Electric vehicles (EVs) are critical to reducing CO2 emissions, and they will dominate road transportation in the near future, especially following the UK’s ban on the sale of all internal combustion engine cars and vans by 2040.
Our research shows there is a catch, however: while electric vehicles produce zero emissions when driving, the amount of energy required to charge their batteries means that they are still a net contributor to pollution.
Even if the power to charge the battery of an EV is sourced from a highly efficient combined cycle gas turbine plant, when combined with emissions from vehicle and battery manufacturing, a mid-sized EV emits more carbon dioxide over its lifetime than an equivalent conventional vehicle with an internal combustion engine.
For electrified ground transportation to reduce greenhouse gases, electric vehicles will therefore have to draw much of their power from low-carbon sources, such as sun, wind, water, and biomass. If an EV is not charged by a low-carbon power source, total emissions are simply shifted geographically, and may even increase.
Together, improvements in energy storage technologies and investment in low carbon generation capacity, EV charging infrastructure, and smart energy systems will be critical to this evolution.