Electric car emissions slashed by two thirds as electricity generation goes green

Fred Lambert

A recurring argument from EV naysayers and the fossil fuel industry is that electric cars are not really as green as perceived because they consume electricity produced by polluting power plants.

While persistent and still believed to be viable by a large part of the population, this argument has been crumbling in recent years as electric grids have been getting cleaner around the world.

We have seen evidence of that in the US where the average electric car now gets the equivalent efficiency of a non-existent 73 mpg gas-powered vehicle – and that’s before accounting for refining, transportation, etc., when it comes to petrol.

Now a new study in the UK shows just how significant of an impact greener electricity generation can have on electric car emissions in a specific region.

The Electric Insights report, produced by researchers at Imperial College London, in collaboration with Drax, looked at electricity generation data from April to June this year and compared it to previous periods to show the impact on electric vehicles.

The wrote in the report:

“The carbon intensity of Britain’s electricity now regularly dips below 100 g/kWh, showing that deep decarbonisation is already plausible. The sunny and windy Sunday afternoon of June 11th (see previous figure) saw grid carbon intensity hit an all-time low of 71 g/kWh, and remain below 100 g/kWh for several hours.”

That compares to 740 g/kWh in the 1980s and 500 g/kWh in the 2000s.

Even on a shorter timeline, the progress is truly impressive. Dr Iain Staffell from Imperial College London explained:

“For example, producing the electricity to charge a Tesla Model S back in 2012 would have created 124g of carbon per km driven. Nowadays emissions from charging the same car have halved to 74g per km driven in winter and just 41g per km in summer – thanks to the decarbonisation of electricity generation in the UK.”

It means that someone who was driving a Model S in 2012 pollutes two-third less today in the region with the exact same vehicle. Though the study actually used the average efficiency of all of Tesla’s Model S trims, which have improved over the period.

Here’s a look at the impact on other vehicles during the period:

Those vehicles are already significantly more efficient than fossil fuel-powered cars, like a 2L Range Rover Evoque, which emits 125g/km, and a Toyota Prius, which emits 70g/km, based on data from the government’s Vehicle Certification Agency.

But if the trend continues, and it is expected to with the rapid deployment of solar, wind, and biomass power, the impact of electric vehicle adoption will rapidly become greater:

The impact of solar power is especially significant. The report found that for eight hours over the quarter, solar power produced more power than all fossil fuels combined. They also found that solar power set two new records for instantaneous output: supplying 25% of demand on the 8th of April, and producing 8.91 GW on May 26th.

Here’s the report in full:

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