Electric cars have lower carbon output in 95 per cent of the world, study finds

23rd March 2020 | Commercial Energy

Concerns that electric cars could actually worsen carbon emissions are not true in nearly all parts of the world, according to a study from the University of Exeter. While electric cars represent a pollution-free form of transport on a local level, the carbon cost of the electricity used to power them also has to be taken into account.

In 2018, researchers claimed that China’s massive push to get people driving electric vehicles could actually worsen its carbon output, given that much of the electricity s produced from fossil fuels such as coal. Now, the University of Exeter study has found that even with substantial amounts of fossil fuel in the energy mix, electric cars do lead to lower carbon emissions overall.

Already, under current conditions, driving an electric car is better for the climate than conventional petrol cars in 95 per cent of the world, with the only exceptions being in countries such as Poland where electricity generation is still mostly based on coal. Average lifetime emissions from electric cars are up to 70 per cent of the world lower than petrol cars in countries such as Sweden and France (which get most of their electricity from renewables and nuclear) and around 30 per cent lower in the UK.

Electric cars

In a few years, even the more inefficient electric cars will be less emission-intensive than most new petrol cars in most countries, as electricity generation is expected to be less carbon-intensive than today. The study projects that by 2050, every second car on the streets could be electric. This would reduce global CO2 emissions by up to 1.5 gigatons per year, which is equivalent to the total current CO2 emissions of Russia.

The study also looked at electric household heat pumps and found they, too, produce lower emissions than fossil-fuel alternatives in 95 per cent of the world. Heat pumps could reduce global CO2 emissions in 2050 by up to 0.8 gigatons per year, or roughly equal to Germany’s current annual emissions.

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