Electric Cars / Employee

Are electric cars good for the environment?

Sales of electric cars rose globally by 43% in 2020* and in the UK, with a ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, more and more people are investigating the switch to electric.

The myths about electric cars to do with range, performance and power are covered here, but we’re still getting asked about their environmental impact. Are electric cars good for the environment? Are they really good for the planet? Can our grid cope? What about recycling the batteries?

Let’s look at these questions in more detail:

1)    Are electric cars good or bad for the environment?

There are two key factors to consider in answering this question. Firstly, the environmental impact of manufacturing electric cars and secondly, the impact of running them.

With electric vehicle manufacture, the key component is the battery. Lithium batteries tend to be made up of base metals such as copper, aluminium and iron which can require energy-intensive extraction. Similarly, the electricity consumption for battery production is higher but for both instances, this is a short-term situation. As demand for electric vehicles increases, the projected amount of renewable energy is also set to rise sharply. This, combined with improved energy production techniques and advancements in battery technology, mean that electric car production is getting greener every day.

Once an electric car is on the road, it produces much lower emissions than petrol or diesel engine cars. The biggest opportunity is to have 100% of EVs running on renewable power and we’re not as far off as you might think. Windfarms, solar panels, biomass and hydro plants generated more electricity in the third quarter of 2019 than coal, oil and gas power stations combined. By 2050, solar power is set to generate the largest share of UK electricity.

All in all, the rapid rise in electric car sales is mirrored by rapid advances in more environmentally friendly production. Progress in this area reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and puts us all on the path to a greener future. By making the switch to electric, you are helping to accelerate change.


2)    Can our electricity grid cope with demand?

According to the National Grid Group, even if we all switched to electric overnight, demand would actually only increase by about 10% which would be entirely manageable. In fact, we’d still be using less power as a nation than we did 20 years ago. Why? Because of improved energy efficiency in home appliances and solar power installation.

Crucially, it’s not how we charge our EVs, but when we charge them. The traditional evening peak in electricity demand is still 6-8pm, likely to be when you’d want to charge your car after coming home from work. However, work is being done to ensure that future car chargers are ‘smart by design’, charging when needed, but pausing when energy demand is the highest, and therefore the most expensive.

As for charging points away from home, there are already more than 32,000 public charging points across the UK (versus fewer than 9,000 petrol stations) with more planned. See what’s near you.

3)    Are electric car batteries recyclable?

You can reasonably expect to drive 100,000 miles off a modern electric car battery. With average car journeys under a distance of 10 miles, this battery life is going to last you a good while.

But what happens at the end of your battery’s life? What is the environmental impact of electric car batteries? The truth is that it won’t end up in landfill. Electric car batteries can either be recycled at processing centres or enjoy a second life as an energy storage unit for homes or businesses. If you have solar panels, an electric vehicle battery can be repurposed to store the electricity they generate, helping to reduce your electricity costs.

In summary, the switch to electric is now a question of when, not if. What current environmental impact there is looks to be short-lived, with rapid advancements underway in the production and manufacture of electric cars.

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