How eco-friendly is the electric car, really?

Aug 14, 2023

There are currently divided opinions regarding the environmental impact of electric cars. A significant part of the debate revolves around the substantial carbon footprint of batteries, encompassing raw material extraction, manufacturing, usage, and recycling. Despite this, it has been established recently that the overall emissions of electric cars, considering their entire lifecycle, are lower than those of internal combustion engine vehicles.

Sweden has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road transportation by 70 percent by 2030 compared to the levels in 2010. Currently, domestic transportation accounts for one-third of total emissions, which can be contrasted, for instance, with only one percent from air travel in Sweden. A crucial element in achieving climate targets is to replace fossil-fueled vehicles with electric alternatives, but it's only a part of the solution.
The battery - the electric car's grand paradox
While the lithium-ion battery is essential for both the electric car and the green transition, it also contributes to the emissions of greenhouse gases harmful to our environment. The dilemma forms a chain of factors that can be traced throughout the battery's lifecycle - from the extraction of the metals needed for battery manufacturing, to the use and charging when the electric car is in operation, and finally to its disposal and recycling.
All cars generate significant emissions, regardless of whether they are powered by electricity or fossil fuels. The most substantial climate impact of an electric car is in its battery production, making an electric car dirtier to manufacture than a gasoline or diesel car. At the same time, the emissions are offset by the fact that an electric car has near-zero emissions in operation when charged with renewable or fossil-free electricity.
Numerous studies indicate that the climate impact of an electric car varies depending on the country. In Sweden, you need to drive your electric car for two to four years before it surpasses a fossil-fueled car in climate benefit. Overall, throughout the electric car's entire lifecycle, it's 60-70 percent more environmentally friendly than its fossil-fuel equivalent.
Do you charge the electric car with "clean energy"?
In Sweden, we have an energy mix of various fossil-free alternatives such as hydropower, wind power, and nuclear power, and we can often choose electricity providers based on our needs. However, this isn't a given in other countries. Therefore, an electric car that is charged with energy from fossil fuels can become a much less environmentally friendly option than many might think. An older, larger electric car with a powerful battery that is charged throughout its lifecycle with electricity from sources like coal power could even have a larger environmental impact than a modern, smaller, and fuel-efficient gasoline car.
As more and more countries opt for a greener energy mix in electricity production, electric cars also become more environmentally beneficial. At the same time, we need to adapt battery technology to be more environmentally friendly and find more energy-efficient manufacturing methods to ensure that electric vehicles become the green transportation solution and climate savior we want them to be. So, what can we expect from the electrified future and the next generation of electric car batteries? You can learn more about that in the following article .
The importance of a solid charging infrastructure
As part of the efforts to achieve climate goals, Sweden has recently invested in expanding public charging options for electric vehicles. However, the availability of charging stations still varies depending on whether one lives in rural areas, urban centers, or cities.
According to a 2022 survey by Mobility Sweden, 54 percent of electric car owners believe there are too few public charging stations. Currently, over 80 percent of all vehicle charging occurs at home. Homeowners with houses and townhouses have the best conditions for adopting electric cars since they can charge at home, and the purchase of chargers is subsidized by the government .
For apartment dwellers, the expansion of parking spaces with charging stations is still generally limited, though it varies based on location. Given that over 50 percent of Sweden's population lives in multi-family buildings, more needs to be done to provide more people with the opportunity to choose electric alternatives.
More expensive to charge an electric car publicly
So why not charge your electric car at work or at a filling station on your way home? Even if the opportunity is available, it's important to keep in mind that the cost of charging an electric car at a public charging station is significantly higher, typically around 4-6 SEK per kWh. A battery with a capacity of 64 kWh would then cost approximately 320 SEK to charge fully. Often, an additional fee is charged for fast charging, which, with frequent use, also puts a strain on the battery’s health.
In this article , you can read more about how to take care of your electric car and its battery in the best way. If you're also interested in finding out the health of your electric car's battery, click here for more information.