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  • Writer's pictureThe Climate Coach

Electric cars - the key fact no-one really talks about

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

EV's are not the future! They are bad for the environment. They'll never catch on. They take too long to charge. Hear these a lot? Here's some good info for you to add into the mix then...


Like or lump it, electric cars are coming. Most of the talk has been focussed around whether they are actually better for the environment, whether we have enough electricity to charge them once everyone has one and lastly, the cost benefits vs a petrol or diesel car (or lack of due to rising electricity prices). We are going to step back and look at some other key information no-one really talks about.


Electric cars are all about efficiency - but not in the way you know it.


Our start point here is a kWh (kilowatt hour) of energy - in whatever form, be that petrol, electricity from renewables and electricity from non-renewables. For context - if you run a 1kW fan heater for an hour - you would use 1kWh of electricity so kWh refers to the storage of energy or amount of energy used over time. The key thing to look at is the conversion of this energy into movement - e.g. how much of that kWh is turned into movement by the car and how much is lost and turned into heat or noise.


The key thing you need to know is that in electric cars, 87-91% of that kWh of energy is converted into movement vs a petrol or diesel car where only 16-25% of that kWh of energy is converted to movement.


As the diagrams above show, petrol and diesel cars are inherently a poor use of energy - and are very inefficient at converting it to its primary purpose in a car, movement. Even the most efficient internal combustion engine put into a car is only about 25% efficient vs the worst electric car at around 87%. There really is no comparison. What this ultimately means is that overall we need significantly less energy to power an electric car than a petrol or diesel one so in a direct comparison based on energy usage alone, the electric car will always come out on top by a long way in terms of climate.


But what about the manufacture of electric cars?


The fact remains that both types of car have considerable emissions from the production phase of the vehicle - but the general view is that if you include the total lifecycle emissions (e.g. production, maintenance and usage), electric cars are significantly better for climate. Ideally though, you wouldn't own your own car and would either use public transport or share/subscribe to a car if you needed one. In modern society, that's not always possible so it's still useful to know which is the better option if you have the choice - which you might not do for much longer anyway...


The other thing to note is that manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware that consumers actually do care about the emissions from not only the tailpipe of their car but also the manufacture of it - and are finding more and more ways to reduce emissions from production. Whether that be using renewable energy to power their factories, using recycled materials in production (that can also be recycled again) or even finding better lower impact materials in the first place. As an example, I recently read about a UK company developing an electric motor which doesn't use any rare earth metals and is fully recyclable - so can be melted down and made into another motor when it breaks or the car breaks. Somehow they've also managed to make it more efficient than the type used widely now meaning more efficiency from the car itself. These innovations will without doubt continue to widen the gap making electric vehicles increasingly better than petrol or diesel cars from a climate perspective.


Don't forget - we've had 100 years to develop the internal combustion engine cars (and we've only managed to make them 25% efficient!) - vs a relatively short time to develop electric cars.

I'm confident they'll continue to improve and the focus on climate from the manufacturers will drive further reductions on emissions from production.


Beware of greenwashing though....


Claims that a car is produced "net carbon neutral" or similar are currently always made by using carbon offsets for some elements where emissions still occur - meaning emissions have been minimised but where unavoidable using current methods, have been offset by donating to tree planting projects or similar. There are a lot of questions on whether the offset programs really do offset like for like but either way it's definitely a step in the right direction and is something that has definitely never been claimed for a petrol or diesel car!


But what if the electric used to charge my car is generated using fossil fuels?


Again, not ideal but still better. Going back to the original point of this post - because that 1 kWh of energy is converted so much more efficiently that in a petrol or diesel car, even if it's powered by a fossil fuel, it's still a better use of that energy because you need a lot less of it.


If you have any thoughts, feedback or ideas you wish to contribute on this or any other topic covered by The Climate Coach - please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.



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