The rise of the electric vehicle-is it truly better for the environment?

electric vehicle charging port

With the rise in electronic vehicles (EVs) in 2019, our very own sector specialist, Lindsay Hartland, shared his thoughts on the environmental impact of this new tech. He suggested that the whole supply chain should be making steps towards improving the impact to the environment not just praising the benefits of the end-product. Find out what he had to say below...

Amidst news that Tesla’s plans for their Gigafactory 4 plant are edging ever closer since the German Ministry of Environment began the approval process, one thing struck me in particular. When fully operational this facility will manufacture 500,000 electric vehicles (EV) every year, yet to do this, Tesla will need to clear the land of trees and vegetation to make way for their new car production plant. In a world where the electric car is being lauded as a saviour for clean mobility and reducing its impact on the environment, the irony was not lost on me. In fairness and to the company’s credit, they’ve committed to replacing three times as many trees as those felled as a result of construction, whilst an environmental report dictates that there must be a key focus on protecting the local wildlife. However, it made me think of the wider picture; how much will the electric vehicle truly benefit the environment?

It’s well known that climate change is having a major impact on the planet’s ecosystems and that deforestation is one of a number of causes contributing towards rising global temperatures. The World Bank estimates that circa 3.9 million square miles of forest have been lost since the beginning of the 20th century, whilst in the last 25 years alone, forests have shrank at a rate equivalent to the size of an area bigger than South Africa. With trees absorbing carbon dioxide, odours and pollutant gases, as well as preventing soil erosion and producing oxygen, it’s imperative that we retain these valuable organisms as well as continue to make technological strides in high-pollutant industries such as transportation.

So where can electric vehicles play a part in this? The drive towards vehicle electrification is increasing, with a rise in year-on-year registrations for battery electric cars up by 144% according to the latest SMMT data, with another 23 models set to become available for purchase in 2020. With the UK pledging to bring all greenhouse emissions to net zero by 2050, there’s no doubt that the electric vehicle revolution will play an integral role in achieving this goal. As climate-change continues to dominate newsreels and politics across the globe, increasing public awareness of the need to change transportation and dietary habits is set to continue. According to EDF, just one electric car on the road saves an average of 1.5 million grams of CO2; the equivalent of four return flights from London to Barcelona. All good and well, but what about the argument for how much energy it costs to produce and charge these vehicles?

Admittedly, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), the pollution created as a result of the extraction of rare earth metals and the production of batteries remains on par or, in some cases, slightly higher than the manufacturing process of traditional petrol or diesel-oriented engines. However, it is over the course of the lifetime of the vehicle where the benefits of electrification really come into play. Since there is no combustion taking place and tailpipe emissions are removed completely, the majority of EV emissions commence during the manufacturing process and battery recharging activity. EnergySage report that, “taking well-to-wheel emissions into account, all-electric vehicles emit an average of around 4,450 pounds of co2 equivalent each year. By comparison, conventional gasoline cars will emit twice as much annually”. Quite a substantial difference.

Of course, like any rapidly advancing technology, as more and more cars are produced, production of batteries will be continuously refined and made more efficient, reducing the amount of emissions created. Furthermore, there is a growing market for reusing and recycling second-hand batteries for other uses such as energy storage, further extending the lifecycle of these products. Research carried out by the European Energy Agency states that, “even with electricity generation, the carbon emissions of an electric car are around 17-30% lower than driving a petrol or diesel car”.

So will the electric vehicle ultimately benefit the environment? Okay, it’ll never be an emissions-free industry but in a world where more and more cars are taking to the roads, there is scope for EV to play an integral role in transporting the automotive market into an age of cleaner mobility, drastically reducing the sector’s emissions output. For me, there is no doubt that it will be a positive step for the environment long-term, but it’s important that focus is spread evenly on maximising efficiency across the entire supply chain, rather than just praising the benefits of the end-product.

So, taking everything into account - when is the right time to trade in your petrol or diesel car for an EV? Let us know what you think by completing the form below

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