How Effective Are Electric Vehicles In Reducing Emissions?

Yves here. Readers are sure to debate the conclusions presented below on the emissions impact of electric vehicles, but they profess to have made a very detailed analysis of the carbon cost of manufacturing and operation over a typical electric vehicle lifespan. It concludes that electric vehicles are much better than internal combustion engines. and with current electric generation mixes, cut emissions by about 50%, which could rise to 86% as electricity generation shifts more and more away from coal and gas use.

Of course, the real message should be that consumers and governments need to do more to curb the use of cars. But suggesting what might sound like sacrifice is not on.

By Rystad Energy, an independent energy consulting services and business intelligence provider offering global databases, strategic advisory and research products for energy companies and suppliers, investors, investment banks, organisations, and governments. Originally published at OilPrice

Battery electric vehicles (BEV) are the clear winner when trying to reduce emissions in the transportation sector, according to Rystad Energy research. Despite incurring higher emissions in the manufacturing process of electric vehicles and an enduring reliance on fossil fuel power generation in many countries, the positive environmental impact of switching to a BEV over the vehicle’s lifetime is unmistakable.

Our analysis shows that battery-powered vehicles contribute at most half the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) of diesel or gasoline cars across their lifecycle, regardless of the country of operation. Even in countries where the power grid is dominated by fossil fuels, battery-powered cars emit about 50% of the CO2e of an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. As renewable sources replace coal and gas-fired generation, emissions related to the operation of BEVs could drop by 86%.

Our in-depth research of lifecycle BEV and ICE vehicle emissions considers every stage of the manufacturing process and the vehicle’s operation. This includes the manufacturing of the vehicle’s body, known as body in white (BIW), powertrain assembly, maintenance, fuel and electricity-related emissions, and battery production for BEVs. We are conscious that there are often societal and humanitarian impacts associated with EV manufacturing, battery production, and associated mining. However, this research is purely focused on the emissions comparison between battery electric and traditional-fuel vehicles.

Based on the current power generation mix in China, the lifecycle emissions of a BEV are about 39 tonnes of CO2e versus almost 85 tonnes for an ICE vehicle. The difference in the US is even starker. A BEV emits 42 tonnes of CO2e across its life in the US, 58% lower than a gasoline or diesel vehicle that emits more than 100 tonnes. Of these totals, emissions related to the extraction, refining, and burning of fossil fuels contribute about 90% of all ICE emissions. The breakdown of emissions across a battery-powered vehicle’s life is directly tied to its electricity consumption and how that power is generated.

Overall, battery electric vehicles are clearly the right technology to reduce emissions in the transportation sector. Switching to a BEV will reduce long-term emissions despite a larger environmental impact at the beginning of the vehicle’s life. Contrary to some claims, electric car adoption is not a fool’s errand; it will slash emissions in the long run and accelerate the energy transition.

Abhishek Murali, senior clean tech analyst, Rystad Energy

Learn more with Rystad Energy’s Energy Transition Solution.

We selected five countries for our analysis – China, the US, India, Germany, and France – due to their diverse transportation factors like driving patterns, type of vehicle dominant in each country, and varying power mixes, both historical and forecast. Germany and France were chosen to reflect the European market in general and assess different power mixes, keeping other factors mostly similar. We used our base case power generation forecast for each country when evaluating lifecycle emissions to accurately reflect the evolving nature of electricity generation and its impact on BEV emissions. Each vehicle is expected to last 18 years, after which age most vehicles are scrapped.

Annual distance driven varies widely by country, with consumers in the US driving longer distances than every other country we studied. US vehicles travel on average about 23,000 kilometers (km) every year, compared to 19,000 km in China and about 13,500 km in Germany, France, and India. When forecasting emissions over the next 18 years, we predicted the evolution of driving distance based on historical data. Mileage in the US, China, and Europe is expected to fall about 1% annually based on official driving statistics and surveys, while distances driven in India are expected to increase by 0.5% per year as the country is still in the middle of its motorization period.

The Power Market Holds the Key

A country’s power mix will play a significant role in determining how quickly emissions reduction can be achieved when switching to BEVs. Whereas ICE vehicles become more emissions-heavy as they age, BEVs will emit less over the years as power generation becomes greener. For instance, in our base case scenario predicting the development of the US power grid, battery-powered cars will emit just 14% of the emissions equivalent from a gasoline or diesel car in 2041.

Stark contrasts can also be found in regions where most other factors are similar. Comparing Germany and France, the only deviation is in the emissions intensity of the grid. France, largely dominated by nuclear power, has about an 84% lower carbon intensity than Germany, which relies heavily on gas generation. Hence, emissions from charging an electric vehicle in France will be about 70% lower, resulting in around 37% lower lifecycle emissions.

Performing the same comparison for a coal-heavy power mix, in the case of India, results in 43% lower lifecycle emissions. Overall, adopting BEVs – even in a status quo power mix future – will be beneficial to the environment, especially in countries with high annual mileage like the US.

How Much CO2 Can Electric Vehicle Sales Displace?

Using this power-mix analysis, we can estimate the volume of emissions avoided through BEV sales, assuming driving distance is the same across both vehicle types. The average displacement factor varies widely by country depending on driving patterns and model availability. For instance, China has low annual average mileage and widespread BEV model availability, leading to an almost 1:1 emissions displacement factor. However, BEV adoption in the US can vary hugely from state to state. California has an almost 1:1 displacement factor, but the national average is estimated at 0.6. European countries have anywhere from a 0.8 to 1.1 displacement factor.

To illustrate this, 5 million passenger BEVs were sold in China in 2022, versus 17 million ICE cars. Assuming each of these BEVs emits 39 tonnes CO2e in its lifetime and an ICE emits 85 tonnes CO2e, ICE sales would emit 1.4 gigatonnes CO2e total, while the BEVs sold will add about 200 million tonnes of CO2e to the environment. However, if the same 5 million BEVs had been ICEs, added emissions would have been around 430 million tonnes CO2e. Thus, BEVs result in a lifecycle emissions reduction of 230 million tonnes CO2e – almost 14% of total passenger car emissions. A similar analysis in the US shows this figure at 25 million tonnes CO2e.

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  1. Louis Fyne

    honest question…..what is the opportunity cost of going 100% EV (4/500km range) instead of using the same amount of batteries for plug-in hybrids (50 – 100km range, with ICE).

