The number of electric vehicles on the world’s roads is surging, hitting a record number last year.
That would seem to be good news, as the world tries to wean itself off fossil fuels that are wrecking the global climate. But as electric cars become more popular, some question just how environmentally friendly they are.
The batteries in electric vehicles, for example, charge on power that is coming straight off the electric grid — which is itself often powered by fossil fuels. And there are questions about how energy-intensive it is to build an EV or an EV battery, versus building a comparable traditional vehicle.
Are electric vehicles greener?
The short answer is yes — but their full green potential is still many years away.
Experts broadly agree that electric vehicles create a lower carbon footprint over the course of their lifetime than do cars and trucks that use traditional, internal combustion engines.
Last year, researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Exeter and Nijmegen in The Netherlands found that in 95% of the world, driving an electric car is better for the environment than driving a gasoline-powered car.
Electricity grids in most of the world are still powered by fossil fuels such as coal or oil, and EVs depend on that energy to get charged. Separately, EV battery production remains an energy-intensive process.
A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative found that the battery and fuel production for an EV generates higher emissions than the manufacturing of an automobile. But those higher environmental costs are offset by EVs’ superior energy efficiency over time.
In short, the total emissions per mile for battery-powered cars are lower than comparable cars with internal combustion engines.
“If we are going to take a look at the current situation, in some countries, electric vehicles are better even with the current grid,” Sergey Paltsev, a senior research scientist at the MIT Energy Initiative and one of the study’s authors, told CNBC.
Paltsev explained that the full benefits of EVs will be realized only after the electricity sources become renewable, and it might take several decades for that to happen.
“Currently, the electric vehicle in the U.S., on average, would emit about 200 grams of CO2 per mile,” he said. “We are projecting that with cleaning up the grid, we can reduce emissions from electric vehicles by 75%, from about 200 (grams) today to about 50 grams of CO2 per mile in 2050.”
Similarly, Paltsev said MIT research showed non-plug-in hybrid cars with internal combustion engines currently emit about 275 grams of CO2 per mile. In 2050, their projected emissions are expected to be between 160 to 205 grams of CO2 per mile — the range is wider than EVs, because fuel standards vary from place to place.
Decarbonization is the process of reducing greenhouse gas emission produced by the burning fossil fuels. Efforts to cut down pollution across various industries are expected to further reduce the environmental impact of EV production and charging over time.
“When you look forward to the rest of the decade, where we will see massive amounts of decarbonization in power generation and massive amount of decarbonization in the industrial sector, EVs will benefit from all of that decarbonization,” Eric Hannon, a Frankfurt-based partner at McKinsey & Company, told CNBC.
Batteries are the biggest emitter
EVs rely on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries to run. The process of making those batteries — from using mining raw materials like cobalt and lithium, to production in gigafactories and transportation — is energy-intensive, and one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions from EVs today, experts said.
Gigafactories are facilities that produce EV batteries on a large scale.
“Producing electric vehicles leads to significantly more emissions than producing petrol cars. Depending on the country of production, that’s between 30% to 40% extra in production emissions, which is mostly from the battery production,” said Florian Knobloch, a fellow at the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance.
Those higher production emission numbers are seen as “an initial investment, which pays off rather quickly due to the reduced lifetime emissions.”
China currently dominates battery production, with 93 gigafactories producing lithium-ion battery cells versus only four in the U.S., the Washington Post reported this year.
“I think the battery is the most complicated component in the EV, and has the most complex supply chain,” George Crabtree, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, told CNBC, adding that the energy source used in battery production makes a huge difference on the carbon footprint for EVs.
Batteries made in older gigafactories in China are usually powered by fossil fuels, because that was the trend five to 10 years ago, he explained. So, EVs that are built with batteries from existing factories
But that’s changing, he said, as “people have realized that’s a huge carbon footprint.”
Experts pointed to other considerations around battery production.
They include unethical and environmentally unsustainable mining practices, as well as a complex geopolitical nature of the supply chain, where countries do not want to rely on other nations for raw materials like cobalt and lithium, or the finished batteries.
Mining raw materials needed for battery production will likely be the last to get decarbonized, according to Crabtree.
Recycling and decarbonizing the grid
Experts said that can change over time as raw materials needed for battery production are in limited supply, leaving firms with no choice but to recycle.
