Analysis: Even while factoring in the impact from manufacturing, the environmental benefit of using electric vehicles outweighs their ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) counterparts over the long term.
There are a lot of claims surrounding the environmental benefits of electric vehicles (EVs) over Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). While they appear to be better for your pocket, are they really better for the environment?
You may have heard that when you consider the environmental impact of battery production, and electricity that is partially generated using fossil fuels, that EVs are worse for the environment.
Here we are going to examine the lifecycle impact of an electric vehicle powered from the Irish electrical grid and compare it with an internal combustion vehicle. The average Irish car travels approximately 16,000km per year and the average operating life of a car is approximately nine years.
In order to fully understand the impact of any product we must consider the emissions associated with various stages of its life. The end of life for both types of vehicles is very similar, so here we will focus on manufacture and use.
Environmental Impact from Manufacture
Volkswagen claims that manufacture of the ID3 is carbon neutral, but this relies on some creative interpretations and marketing.
For this evaluation, I will seek independent data where possible and where a range of data is estimated, I will take the higher impact value for the EV as it needs to be significantly better to justify a switch to a new technology.
While estimates vary, the manufacture of a traditional internal combustion engine vehicle will be responsible for approximately ten tonnes of CO2. The overall chassis build for an EV will also be about ten tonnes plus the additional impact associated with battery production.
Independent studies suggest the 58 KWh battery in the ID3 would be responsible for approximately six tonnes of CO2.
While estimates using independent data are far higher than reports from VW, the impact of the battery is still acknowledged as a major impact at 43% of their total.
Environmental Impact from Use
Our traditional diesel Golf will consume 6,768 litres of diesel over nine years which will result in 17.57 tonnes of C02, but this is only part of the picture.
To extract, refine and transport this fuel will result in an additional 4.21 tonnes of CO2. In total the burning of this diesel is responsible for 21.78 tonnes of CO2 and is commonly referred to as the 'Well to Wheel' environmental impact.
If fossil fuel is burnt in Dublin, Berlin, or Washington, the impact is the same but this can’t be said for EVs. As EVs are powered by the local grid, impact will vary country to country based on how electricity is generated. This is referred to as the carbon intensity of a grid and will form the basis of the calculations for the impact of the EV.
The ID3 will consume 22,320 KWh of electricity over nine years. Currently for each KWh we generate we emit 320g of CO2. With existing measures this is projected to drop by 24% in the next nine years. Using this data we can calculate the total nine year emissions from use as 6.48 tonnes of CO2.
How do ICE and EVs Compare?
Even disregarding VWs reports of less damaging battery production, and taking higher environmental impact data where a range was presented, it is a clear win for the EV.
ID3 total impact from manufacturing and use: 22.48 tonnes of CO2
Golf total impact from manufacturing and use: 31.78 tonnes of CO2
When this is graphed we can see that the break-even point occurs at about 3.5 years of ownership. It is at this point where the increased manufacturing emissions are offset by the lower emissions associated with use.
The high estimates used for battery production are inflated and a more accurate model would likely further strengthen the case for the EV.
Advancements have also been made in battery chemistry, manufacturing methods and plant efficiency, and as battery production is scaled up, the impact of production is reduced.
Also, if you were to drive further per year or charge at night when the grid is typically less CO2-intensive, you could further reduce the impact of the EV, but the best way to extend the environmental benefits of an EV would be to keep it on the road beyond nine years.
This would not be difficult as the electric propulsion system is comparatively simple and as a result more reliable. In this scenario you would still be within the mileage warranty period for the battery and further benefits include no local emissions of nitrogen oxides.
These are harmful in high concentrations. The primary reason that the ID3 evaluated here exists is due to the international fraud committed by the Volkswagen group where it installed cheat devices on millions of cars and emitted extreme levels of nitrogen oxides at the cost of public health.
It is also why data from VW was not used in these evaluations.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