Are EVs Really That Green?

Jul 26, 2021

Are EVs Really That Green?

From the glacier shrink and increase in sea levels to the occurrences of hurricanes, droughts or intensive heat waves, all of us are witnesses of climate change but still not well-aware of its effects.

It’s hard to imagine what impact those changes will have on our planet. But, things don’t look so bright! If global temperature rises by 2 degrees, more than 70 percent of Earth’s coastlines will see sea-level rise greater than 0.66 feet (0.2 meters), resulting in increased coastal flooding, beach erosion, salinization of water supplies and other impacts on humans and ecological systems.

According to scientific research, the main cause of climate change is emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that 14% of total CO2 released in the atmosphere is produced by transportational vehicles, even without considering vehicle manufacturing. 

Cars make around 72% of total CO2 emissions, followed by planes with 10%. Taking into consideration that environmentally friendly cars (EVs) don’t emit CO2 during utilization, it seems that having more of them on roads will help us in fighting climate change and lead to smart mobility

All around the globe electric vehicles (EVs) are promoted as strong fighters against climate changes. A lot of car manufacturers invest huge amounts of money in electrification of their vehicles. Volvo aims to have an all electrified lineup by 2030. GM has said that they would stop producing polluting vehicles by 2035. 

It’s obvious that one day eco-friendly cars are going to become mainstream, but the question is: Are EVs really that green?

Are electric cars really better for the environment?

Absolutely, not! There are several stages in every vehicle’s life span: manufacturing, utilization and recycling. During each of these, GHG is being emitted. Those phases have their official names: Cradle-to-Gate (CtG), Well-to-Wheel (WtW) and Grave-to-Cradle (GtC), respectively. For better understanding, see Image 1 below.

Image 1. Cradle-to-Grave

Is the Process of Manufacturing EVs Zero Emission?

The process of manufacturing cars starts with the raw materials being extracted, refined, transported and put together. This process is pretty much the same for both EVs and internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV). 

Nevertheless, production of EVs is less eco-friendly than production of ICEV. This isn’t that surprising if we have in mind that all EVs have large batteries (it’s directly proportional to the range) and that the process of producing them is pretty harmful for the environment. This is because batteries are made of rare elements, like cobalt, lithium, nickel and graphite. Those materials only exist beneath the surface and can be extracted only by very pollutant mining processes. It’s at least encouraging that batteries can be recycled. 

For the comparison purposes I have chosen two cars from the same manufacturers, with the similar dimensions and power, VW Golf 1.4 TSI and VW ID.3 Long Range. In the Image 2 below GHG emissions for the CtG stage, for both ICEV and EV are shown. As you can see, mainly because of large batteries, during the production of EVs a way more GHG than for the ICEV counterparts is emitted.

CtG phase GHG comparison
Image 2. CtG phase GHG comparison

Why Tank-to-Wheel Stage is Not Enough

All EV manufacturers advertise that their vehicles don’t pollute. EVs release previously stored energy electrochemically without any kind of combustion. No fuel is being burned during their utilization and that’s the clear win for the EVs. It’s also great that they don’t emit GHG in places where people live, but that’s just thanks to the Tank-to-Wheel stage from Image 1. But, what about the GHG emissions during electricity production?

If the source of energy to power EVs doesn’t come from wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric or even nuclear, then GHG emissions will be as high as ICEV in total. See Image 3, which shows a comparison between GHG emissions in case that all the electricity is made by burning coal. Under the assumption that vehicles pass 20k kilometers every year, EV will start to be greener than ICEV after almost 11 years or more than 200k kilometers! This doesn’t sound promising.

GHG comparison if all electricity is made by burning coal
Image 3. GHG comparison if all electricity is made by burning coal 

From the previous example, it’s obvious that making electricity by burning coal is not a solution that will help EVs become more popular. Numerous developed countries have invested a lot of money in building power plants that make energy out of renewable resources. 

Let’s presume that we can use only clean sources of energy for powering EVs.  The image 4 shows GHG emission comparison between ICEV and EV if all the electricity is gathered by solar panels. It’s a completely different story. EVs will become greener after 50k kilometers or only 2.5 years.

Image 3. GHG comparison if all electricity is made by burning coal
Image 4. GHG comparison if all electricity is gathered by solar panels.

Solar Power Plants to the Rescue 

Solar power plants are mentioned for a good reason. They produce clean energy, it’s renewable and most importantly it’s the cheapest source of energy! I am grateful that I have the opportunity to lead two projects for the company that is a global leader in smart solar PV systems technology and strategic services. 

Our company has been cooperating  with them for 5 years now. We are building a mobile app which enables field workers to wirelessly configure solar trackers and monitor parameters in the field for safe and efficient setup and operation. During the testing phase the application has already shown an outstanding increase in the efficiency of field workers and their satisfaction with the job which they can now do faster and with less effort. And we are just at the beginning of our journey — the future looks bright

In Serbia, two thirds of electricity is made by burning fossil fuels and the rest is hydroelectric. There are a lot of abandoned fields with a decent amount of sunny days where proper solar power plants can be built. We have a strong in-house domain knowledge in this field which we can use to  start changing our local environment. We are on our mission to leverage our deep tech knowledge and expertise to spark innovation and build a greener future both in our country and across industries globally. I am proud to be a part of it. 

Making a Green Break for Future, Together 

Do you have a green project in mind? Want to help build a more sustainable future? Reach out to us to see how we can help build innovative solutions that will make our planet healthier and safer for many years to come. Or, visit our greentech and energy page to see what we can do for you. 

The climobil app was used as the data source for generating graphs. 

Dusan Nastic, Machine Learning Engineer at HTEC Group
Dusan Nastic

Hi there, I'm Dusan - a project manager at HTEC. I have Computer Vision and Machine Learning background and love to read about cutting-edge technology and solutions that can make our planet a better place to live.