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Switching to electric cars could speed climate change

The idea that a wholesale switch to electric cars would automatically reduce CO2 emissions and dependence on oil is one of a number of myths dispelled by a major new report conducted on behalf of the Environmental Transport Association (ETA).

The report found that whilst there were significant potential environmental benefits to be had from a switch to electric vehicles, these were wholly dependent on changes in the way electricity was generated, energy taxed and CO2 emissions regulated.

For example, under the current EU emissions trading system, sales of electric cars are likely to result in higher overall CO2 emissions and oil consumption.

Director at the ETA, Andrew Davis, said: “Whilst the report is not intended to dampen enthusiasm for electric vehicles, their introduction should not be viewed as a panacea; significant changes to the way we produce and tax power are needed before we will reap any benefits.”

Key findings of report:

Electric cars powered by wind or solar energy are obviously superior, but if the electricity comes from coal, hybrids perform better.

There is potential for improvement in performance and reduction of costs in the medium term, but not enough to suggest electric cars could compete head-on with conventional vehicles within the next two decades.

CO2 emissions
The EU emissions trading system implies that plug-in electric cars would not increase CO2 emissions because the power sector is covered by the scheme. If this trading scheme remains unchanged, sales of electric cars are likely to result in higher overall CO2 emissions and oil consumption.

Low running costs of electric vehicles would lead to extra demand for car transport and make necessary the taxation of electricity.
On-board metering of electricity use would be a key requirement.

National Grid
Even if the National Grid has the capacity and the basic infrastructure to meet the needs of electric cars, the new demand patterns they will create may mean greater use of coal and nuclear power.

Recommendations made by the report:
It unlikely that electric vehicles will number more than 25% of new sales by 2050, but in order to speed the uptake of the technology and manage the transition, the report recommends the following three

Stringent CO2 standards for cars
The most certain way to promote electric-powered transport is to tighten long-term CO2 standards for cars to 80 g/km by 2020 and 60 g/km by 2025 whilst at the same time increasing fuel taxes.

A lack of stringent CO2 standards removes the main incentive for motor industry to invest in electrification. Road tax exemption and grants for electric cars should be abolished; electric cars must be rewarded for their energy efficiency, not for moving emissions from exhaust pipes to power station chimneys.

Quantity and quality of electricity used in electric cars must be measured. On-board metering of the amount of electricity will be critical in order to manage and regulate demand for electric vehicles.

The power sector has to be de-carbonised Existing loopholes in the Emissions Trading Scheme need to be closed and the cap further tightened.


For a copy of the report or an interview with Andrew Davis, please call Yannick Read at the ETA press office on 0845 389 1064 or 07788 606 483.

Notes to editors

The report, ‘How to avoid an electric shock: Electric cars from hype to reality’ was conducted by the European lobby group Transport & Environment, an organisation co-founded and supported by the ETA.

The Environmental Transport Association is provides carbon-neutral breakdown cover and insurance products. As well as encouraging responsible driving to reduce carbon, the ETA campaigns for sustainable transport

The ETA each year analyses the environmental performance of every new car on sale in Britain. The greenest car on sale in Britain this year is the Honda Insight Hybrid