Electric Cars: Benefits and Potential Consequences

By Adam Walter

The introduction and increasing presence of electric cars has been met with optimism from many corners of the globe and is seen as a pivotal step in the battle against climate change. However, are there new complications that come with this new technology? There is no doubt that electric cars have provided ammunition with which to lessen our carbon footprint, however, they are not without their limitations and potentially detrimental impacts.

The advent of electric cars has seen a significant decrease in carbon emissions. Due to the lack of a combustion process, electric cars produce no carbon dioxide emissions and far lower particulate pollution, resulting in cleaner air for people and nature alike. Statistics indicate that throughout the course of a year, the utilisation of just one electric car can save an average of 1.5 million grams of carbon dioxide. This impact is significant, and when put in the broader context the numbers hold yet more promise. Within the UK alone there were 164,100 electric cars on the road by the latter months of last year, this annually could lead to a lessening of carbon dioxide output by over 246 billion grams. This marks a significant step in the journey to carbon neutrality, a goal targeted by nations all around the globe. Furthermore, the use of electric cars decreases noise pollution. It is estimated that a motorway filled with solely electric cars would generate 4 decibels less noise than one filled with combustion engines. The benefits from moving away from combustion engines to electric engines on our roads has been recognised by governments in many nations. For example, in the UK the government is aiming to ban the sale of solely petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Arguments against the benefits of electric cars tend to focus on their production and charging. It is true that currently the emissions generated during production are higher for electric cars than for that of petrol/diesel cars. This results almost completely from the inclusion of lithium ion batteries, which are an essential component of electric cars. Does this mark serious cause of concern or rather, should this be accepted as a painful yet necessary teething problem on the road to a world free from diesel and petrol cars? Although currently almost half of the lifetime carbon emissions from an electric car occur during production, the evidence shows technological advancements are already improving battery manufacturing efficiency, and this is predicted to continue with the amount of emissions created during the production of batteries rapidly decreasing. Moreover, there is substantial growth in re-usage of batteries and battery recycling. The volume of electricity needed for charging the lithium ion batteries have also led many to question the efficiency and true environmental benefits of these cars. Recent research conducted by the European Energy Agency concluded that lifetime carbon emissions from electric cars are already up to 30% lower than their diesel or petrol counterparts. Moreover, the report points out that as electricity production moves more and more to renewables this number will increase. So, despite the highly energy consuming processes of production and charging, electric cars still represent the more environmentally minded option, based on their significant average lifetime reduction in carbon emissions.

The introduction and steadily increasing usage of electric cars appears to be a necessary step on the path to carbon neutrality. Despite the need for refinement within certain stages of their lifecycle, the amount of damage to the climate will be significantly less in a world in which the roads only contain electric cars.

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