    1 EV uses the same amount of batteries as 5 – 6 plugin hybrids, or ~20 non-plgin hybrids

    surely selling 5 million plugin hybrids a year in the US is better than 1 million EV? as a stopgap until battery tech matures.

    (China is going full EV because of industrial policy reasons, dominate EV ecosystem from battery to car—noy necessarily because its industrial policy has the smallest eco-footprint)

    1. Louis Fyne

      A regular Prius (hybrid) has a2 kwh battery,
      Plugin Prius (EV + ICE) ~16 kwh,
      Tesla 3, ~100 kWh

    2. Michael Fiorillo

      “… as renewables replace coal and gas-fired generation.”

      But my understanding is that they are supplementing fossil fuel generation, not replacing it. If that is so, it reinforces Yves frequent and correct observation that it’s all moot absent radical conservation and reduced energy throughput.

    3. Ignacio

      In Spain it is said that many if not most plug-in hybrids sold tend to end running 100% on fuel with the result of increasing fuel consumption and contamination due to extra weight.

      1. Louis Fyne

        the same argument can be made for 100% EV cars.

        If a 500 km Tesla is only used to commute 30 km a day, except for semi-annual road trips, that Tesla is wasting/driving around 470 km worth of unused batteries.

        Then throw in the emissions-reduction value in having 5 plug-in cars idle emissions-free during a traffic jam/or at a stop light versus 1 100% EV car.

        1. Even keel

          Ooh. How about a car with a removable battery? in fact, you could just buy the car with the small battery, and then rent the large one when you need it?

    4. turtle

      I’ve seen this exact point being made in the past in some article/report/study. Unfortunately I don’t recall where. But the point was that hybrids, especially plug-in hybrids, were a much better use of limited battery materials. I believe that it even went further and claimed that it would be impossible to convert the entire world’s car fleet with full electric vehicles because of limited source materials.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        The head of Toyota has been making the same argument. He may be talking his book, but it doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

        1. Scott

          This was Toyota’s stupid argument. But “the little fat kid” was fired. Now they are trying to convince everyone they have a 900 mile range solid state battery that takes 10 minutes to charge.

        2. Scramjett

          I always thought Toyota was right for the wrong reasons. They’re right about hybrids and plugin hybrids, but I’m pretty sure it has less to do with the “common good” argument and more to do with being heavily invested in hybrids. They still use NiMH for most of their non-plugin hybrids even though Li-Ion has matured in recent years. I’m thinking it’s because they’re cheaper than Li-Ion, yet they can still push up the MSRP for higher trim levels and pocket the difference (basically the same profit strategy that many US corporations follow).

      2. Odysseus

        But the point was that hybrids, especially plug-in hybrids, were a much better use of limited battery materials.

        This is going to heavily depend upon charger availability.

        For people who are privileged enough to charge at home, sure. Plug the car in overnight and you will always have a full battery come morning.

        For people like me who live in apartments and have no chance to charge at home, the calculus is very different. My BEV has a 220 mile range, and I charged at the DCFC at the local mall every other week on my commute home. I wouldn’t want to stop in at the mall every commute. Being able to charge enough for several days worth of driving was very useful.

        1. Marshall

          A fair point. I live in eastern Montana, where full-electric is usable only if you never plan to range far from home. There are parts of my state where the population density is 1-5 persons per square mile — nowhere near enough to support charging stations where they are most likely to be needed. Much of the rest of the interior west is similar. Hybrid is quite workable, and people are switching. Full electric would be disastrous.

    5. Scramjett

      This is a pretty old argument within the EV community. Some advocates are in the “full electric or bust” category (probably a side effect of the American “personal responsibility” mantra) while others look at it from the communal perspective of “we can make more of a difference by making and selling more plugin hybrids than full electric cars” pointing to the fact that most trips are 30 miles or less (we could probably make that even shorter if are cities weren’t built wrong – think: car dependency – but I digress). I believe Europeans are more on this side since they are more “common good” than we are, plus they have denser cities and thus shorter distances to drive. Then there are the in betweeners, people who use all electric cars for commutes and errands while keeping a plugin hybrid or a regular gas car for road trips (this group is skeptical of supercharging, particularly if they own non-tesla EVs).

      Personally, I’m in the plugin hybrid camp. I’ve had some bad experiences with public chargers. But I also feel like if we make significant investments into making our cities walkable, bikeable and with public transit that’s actually good, we won’t need as many cars. And we can electrify the cars that remain. I always felt as if rebuilding our cities the way they used to be in the prewar era would fit into the radical conservation that Yves talks about pretty often.

  2. MicaT

    Hi Louis, totally agree.
    The focus on full electric is wrong, with phev being a better option for most.

    Another aspect of the report is different than others. Most of the others agree with the co2 over time. But show the co2 payback via miles/year not just a single 18 yr time frame, which gives a better idea of how the return works. IE the less you drive the longer it takes to get to a lower emissions ratio with EV.
    Which means the less you drive the less important an ev is.
    Another part is that EV by themselves isn’t the point. It’s kWh/mile that matters. Smaller lighter, more efficient is the solution for ICE or EV. Not huge teslas.
    This could have been done with the IRA , but they ignored it.

    1. Felix_47

      Good point. I see a lot of full electric SUVs that seem really huge and heavy. I suspect a small, aerodynamic vehicle that runs on gas would generate less CO2 than a 5000 pound full electric. I did not see an analysis of that. Electric bikes or recumbents would do well for commuting if the roads were safe. And, of course, if we had mass transit and better rail we could generate far less C02. Getting rid of suburban sprawl and forcing people into high rises like in Singapore or Shanghai would be the best solution. And controlling population worldwide might be helpful.

      1. Dr. Nod

        Interestingly, being smaller and more aerodynamic has an important advantage in BEVs as well. With respect to practicality, an important parameter if you are using public chargers is range added per unit of charging time. If I am traveling, I don’t mind stopping for 10 min to get 100 miles of range. I can stretch my legs, go to the bathroom, check emails, etc. It is a good idea to do this with an ICE car in any case. However, I don’t want to wait half an hour. More efficient vehicles require less power to go a given distance than a less efficient vehicle. If you have a smaller, more aerodynamic vehicle it might take 15 minutes of charging to add 150 miles of range whereas a gargantuan SUV might take 30 minutes (and twice as many KWH) to add the same amount of range.

