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New study busts common electric vehicle myth

Monday, March 30th 2020, 1:42 pm - Electric vehicles had lower lifetime emissions than fossil-fuel counterparts in 95 per cent of the world.

It's a common caveat about electric vehicles (EVs): How good can they be as a solution for climate change when the electricity used to power them is based on high-emission fossil fuels? To say nothing of the resources and power used to manufacture them.

It's not an unreasonable question to ask, as global EV production continues to ramp up, and a team of scientists from the universities of Cambridge and Exeter in the U.K., and Nijmegen in the Netherlands, set out to look into the issue.

And now the team's findings, published this week in the journal Nature Sustainability, seem to put that question to rest: The results vary, but EVs still decreased overall emissions in 95 per cent of the world.

"The idea that electric vehicles could increase emissions is a complete myth," lead author Dr. Florian Knobloch of the University of Nijmegen, told the BBC, referring to the suggestion as 'disinformation.' “We have run the numbers for all around the world, looking at a whole range of cars and even in our worst-case scenario, there would be a reduction in emissions in almost all cases.”

GETTY electric vehicle The study looked into a common myth about electic vehicle emissions. Image: Getty.

LIFETIME EMISSIONS LOWER IN AREAS WITH LOW-EMISSION POWER SOURCES

The researchers divided the world into 59 regions to account for different regional energy profiles, and found that total emissions from EVs relative to fossil-fuel vehicles went down in 53 of them -- including China, the United States and most of Europe -- accounting for 95 per cent of demand.

Aside from the low-emission nature of the vehicles themselves, the decline in average lifetime emissions is also due in part to the energy profile of the region studied. In Sweden and France, where the majority of power is produced from nuclear and renewable sources, emissions from EVs are 70 per cent lower than their fossil-fuel counterparts. Poland, which derives most of its power from coal sources, did not see a decline.

The researchers also examined relative emissions from electric household heat pumps, and found that they, too, produced lower emissions in 95 per cent of the world.

"The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil fuel alternatives," the University of Exeter's Dr. Jean-Francois Mercure, another of the paper's authors, said in a release.

The researchers predict emissions from EVs and their manufacture will continue to plunge compared to their fossil-fuel alternatives as more countries phase out high-emission energy sources. As for EVs, they predict as many as half of vehicles will be electric by 2050, and the corresponding drop in emissions relative today would be about equal to the total emissions of Russia.

WATCH BELOW: B.C. TO LAUNCH TWO HYBRID-ELECTRIC FERRIES, THE QUIETEST AND CLEANEST IN THE WORLD

CANADA AWASH IN ZERO-EMISSION POWER, BUT FEW ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Looking home to Canada, the EV landscape is a bit of a mixed bag.

On the one hand, Canada's energy profile is heavily tilted toward renewable or otherwise low-emission energy sources.

As a whole, 60 per cent of the country's power comes from hydroelectric sources, according to 2017 data reported by the Canada Energy Regulator (CER). This figure climbs above 80 per cent in Manitoba, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Yukon.

Next up is nuclear, which makes up 15 per cent of Canada's total energy supply, and almost 60 per cent of production in Ontario, Canada's most populous province. When other sources are factored in, zero-emission sources make up 90 per cent of Ontario's total.

Natural gas and coal each make up around 9 per cent, according to the CER, with solar, wind, biomass and geothermal together making up a little over 6 per cent.

However, on the roads, EVs make up a very small percentage of total vehicles sales, according to Electric Mobility Canada, a not-for-profit group promoting zero-emission vehicles.

By the end of the third quarter of 2019, the group reported zero-emission vehicles -- which include not only EVs, but other vehicles like plug-in hybrids and fuel cells -- made up 3.5 per cent of sales Canada-wide. B.C. and Quebec led the way, at 10 and 7 per cent respectively.

However, the group says sales may be low, but they're growing fast. The Q3 2019 figures were a new record for Canada, and 25 per cent up from the same time the previous year.

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