Electric Cars Use 58% Less Energy Than Gas Vehicles, New Study Finds

A new study published on March 1, 2021 shows that electric cars use less energy and produce less waste than fossil fuel-powered cars, pushing the case for battery and renewable-energy-led solutions to climate change.

The nonprofit group Transport & Environment compared the pollution and performance of both electric and gasoline vehicles over their lifetimes.

The study found that electric vehicles require 58% less energy to run than gasoline cars. An electric car battery produced 30kg of material waste compared to 17,000 liters of fuel burned by a typical gasoline-run vehicle.

Lucien Mathieu, Transport and E-Mobility Analyst at T&E, said: “When it comes to raw materials there is simply no comparison. Over its lifetime, an average fossil-fuel car burns the equivalent of a stack of oil barrels, 25 storeys high. If you take into account the recycling of battery materials, only around 30kg of metals would be lost — roughly the size of a football.”

By 2035, more than a fifth of the lithium and 65% of the cobalt needed to make a new battery could come from recycling, the study claims, further boosting electric cars’ green credentials.

Money and Power Efficiency

Limited driving range and the need for charging stations remain two of the biggest hurdles facing electric cars. As of now, there are 26,000 public charging points across the United States, which can add around 60-80 miles driving range to a battery in 20 minutes.

The charge speed and availability of charging points are expected to improve after President Joe Biden declared his wish to make the government’s 650,000-strong fleet electric, too. The government will fund what he called the “largest mobilization of public investment and procurement, infrastructure, and R&D [research and development] since World War II.”

In 1984, sedans had estimated fuel efficiency ranges of 8-41 miles per gallon (mpg). Electric cars receive estimated MPG ratings to allow efficiency comparisons between vehicles using different fuel types. In 2019, the most fuel-efficient vehicles were electric vehicles; the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, 136 MPG, and the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus, 133 MPG.

Many EV owners charge their vehicles overnight at home, potentially taking advantage of lower energy prices from energy suppliers for off-peak energy use.

According to the U.K.’s Electric Vehicle Database, the Tesla Model X Plaid’s 95kWh battery capacity takes around 6.5 hours to fully charge at home, costing $12.15 to “fill up” based on the U.S. average electricity price of 12.80 cents per kWh (Dec 2020). Its maximum range is around 340 miles.

There are many variables that impact driving costs, from engine type (electric or gasoline), size, gas price, driving style, terrain, and more. According to Fueleconomy’s 2021 New Small Car figures, electric cars top the charts with many models achieving 100-133 MPG with annual fuel costs of $500-600. The best gasoline cars achieve between 46-59 MPG with annual fuel costs of %700-900.

Electric Cars in the United States

The role of batteries in transport systems is vital for governments battling to reduce carbon footprints.

In 2018, almost a third (28.2%) of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation, the largest of any sector. Nearly half of transport’s emissions came from cars and small trucks (light-duty vehicles), whose vehicle miles traveled have leaped up 46.1% between 1990 and 2018.

There are three types of electric vehicles for sale in the United States: hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles. Figures show Americans are slowly warming up to electric vehicles. In 2019, The Bureau of Transportation Statistics registered 17 million light-duty vehicle sales, of which 727,000 (4%) were electric-drive vehicles. Just under half of those sales were plug-in electric cars capable of operating on electricity alone.

California has been leading the way. Of the 543,610 all-electric vehicle registrations in 2018, California claimed 47% of those with 256,800 registrations.

A federal tax credit of up to $7,500 is available to people purchasing a qualifying electric vehicle, albeit the credit begins to phase out once a model sells more than 200,000 models. The all-electric Tesla 3 model sold 154,000 units in 2019, almost half the total plug-in electric car sales.

National Grid, Renewables, and Home Batteries

Seemingly, electric cars are the pioneers for a battery and renewables-led future. Heating and cooling houses account for 47% of their energy use, creating a vast market for energy use and storage.

Renewable energy is sometimes lost during excess production periods such as windy nights. Enormous battery sites can capture this excess energy and store it, then release the power into the grid during times of high demand or low energy production. Smaller, local batteries can be installed for micro-power systems in homes and commercial buildings, too.

By the end of 2018, the United States had 1,236 mWh of large-scale battery storage, with plans to triple that by December 2023. Long-term, the target is 17 gigawatts of battery storage by 2050. As of 2019, the country had 1,100 gigawatts of electricity generating capacity.

With the advance in car battery efficiency, a potentially lucrative power storage market awaits. Indeed, Goldman Sachs has been putting some EV battery technology firms on its “stocks to watch” list.

This latest positive study, combined with government, stock market appetite, and consumer confidence, could make the 2020s the decade that the electric car and battery technology lead the next phase in renewable energy growth.

Opinion writer: Tom Shearman

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