    2. paul whittaker

      18 year time frame? my understanding is the battery end of useful life is around 8 years, after which the vehicle is scrap due to replacement cost of the battery, (if one is available).

  3. Strontium-90

    I’ve owned a Kia e-soul with a 64Kwh battery for a year. Use it to travel to and fro between my city job and farm 100km away. I don’t have public transport options. We also have an urban bolthole, so mostly just traveling a straight shot one time a week. So far, so good. Plug the machine into a standard slow-load socket. Already have solar panels, so the power generated is already built into that investment. Our EV has eliminated about 800 euros in diesel costs in the last year. For us, switching made sense, especially since even if we do need to charge using public networks, our region runs on hydropower.

  4. jefemt

    Thanks for the article.
    I keep coming back to our inability to share, and to be willing to use Appropriate Technology, when it comes to personal transportation choices- powered by a mix of fuels, including food- could be ‘e’, or dinofuels–(I have a sticker on my bike that says 55 MPB *(miles per burrito)
    -bike, bike with trailer
    -golf cart with lead-acid batteries
    -moderate distance EV or fuel-sipping conventional IC car
    -long-distance vehicle– rent? share? Public intermodal?

    I’m fairly convinced folks are too busy with debt-and-taxes to ponder this deeply, much less make significant change. And my moth-ridden wallet is unable to ponder a new car , of any sort. I don’t think I am alone in this.
    I was on a walk yesterday, over-thinking as I am prone to do, and walked by the bursting-at-the-seams hospital parking lots. Loaded with late model bulbous SUV’s, parked aand idle. And I thought of the mis-allocation of resources, the embodied energy and capital… and this was just one moderate hospital in Bumphuc Flyover, in America. Extrapolate to The World.

    Covid presented a couple weeks of navel gazing and seems to have actually shifted consciousness and action. Imagine if we took a six month ‘breather’ and really bore down on things.

    I live in an area full of don’t tread on me Freedumb acolytes. Can’t imagine buy-in to doing little, with less.

    I keep circling back, in my provincial limited mind, that we are over the brink, mid-air, cliff face height unknown and obscured with clouds of varying sources.

    1. Scramjett

      I’ve gone through similar ponderings myself. Pre-COVID, I would walk along a major feeder street to the freeway and it would nearly always be so choked with traffic that it looked more like a parking lot. Today, thanks to nearly full time work from home, I walk my daughter to school in the morning and see the agony of the school car line in full view, I think back to that time of car dependency and just feel like “same shite, different location.” But, even in those days, if anyone would deign to ask “are we addressing climate change?” My answer would have been a simple flat “no!” “Why not?” They might ask. I would simply point to the street turned parking lot where hundreds of CO2 spewing cars were stacked up waiting to get on the freeway (only to get stuck in traffic again) and I’d say “that’s why.” “What signs would tell you that we’ve made progress addressing climate change?” They might ask. “When that ‘parking lot’ is gone and replaced with hundreds of people walking or bicycling to get around, like the Dutch.”

      I have a hard time believing that will happen though. As you pointed out, COVID was a time of self reflection. But, instead, we got reactionaries, hand waving, denialism, and a strong, even fierce, desire to turn back the clock to 2019 and pretend nothing happened (except having empty streets, which I’m pretty sure most drivers today are PO’d that the streets are not empty anymore).

      Many in the advocacy were optimistic about clawing back some space from cars for people to walk and ride bikes. But, outside of a few exceptions, the blowback to that was swift and furious. Combined with political foot dragging and saying it can’t be done “cause COVID” while road and freeway widening continue unchecked (curiously, there are no “cause COVID” delays with THOSE projects!), it’s hard to see how Americans won’t spend half their life stuck in traffic for the foreseeable future. But hey! At least our cars will be electric!

      1. thousand points of green

        Well . . . . if all those hundreds of cars stuck in stop-and-creep traffic had been hybrid electrics, they could have used a little power from the battery to creep forward and then go back to using zero power from the battery to sit their stopped in place. Meanwhile, their ICengines would all be off so they would be spewing zero carbon dioxide during the whole festival of stop-and-creep timesuck agony.

        And that too would have been progress.

        1. Scramjett

          I suppose that depends on how you look at it. From a strictly emissions perspective, you’re correct. Hybrids, plugin hybrids, and full EVs are far superior to ICEngines in stop and slow traffic. However, if you take a more holistic view, consider land use and the effects of wasted space cars and car dependency causes and the effects of all the asphalt for moving and storing cars. There’s been quite a bit of digital ink spilled over the negative climate impacts that car dependent sprawl has had from loss of habitat, wetlands and other natural “carbon sinks.” There is also the heat island effect from the asphalt itself. And that’s before getting into the costs of extending infrastructure to sprawling cities and suburbs. I don’t think the climate impacts of car dependency can be hand waved away with something as simple as “just change the gas engine to a battery and electric motor and it’ll be fine.”

          1. thousand points of green

            It won’t be fine. But it will be better. And if we can do a lot of other things which make their particular spheres of influence also better, then we get a lot more better.

            And if we start rebuilding some of our missing mass and semi-mass transit, which was destroyed in the Bonfire of the Trains, Trolleys and Streetcars, then it will be even more better.

            And on the other side of the equation ( the skycarbon draining side) , massive foodland soil recarbonization, massive wetland and bogland and peatland restoration,
            massive deployment of Miyawaki Forests . . .
            and other such things, and we will be even more betterrer off still.

            Good enough? I don’t know. But it all deserves to be tried.

            Anyway, we already have the roads, asphalt, parking, etc. we have. What if you could get a commanding majority of society within a country ( to set an example) to say: ” No more roads, parking, asphalt, etc. Now we stop.”

  5. Synoia

    Here is a test case:

    Have all NYC go all EV.

    The Bottleneck is having or installing sufficient Charging stations. The same is true for if all cities in the world A solution is battery swap at the existing Gas stations.

    This would probably require standard form factors for battery packs.

