Study confirms less CO2 emissions from electric cars and pumps

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Globally, passenger transport and heating systems in dwellings are responsible for around a quarter of all emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. As governments around the world seek to net zero carbon emissions, the role of electric cars in the community becomes even more crucial.

A recent study published in the journal Nature Sustainability shows that, contrary to previous belief, electric vehicles produce less carbon dioxide than petrol cars around the world. This dispels allegations that the CO2 emitted in the production of electricity and their manufacture outweighs the benefits, and therefore encourages the take-up of larger electric fleets by governments globally. This was also the case for electric heat pumps.

Researchers from various universities, including Exeter, Nijmegen and Cambridge undertook lifecycle assessments, which yielded interesting results.  While electricity generation still involves substantial amounts of fossil fuel, there was a CO2 saving over conventional cars and fossil fuel heating.

From tests carried out in 95% of the world, the scientists found that in 53 out of 59 regions, electric vehicles and domestic heat pumps generate less carbon dioxide than fossil fuel powered cars or boilers. Exceptions to these were countries which still rely heavily on coal, such as Poland.

The results are encouraging, with savings of around 70% in CO2 when using electric cars reported in countries such as Sweden and France, which get most of their electricity from renewable or nuclear sources respectively. In the UK, the savings are currently about 30%, bit this can improve as vehicles become more efficient and CO2 is removed from the electricity generating system.

This is also true for heat pumps, which essentially use electricity and heat exchange systems (like those found in fridges) and exploit the temperature differences depending on their location. The study found that a wide use of these pumps can reduce the global carbon emissions by up to 0.8 gigatons a year by 2050, or the equivalent of Germany’s emissions today.

“The idea that electric vehicles or heat pumps could increase emissions is essentially a myth,” said Florian Knobloch of Nijmegen University in the Netherlands, the lead author of the study. “We’ve seen a lot of disinformation going around. Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths.”

“The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil fuel alternatives,” concluded Jean-Francois Mercure, of Exeter University, and co-author of the study.

While climate controversialists might still express doubts about the cost of these vehicles compared to tangible results, others insist that these will help to mitigate the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. However, much more government action is required in this area to make the numbers feasible.


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