McKinsey’s Hannon outlined other reasons for companies to step by their recycling efforts. They include a regulatory environment where producers, by law, would have to deal with spent batteries — and disposing them could be more expensive.
“People who point to a lack of a recycling infrastructure as a problem aren’t recognizing that we don’t need extensive recycling infrastructure yet because the cars are so new, we’re not needing many back,” he said.
Most auto companies are already working to ensure they have significant recycling capacity in place before EVs start reaching the end of life over the next decade, he added.
Knobloch from Cambridge University said a lot of research is going into improving battery technology, to make them more environmentally sustainable and less reliant on scarce raw materials. More efforts are also needed in decarbonizing the electricity grid, he added.
“It’s very important that more renewable electricity generation capacity is added to the grid each year, than coal generation capacity,” Knobloch said.
“Nowadays, it’s much easier to build large scale solar or offshore wind compared to building new fossil fuel power plant. What we see is more renewable electricity coming into the grid all over the world.”
Still, he pointed out that generating electricity by using renewable sources will still emit greenhouse gases as there are emissions from producing the solar panels and wind turbines. “What we look at is how long will it take until the electricity grid is sufficiently decarbonized so that you see large benefit from electric vehicles,” Knobloch added.
Policies needed for societal change
Experts agree that a transition from gasoline-powered cars to EVs is not a panacea for the global fight against climate change.
It needs to go hand-in-hand with societal change that promotes greater use of public transportation and alternative modes of travel, including bicycles and walking.
Reducing the use of private vehicles requires plenty of funding and policy planning.
MIT’s Paltsev, who is also deputy director at the university’s joint program on the science and policy of global change, explained that there are currently about 1.2 billion fuel-powered cars on the road globally –that number is expected to increase to between 1.8 billion to 2 billion.
In comparison, there are only about 10 million electric vehicles currently.
People underestimate how many new cars have to be produced and how much materials will be needed to produce those electric vehicles, Paltsev said.
The International Energy Agency predicts that the number of electric cars, buses, vans and heavy trucks on roads is expected to hit 145 million by 2030.
Even if everyone drove EVs instead of gasoline-powered cars, there would still be plenty of emissions from the plug-in vehicles due to their sheer volume, according to Knobloch.
“So, it’s not silver bullet for climate change mitigation. Ideally, you also try to reduce the number of cars massively, and try to push things such as public transport,” he said. “Getting people away from individual car transport is as important.”
Tesla Model 3 prototype spotted ahead of rumored design refresh
A new Tesla Model 3 prototype with camouflage has been spotted in California ahead of a rumored refresh coming next year.
Over the last week, there have been rumors that Tesla is working on a Model 3 refresh that would come during the second half of 2023.
The project is reportedly codenamed ‘Highland’.
For a few years now, Tesla has been integrating its large casting technology into Model Y with single large casting parts replacing dozens of parts in the electric SUV.
This new technology has enabled Tesla to greatly improve manufacturing efficiency with Model Y compared to Model 3. CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla will bring the same technology to Model 3 eventually, but he couldn’t exactly say when.
The problem is that such an update to the Model 3 would temporarily slow down production and Tesla couldn’t afford that while it was still ramping up Model Y production.
However, Model Y production is now starting to exceed Model 3 production and it could be good timing for Tesla to update the Model 3 and use a design refresh to introduce the large from and rear casting.
Now a new Model 3 prototype has been spotted in Santa Cruz, California by Twitter user omg_Tesla/Rivian:
The Model 3 is equipped with manufacturer plates, which would indicate that it is owned by Tesla, and combined with the heavy camouflage in the front and back of the vehicle, it likely points to the automaker testing an updated version of the electric sedan.
However, not much can be discerned from the pictures thanks to the camouflage, which even covers large parts of the headlights.
Nonetheless, some commenters on Twitter did notice what could potentially be a camera embedded in the corner of the front right headlight:
It’s barely visible and therefore unconfirmed, but it would make sense to place a camera around that spot since Tesla’s current self-driving sensor suite has a blind spot around the bumper and it could also help with the creeping forward to see traffic before taking a turn in Full Self-Driving – something FSD Beta has issues with right now.
Tesla has always said that it would keep improving its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving hardware, but current owners who bought vehicles with the promise that self-driving will be enabled through software updates are concerned that Tesla might find that it would need a new sensor suite to achieve the promise.