  6. Ghost in the Machine

    A nice thing about electric motors is their efficiency at converting electrical energy into movement, usually estimated at above 70%. For gasoline engines I see ranges from about 17-25% and a bit more for diesel. The energy is lost to heat. Gasoline is impressively energy dense 11kcal/g compared to fats 9kcal/g, carbs 4kcal/g, or Telsa powerwall 0.10 kcal/g. Fossil fuels really are amazing, but most is wasted.
    Coal (~7.8 kcal/g) power plants have efficiencies around 30-35% at best. The coal has to be mined and so is an expense. Solar cell efficiency is only around 15-20% but the resource is free and has no mining cost. The sunlight not converted is not energy ‘lost’ like the energy contained in mined coal is lost. All that energy put into mining and transporting coal; ~70% of those train loads I see trundling across the West destined for power plants is just heat to the atmosphere ultimately.
    A dishonest discussion (usually put forward by fossil fuel interests) about what a future grid has to accommodate when cars are converted will just look at the energy content of gasoline and claim that the equivalent kWhr of electricity has to be produced. But, it is likely half or less when considering the relative efficiencies of the engines.

    1. thousand points of green

      What is the mining cost of mining and refining every mineral involved in every step of making a solar panel?

      1. Ghost in the Machine

        Don’t know off the top of my head, but you have the cost of materials for the fossil fuel plants as well. And panels will need to be replaced about every 25 years, so about twice as frequently as a fossil fuel plant. Even with free fuel, you have to wonder if 100 years in the future we will have the energy and resources just to replace plants much less fuel them if non renewable. And what about all those millions of miles of roads with no more asphalt and very expensive fossil fuels for all that big machinery. I see a simpler, smaller, more local future. Hopefully, we can save enough to cobble together done civilization.

        1. thousand points of green

          Sustainable Survivalist communities can begin cobbling together that local small-scale micro-local civilization technology, so that they will pre-exist and be ready as stubs for whatever John Michael Greer dreamworld might finally emerge.

          And of course every detached-house-and-yard suburbanite could implement some ultralocal technology starting right now to do some partial subsistence-in-place with.

  7. Tedder

    Western industrial culture (and now Asian) has grown up with the automobile. Cars dominate the lives of most Americans and I believe that the car culture is synonymous with modern life. We now observe that ‘modern life’ is at the root of the climate crisis and notwithstanding the enormous social inequalities seen in Western societies, has to be modified to achieve balance with Nature. “Of course, the real message should be that consumers and governments need to do more to curb the use of cars.”
    I observe, mostly men, passionately defend their use of fossil fuel driven cars, as if driving an EV would rob them of identity. Asking them to change other elements of their lives will be equally difficult. Implementing and adopting a new ideology of how to live life will take a generation or more, and we may not have that time.

      1. Copeland

        And a turbodiesel with all noise reducing devices removed is even louder, man!

        And rolling coal, to repel “libruls” in their hybrids/EVs, is the ultimate in cool!

  8. aj

    I still would like to see some informed analysis on whether we can actually produce and recycle/dispose of all the batteries needed for everyone to have an EV. All the talk a out reduced admissions is moot if we don’t have the resources (e.g. Lithium) to actually produce all these things.

  9. David in Friday Harbor

    There is an important fallacy inherent in this analysis: that the conversion of motor vehicles to battery electric power might have an impact on the climate. This is wrong.

    Since China and India converted to globalized manufacturing economies the number of motor vehicles in use on the planet — including personal cars, trucks, and busses — has exploded.

    The global vehicle population is estimated to have increased 100-fold since 1950 and has doubled since 2000. China currently produces fully treble the number of motor vehicles as the U.S. (double if you count Mexico, where much U.S. production has been off-shored due to labor arbitrage). India is on track to surpass Germany this year in motor vehicle production.

    Certainly there is an argument that BEV’s emit somewhat less that ICEV’s over their life-cycle (leaving out for the moment the conveniently ignored need to build-out charging infrastructure from scratch), but the 30-percent increase in world vehicle production over the past 20 years to serve a world population of 8 billion offsets those savings and continues to drive the climate crisis toward its impending dénouement.

      1. thousand points of green

        The only way the lower class majority might buy in to the contraction imperative is if they see the upper classes, beginning with the multi-billionaires and working downward, busted all the way down to the lifestyle they want the rest of us to live with under the contraction imperative.

        If the rest of us discover that we are being told to contract so that they can keep what they have and stay where they are, I suspect that at least some of us would go Full Metal Joker and refuse to contract in hopes that our refusal would set the world so totally on fire that it would burn them to death as well, in public where we could see it happen.

        “So, Richie Rich, lead the way and then we will follow.”

        I see a possible exception to that response which might offer a ” way out” . If the lower class majority could be assured in reality, not just in rhetoric, that there are certain lifestyle contractions we can adopt in certain ways which are definitely weaponised and aimed against the upper classes, in terms of shrink-wrapping the economy around their noses and mouths so we can see them gasping for money, then we might shrink down on our own.

        Advocates of “shrink down” have to offer us weaponised ways to aim “shrink down” against the upper class. We have to be assured that shinking down will cause them more pain than it will cause us.

        In other words, if we can be assured in reality that “sitting on our wallet” really IS ” stamping on their face forever “, then we might make a lifelong lifestyle of “sitting on our wallet”.

        1. Ghost in the Machine

          Yes, I think the Guillotines will come out given what I have seen from the likes of the WEF, etc.

          1. thousand points of green

            Davos Man and his private armies will have machine guns, LRADs, Field Mobile Raytheon OvenRays of Death and Torture, etc. etc. etc.

            The lower class majority is going to need something more and better than guillotines.

            1. IEL

              What class do you think enlisted soldiers are? Praetorianism and it’s relatives are recurring phenomena.

            2. Scramjett

              IDK man, high tech is not always the best tech. You should look up the millennial war games. It was a war game the US military conducted about 20 years go to test their advanced weapons and defense systems against a generic (obviously middle eastern) adversary (the red team). The colonel who was in charge of the red team used WWII tech (assuming that’s what an actual middle eastern combatant might use) and was owning the blue team (the US of course). Naturally, instead of actually learning something from the experience, the DoD changed the rules and prohibited the red team from using WWII tech.

