MythBusters EV - charging with dirty energy

Conventional wisdom says it's as polluting as driving a fossil fuel powered vehicle, but is it true in reality?

The Myth

"EVs are only as clean as the grid they are plugged in, from factory to use!"

In this day and age, with a couple of exceptions, most countries still produce the majority of their electricity with means of burning various fossil fuels. So it's natural to think that everything plugged in the socket has been contributing to the air pollution and the global warming. And the big debate that comes with the rapid EV expansion is gaining momentum, since your (future) car uses the same electricity for recharging. And while the grid loads are a rational concern for the future, the question of how much, charging an EV with dirty energy is a contributing factor to our polluted air is still at large.

So far, the automotive industry has relied to their usual lobby that electric vehicles are not much better than internal combustion vehicles with greenhouse gasses, when you take into account the resources used in producing the vehicle, the batteries and charging regularly with dirty energy from the plug. But to claim something like that, you need a scientific proof and so far no such reliable or peer-reviewed study has been presented by any car manufacturer to prove their claim. Yet a non-profit research group called International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has been on the case for quite a while and has since posted a peer-reviewed report of their findings.

The Study

While the production of lithium for the batteries is famously damaging to the environment (more on that in a separate article), ICCT found out that it's not that heavy on greenhouse gasses as it was once proposed by some manufacturers. In a detail comparison between mid-sized EV and IC vehicles with a calculated lifetime of 18 years (the average lifetime of petrol or diesel powered cars), and calculating a number of battery replacements for the EV, the results came out overwhelmingly in favour of the electric car. And to be unbiased, the study included manufacturing and running from the US, India, China and Europe, which was necessary because while Europe get's an ever growing share from green energy sources, India uses predominantly coal in their production of electricity. So it's an apples to apples comparison without skipping on factors.

The findings

As it turns out, lifetime emissions for an EV in Europe are between 66 and 69 percent lower compared to that of a gas-guzzling vehicle. In the US, an EV produces between 60 to 68 percent fewer emissions. In China, which uses more coal, an EV results in between 37 to 45 percent fewer emissions. In India, it’s between 19 to 34 percent lower. The authors of the study ended up with a range of potential emissions reductions for each region by looking at the energy mix under existing policy, as well as projections from the International Energy Agency for what the future electricity mix will look like as climate policies develop. But we have to mention, it’s rather difficult to predict how much the world’s energy infrastructure will actually change. In an actual fact, building an EV is still more carbon-intensive, but battery recycling, even with the current (almost pathetic) infrastructures brings that overall footprint down.

Those findings deal a significant blow to car manufacturers, lobbying to get out of the mass electrification that has been forced on them by different governments around the world. Even where the coal is still the king, the study noted a meaningful reduction of greenhouse gasses and it's impossible to escape from that. So the myth that EVs are as clean as the grid they're plugged in is...

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