Electric Cars and Heat Pumps Generate Less CO2, According to Study [Dataset]
Sat, April 10, 2021

Electric Cars and Heat Pumps Generate Less CO2, According to Study [Dataset]


Electric vehicles produce less carbon than petrol cars in most parts of the world, explained Fiona Harvey of The Guardian, a British newspaper. Such an assertion is contrary to detractors who claim that carbon generated from producing electricity outweighs the benefits of driving electric vehicles. In the UK, for instance, transport is currently the biggest catalyst of the climate crisis and domestic heating heavily relies on natural gas.

Outside of the UK, passenger road vehicles and household heating produce about a quarter of all emissions from fossil fuels, making electric vehicles a viable option to minimize overall emissions. However, how clean electric vehicles are depensd on how the electricity is generated, as well as the efficiency if the supply and the vehicle itself. Fortunately, a study done by Florian Knobloch and colleagues of journal article portal Nature showed that electric cars (as well as heat pumps) are indeed helpful in reducing emissions. 


Americans of Different Income Levels Show Support for Electric Vehicles (2019)

A survey conducted by product reviews and ratings website Consumer Reports (CR) and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a non-profit science advocacy organization, found that 63% of prospective car buyers in America showed some interest in electric vehicles. Of those, 31% would consider one for their next purchase, 27% would consider buying one at some point, and 5% said they are definitely planning on purchasing or leasing one for their next vehicle.

39% of potential buyers earning more than $100,000 per year were considering an electric vehicle for their next purchase, and so are those potential buyers making $50,000 to $99,999 a year (39%). Meanwhile, 31% of those earning below $50,000 a year were considering an electric vehicle. Among people of color, 42% were considering an electric car for their next purchase unlike 36% of all respondents.


Despite the support of Americans, automakers and dealers have made little to no effort to market electric vehicles in the country, stated Shannon Baker-Branstetter, manager of cars and energy policy for CR. Although car buyers of various income levels showed interest in electric cars, automakers and dealers are not providing them with adequate information and selection to meet their demand.  

The survey found that Americans want to see more electric cars available for purchase, believing that these vehicles have benefits. For example, 73% said increased electric car use will help minimize oil use, 72% said it will reduce air pollution, and 65% mentioned that it will aid consumers in saving money on fuel and maintenance. On the other hand, 72% said automakers should provide more kinds of electric vehicles, including minivans, pickup trucks, and SUVs.

Americans were also supportive of policies that would enable the growth of the electric car market and help consumers drive electric vehicles. For instance, about 75% of respondents felt that incentives and tax rebates for plug-in electric cars should be available to all consumers in every region and income level surveyed.

67% said electric utilities should offer discounts for plug-in electric car charging, so do Americans (67%) who were supportive of their state investing in electric car charging stations. Finally, 64% were supportive of their state increasing the use of plug-in electric school buses, public transit, and fleets.


Electric Vehicles and Heat Pumps Versus Fossil Fuel

Knobloch and colleagues conducted lifecycle assessments that showed there is a reduction in carbon emissions even when electricity generation involves consuming substantial amounts of fossil fuel. In 53 out of 59 regions, accounting for 95% of the world’s transport and 96% heating demand in 2015, electric vehicles and domestic heat pumps produce less CO2 than fuel-powered cars or boilers. Coal-dependent countries such as Poland are exceptions.

In largely renewable and nuclear-powered Iceland, Switzerland, and Sweden, electric vehicles were 70% less emission intensive per vehicle-kilometer. On the other hand, these vehicles were 40% more emission intensive in oil-shale-dependent Estonia, for example. Heat pumps use electricity and heat exchange systems to leverage the difference in temperature underground and at the surface (ground source heat pumps) and between the outdoor air and indoors (air source heat pumps).   

The study asserted that if they were widely used, they could slash global carbon emissions by 0.8 gigatons a year by 2050, which is equivalent to German’s current emissions. Knobloch of Nijmegen University in the Netherlands said, “The idea that electric vehicles or heat pumps could increase emissions is essentially a myth.” Jean-Francois Mercure of Exeter University, a co-author of the study, agreed that people should electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil fuel-powered alternatives to minimize carbon emissions.

Head of science at Friends of the Earth Mike Childs noted that electric vehicles and heat pumps play a significant role in achieving climate goals. He added that both technologies will continue to “make big carbon savings” along with the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy to power the electricity grid.


Shifting to Greener Alternatives

Improving public transportation and home insulation are indeed important goals, but the government should take action to realize the benefits, Childs warned. Electric vehicles are not a panacea to addressing the climate crisis, cautioned Professor Jeremy Michalek, director of the Vehicle Electrification Group at Carnegie Mellon University, as quoted by Zeke Hausfather of Carbon Brief, a UK-based website on climate science and climate and energy policy.   

Electric vehicles will also be preferred over conventional vehicles as electricity generation becomes less carbon-intensive. Transitioning from conventional petrol and diesel vehicles to electric vehicles help in achieving climate goals and Paris Agreement targets.

This solely depends on how fast electricity generation is going to be decarbonized in order for electric vehicles to be effective. If countries do not replace coal and gas, then electric vehicles will be far from being emission-free. As for heat pumps, new and existing households using heat pumps in California could be the cheapest and fastest way for the US to achieve its climate goals by 2050, according to a California research firm for three of its major utilities, cited John Fialka of Scientific American, a science magazine. 

Heat pumps are also seen as the “low hanging fruit” in helping customers save money and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. However, upfront costs for heat pump installation can be higher than natural gas-fueled heat pumps, “and many customers and even contractors in the United States ‘lack awareness’ of the options that might benefit them,” said Pierre Delforge, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.


According to Knobloch and colleagues, they concluded that support for “high-efficiency fossil fuel technologies” may be justified in the short run when the production of electric vehicles and heat pumps can be hindered by production capacities and necessary infrastructure adjustments.

Moreover, policymakers in most parts of the globe can enforce their end-use electrification policies without relying on further power sector decarbonization. In transport, the authors stated that achieving feasible emission reductions in transport is partly restricted by the remaining production emissions.     

There are going to be obstacles before countries can shift to greener alternatives. More consumers are now interested in purchasing electric vehicles, for example. However, automakers and dealers are not providing them with enough information about these vehicles. Countries may need to decarbonize in order for electric-powered vehicles and heat pumps become ubiquitous. They may also need to address barriers in going green such as installation costs.