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Are electric vehicles better for the climate and air quality than diesel or gasoline vehicles? We chatted with Andreas Unterstaller, the transport and environment expert at the European Environment Agency (EEA), about the advantages and disadvantages of electric vehicles, the subject of a new EEA report.
Can you tell us what are the main conclusions of the recent EEA report?
The EEA has recently published a new report on the Transport and Environment Information Mechanism ("TERM") at. The fundamental conclusion is that, when it comes to climate change and air quality, electric vehicles are clearly preferable to diesel or gasoline vehicles. Despite the doubts and uncertainties that arouse among public opinion, the environmental benefits of electric vehicles are becoming more and more evident to scientists. Even with the current mix of electricity generation sources in Europe, where much of it still comes from coal, the advantages are clear. These benefits will only grow as Europe uses more renewable energy in the future.
Furthermore, this is one of the first reports to address the debate on electric vehicles from a circular economy perspective, paying particular attention to reuse, remanufacturing and recycling. Many scientific studies have been done on the life cycle effects of electric vehicles. EEA has collected all this knowledge and made it available to a wider audience. We must improve the reuse and recycling of electric vehicles and their components to minimize the impact of their manufacture on the environment. The end-of-life of electric vehicles is especially important; they contain many metals and other critical raw materials that can consume large amounts of energy in their processing, and toxic substances are sometimes used in their manufacture. So a great advantage would be to be able to recover them from existing vehicles and reuse them. If we can take an entire component, such as a battery, and use it in a different way, the overall environmental impact would decrease significantly.
What can be done to make electric vehicles more sustainable so that we can make the most of the benefits they have for the environment and health?
We highlight some important lessons in the report. First, we have to ensure that the energy we use to manufacture and operate electric vehicles comes from renewable sources. Our report shows that this is the factor that most influences its impact on the environment and health. Second, we have to make these vehicles last. It is vital that you get the most out of the mileage of every manufactured electric vehicle. So if we use them only 70,000 kilometers (km) and scrap them, their overall environmental performance is not that good compared to conventional vehicles, because more energy is used in their manufacture than for a conventional vehicle. But if we drive 150,000 km or more, electric vehicles fare much better in comparison. Finally, when scrapping an electric vehicle, we have to make the most of its materials.
What are the differences between electric vehicles and diesel or gasoline vehicles? Are they 100% clean in terms of greenhouse emissions?
It is very important to mention that no vehicle is ever going to be 100% clean. The arrival of the electric vehicle is not going to change that. What we say is that if you really need a vehicle, electric vehicles are the best option for the environment. However, for the environment, public transport or walking or cycling to work will always be much better. A vehicle will always be a vehicle, replacing it with another of another type will not solve transportation problems such as traffic congestion.
Electric motors are simply more efficient than combustion engines, so more of the battery power ends up being used to move the vehicle. Electric vehicles waste less energy, especially in urban driving. In addition, they do not emit pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides or suspended particles, through the exhaust pipe. Brakes and tire wear will continue to emit particulate matter, but generally less than diesel or gasoline vehicles. Electric vehicles can also reduce noise, especially at low speeds they are less noisy than conventional vehicles.
When it comes to health, the main advantage has to do with air quality. The air will continue to be polluted by the electricity that powers electric vehicles, but normally it will come with electric power stations, in which better pollution controls can be carried out than on conventional vehicles, and which are also usually located in areas far from areas with a higher density of electricity. population.
Which countries are leading the way in promoting and using electric vehicles?
In fact, there are many European countries that are actively promoting its use, especially Norway, which has implemented very ambitious policies to achieve a higher proportion of electric vehicles and also a good infrastructure of charging points. The Netherlands, and also the UK and France, have come a long way. Taken as a whole, the European Union is one of the main players worldwide, along with the United States and China. All of them are making large investments in electric mobility.
What can you say about the issues that concern consumers, such as charging points and the cost of electricity bills?
There is great concern on the part of consumers about whether there are enough charging points on motorways and parking lots, as well as the burden they place on our electricity grids and electricity costs. Currently there are very few electric vehicles on the road. In some cities there are more than others, but in total, around 1.5% of the new fleet of vehicles sold in Europe last year were electric vehicles (with batteries and also hybrids that can be recharged on the power grid). So infrastructure must increase as more electric vehicles circulate. In some of the larger cities, the infrastructure is already good and the number of publicly accessible charging stations has been growing rapidly in recent years.
And yes, the electricity bill will go up, but driving an electric vehicle will be cheaper than driving a gasoline or diesel one. This helps offset the high purchase price of electric vehicles over time.
The 2016 EEA report 'Electric vehicles and the energy sector - Impact on future European emissionsen' analyzed its effect on our electricity grids. If 80% of all vehicles were electric in 2050, the EU's electricity consumption would likely increase by 10%. Most of the demand for electricity would continue to come from industry and private households. Like charging point infrastructure, power grids will also have to evolve as more electric vehicles hit the roads. This is challenging, but the EU is already doing the same to integrate renewable energy sources into the electricity grid.
What are the EU and the European Commission doing to promote its use?
The EU as a whole has funneled billions of euros into research over the last decade and is pushing for the charging point infrastructure to expand rapidly. It is also investing heavily in and promoting alternative fuel infrastructures, including charging points for electric vehicles, especially in the main European transport corridors.
The EU is also pushing for the development of battery production in Europe, because batteries for electric vehicles are currently made mostly in Japan, China and South Korea. Finally, the EU is setting common rules and standards for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, so that we can move around Europe freely.