    1. Felix_47

      And Africa will outpace the rest of the world in auto C02 production in the coming decades due to the extremely high birth rate. Murtaugh et. al. (2008) pointed out “The summed emissions of a
      person’s descendants, weighted by their relatedness to him, may far exceed the lifetime emissions
      produced by the original parent. Under current conditions in the United States, for example, each child
      adds about 9441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, which is 5.7
      times her lifetime emissions. A person’s reproductive choices must be considered along with his day-today activities when assessing his ultimate impact on the global environment.” So a woman with six kids will put out somewhere around 36 times her lifetime C02 emissions. So without addressing the giant in the room all of this electric vehicle stuff is kind of pointless. I know my old BMW 535 which was a gas guzzler but a great car ended up being sold and sent to Africa where I am sure it is still running well.

  10. upstater

    Transition to 100% EVs reduces US emissions by 1.9% overall. I am unimpressed.

    Obvious solutions like better transit and electrified passenger and freight railroads are never on the radar. Making these type of changes alters the landscape by making suburbanization, big boxes, massive warehouse distribution centers, greenfield industrial and office developments uneconomical. These changes would be a major wound to the FIRE sector.

    Who is going to pay for charging infrastructure? Running a 220V 30A line and a charger to my garage is a $5000-7000 project. My electric use zeros out for the year with my PV panels and net metering. Charging a 75-100 kwh battery 30 or 50 times a year might cost $1000 at *current* rates, somewhat less than 300 or 500 gallons of gasoline, but not remarkably lower. But how does this work if most everyone on my electric distribution feeder does the same and installs heat pumps? Electric rates would have to double or more.

    Given the gun culture of the US, i can certainly see charging station rage and shootings.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      No mining costs for solar? What about the quarries in western North Carolina, mining quartz for panels?

      1. Jams O'Donnell

        Yes, but the money has to be deliberately diverted to more useful purposes. How do you get rid of the MIC (unless through State collapse)?

    2. Ghost in the Machine

      Yes, I was just talking about mining for fuel. For a fair comparison you would have to compare the materials cost of the solar plant and the fossil fuel plant. There is distribution costs for fossil fuel as well like rail transport and many pipelines. I agree the public charging stations seem unworkable when scaled up. Right now the sweet spot seems to be a hybrid with ~$600 charger at home. Energy will be more expensive and climate change will start taking out chunks of our economy causing it to shrink, and violence against the ‘elite’ will increase. I did not intend to imply these things are solutions to our problems, just that it is hard to make a fair comparison. Given the energy density of fossil fuels I think they are irreplaceable. Our system will change as they run out or destroy our climate.

    3. Jak Siemasz

      “Running a 220V 30A line and a charger to my garage is a $5000-7000 project.”. My cost was $700.
      My cost to charge my 80 Kwh battery 40 times a year is $310. 400 gals of gas for my “other” ICE vehicle would be $$1,600.
      Depends on your situation. I guess.

      1. upstater

        I needca Subpanel off the main panel (no extra slots front 220v breakers) in basement, 30 foot trench, cable and conduit to garage, cost of charger.

  11. jefemt

    BTW, there is a great article in Links today about MMT funding de-growf. As economists are prone to do,
    “Imagine…” we have a population that is in accord about crisis, the need for change, doing less with less, collective action, change, and sharing.

    I’m just not seeing much of that evident in my mean-spirited neck of the woods.

    1. GramSci

      Yes, it was a good read. But the authors must do more than satisfy ‘satiable’ demand. To be fair, they acknowledge that there are political ramifications to degrowth, even (especially’) under MMT, but it’s still the insatiable concupiscent demands for power and status that threaten a degrowth agenda.

  12. Prairie Bear

    After reading a little way into the article, this line jumped out at me:

    We are conscious that there are often societal and humanitarian impacts associated with EV manufacturing, battery production, and associated mining. However, this research is purely focused on the emissions comparison between battery electric and traditional-fuel vehicles.

    So, the thing I want to point out, which might seem off-topic, but which I think is very relevant, is that global warming/climate change is not our only problem. I have recently come to think that it may not even be our worst problem. That means that carbon emissions, and those of other greenhouse gasses, would not be our only or worst problem.

    I understand that the authors want to be clear about the scope of their research, and that is fine. I feel pretty sure that they have done rigorous work on the subject of their research, which is comparative carbon emissions between EVs and ICEs.

    However, the mining comment can’t help but feel to me like a hand wave, even though I know it isn’t really. Mining is incredibly destructive. It renders the land it is on unusable for much of anything else, and it does so for a geological time scale, or nearly so.

    There are many other problems. This blog post has a good summary of them, and lots of links to other information.

    I don’t have any solution, but I wish there were a way for people to actually face the nature and extent of our problems. It would take 9 billion people more or less agreeing on things, and being able to organize to take highly coordinated actions for us even having a tiny chance of turning things around. It’s hard to see that happening.

    1. thousand points of green

      If America defected from the Global Trade Order and raised a Green Wall of Protection around itself, we could institute conservation measures inside our own Green Protected borders and forbid economic contact between our country and any country which was doing any less.

      That would be how several semi-powerful countries or regions could begin imposing improvement on an unwilling world, by first creating a Green Wall of Protection around themselves so they would not immediately be victimized by outside countries or inside traitors looking for differential conservation arbitrage opportunities at the expense of any countries which might go National Greenist.

    2. Appleseed

      The same quote jumped out at me as well. Granted, studies need a limited focus, so I can’t fault them for making that choice. A couple of other topics about EV pollution worthy of study:1) EVs still depend on rubber tires which are horribly polluting (not just in manufacturing, but also in everyday use) Road Hazard: Evidence Mounts on Toxic Pollution from Tires – Yale E360; Pollution: How vehicle tires are harming the environment | World Economic Forum; Electric vehicle tires: a lesser-known pollution headache – DW; Electric Cars Are Sending Tire Particles Into the Soil, Air, and Water – The Atlantic; More Efficient, Less Polluting Tires Are Essential For EVs (noteworthy quote: when we switch to electric cars, according to Michelin, we increase tire wear by up to 20%). 2) EVs validate and expand existing land use practices that have privileged automobiles over other right-of-way users. Donald Shoup’s masterful “High Cost of Free Parking” was way out in front on this topic in 2011. Don’t want to read the 800 page book? (I haven’t) Here’s a helpful cheat sheet. Joe Minicozzi is a city planner/urban designer with real estate and finance experience who makes it clear that by investing in sprawl, human settlements are missing out on financial success and unnecessarily causing environmental and social problems. A random quote: “Parking drives down value. When you turn buildings into parking structures, you’re taking away value.” I was able to attend his talk in Indy featured in the video at the bottom of the link and it really opened my eyes with his common sense.

