Go Ahead, Buy an EV But Understand Your Impact

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By Karim Aziz Oghly

Electric vehicles have taken the automotive industry by storm as more manufacturers dip their toes into the field. Owning an EV is taking a step in the right direction towards aiding the environment. Yet, it does not mean one will no longer be contributing to damaging the planet. 

A staggering amount of people who want to purchase an EV fail to realize that they still contribute to harming the environment. Most of the struggles in the sustainability of EVs come from the production and usage of the vehicles, in the same vein as other consumer goods. Yes, the contribution is minimal in comparison to driving a fossil-fuel-powered vehicle, but it is still existent. Large lithium-ion batteries power the vehicles. The batteries are much like the ones in mobile devices but exponentially scaled up. Yes, the cars are far more efficient, but batteries are still a source of emissions. According to studies conducted at two research institutes at the University of California, Berkeley, emissions related to the manufacturing of an EV battery are almost equivalent to the emissions made from producing the rest of the vehicle. Lest we forget that the lithium, as well as graphite and cobalt, used in the production of the batteries are resources that are quite scarce and high-in-demand. 

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the average gas-powered passenger vehicle emits about 253 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. The big advantage of batteries over traditional combustion engines is their reduction of greenhouse gas contributions per kilometer traveled over their life cycle. The research approximated the difference to be 50 percent lower on average. However, the range of emissions varies based on your location. In areas in which electricity supplies are primarily reliant on fossil fuels, the difference is reduced to around 25 to 28 percent. Yet, in areas with high reliance on renewable energy sources, the difference increases to 72 to 85 percent. These numbers are quite substantial. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, energy production primarily comes from gas. However, the UAE plans to reduce its reliance on gas for power generation by 22 percent by 2021. This still places the nation’s reliance on non-renewable energy at 76 percent. 

Let’s talk about Tesla, the current leader in the production of EVs, accounting for 17 percent of the market. In all honesty, I love Tesla. The brand’s message, ideology, philosophy, and stellar engineering places them at the very top of the list of my most desirable vehicles. 

In a recent industry impact report, Tesla revealed some interesting details. The company stated that its facilities only directly produced 40,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2017. However, they indirectly emitted 146,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide too. The higher emission numbers stem as a result of Tesla activities that occur at sources owned or controlled by other entities. 

Thus, it’s not the fault of Tesla itself, but a fault in the energy production of the nations in which it produces its goods. 

Needless to say, EV manufacturers, including Tesla, are working well towards their goals of total sustainability. Yet, changes in general production are required to reach their ends sooner rather than later. So, go ahead and buy an EV. It’s a decision that’ll help the planet regardless. But understand that your decision to drive an EV does not mean that you are necessarily drastically reducing your individual impact, at no fault of your own. To increase the rate at which the future-forward vehicles can positively impact the environment, nations must first look towards completely shifting to renewable sources of energy. The keyword to keep in mind when making your environmental decision should be: help.