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Is electric vehicle helping to reduce carbon footprint?

Scientists from the universities of Exeter, Nijmegen and Cambridge conducted lifecycle assessments in 2019 found that in 53 out of 59 regions, comprising 95% of the world, electric vehicles (EV) and domestic heat pumps generate less carbon dioxide than fossil fuel powered cars.

In general, EV benefits on both environmental and economic way. Over 70% of energy from the batteries reaches the wheels of an EV while only about 20% of the energy stored in petrol gets converted into useful work in combustion-engine vehicles. Fully electric cars have zero tailpipe emissions making them greener, cleaner and better for the environment than petrol or diesel cars. On economic way, EVs are more energy efficient than their petrol counterparts, and therefore can save as much as 80% of fuel cost.

Carbon Brief pointed out that low-carbon renewable energy in Europe has a high proportion of the power generation structure so the entire life cycle of the car’s carbon emissions will be lower than internal combustion vehicles. However, in some areas like Asian countries, the carbon reduction benefits of electric vehicles are not obvious, and the life cycle carbon emissions are similar to those of ordinary high-efficiency traditional vehicle. The current level of carbon emissions of electric vehicles may not be much less than that of fuel vehicles, but when countries adjust their proportion of electricity production, they will become much closer in alignment with international climate targets, making the "carbon emission factor" (gCO2/kWh) much lower, henceforth the environmental performance of electric vehicles will be more superior as a result.

Take Tesla’s Gigafactory as an example. It is the main production room for Model 3 electric vehicle batteries. Since Nevada has eliminated almost all coal-based power plants in the past two decades, the averaged power carbon emission factor is already 30% lower than that of other regions in the United States. In addition, the roof solar system of Tesla combined with the energy storage system, calculates that the power supply inside can be almost self-sufficient. Under this circumstance, the battery emissions that produce one kilowatt-hour of electricity can be reduced to 62 kg. This also reflects the cleanliness of the source of power generation and will determine the amount of carbon emitted by manufacturing.

However, the process of comparing electric cars with traditional cars is quite complicated. In addition to considering the marginal emissions, factors such as vehicle size, mileage, driving conditions (driving in cities or highways), and even regional ambient temperature need to be taken into account. No single calculation method is universal. But what is certain at present is that the carbon reduction benefit of electric vehicles depends on the degree of decarbonization of the power structure! Countries must work harder to promote low-carbon energy so that the value of electric vehicles can be fully realized.

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