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How safe is an electric car for the climate? It all comes down to where you live


If you are thinking of buying an electric vehicle, due to rising fuel prices or lower greenhouse gas emissions, the place where you live can significantly affect how safe your car is for the climate.

New research shows that having an electric car will mean lower emissions than a fossil fuel car – but degree to which electric vehicles can reduce emissions varies from state to state. Much depends on how much electricity is generated from renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydro.

The study found that across Australia, electric vehicles emit an average of 29-41 per cent less emissions than a typical fossil fuel vehicle per kilometer. But if you break it down into states, Tasmania is expected to see the biggest drop, with 70-77 percent fewer emissions per kilometer.

This information is important for achieving climate goals because Australia’s fleet differs from more frequently rated fleets in the United States, Europe or Asia in terms of vehicle size, fuel type, emission standards and fuel quality.

Acquisition of electric vehicles in Australia

Australia will not reach the climate target of zero emissions by 2050 without major repairs to transport, as the sector accounts for about 17 percent of national emissions. Cars alone account for about half of all emissions.

Rising gasoline prices may just be the stimulus we need to boost public sentiment towards electric cars in Australia that have a smaller climate footprint.

In just two years of selling electric cars increased threefold from 6,900 in 2020 to 20,665 in 2021. And yet, they still hold only 2 percent of the new car market share.

It’s far from the rest of the world, where 6.6 million electric vehicles were sold last year. More than half were in China alone.

Thanks to a number of financial incentives, The Canberras led Australia in the number of purchased electric cars per capita. Last year, motorists bought 825 new electric vehicles, accounting for more than 5 percent of all car sales in ACT.

Queensland may also see a surge in proliferation, as the Palashchuk government announced last month A package of electric cars for 55 million Australian dollarswhich includes an incentive of $ 3,000 to buy a car and $ 10 million for a new charging infrastructure.

Comparison of car emissions per kilometer

To compare the emission reduction potential in each state, Transport / Emission Energy Research (TER) held the so-called “life cycle assessment“. This takes into account all aspects of the car’s life – from production to operation (management), to the moment of breakage.

Life cycle assessments are a holistic way of looking at emissions, but confusingly, some studies have come to different conclusions. Thus, TER combined life cycle assessment with probabilistic analysis, presenting our findings as a number of possible but realistic results.

The average carbon dioxide emissions for an Australian vehicle running on fossil fuels is 349-390 grams per kilometer. This amounted to approximately:

  • 72 percent for operational use
  • 13 percent on car production
  • 14 percent for the production and distribution of fossil fuels.

A typical Australian car running on fossil fuels emits up to 390 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer.

The average electric car with a rechargeable battery, on the other hand, is estimated to have life cycle emissions of about 221-255 grams per kilometer. This amounted to approximately:

  • 69 percent for operational use
  • 23 percent on car production
  • 7 percent on electricity generation and distribution.

The contribution of infrastructure and vehicles (recycling) is estimated at less than 1 percent for both types of vehicles.

These estimates are higher than reported in European Studiesreflecting Australia’s unique conditions, including high-intensity carbon from coal-based electricity generation, and various fleet characteristics such as having heavier and larger cars than Europe.

Comparison of each jurisdiction

The good news is that in all Australian jurisdictions, emissions from the beginning to the end of the life of an electric vehicle will be much lower than for fossil fuel vehicles. Each, however, differs in the degree of emission reductions.

The biggest reduction in emissions will occur in Tasmania, as its electricity comes mainly from renewable sources: more than 80 percent from hydropower and about 10 percent from wind.

South Australia ranks second, where electric cars produce 55-66 percent less emissions per kilometer than fossil fuel-powered cars. This is because Fr. a significant part SA’s electricity comes from wind (about 40 percent) and solar energy (more than 10 percent).

At the other end of the spectrum, most electricity production in Victoria and New South Wales now takes place at coal-fired power plants.

Still, consumption of electric vehicles is expected to decline significantly: about 9-31 per cent in Victoria and 17-39 per cent in New Wales. These values ​​will improve as the electricity generation system is further decarbonized.

We waste our potential

Australia has a huge potential for the renewable energy industry, thanks to our vast expanses, windy coasts and sunny skies.

Thus, TER also looked to a future scenario where national electricity is generated from about 10 percent fossil fuels and 90 percent renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, biomass). In this scenario, electric vehicles across the country are expected to reduce emissions by 74-80 percent.

Unfortunately, Australia is still far from this situation. Most cars sold in 2020 large SUVs with fossil fuels with high greenhouse gas emissions due to their size and weight.

SUVs that absorb fossil fuels were the most popular car sold in Australia in 2020.

Moreover, the turnover of the fleet is a slow process. The Australian Census of Motor Vehicles reports that middle age Australian cars are about ten years old, on average rate of destruction only about 4 percent each year.

This means that even if all the passenger vehicles sold today were electric, it would take more than ten years for Australia’s fleet to become fully electric.

Efforts to increase the share of electric vehicles in the Australian fleet need to be urgently intensified along with the rapid decarbonisation of the power grid. They should finally bring in line with international emission standards to reduce delays and increase choice and availability electric cars in Australia.

This ensures that by 2030 we will at least start significantly with emission reductions in the road transport sector.

If Australia were serious about reducing emissions – quickly – deploying electric vehicles could perhaps focus on the states with the lowest carbon intensities. But given the slow fleet turnover and current status, important electrification is starting everywhere, now.Conversation

Robin Smithassociate professor, Sydney University of Technology and Hussein Diaprofessor of future urban mobility, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read original article.


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