      1. thousand points of green

        Maybe every car, truck and bus could be fitted with train-style steel wheels and every road fitted with steel rails for the steel wheel cars, trucks and buses to drive on.

        Hey presto! . . . . as Kurt Vonnegut used to say . . . . no more tire pollution!

    3. Jabura Basaidai

      PB the link you provide doesn’t surprise me at all and mirrors an attitude i’ve accepted long ago – when i mention to folks that humans are the apex pathogen on this planet they kinda move away and look a bit askance as if i’m the crazy uncle in the attic – but ran across this quote a while back which made me feel comfortable with my attitude about humans and have shared before –
      “Think of the earth as a living organism being attacked by billions of bacteria whose numbers double every forty years. Either the host dies or the virus dies, or both die.” Gore Vidal
      sperm count is dropping, number of births are declining – seems obvious the path we are on – sometimes the decline is accelerated by stupid violent things we do to each other or an environmental event on earth or like what happened to the dinos – and as far as the EV thing goes if a truly fully loaded evaluation of cost from extraction to key in vehicle, and also its depreciation and what happens to it’s when time to 86 it, what would be the difference – a WSJ link today wrote about digging up peat bogs near Hudson Bay for nickel, an environmental disgrace easily equal to the tar sands – as George Carlin mentioned in one of his bits, the earth ain’t going anywhere folks, we are – good luck folks –

  13. YuShan

    I’m sceptic about this. The main reason is that EV’s are like a smartphone on wheels. They are throw-away products.

    While a ICE vehicle will last decades, an EV is likely to be abandoned much quicker because replacing the battery is so expensive that people will rather buy a new car instead. Also, innovation is going much quicker in EV, which is another reason why people would replace rather than repair. You’ll get a much better vehicle for not that much more money when you simply replace it.

    1. chris

      You’re correct to be skeptical about this. Keeping in mind commenting on this is kind of like writing on water because the tech is changing quickly and the reporting around it is so over the top cheerful, I don’t know that we have the data to make accurate comparisons between your typical ICE and the latest BEV.

      For the purposes of discussion, assume the useful life of an EV before you have to do major replacements like motors and the battery set, is about 100k miles, which plenty will tell you equates to about 10 years of life in the US given average miles per year driven. Compared to my work truck, which is a 2013 model, and has 110k miles on it, and is just getting broken in with minor maintenance fees to date. Now people are hyping a battery set that will have a better mix of minerals and a 1 million mile endurance. I’m not sure how many unicorns and virgins they’re going to kill to make that happen but I do think it’s possible we’ll see something like that in the next 50 years. Until then though, ICE vehicles will beat BEVs handily in terms of maintenance, cost, and lifetime.

      That’s also because the typical BEV owner is not the same as the typical ICE owner. What they’ve found in market studies is that your typical BEV owner has other options for transportation (buses, rail, Uber, an ICE) so that their BEV sees much less use than your typical ICE. Your typical ICE owner needs to use their vehicle everyday. A typical BEV is also much better maintained than a typical ICE. This is because the owners automatically have more funds just to purchase the BEV. An ICE is much more forgiving in terms of maintenance. And many don’t get bricked the same way BEVs do if you have a problem with code. One of the reasons BEVs in the US have fared decently during freezes and road closures like the huge problem in Virginia a few years back is because they aren’t the main workhorse for people. To extrapolate from that experience to a larger set isn’t a good idea.

      Lastly, the kind of use a BEV sees isn’t the same kind of use that an ICE sees. Not a lot of BEV owners need off road vehicles, or have to drive in cold weather, or need to pull a trailer. Or need to commute long distances where there aren’t gas stations or charging stations close together. Show me how the people who have 1.5 hour commutes one way everyday in traffic and on highways and can’t work from home use a BEV and what their experience is like, and I’ll listen. And that typical use has to include charging. How does a person without a garage living in the city make this work? How do they protect their charging line? How do they handle a dropped neutral or a transformer that needs maintenance and is supposed to be feeding their power tap? And what happens if you feed a BEV with dirty power most of the time? Because that’s the reality for an increasing population in the US regardless of generation source.

      There are many issues with BEVs. That doesn’t mean they can’t be useful and aren’t a good choice for some people now. They will likely become a better and better choice in the years to come. But articles like this suffer from a lot of selection bias IMO. They don’t reflect real world constraints. They don’t reflect reality. They ignore what people in the US currently need. Which is something that I can abuse 7 days a week 365 days a year while storing it outside and it still starts and gets me where I need to go. BEVs are no where near that yet.

      1. Eudora Welty

        I was happy to get a Prius several years ago (I’m on the right side of history!), but it didn’t pencil out to create any savings for me. Gas mileage was way lower than what I had read about Priuses. When it was time to make a change, I went back to ICE.

    2. Jak Siemasz

      A new Tesla Model Y will last 1MM miles. Battery replacement maybe 3 times in that period at a cost of $10k per – and getting cheaper. Of course, I keep my vehicles a long time with proper maintenance. And, by the way, BEV are remarkably maintenance minimal. After 40k miles I’ve spent $31.89 on maintenace for my MY. Anecdotal, yes, but my experience.

  14. Adam Eran

    Personal experience in the US: 50-mile round trip commute with (Honda Civic) ICE: $70/month in gas + oil changes.

    With a plugin hybrid (Chevy Volt): $4 increase in electric bill. Volts can go up to 63 miles on battery alone.

    That said, I just read a mainstream press article claiming EVs are not only more expensive to buy (~10% – 20%), they cost $113K/yr to maintain. The writer is a “specialist” in writing about new technology…and my guess is he’s cashing a check from the (oil refinery-owning) Kochs right now.

    IMHO, EVs, or plug-in hybrids are a no-brainer

    I’ve seen Youtubes of turning old Prius into plugins for as little as $1,500. And no, old Nissan Leafs aren’t expensive, even if you have to replace the entire battery pack.

  15. thousand points of green

    Here is an article which claims to show how the transportation sector could reduce its use of gas and diesel by 75% even while using all the ICengine vehicles currently in existence. The concept is basically that the driver would drive the car/truck/bus/plane/train just below the speed at which air resistance against the moving vehicle begins to rise sharply and exponentially. Here is the link.