What do you think about this Tesla Model 3 prototype? Is the camouflage hiding a Model 3 design refresh? A new Autopilot sensor suite? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
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OPEC+ agrees to stick to its existing policy of reducing oil production ahead of Russia sanctions
Led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, OPEC+ agreed in early October to reduce production by 2 million barrels per day from November.
Vladimir Simicek | Afp | Getty Images
An influential alliance of oil producers on Sunday agreed to stay the course on output policy ahead of a pending ban from the European Union on Russian crude.
OPEC and non-OPEC producers, a group of 23 oil-producing nations known as OPEC+, decided to stick to its existing policy of reducing oil production by 2 million barrels per day, or about 2% of world demand, from November until the end of 2023.
Energy analysts had expected OPEC+ to consider fresh price-supporting production cuts ahead of a possible double blow to Russia’s oil revenues.
The European Union is poised to ban all imports of Russian seaborne crude from Monday, while the U.S. and other members of the G-7 will impose a price cap on the oil Russia sells to countries around the world.
The Kremlin has previously warned that any attempt to impose a price cap on Russian oil will cause more harm than good.
Oil prices have fallen to below $90 a barrel from more than $120 in early June ahead of potentially disruptive sanctions on Russian oil, weakening crude demand in China and mounting fears of a recession.
Led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, OPEC+ agreed in early October to reduce production by 2 million barrels per day from November. It came despite calls from the U.S. for the group to pump more to lower fuel prices and help the global economy.
What’s the status of California’s upcoming $10M electric bike rebate program?
California allocated $10 million for a rebate program to help make electric bikes more affordable. But hang on there; it’s not active quite yet.
The move is part of a years-long effort to help reduce the price of expensive electric bicycles for state residents. The ultimate goal is to make it easier for commuters to switch from car transportation to e-bike transportation.
It makes sense when you consider the long list of benefits. From cleaner air to reduced traffic and improved health/fitness, electric bikes solve many of the problems plaguing California (and the rest of the country).
But the path towards a statewide incentive program to reduce e-bike prices hasn’t been quick or easy.
California has earmarked over $1 billion this year as incentives for electric cars and charging infrastructure, according to Streetsblog. That’s in addition to the billions already put into electric car incentives.
Back in 2019 electric bikes finally got the attention they deserved from lawmakers when California’s S.B. 400 was passed, which included a section that permitted electric bikes to be included in future clean air vehicle incentive programs.
That paved the way for the possibility of statewide e-bike rebate programs, but it didn’t actually create any.
Last year California got one step closer to that goal when it included a $10M allocation in the state budget for an e-bike rebate program. As Assemblymember Boerner Horvath said at the time:
“Making e-bikes more affordable is one of the most effective ways to get Californians out of their cars and reduce emissions. I’m thrilled that the full funding I requested for purchase incentives, education, and training is included in the budget we approved. This program represents a priority shift in the right direction and, once implemented, will help folks from all backgrounds choose a healthier, happier way to get around.”
That was another huge step in the right direction, but it hasn’t yet resulted in an active program.
That’s expected to begin in early 2023, with a number of key guidelines for California’s first statewide e-bike voucher program already laid out.
According to the California Bicycle Association, the program will create a $750 voucher for a standard electric bicycle and a $1,500 voucher for a cargo electric bicycle. There will be additional incentives for anyone whose income is under 225% of the federal poverty level (FPL) or who lives in disadvantaged communities.
But in order to qualify for the voucher, participants’ household income must be below 400% of the FPL, which amounts to $51,000 for a single person and $106,000 for a family of four at current figures.
The program will include Class 1 electric bikes (pedal assist up to 20 mph or 32 km/h) and Class 2 electric bikes (pedal assist and/or throttle up to 20 mph or 32 km/h), but will NOT include Class 3 e-bikes (pedal assist up to 28 mph).
Qualifying bikes must also either be purchased at a local bike shop in California, or online from a company that has “a business location in California”.
The move could see California align with other states that have created or already implemented electric bicycle incentives. Vermont became the first state in the US to offer a statewide e-bike rebate program. Oregon is also working on creating an e-bike incentive program that could soon become law, as New York attempts to do the same.
Many cities such as Denver, Colorado have also implemented their own local programs, though the funding is usually much smaller than statewide programs.
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