Electric Vehicles – better for the environment? Not Yet!

The common theme through our blogs has been the need to be more energy efficient or ‘greener’. While the short-term motivation may be saving money or avoiding government penalties the long-term benefit is that to our environment and the planet we leave for the generations to come.

One of the chief culprits in the production of greenhouse gases are cars, which sees petrol and diesel cars becoming less attractive and the rise of the electric vehicle. But the question is this new kid on the block better for the environment?

The popularity of the electric car (EV) has undoubtedly increased and the automobile industry has responded (possibly also due to recent penalties for not meeting emission regulations), with some companies basing their entire model of cars solely on electrical charge whilst others offer the hybrid option working off both electricity and fuel.

The idea is that by using an electric vehicle you are moving away from dirty fuels to clean energy. But is this true?

Where does the electricity come from?

While the reduction of the use of fossil fuels in cars would help improve the ‘air’ that we breathe, especially in cities where car emissions shorten life expectancies, the electricity still needs to be produced.

As seen in previous blogs the government and energy producers are increasing the production of clean energy but this is still along way short of meeting the current demand for electricity. So how would the rapid increase in demand for electricity be met? Currently, without a substantial acceleration in the production of green energy, the choice would be fossil fuels.

This is especially true when you consider countries where the consumer may want to move to a cleaner car but there isn’t the political will to move to cleaner energy production. Unfortunately, this includes the USA and China who are the largest producers of greenhouse gases.

Is the move to electric vehicles truly a move to cleaner energy?

The cost of producing electric vehicles and their batteries.

The greater demand for electric vehicles will see their monetary price fall but as things stand the production of electric vehicles results in a greater amount of CO2 emissions than their gas-guzzling counterparts. A high proportion of which comes from the rechargeable batteries which they depend upon for power.

These batteries require the use of materials such as lithium which in their sourcing have a detrimental effect on the environment. This covers areas such as using large amounts of water, damaging the local environment where they are mined, the poor treatment of the miners and those local to production.

Even more ironically, given the aim of using these batteries, is that the materials are relatively scarce. This means that in continuing to use them, especially if the aim is to expand their use, we will need to source them from harder to access areas. One of these is through deep sea mining, which as we already know is a potential recipe for disaster.

Are current rechargeable batteries fit for purpose?

Is there sufficient infrastructure for Electric Vehicles? It’s true, the days of queuing at a petrol station would finally be at an end, but where would you go to recharge your EV? Even with an increase in recharge points the infrastructure is not yet ready for a wholesale move to electric vehicles.

The government and industry would rightly argue that a mixture of consumer expectation on shops and petrol stations, and financial support for councils and home owners, would see a quick roll out of charging points effectively ‘bolting on’ to the existing electricity grid. But this still adds up to a lot of money.

Is building the infrastructure for electric cars now the best way to use that money to benefit the environment?

What we think!

We’re not against the idea of moving towards a world where all cars, lorries, buses, etc. are electric vehicles. We as energy professionals simply question whether as things stand if all these good intentions will have any real positive effect.

We can look back only a few years to when biofuels were seen as the way forward, until that is someone pointed out issues such as deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, increased demand for water, etc. This is the direction electric vehicles are going unless we see more joined up thinking.

Surely it would be better for governments and individuals to focus on the production and demand for the use of clean energy? Redirect the monies going into electric vehicles now to increasing that production so there is enough clean energy to run more vehicles? Indeed, to run them more cheaply than on fossil fuels?

Also, a cornerstone of our increased usage of clean energy is being able to store that electricity. So, a by-product of a larger clean energy industry will be the development of efficient and more sustainable energy storage. Given the right funding, time and regulation, the auto industry will find a way to produce the ‘batteries’ electric vehicles need to be truly green.

Rather than buying costly electric vehicles, individuals and companies should focus on being energy efficient and demanding on the government and producers to provide them with clean energy to consume.

If you are a company and you would like advice on how to be more energy efficient and source clean energy, talk to a specialist, talk to us at UK Energy Management.