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Electric car or ordinary car - which one is cleaner?

30.09.2020

An electric car is cleaner than a regular car. This is not a statement, but a fact supported by numerous studies around the world. Year after year, the environmental footprint of those cars will become even smaller.

It is probably no surprise that, unlike a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, i.e. a vehicle that uses petrol or diesel fuel, no exhaust fumes are emitted from an electric car. While an ordinary car's exhaust pipe emits an average of about 180 grams of air pollutant per kilometre, then the figure for an electric car is a perfect 0. Seems easy. But not really.


An electric car is three times cleaner

Although, in general, the carbon emissions of electric cars are significantly lower than those of conventional internal combustion engine cars, then in addition to exhaust emissions, other figures need to be compared. Electric cars consume electricity that is mainly produced from fossil fuels. In addition, energy is used to manufacture an electric vehicle, and above all, its battery.

The internationally recognized climate change awareness raising website carbonbrief.org concludes that while it is difficult to compare emissions from electric cars and conventional vehicles, then electric cars in Europe are a more environmentally friendly choice in the short term, and even more so in the long term. The faster and more vigorously countries reduce their carbon footprint and move towards the goal of climate neutrality, the greater the gap between emissions will grow. And this, of course, in favour of electric cars.

The International Council of Clean Transportation has compared the lifetime (over 150,000 km) emissions of a conventional car with an internal combustion engine, the most economical hybrid car Toyota Prius Eco 2019, Nissan Leaf and the European average.

The graph shows tailpipe emissions (gray), the fuel cycle (orange; includes oil production, transportation, refining, power generation), automobile and its parts manufacturing emissions, excluding battery production (dark blue) and conservative assessment of battery production emissions (light blue).

The cleaner electricity becomes, the more important electric cars are

Namely, the manufacturing of batteries is very energy-intensive. About 50% of the emissions from battery production come from the electricity used in their manufacturing and assembly. The production of batteries in an area with low-carbon-footprint electricity production or where renewable energy is used for the battery plant can significantly reduce battery emissions.

In most countries, most of the lifetime emissions of both electric and conventional cars come from their use (tailpipe and fuel cycle) and not from production. With the exception of Norway and France, where almost all electricity comes from close to zero-emission electricity generation, such as hydropower or nuclear power. Emissions are as much as 70% lower there; in the UK they are currently at least 30% lower.

If the goals of the Paris Agreement or even the Green Deal were to be achieved, electricity generation would become significantly less carbon-intensive. Any reduction in this area speaks in favour of electric cars, compared to conventional vehicles.

For example, emissions from electricity generation in the UK have fallen by almost 40% in just the last 4 years and are expected to fall by more than 70% by the end of the 2020s, which will be within the lifespan of the electric cars currently produced. It is also important to note that although the production of an electric car, mainly due to its batteries, currently has an even larger carbon footprint than the manufacturing of a conventional vehicle, this so-called carbon debt is "paid" after using the car for 2-3 years.

A recent study by the Universities of Exeter, Nijmegen and Cambridge showed that electric cars can reduce emissions even if most of the electricity is produced from fossil fuels. In today's conditions, electric cars would be better than normal cars in 95% of the world. The exceptions are countries where a large proportion of electricity generation is based on coal. Poland, for example.

According to the study, every second car should be electric by 2050. This would reduce the world's carbon emissions by 1.5 gigatonnes per year, which is equivalent to Russia's current emissions.

Enefit VOLT provides only renewable energy

But what does all this mean for Estonia? Enefit VOLT's public fast charging network uses only green renewable energy, which means that in addition to clean driving, no CO2 has been emitted during the production of the electricity meant for charging. However, when charging an electric car at home, you can choose the Green Energy package as a customer of Eesti Energia, which also helps to ensure that every kilometre travelled by your electric car is carbon neutral.

The share of renewable energy in Estonia is increasing every year. The strategic direction of Eesti Energia to reduce the direct burning of oil shale into electricity and to increase the production of liquid fuels as well as renewable energy meant that the company's carbon emissions decreased by nearly 50% in a year, the summary of 2019 revealed.

With the support of Eesti Energia, Estonia's total CO2 emissions decreased by about a quarter over the year. The European Union is setting a target of reducing carbon emissions by 50-55% by 2030 compared to 1990, but Estonia is ahead of this ambition and has already reduced its emissions by nearly 65%.

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