Are electric vehicles really better for the environment?

Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming so popular that almost every major manufacturer is introducing electric vehicles to the market. In fact, some manufacturers, such as Subaru (via Reuters), Volvo (via Nasdaq), and others have committed to only electric vehicle lineups by 2030 or the mid-2030s.

canadianPhotographer56 / Shutterstock

As governments around the world search for ways to combat climate change, electric vehicles have emerged as an obvious method. Indeed, in August 2021, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order (via the White House) that made it a goal to migrate to “clean, zero-emissions vehicles for federal, state, local, and tribal government fleets, including United States Postal Service vehicles.”

With so much momentum behind moving the entire auto industry to electric vehicles, some are questioning whether electric vehicles are really better for the environment than traditional ones.

Are electric vehicles really more environmentally friendly?

buffalo / shutterstock

The short answer is yes. The long answer is still yes, but with some factors in mind.

It is indisputable that an electric vehicle, over its service life, produces fewer emissions than conventional gasoline cars. Unfortunately, there are two additional factors to consider: the vehicle’s manufacture and shipment.

Manufacturing electric vehicles is an expensive and energy-intensive process. In fact, a study by the MIT Energy Initiative showed that manufacturing a conventional car generates fewer emissions than producing the battery/fuel for an electric vehicle. As a result, every electric vehicle produced begins its life with an emissions deficit compared to a conventional vehicle. However, over the course of its life, the same electric car will produce much lower emissions, eventually allowing it to overcome its deficit and be better for the environment than a gasoline-powered car.

At the same time, efforts are being made to reduce the cost and environmental impact of electric vehicle production. For example, Nissan is pioneering technologies that will allow it to recycle up to 98% of the rare earth elements in an electric vehicle’s electric motor, instead of the 50% allowed by current methods.

The second major factor when considering the environmental impact of an electric vehicle is the power grid it’s charging. Different countries operate their electrical grid through different means. The same can be said for individual states within the United States. Some jurisdictions use cleaner energy than others, which means that the impact of an electric vehicle on the environment is largely related to the quality of the power grid it’s charging.

“If we’re going to take a look at the current situation, in some countries electric cars are even better with the current grid,” Sergey Baltsev, senior researcher at the MIT Energy Initiative told CNBC.

Needless to say, as power grids transition to cleaner forms of energy, the overall effect will be to reduce the carbon emissions of all electric vehicles that use that power grid.

Again, there is no denying that electric vehicles are indeed better for the environment than conventional vehicles. At the same time, their true ecological potential has not been reached.

Leave a Comment