below states, “Depending on the extraction technology and product type output of oil sands projects, the WTW GHG emissions for gasoline and diesel produced from bitumen and SCO in U.S. refineries were in the range of 100–115 and 99–117 g CO2e/MJ, respectively, representing, on average, about 18% and 21% higher emissions than those derived from U.S. conventional crudes.”

    You can see the abstract on this link http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b01255

    As we indicated above, the cleaner the source of the fuel (solar panels for eg) the lower the GHG cost of the energy. That’s why getting gasoline from bitumen is 21% less efficient than from Brent crude. Brent crude dirtier than LNG. Canadian tar sands extraction really blackens their green credentials as it is one of the nastiest fossil fuels of all but that’s a different story…

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