    And how much more fuel use might be diplaced and reduced if all the vehicles doing this were also plug-in hybrid fuel-electric?

    1. Scramjett

      We’ve been down this road before (pun intended). Sammy Hagar wrote an entire song on the subject. But it has a lot to do with wide roads and freeways, increased site lines making people feel “safe” enough to drive fast. Transportation Engineers call it a “design speed limit.” Design speed limits are often times significantly higher than the posted speed limit. A Caltrans engineer once told me years ago that the design speed limit of I5 here in California was something like 105 MPH. When you know that, it starts to make sense why you see so many people between SF and LA at speeds in excess of 90.

      A section of I5 close to where I live has recently been widened adding an HOV lane. I frequently keep it at around 10 over the speed limit (it’s California) so before they widened it, I was “going with the flow” at 75. Now, I’m the slow one, still going 75 (and I frequently find my speed creeping up if I’m not using cruise control or not paying attention). Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns has talked a lot about this phenomenon. I highly recommend this piece that he wrote.

      1. thousand points of green

        Those drivers are probably driving above the speed of “hitting the air wall” and they are getting less mile per gallon than they would if they followed the wisdom of the article I linked to ( and if they were able to find or figure out their cars’ own speed of hitting the air wall so they could stay just below it.)

        1. Scramjett

          I skimmed a little bit of it. Absent doing something like adding speed governors to cars, you’d be hard pressed to get people to follow this advice when the road is literally communicating to them “go fast.” Driving is a subconscious activity. If you’ve ever found yourself going on a trip but you end up “driving to work” instead, that’s basically what driving is (like walking or riding a bike, you don’t think about it, you just do it). How wide the road is, how many (or few) obstacles there are determines the likeliness of your speed (wider = faster, narrower = slower). It’s literally exhausting to drive consciously. Plus, getting people to even use their cruise control is a big ask, one of the biggest reason why I think self driving cars will never see wide adoption – if people can’t be bothered to trust cruise control, what makes everyone think they’ll be fine with a car driving itself?

          1. thousand points of green

            You raise a good point. I remember during the Arab Oil Embargo and ensuing “energy crisis” during the Nixon Administration period, that the country adopted a 55mph speed limit on all Federal Interstates, to take advantage of the very fact of less air resistance against the cars going under the speed of airwall resulting in more mpg for those cars.

            And I remember the resentment over that ” double nickel” speed limit. I don’t know if having it resulted in even faster driving on interstates than before it was imposed, but I just have to wonder.

            So, how to get a nation of drivers accept driving just under the “speed of airwall”? More aerodynamic cars than what we had in the Nixon period would allow those cars to go faster before “hitting the airwall”. If making cars so aerodynamic that even 75mph was still below the speed of hitting the airwall, that would make speed-compliance a little easier. And if gas and diesel were taxed so that it costed the buyer $10 or so a gallon, that would price-torture drivers into compliance.

  16. Revenant

    This article is deceitful.

    There is no meaningful CO2 reduction building a new EV compared with continuing to drive an old ICE car. The EV is only less polluting over its “life cycle” (which this article does not state, in terms of years or km driven, but it is clearly substantial).

    The great bulk of emissions are front-loaded in the EV manufacture. It will take a long time for the ICE and EV emissions to converge if the ICE is ten years old and the EV is new and what matters – so we are told – is the short term reduction of CO2 to avert climate crisis. A massive drinking binge now that we promise to make up later by just sipping for years is hardly taking the pledge!

    There are optimisations as discussed by commenters (progressively adopt PHEV and then EV; use EV batteries for distributed grid storage, if the charging and demand cycles can balance etc.) but it is just tinkering with a pseudo problem. The question is whether personal transport emissions are even worth reducing. Lorry and cargo ship emissions are much greater. In the same way, domestic heating is small beer compared with commercial and industrial process heat uses.

    Most fundamentally, net zero is not zero, it is a technocratic bet that high levels of CO2 emissions are compensated by high levels if CO2 absorption, despite being geographically separated and scientifically dubious (and apparently financial unauditable!). Papal indulgences from the climate church….

    These expensive hair shirt solutions (mohair shirt!) may tickle the PMC but they do not address the core problem of structural over-consumption in capitalism and they alienate the masses, whose individual carbon footprint is much lower than their finger wagging “superiors'” but who are least equipped to bear the transition and final running costs.

    The biggest single policy measure would be a swingeing carbon tax and a universal basic income. The adjustments could then be left to the market. People would stop demolishing houses and refurbish them, hang on to their cars etc. The fact this is not seriously proposed shows that we are not serious about this.

    1. thousand points of green

      James Hansen was serious about this. Other people are serious about this. We have to somehow help them outshout and outmuscle the people who are frivolous about this.

      Economic shrinkage and as much international trade prevention as possible would begin to address the lorry and cargo ship emissions problems. Economic degroaf.

      And even if it can’t be audited ( and can therefor not be used in any sort of “carbon bio-capture credits market” ), reforestation and mature-forest-protection, wetlands restoration, beaver restoration, foodlands soil recarbonization, all work to suck down and hold some skycarbon and should all be supported even without any “carbon” “offset” “market” at all.

  17. Smelly Unemployed Person

    Wondering if this study included the carbon cost of spare parts. Arcording to the doco “Who Killed The Electric Car”, ICE car manufacturers make more money off spare parts than car sales. One EV I think is not talked about enough (I have personally seen one article) is the eBike. An eBike way less resources than an EV car in both manufacturing and running. Most cars I see on the road (60% to 70% from casual observation) only have one person in them, the vast mojority of the energy used, is going to moving the vehicle not the person. On an eBike more energy is going to move the person not the vehicle.

    Personally I do not even bother with a car, I live inner city in a small city and use public transport and walking to get everywhere. For me the time, money and stress of owning and operating a car are just not worth it. Plus I do not see the extra time it takes me to walk as a waste as I am exercising as well as moving from point A to Point B.

    1. thousand points of green

      The political bushes and weeds are full of smart ALECs and The Legions Of Koch lurking . . . lurking . . . lurking . . . . and ready to assassinate any attempt that any town, city, village, or anything else tries to make to make itself more mass transit friendly, bike friendly, walking friendly, or any other conservation-helping thing.

      The Legions Of Koch will have to be overtly defeated in every city which hopes to re-improve its cars-not-needed transit of any kind. People should not pretend that isn’t true.

