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Energy from fossil fuels has sunk to a new low making EVs a cleaner prospect than ever before

The proportion of the UK's energy generated by the burning of fossil fuels has fallen to a record low during 2019, with renewables now the biggest net contributor. This is great news for those concerned about upstream emissions from charging EVs, and should help silence detractors of plug-in cars who have long suggested that they only displace emissions, rather than reduce them. Even better, it's not just the UK going green.

According to the latest figures from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the highest proportion of energy production in the UK now belongs to renewables. During 2019, clean energy took over from natural gas as the largest contributor, sneaking into pole position with 38.9 per cent of energy generation vs 38.8 per cent for gas. This is a six per cent increase in renewable energy compared to 2018.

There's further good news for the country's clean energy aspirations, too, with coal only accounting for one per cent of power thanks to the end of generation at Cottam in Nottinghamshire. Moreover, Aberthaw B in Wales and Fiddler's Ferry in Cheshire are due to cease operation in March which will see coal's share drop to less than one per cent. As well as CO2 savings, the death of coal will bring further benefits in significant reductions in sulphur dioxide emissions.

Offshore wind power has been the main contributor to this increase in green energy and in fact, on one day during December 2019, was able to contribute 45 per cent of the entire country's energy requirements. Adding emissions-free nuclear and renewable energy output together and 57.3 per cent of UK energy produces no carbon dioxide in the generation process.

This is clearly fantastic news for existing EV owners and those looking to buy one who have so far been put off by the spectre of upstream emissions. It has long been known that the environmental benefits of buying and running an EV are dependent on the power grid from which it is charged (as well as how green the manufacturing process is).

On a grid that relies fairly heavily on non-renewables, such as Poland which is heavily coal-dependent, an EV will produce around 25 per cent less CO2 over its lifetime than a diesel car. Run that same car in a market like the UK or New Zealand, where renewables are far more dominant, and you're looking at more than 50 per cent less CO2 than an equivalent diesel. In fact, in New Zealand an EV is 62 per cent less polluting than an equivalent ICE car from production through to disposal. Whilst the UK is still getting to grips with recycling, the fact that almost 100 per cent of an EV – even the nasty bits in the battery – can be reused means that in pretty much every conceivable circumstance, EVs are cleaner.

It's not just the UK that has accelerated its push for a renewable energy grid in the last year. Over in the States, despite the so-called president's frankly nutty comments about 'clean coal' and 'windmill cancer', coal plants were retired at a near record rate. According to Reuters some 15,100 megawatts of electricity generation – equivalent to 15 million homes' worth of power – is no longer produced by coal. The record rate was set back in 2015 under President Barack Obama's watch, when 19,300 MW of coal generation was retired from the grid.

Much of the replacement has come from solar and wind, with abundant natural (often shale) gas – which whilst not ideal, produces around 50-60 per cent less CO2 than coal.

Back over the pond, and Europe's largest economy, Germany, is upping its renewable game with a 5.4 per cent rise in renewable power in 2019 v. 2018 to hit the grand total of 46 per cent. Germany's goal is 65 per cent renewable by 2030, and it will even abandon nuclear energy by 2022. However, unlike many other foremost European nations, Germany still derives almost 30 per cent of its energy needs from burning coal – a legacy of its huge industrial heritage. So, whilst it is moving quickly to improve, it still lags behind its counterparts.

Discover EV's take

It's never been greener to buy an EV, and the good news is that this will only improve. With net zero by 2050 in mind, there will be a continuous improvement in the cleanliness of energy production in the UK with all coal-fired power being phased out by 2025. Of course, there are still issues around lifetime emissions of EVs from production and disposal, but the bit that is tangible – the bit where you drive around and plug in to recharge – is far, far better for the environment than doing so in an equivalent petrol or diesel vehicle. Many people will still trot out the worn-out line around upstream emissions to play down the benefits of EVs, but the fact is that's an argument that holds less and less water.

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