No, according to some researchers. “Electric vehicles also emit substantial amounts of CO2, the only difference being that the exhaust is released at a remove – that is, at the power plant,” Hans-Werner Sinn wrote for the Guardian in November of last year. “As long as coal- or gas-fired power plants are needed to ensure energy supply during the ‘dark doldrums’ when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, EVs, like ICE vehicles, run partly on hydrocarbons. And even when they are charged with solar- or wind-generated energy, enormous amounts of fossil fuels are used to produce EV batteries in China and elsewhere, offsetting the supposed emissions reduction.”
There are some studies that support this conclusion, including a 2017 study published in the scientific journal Nature. The study, called “Electric cars can harm the environment” found that the environmental benefits or harms of electric vehicles varied widely by region, depending on how the energy used to charge the car was being produced, suggesting that generalizations about the greenness of EV should be used sparingly.
But now, an article by Forbes directly contradicts this finding, its headline proclaiming that “Yes, Electric Cars Are Cleaner, Even When The Power Comes From Coal.” The article dismisses those claims “made by those that wish to cling to the certainties of the internal combustion engine” such as Sinn, citing a new study by the United Kingdom's Exeter and Cambridge Universities and the Netherlands’ Nijmegen University.
The study, in a nutshell, concludes that the use of electric vehicles results in less overall greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline combustion engines in 95% of the world, the only exceptions being the most coal-dependent countries such as Poland. And this does not even take into account “the instant improvements in local air quality from not having harmful tailpipe emissions pumping into the atmosphere.”
The study, published in the science journal Nature Sustainability, further found that “In countries with a heavily decarbonised system such as Sweden and France, which have large amounts of renewable and nuclear generating capacity, the average lifetime emissions from electric cars are up to 70 percent lower than petrol cars, while in the UK, which is rapidly phasing out coal but still has a reasonable amount of gas-fired power plants, emissions are around 30 percent lower,” as paraphrased by Forbes.
While most countries lag behind Europe in terms of decarbonized energy production, the world in general is trending towards a more decarbonized global economy, which means that electric vehicles will only get greener going forward. Soon, “even inefficient electric cars will be less emission-intensive than most new petrol cars in most countries.”
The study projects these findings into that more decarbonized future, predicting that “by 2050, half of cars on the roads could be electric, leading to a reduction in global CO2 emissions of up to 1.5 gigatons per year, which is the same as the total current CO2 emissions of Russia.”
The finding that EVs are definitively better for the environment and the climate than standard combustion engines is supported by many studies and articles. What’s more, electric vehicles are simply more appropriate for the future than gasoline or diesel cars as the global economy evolves past fossil fuels.