Are Electric Cars Really Good for the Environment?

Transport makes up a whopping 26% of all UK carbon emissions – it’s the highest polluting sector in the UK economy! Obviously, something needs to change and the government have made ‘electrification’ the cornerstone of their transport de-carbonisation strategy. But do electric vehicles really deserve their green champion status? Are they really as green as they seem?

Critics argue that the emissions from the manufacturing process, as well as the emissions resulting from electricity generation (we still have coal power plants!), mean that electric vehicles do not deliver the carbon reductions that are promised.

There are also concerns around the mining practices involved in extracting battery materials (particularly cobalt), as well as the fate of the battery at the end of its life.

There is truth in these arguments. Everything we manufacture, transport or power has a carbon footprint. And so, yes, although EVs have no tailpipe emissions, they still cause carbon to enter the atmosphere during their lifecycle.

The greenest thing you can do is to not own a car…

If your lifestyle allows, then you should always try to walk, cycle or use a car-sharing service.

But, for the vast majority of us, a car is an unavoidable necessity of life…

So, what can we do?

The argument in favour of EVs is not that they do not have a carbon footprint. But, rather that their carbon footprint is significantly less than petrol/diesel cars.

Take a look at the chart below (if you dislike graphs, ignore and I’ll explain what it shows):


Are Electric Cars really good for the environment?


Basically, the CO2 emissions of ‘conventional cars’ in Europe (shown by the two left columns) are considerably higher than electric cars in Europe. That’s largely caused by the ‘tailpipe’ emissions (the blue bit). None of the electric car columns have any tailpipe emissions.

The only unfavourable comparison is between the ‘most efficient‘ conventional cars (second column from left)  and electric cars in Germany (fifth column from left) where the fuel cycle emissions are high.

By comparing the average though, we can see that, at the moment, EVs produce around half the total carbon emissions of a petrol or diesel car.

Is this enough?

This is perhaps a little underwhelming given the green champion status of EVs…

But, it’s important to remember:

Every gram matters. If you can half your emissions by going electric, then we think that’s a good start! 

It will only get greener. As the UK electricity grid becomes greener through the expansion of renewable energy, so the manufacturing and charging of electric vehicles will become significantly greener.

EVs help the power system. Electric vehicles act as flexible energy demand, meaning demand can be turned on when renewable energy is abundant and off when renewable energy is scarce.  This is really important in getting more renewable energy onto the grid.

Air quality matters too. Cities in the UK are suffering an Air Quality crisis and EVs are Zero emission.

At elmo…

We believe that electric vehicles are an important next step on the path to a greener future. But it’s only right to admit that there is still work to be done.

That’s why we only offer 100% renewable electricity and include carbon offsetting in our all-inclusive car subscriptions. These extra measures help us account for all emissions from elmo vehicles, so we and our users can drive electric with peace of mind.

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