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Study confirms EVs are greener than petrol cars

By ANGUS McNEICE | China Daily | Updated: 2020-03-26 15:36
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A major new international study has found that in most nations, it is more environmentally friendly to own an electric vehicle than one with a combustion engine, negating claims it is counterproductive to promote e-mobility because of emissions from production and electricity generation.

Researchers at Cambridge and Exeter universities in the United Kingdom and Nijmegen University in the Netherlands found that in 53 out of 59 countries studied, the average lifetime emissions from electric cars were lower than those of petrol-powered vehicles.

Owning an electric car was found to be environmentally beneficial in China, the United States, and most of Europe, according to the study.

In countries where a significant majority of grid electricity is generated from non-fossil fuel sources, such as France or Sweden, average lifetime emissions from electric cars are up to 70 percent lower than petrol cars. In the UK, which last year relied on gas for 38 percent of its power, lifetime emissions are reduced by 30 percent. According to the study, the only exceptions are found in countries like Poland, where the majority of the grid is powered by fossil fuels.

The study, published in the journal Nature, also found that home electric heat pumps have lower lifetime emissions than gas boilers in the majority of countries studied. The 53 countries surveyed represent 95 percent of global transport and heating demand.

"Taking into account emissions from manufacturing and ongoing energy use, it's clear that we should encourage the switch to electric cars and household heat pumps without any regrets," said Florian Knobloch, an environmental scientist at Nijmegen University and the paper's lead author.

Some detractors have claimed that emissions from the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles, coupled with the emissions produced by electricity generation, mean the costs of e-mobility outweigh the benefits.

But Knobloch said that the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions "is essentially a myth".

"We've seen a lot of discussion about this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths," he said. "We have run the numbers for all around the world, looking at a whole range of cars and heating systems."

Pablo Salas, who contributed to the study and is deputy director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resources, said that research such as this is "crucial for the development of effective policy".

"We hope our work can inform the policy process here in the UK and abroad, particularly around discussions of the new carbon targets under the Paris Agreement framework," Salas said.

According to the International Energy Agency, around 2.2 million plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles were sold in 2019, up from 2 million in 2018. About half of those sales were made in China, the world's largest electric vehicle market.

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