  18. Scramjett

    EVs kind of strike me as a bit of hopium. NC has talked a lot about how the Democratic political class wants to pretend that the status quo can go on merrily and we only need to tweak a few things here and there. No need to worry about car dependency and the slow decline of public transit, we’ll just electrify the cars, that will make everything better! I’ve seen a few articles (here too IIRC) that talk about the issue with finding enough materials to make batteries (kinda plays into the full EV vs PHEV discussions above) to replace the entire vehicle fleet. This is indicative of Dem thinking: step 1 – new technology (EVs in this case) will fix everything, step 2 – *magic*, step 3 – all 200+ million cars in the US (2 billion worldwide) have been electrified! High fives! We solved climate change! “Don’t worry fellow Americans, we won’t have to rebuild our cities like those icky Dutch people! There’s plenty of space for us to pave over paradise and put up more parking lots!”

    There is a whole section of YouTube called “Urban Planning YouTube” that talks a lot about this stuff. Some of the more interesting ideas of how to fix our cities, make them denser so that walking, cycling and transit work better, include turning parking lots into parks, mixed use developments (which is really just a fancy term for “the way we used to build cities in the prewar era”), and TOD (transit oriented development, also how cities were built in the prewar era). But I fail to see how these ideas will go anywhere without hard boundaries or greenbelts around cities to prevent more sprawling development. Oh, and plastic sticks and paint for bike lanes absolutely do NOT work! As Not Just Bikes says, physics works, paint and signs do not!

    Side Note: Speaking of NJB, he did a great summary of the work of Strong Towns on how sprawling suburban development subsidizes wealthy suburban communities on the backs of the urban poor, and how that same development is the primary driver for insolvent cities (and why some cities had to file for bankruptcy). Spoiler alert: it’s NOT city employees. Seriously, is anyone here surprised that the political class would use a problem they created to crush working class city employees (not cops) under their boots?

  19. Jak Siemasz

    Hybrids are the wost of both worlds. A small battery ineffective as to the benefits of a BEV while hauling around a heavy ICE and a tank of gas. In ICE mode hauling aound a heaving electric motor, battery and all the shit it takes to run two systems. BEV is the way…we are not getting rid of cars.

  20. cnchal

    > Our analysis shows that battery-powered vehicles contribute at most half the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) of diesel or gasoline cars across their lifecycle, regardless of the country of operation.

    Jevon’s paradox writ large. Groaf will rear it’s ugly head. Look at all the cars stuffed with digital crapola that can be sold to you now! Two BEVs for the low carbon price of one new ICE car.

    But I’ve got a better idea. If you really want to save the planet, and a fortune too, do not buy a new car. Follow the teachings of Top Gear and simply carry on using the one you’ve got now.

    Meanwhile, trucks over trains wastes gigantic sums of energy to deliver the daily bread.

  21. Savita

    Thanks for the great discussion. As won’t be lost on anyone, there are too many oranges and apples in the equation for fair comparison.
    I’m not very informed on the subject but here are some of my observations.

    * When will we live in a world when the ‘societal and humanitarian concerns’ [of mining and battery product] are important enough to be a primary metric and not overlooked entirely in a passing sentence

    * Human risk and environmental pollution from EV battery fires.

    * Limited life span of EV batteries

    * What deficiencies are there to EV batteries we are unaware of simply because as a society we’ve not used them for long enough to find out? Eg, after ten years continuous use 1 out of 2 tesla batteries explode? (For example)

    * Other uneven metrics for example Teslas wear down tyres more quickly owing to increased weight.

    As an oblique reference. A science professional I know and trust has dedicated decades of his life, about 4 of them, to studying the effects of environmental energies on the himan biology. He actually coined the term ‘environmental stress’. They say the electromagnetic presence of an EV – or perhaps its the sum total of whatever field the car is generating as a whole – creates significant measurable stress upon the physiology in close proximity (the occupants)

  22. Savita

    Oh and speaking of the PMC, as some have already mentioned, in this specific context. The PM of England has just killed the high speed train project linking Birmingham and Manchester. The thing the people want and need, that was promised, has been crushed? Why, that PM says the solution is to focus on building roads. Says it all, really.

  23. nobody

    I suspect in general that the authors here are right: that, at an individual level at least, without making any other changes, BEV cars will be better from an emissions perspective than ICE cars. But the way it is presented is grossly oversimplified.

    I think the biggest red flag for me in the article was how it simply said here’s the lifetime CO2e numbers for BEVs and for ICEs (for a few countries) with no explanation for how those numbers were reached or acknowledgment of what the true range might be (aside from arguing that BEV emissions will drop when (if?) more clean powerplants come online). It’s crucial to acknowledge that these numbers are going to be wide ranges. Even if they’ve worked hard to calculate the average emissions, they should tell us that and give us some ideas of the methodology. Obviously a small and efficient ICE car like, say, a Prius or a Versa is going to have a drastically lower lifetime emissions output than, say, an Escalade V (6300 lbs/13mpg). And a small, efficient EV like a Kona EV or a base Model 3 is going to have fewer emissions than a new Hummer EV. Splitting out PHEVs would also be useful. I strongly suspect a Prius Plug-In would have lower lifetime emissions than the aforementioned Hummer, but there’s no way to tell here. We just need to know roughly what the numbers in this article are based on and ideally see a range rather than a fixed number.

    This is just the most obvious way in which this article is over-broad. I suspect some people will lean on this to argue that everyone needs to get on the EV bandwagon or they’re not doing their part. But, as always, the answer has to be more nuanced. Depending on use case, getting an EV may be the best way to reduce emissions, or it may not.

    BEVs also come with several conundrums. They may lend themselves better to driving habits and charger availability of urban areas, but many city dwellers also lack off-street parking to enable charging at home. BEV per-mile lifetime emissions improve as mileage goes up (given the energy-use front loading), but BEVs also do not lend themselves to very-high-mileage use cases, and, as others have noted, questions linger about long-term tech reliability and battery life. And while I get that this was not the point of this limited-scope article, the framing ignores the question of whether our time, energy, and limited resources wouldn’t be better spent improving public transit or other non-car solutions (almost certainly true), reducing industrial and shipping emissions, or even just getting a larger proportion of drivers into PHEVs or just regular old hybrids while BEVs or other solutions finish shaking out.

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