The transportation sector is responsible for a quarter of global CO2 emissions (including 18% from road transport). In France, it is more than one third. Transportation is thus an important lever for reducing CO2 emissions.
Driving an electric vehicle (EV) does not emit any CO2 emissions.
However, the CO2 emissions resulting from electricity production must be considered :
- In France, where only 5% of electricity is ’carbon-producing’, meaning produced with fossil fuels, the average CO2 emissions resulting from the use of EVs is less than 20 g/km.
- In Europe, 50% of electricity is produced with non-fossil energy. This corresponds to an average of 80 g/km CO2 emissions.
- On a global scale, only 35% of electricity is ’decarbonized’ (non-carbon producing), giving an average of CO2 emissions of 130 g/km.
Thus, regardless of the energy mix of electricity generation, the numbers favour EVs, because conventional fuel-powered vehicles emit on average 160 g CO2/km . It should also be noted that electricity will become even more « carbon-free » in the future.
Additionally, EVs comply with the European standards that require vehicle emissions to be less than 130 g/km.
However, the challenges of electric mobility go well beyond the single issue of CO2. Emission-free operation is just one of the benefits of electric vehicles, and it is important to have an overall view of electric vehicle challenges to understand their importance.
Energy independence with respect to oil
Almost all forecasters are unanimous in their belief that we are entering the era of post-peak oil or of "less oil." However, the transportation industry is still the most oil-dependent sector, at a rate of 90% of total consumption ! It is thus essential to be aware that :
- Complete dependence is strategically dangerous, regardless of the sector …
- There are clear geopolitical challenges in the use of oil, including source of power, crises and conflicts at both local and international levels …
- An increase in the price of a barrel of oil is likely to occur in the near future, whether sudden or gradual, which represents a significant economic issue
- And one must not forget the environmental impact of oil on our civilization : soil, water and air pollution, as well as its harmful influence on biodiversity.
Air quality in the city, an important challenge for public health
- Electric vehicles do not emit any polluting emissions, meaning that they do not emit any of the harmful particles that usually escape from the tailpipe (even with “particle filters”) : hydrocarbons, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particles, all of which have a significant impact on health.
In France, they cause allergies in 30% of the population and are responsible for 42,000 deaths each year, or 5% of all deaths.
That’s ten times more than those caused by road accidents !
Several epidemiological studies conducted in France (by Afsset, CNRS, INSERM …) or abroad (by WHO …) demonstrate the effect of urban pollution, which is closely linked to transportation, on health , in particular :
- Pulmonary and respiratory diseases : asthma, bronchiolitis …
- Cardiovascular diseases, hypertension
- Electric vehicles help reduce noise pollution from traffic, which also have harmful effects on health : not only stress but also on the cardiovascular system (risk of heart attack and hypertension), as recently highlighted a Swedish team 
- Beyond the damage to one’s health, the quality of life in cities would be greatly improved with less ill-smelling smoke and more silence ! …
The electric vehicle offers an opportunity to re-think transportation
The electric vehicle is more than the simple substitution of a polluting vehicle with another that pollutes far less.
It is an excellent opportunity to re-conceive our relationship with mobility and with our modes of transport.
We are now in an age information and services. This also applies to the field of mobility, closely associated with Internet and mobile telephone use. This new paradigm will probably lead to a shift, for many users, from the era of car ownership to the era of the use of a new mobility service.
Considering the following points, it’s clear that the private car could (and should) be, at times, more economically and environmentally sound :
- A car is stationary on average 95% of the time
- A car takes up considerable space, either on the road or while parked
- Driving can be time-consuming and stressful because of the many traffic jams
- It is expensive : if one adds up the costs of ownership, a car costs annually between 4000 and 6000 euros
- We buy a large car (a size only necessary occasionally) for regular use. However, a small car would be more practical for daily trips, with a larger car could be rented from time to time, to make the overall ownership more economic.
- It is harmful to one’s health and to the environment.
The advent of electric vehicles represents an opportunity to rationalise all of this. It is coincident with a lot of thought and action currently germinating to transform our current modes of transport, likely with fewer vehicles, which will be greener, especially electric vehicles. It is in this context that a large number of initiatives in the world are now flourishing, such as electric vehicles for self-service rentals, or platforms for delivery of goods that allow trucks to be left on the outskirts of cities so that products are distributed according to neighbourhood and delivered by small electric vans.
Other technological and organizational innovations are also currently developing. Systemic, economic, social or environmental crises also promote creativity !
Let’s imagine tomorrow…
We will have a transport service plan like that which we have today for our telephones. Our smart phones will let us know the best methods of transport for getting from one point to another according to our desired parameters (environmentally friendly, quick, economic). With this subscription, we will be able to take, alternatingly, the (electric !) bus, bicycle, metro, train, or electric car-sharing …
This multi-modality is not a futuristic utopia, but rather a real concept being considered by many large companies and districts around the world. Moreover, relevant experiments are currently taking place, like that in la Rochelle with Yelo.
A new mobility that adapts to our societal changes
Our societies are changing very quickly, as are our behaviours, driven by the social changes where environmental awareness is now as important as social problems. And youth are pushing for more environmental and economic awareness.
The mobility of tomorrow will likely be as different from what we know today as the progressions from stagecoaches to trains and horses to motorcycles.
Yesterday, owning a car was considered a stereotype of freedom. In the future, true freedom might be the option of short- or long-term car rental. Yesterday, a car was a status symbol. In the future, perhaps it will be considered a symbol of ecological intelligence.
However, some are perhaps still not convinced. The appeal of an electric vehicle is sometimes only theoretical. It’s a bit like wind energy : 98% of people think that it’s a good idea, but only 10% would agree to have it near their home.
Of course, there are still a few people here and there who have preconceived ideas against electric vehicles. In the eyes of some, they do not seem to have the advantages of speed and power. …
And yet what pleasure in driving it offers ! Silent power, and speed without stress !
The testimonial of a Fleet Manager of a large French company is very significant : The electric vehicles of our fleet were rarely used. We are not used to them, and we prefer to use what we know. Up until the day when we don’t have a choice, and dragging our feet, we use one of the electric vehicles in the lot. And then comes the revelation. Simple, calm/zen, quiet, clean, efficient… From that day on, we only want to drive electric vehicles.
We usually like what we already know. But to know things, we must accept change and try something new !
Bonus : The joy of driving electric !
Beyond all of the key challenges and considerations, there is also one benefit that may seem a bit anecdotal, but is really a fact : driving electric provides a true pleasure of driving, as all regular or occasional users will tell you ! The silence, thanks to the power of the motor, the smoothness of acceleration and the simplicity of use produce a kind of peacefulness that those who haven’t driven electric don’t expect !
Crédit image : José Lozano for the portal for eco-mobility