Electric cars and the environment

Are electric cars better for the environment than a traditional combustion engined vehicle? We take a look at the environmental impact of electric vehicles, from the manufacturing process of batteries to the carbon reduction from tailpipe emissions.

Woman about to charge a vw e-golf

Electric cars are ever more appealing in a world where reducing carbon emissions and pollution is a growing concern for many people.

Research has shown that electric cars are better for the environment. They emit less greenhouse gases and air pollutants over their life than a petrol or diesel car. This is even after the production of the vehicle and the generation of the electricity required to fuel them is considered.

Since interest in electric cars is growing all the time, there are many questions about how green and clean they really are. From manufacturing concerns to the way in which electricity is generated, we look at some of the facts surrounding electric cars and their environmental impact.

Are electric cars better for the environment?

car driving on a tree lined road

The major benefit of electric cars is the contribution that they can make towards improving air quality in towns and cities.

With no tailpipe, pure electric cars produce no carbon dioxide emissions when driving. This reduces air pollution considerably. Put simply, electric cars give us cleaner streets making our towns and cities a better place to be for pedestrians and cyclists.

Over a year, just one electric car on the roads can save an average 1.5 million grams of CO2. That’s the equivalent of four return flights from London to Barcelona.

car driving through mountains in autumn

According to the Mayor of London, road transport accounts for around half of the capital's air pollution. It’s no wonder that the UK government and local councils want to accelerate the number of electric cars on the roads. The UK government has set a target that the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2040.

Electric cars can also help with noise pollution, especially in cities where speeds are generally low. As the cars are far quieter than conventional vehicles, driving electric creates a more peaceful environment for us all.

Electric car production and the environment

renewable electricity generation and storage concept

Making electric cars does use a lot of energy. The emissions created during the production of an electric car tend to be higher than a conventional car.

This is due to the manufacture of lithium ion batteries which are an essential part of an electric car. More than a third of the lifetime CO2 emissions from an electric car come from the energy used to make the car itself.

As technology advances, this is changing for the better. With more efficient manufacturing techniques, the amount of emissions created during the production of batteries will improve.

electric car household battery storage concept

Reusing and recycling batteries is also a growing market. Research into the use of second-hand batteries is looking at ways to reuse batteries in new technologies such as electricity storage. One day we could all have batteries in our homes being used to store our own energy. Opportunities like this will reduce the lifetime environmental impact of battery manufacture.

Even after taking battery manufacture into account, electric cars are still a greener option. This is due to the reduction in emissions created over the car’s lifetime.

Environmental impact of electricity generation

What about the electricity required to fuel an electric car? Many people question how green electricity production required to power an electric car really is.

Research by the European Energy Agency found that, even with electricity generation, the carbon emissions of an electric car are around 17 – 30% lower than driving a petrol or diesel car.

The emissions from electricity generation are also dramatically improved when low carbon electricity is used.

That’s good news for our customers. Here at EDF Energy we produce more low-carbon electricity than any other supplier in the UK(1). The GoElectric tariff is also generated from 100% renewable sources, helping electric car drivers to make more informed choices about how they charge up, maximising their environmental impact whilst driving.

Are hybrid cars just as good for the environment?

electric car driving performance advantages

Plug-in hybrids combine an electric motor with a traditional fuel engine and produce some emissions during a drive.

The green credentials of a hybrid depend on how much of the journey is driven on electric miles as well as the way in which the vehicle is charged.  This is why it's important for hybrid drivers to consider how their electricity is generated. Choose a form of renewable energy, like the GoElectric tariff, and you’re making your contribution to reducing emissions.

All this shows that electric vehicles have a big role to play in reducing transport emissions and being a major factor in cleaning up the air we breathe.

Interested in more than the environmental impacts of electric cars?

EV how electric cars work BMW i3

Not sure of the difference between electric cars?

There are different types of electric cars from hybrids to pure electric – so find the car that suits you best.

Read more about electric cars

EV charging electric cars

Have questions about charging an electric car?

Learn about all the different options for charging your electric car on the go and at home.

See more on charging

Want to know more about electric car costs?

Find out what an electric car costs to buy and run – upfront and over a lifetime.

Learn more about costs

The power of wind

One explorer. An 86 year old skydiver. And an electric car powered by the Scottish wind. We challenged Camilla Thurlow to go back to her roots in Scotland and skydive with the fearless Dilys Price.

This is the fifth and final episode of Electric Adventures!

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