The debate as to whether EVs are cleaner than ICE-powered vehicles when all-of-life emissions are taken into account has been raging since EVs became a proper 'thing'. To be frank, we're bored of it as for years most of the evidence has been pointing towards electric cars as the greener option. But like repeats of Mrs Brown's Boys, it's an unwanted thing that just keeps coming back.
However, the latest piece of research, which has been conducted collaboratively by the universities of Exeter, Nijmegen and Cambridge – and published in journal Nature Sustainability – has shown that once again, EVs win out across almost the entire globe. And it's not just during the useful running phase that they are better; across their entire lifecycle, EVs are the cleaner option in 95 per cent of regions studied.
First, let's get the places where EVs would cause a net gain in emissions out of the way...
It's perhaps no surprise that countries where energy generation is heavily reliant on coal and other heavy fossil fuels score the worst. Looking at passenger cars and using the energy mix for 2015 (itself worse than the current situation), Poland, Estonia, India and Bulgaria were among the main countries where running EVs would cause more emissions than they reduce. However, the areas where a gain would be observed account for 5 per cent of global traffic; everywhere else would be better off running EVs.
And that's where the bad news ends, as using projections for future energy generation, by 2050 all of these regions would benefit from switching to EVs.
On global average in 2015, EVs resulted in 31 per cent lower carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre than petrol cars. In some countries that have already got their power generation sorted in favour of renewables the potential improvements are even greater. In renewable-rich Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland, and nuclear-dependent France, lifetime emissions are up to 70 per cent lower than petrol cars.
The UK doesn't fare as well as the best performers when assessed by the 2015 energy generation mixture, but even in this scenario the researchers found that there would be a 30 per cent reduction in CO2. In the past five years our energy generation mixture has improved significantly with 57.3 per cent of sources producing no carbon dioxide whatsoever. This year two coal-fired power stations are due to be taken offline and planning applications for green energy generation schemes are at a four-year high, so the situation is only going to improve.
One of the projections made in the study is that, if by 2050 every other car was electric, there would be a total saving of 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 per year, or the equivalent yearly emissions of the largest country by area in the world – Russia. Obviously, if more countries impose legislation like that we have seen in the UK to phase out petrol and diesel vehicle sales, the potential reduction in greenhouse emissions will drop further still.
Whilst we like a talking point and a good old debate, it's really time to put this one to bed and shut down those who continue to perpetuate the myth that EVs have a negative environmental impact. Dr Florian Knobloch of the University of Nijmegen would tend to agree with us: “The idea that electric vehicles could increase emissions is a complete myth. We've seen a lot of discussion about this recently, with lots of disinformation going around.
“We have run the numbers for all around the world, looking at a whole range of cars and even in our worst-case scenario, there would be a reduction in almost all cases.”
If you're still unconvinced, well the chances are that you never will be, but the paper is worth a read (find it here). As well as covering EVs, it also looks at heat pumps and how improvements in their efficiency for housing and other applications could impact global CO2 emissions, adding another layer to your lexicon of environmental facts.
Ultimately, though, we're simply glad that continued interrogation of EV impact on the environment is taking place, and that it's continuously demonstrating significant benefits.