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Are electric cars really better for the environment?

Climate Conscious and Changing Gears: Are Electric Vehicles Really Better for the Environment


Rising sea levels, extreme changes in weather, warming of the ocean surface and melting of glaciers and ice-sheets, only mark the beginning of what is to come. After years of intensive observation and exhaustive research into identifying the primary cause of climate change, scientists worldwide have collectively approached a consensus- Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. 

In a report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 14% of the 49 gigatons of carbon-dioxide released into the atmosphere in 2010 was from road-transportation vehicles, of which cars contribute an overwhelming 72%. In an attempt to minimize these consequences, the first modern electric vehicles were conceived as an eccentric alternative to fuel cars in response to climate change posing an existential threat to the survival of humanity. 

However, critics have been quick to question if electric cars genuinely meet the expectations of being ‘clean.’ Since their inception, electric vehicles have found themselves in troubled waters and been met with extreme scrutiny. With electric cars gaining traction and becoming a widely discussed topic, here is everything you need to know about them. 

Are electric cars better than gas cars?

Currently, the future of electric cars rests on three different types- battery electric vehicles (BEVs), which are exclusively powered by electricity, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), which are powered by a combination of electricity and gas, and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), which, although rely chiefly on gas, comprise of electronic components such as regenerative braking.

If you drive a regular fuel vehicle, you would be aware that it is powered by an internal combustion engine, typically of the four-stroke variety. The carbon dioxide produced in the resultant process is released as fumes from the tailpipe of your vehicle. When inhaled, the toxicity of the fumes can result in severe respiratory diseases, apart from an aggregate increase in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. 

Contrarily, an electric vehicle comprises a rechargeable battery (usually lithium-ion batteries) powering an electric motor. Therefore, stored chemical energy is converted to kinetic energy, electrochemically, without any combustion in electric vehicles. However, although electric cars do not release any tailpipe emissions while driving, this does not imply that greenhouse gases are not produced in other parts of production.

Read more: Electric vehicles in India: What are the Challenges, innovation and target?

electric car
Image source – Canva

Electric car vs. fuel car environment

A common argument is that the production of electric vehicles is more energy-intensive than fuel cars, right from the stage of extraction of materials to transportation to production into batteries to final assembly. 

Each of these stages relies heavily on electricity generation, a large proportion of which comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which consequently add to the carbon-dioxide emissions. “According to the most recent report from the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, the production of lithium-ion batteries on average emits somewhere between 61 and 106 kilos of carbon dioxide equivalents per kilowatt-hour battery capacity produced.” (Emilsson, E., & Dahllöf, L, 2019). 

Additionally, once on the road, even if there are exhaust emissions, the electricity used to refuel electric vehicles, once they are plugged into the charging points, has to come from somewhere. Here, two factors play a vital role. One, the country where the car is being driven. Two, the specific energy grid in that country. The cleaner the electricity mix, the lesser the emission. 

“Even in the worst-case scenario, in which an electric vehicle battery is produced in a currently carbon-reliant country such as China, and it runs on the EU’s currently most carbon-intensive grid, such as Poland, it is still between 20 percent and 30 percent cleaner than its diesel or petrol equivalent. And in the best-case scenario, in which the battery is made in Europe and the vehicle runs on renewable electricity, such as Sweden’s hydropower, emissions are around 80 percent less than the diesel or petrol equivalent.” (T&E, 2020)

On a global scale, parallel insights have been identified, wherein under current carbon-intensities of electricity generation, electric cars emerged as less emission-intensive against popular fossil-fuel-based alternatives. As we progress towards decarbonization of the power generation sector, electric cars’ usability and their potential to decrease carbon footprint increase multifold. Therefore, when you consider the impact between an electric car vs. a fuel car environment, an electric vehicle has the potential to pay off its carbon debt to a much larger degree. The answer to your question- are electric cars really better for the environment, is an overwhelming yes. 

Back to the Future

In conclusion, the future of transportation is the future of electric cars. Apart from being environmental- friendly, electric vehicles offer other benefits: 

  • Cleaner Air- Electric cars have zero tailpipe emissions contributing to cleaner air, which inevitably means which means lesser diseases in the world, significantly lower stress on public health systems
  • Reduction in carbon footprint
  • Minimal maintenance requirement- There is no requirement for you to buy gas, change your engine oil, transmission fluid or coolant and conduct regular smog tests
  • Cost-effective in pricing
  • Electric vehicles are performance vehicles offering improved range performance since they have extremely high torque power. 

So, if breathing better air is your objective, skip the gas station, fill up your car at home and contribute to a cleaner and greener road experience.

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