There are many features to like about battery powered electric cars. They are fun to drive, and because electric cars waste less energy than Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars of equal weight, they are cheaper to run. They are simpler to build and therefore need less maintenance, last longer and should become cheaper than ICE cars as production increases. And, most importantly, driving them does not emit carbon dioxide, provided they are charged with renewable electricity. Clearly battery powered electric vehicles (BEVs) are an advance in automotive technology. Sooner or later ICE passenger car will be replaced by BEVs.
The question is: Should I replace my ICE car now with a BEV?
To save me money?
The business case for replacing my ICE car with a BEV is not clear cut. Despite the lower running cost, in 2023 the cost of a new BEV was higher than that of an equivalent ICE vehicle. How many kilometres will I have to drive my new BEV before I recover my investment? That is, how many kilometres will I have to drive my new BEV until the cost equals the cost of driving the old ICE car the same distance? I leave this analysis for another time. Instead, today I want to analyse the carbon dioxide (CO2) emission balance.
To reduce my CO2 emissions?
Perhaps. The answer here is not clear cut either. It took energy to manufacture my new electric vehicle. Because in 2023 over 80% of the worlds energy consumption still comes from fossil fuels, it is likely that 80% of the energy consumed by the manufacture of my vehicle came from fossil fuels and therefore CO2 was emitted in the manufacture. Studies show that the manufacture of an BEV emits about 60% more CO2 than the manufacture of an equivalent ICE vehicle. My brand new electric vehicle starts its life with a CO2 emission liability of around 15 tonnes of CO2. The CO2 liability of a brand new ICE vehicle is around 9 tonnes of CO2.
Once I start using my BEV it will not emit any CO2. However I need to charge my vehicle. If the electricity used for charging was generated by a fossil fuel burning power station I will be responsible for emitting the CO2 produced in generating the electricity. Because of the higher efficiency of the BEV my running CO2 bill will be lower than that of an equivalent ICE vehicle. Only if the electricity I consume for charging my BEV comes from 100% renewable (CO2 emission free) energy will my running CO2 bill be zero.
Over its lifetime, my BEV has emitted a significant amount of CO2 in its fabrication, and the emission keeps increasing if I do not charge with “clean” electricity. My old ICE car also has emitted a significant amount of CO2. It started out with a lower CO2 liability than the BEV but increased faster with use than for the comparable BEV.
The question is: How far do I have to drive my BEV before its accumulated CO2 emission becomes less than the accumulated emission from my ICE vehicle? For an average driver that turns out to be about three years of use.
Now, suppose I ditch my 10 year old ICE vehicle for a new BEV. By buying the new BEV I am charged the CO2 emission of its manufacture and as I use it the CO2 emission for the electricity has to be added. For how many more years could I have driven my old ICE vehicle before I would have emitted the same amount of CO2 than my new BEV? The answer turns out to be about 8 years, assuming that I used “clean” electricity all the time for charging. Practically, that is until the end of the useful life of my old ICE vehicle!. By discarding my old ICE car and replacing it with a new BEV I will be emitting more CO2 than if I had waited eight years before replacing my ICE car!
This analysis clearly shows that government EV purchase subsidies to encourage people to discard their ICE cars earlier than needed increases CO2 emissions instead of reducing them.
If I want to form my own opinion on this matter then look out for my forthcoming book: “Global Warming: Facts, Myths and Remedies”.