The initial rush to buy electric and hybrid cars seems to have topped out at about 1% of new sales or leased vehicles. That said, year on year growth for electric and hybrid cars as a whole are is 30% per annum.
With emission charges being imposed in most of Europe, drivers are being pushed to cleaner cars, but have we got the figures wrong?
Zero emissions, but only in use
In day to day use, an electric car will produce zero emissions. But what about the manufacture of an electric car?
A recent study out of Sweden has revealed that the energy involved in building an electric car is twice that of a regular car
The Study has revealed figures of 200kg of carbon dioxide per kwh of a battery. The additional problem of the use of rare metals is leading to environmental issues in otherwise untouched areas of South America as they are washed out of the ground using saline water.
Also, lithium which is found in rocks in Australia, requires huge amounts of energy to release it. Cobalt, also required for batteries, is bringing its own issues in production. Together they are the vital ingredients of battery production, and both have the potential to slow the growth of the electric car sector. Supplies are limited, which results in mining companies increasing their footprint in search of new deposits or at very least upping the prices.
Batteries life time issues
Modern efficient batteries are more difficult to recycle than those materials used in a standard car. Whereas up to 80% of a standard car and 90% of its battery will be recycled, at the moment we can’t recycle more than 5% of a lithium ion battery
As a result, the life cycle of a battery is being extended in uses where its efficiency becomes less critical, like energy storage for a home. The latest batteries though, are expected to reach 150,000 miles or more before they begin to lose capacity. Experiments with charging techniques are hoping to extend the useful capacity even further, pushing back the time when a secondary use is looked for.
The next consideration is how we make the power
An electric car is as clean as the power station that charges it. In the UK, the majority of our power is generated by burning gas or coal and this accounts for close to 30% of our greenhouse emissions. This of course is the decider. Until the power in the UK is generated using renewable techniques in higher proportions, the use of an electric car is little better than a petrol or a diesel, even ignoring the production of the battery.
As power production gets ever closer to 100% renewable, the electric car will be the choice to make. In the mean time, the cars themselves will improve in range, charge time and the costs will come down.
The grand plan does though seem to be rolling out. Between 2007 and 2017, the use of coal had fallen from 37% to 10% in electricity generation. During the same period, solar grew from 2% to 14% of our production. By the beginning of 2018, renewables as a whole accounted for 30% of our electricity.
An additional problem is that of the number of charge points. Currently sales growth of EV is outstripping the growth of charge points. It may well be masked by the number of home charging points that can be installed, something not available to petrol and diesel.
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