Swift transition to EVs can help UK meet its climate targets

New report examines lifecycle GHG emissions of EVs in UK –  in 2017 and 2030 scenarios

  • Carbon intensity of electricity mix is main determinant
  • Smaller, more efficient vehicles offer biggest gains
  • Findings come ahead of UK’s EV summit on September 11/12

An all-electric car bought in the UK today has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by more than 50% over its conventional (ICE) equivalent over the life time of its use.

That is the startling finding of a new study by consultancy firm Carbone 4, commissioned by the European Climate Foundation, which builds on a previous French study.

The finding is particularly important given that transport is now the UK’s biggest emitter of GHGs, and the government’s climate adviser, the Committee on Climate Change, has said rapid decarbonisation of the sector will be required to avoid missing interim climate targets.

It also challenges assumptions that without further greening of the energy system and given the carbon cost of battery production, the GHG reduction potential of EVs presently over their fossil-fuel burning equivalents would be marginal. The reduction in GHGs will be accompanied by a big reduction in air pollution, thanks to zero tailpipe emissions, which eliminates NOx gases.

The report comes ahead of the UK’s first international EVs summit on September 11/12, intended to showcase the huge business opportunities that exist around an anticipated rapid expansion of the sector.

The study considers a range of electric vehicle types in both 2017 and 2030. For the UK it finds that in 2017 a small BEV or battery electric vehicle would produce almost 15 tonnes of CO2 equivalent over its lifetime compared with just over 32t for a small ICE. Some 7t come from the use-phase, while production also accounts for 6t, and more than 3.5t come from battery manufacture.

But there are also significant GHG emissions gains currently to be made by purchasing small plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), which for the 2017 model produce 24t.

EV gains are more marginal for larger “sedan” vehicles considered by the study. For example, the 2017 model shows a BEV producing around 35t of GHG equivalent over its lifetime, a 23% reduction on its ICE counterpart, while the PHEV sedan gave a 16% advantage.

“The study reveals that there is no time to waste in the UK’s transition to EVs,” says report author Aurélien Schuller.

“Thanks to an already-significant decarbonisation of its electricity generation through coal phase-out the UK is already in a position to make significant cuts in the GHGs from its transport sector. Unlike some other countries, the UK doesn’t have to wait for its electricity mix to catch up. Continued decarbonisation of electricity generation will help to maximise the benefits of the switch to EVs in the UK.”

The anticipated UK electricity mix in 2030 will see further dramatic falls in the lifecycle GHG emissions of EVs. In particular, emissions for a large BEV will fall by 62% from 2017 to just 13t (less than a small BEV in 2017), while a small BEV will deliver an emissions reduction of just under half at 8t.

The report is available for download here.

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Commentary:

Andy Eastlake, managing director of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (whose members include Ford, VW, Toyota & Volvo), welcomed the report.

“The take up of EVs in the UK, as elsewhere, continues to grow fast and sales have just passed 4 million globally. While no one doubts the air quality benefits of zero tailpipe emissions, critics often question the overall life cycle greenhouse gas impacts.

“As this report shows (in line with other LowCVP work) it’s clear that policy makers and key stakeholders can be confident that electric vehicles in use today are already making a significant contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions – and that contribution will only improve as power grids are decarbonised and production and end-of-life processes become more efficient.

“EVs also have the potential to complement and support more rapid growth in intermittent, supplies of renewable electricity from solar and wind, supporting the grid by helping to store energy when power is abundant and even release it when it’s in short supply. The LowCVP is helping Government realise this potential through facilitation of the new Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce.

“I know that the Government recognises the wide-ranging opportunities in the EV transition in both industrial and environmental terms. I hope the PM’s ZEV Summit will help to push the accelerator button and speed UK progress in this area.”

Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, chief executive of the REA (the trade association that represents the solar, energy storage, and EV charging sectors) said:

“This important report makes it clear that an EV is the lowest carbon option when purchasing a new car. The UK is a leader in deploying new energy systems such as solar and energy storage, of which EVs are increasingly playing an important part. In order to be deploying at scale, however, a charging infrastructure network that can manage not only 160 thousand vehicles but one, two, or five million vehicles needs to be put into place, and at speed! Other renewables need to be deployed in tandem to ensure these vehicles become ever cleaner.”

ENDS

For further information:

Abrial Gilbert-d’Halluin, Senior Associate, Transport, European Climate Foundation; Email – abrial.gilbert@Europeanclimate.org; Tel – +32 (0)496 27 74 19/ +32 (0)2 894 93 03

Aurélien Schuller, report co-author, Carbone 4; Email – aurelien.schuller@carbone4.com; +33 (0)603 28 64 97