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Opinion: Are Electric Cars ‘Green’? By Oliver Button

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Opinion: Are Electric Cars ‘Green’? By Oliver Button

You knew it was the right car to buy. As you settle behind the wheel and drive off from the dealership you are riding on a silent wave of serenity as you pass all the other carbon-emitting forms of transport. Going green is the way, right?

You stand triumphantly displaying your brand new car’s go-greener powerhouse to your neighbour. A fantastic lithium-ion battery sits sparkling where a conventional polluting engine would be. This outstanding piece of technology in fact releases no carbon dioxide particles whatsoever. You are helping the environment which is a significantly debated topic in our dire climate change crisis. Going green is surely the way, right?

Well, maybe not.  Because while at this present time driving a new green car is as eco-friendly as setting up an entire nature reserve in your garden, it is not entirely a clean-energy commodity. The lithium which powers your new car is found deep underground and in order to extract the metal, it has to be mined. These very processes to achieve the extraction of lithium create a significant amount of greenhouse gases. Ironic, I know. While you envisaged that you were being green and contributing to a healthier, greener climate the reality is that the production process of the car can also result in the increased production of greenhouse emissions. Maybe electric cars aren’t really that environmentally friendly. Or are they?

The other side of the coin is that you could argue that this is exactly the same for combustion engine cars. These engines are required to go through production processes in order to be made. Furthermore, on average the production process of these gas-guzzlers emits 7-10 tonnes of carbon dioxide which is the same as electric cars. However, while combustion engine cars continue to emit these polluting fumes after the production line, electric cars will not do so. Now does this mean the end of the argument? I’m sure you think that going green is still the way.

Well, perhaps not. After you have sat down and had your coffee to compose yourself after the sudden fright that you may have made the wrong decision about going green after all, you decide to go out to charge your car. After around two hours when you have finally manoeuvred the charger to the new box – and what a new experience this was, may I add – the surge of green electricity brings a sigh of relief. Suddenly your mind takes you away and leads you to question where is that electricity coming from? A coal fired power station? Or a wind turbine?  The simple answer is that electric cars are only as green as their power sources. A coal power station is estimated to emit between 800-850 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour (KH). Now you may think well that’s not exactly…green…is it? As you drive around in your new electric car emitting nothing at all, the power that is driving the wheels unfortunately remains rather putrid stuff.

However, do not despair. You feel a sense of pride as you look towards the sky and realise that you’re now a part of the fight against climate change. Now every single time you look up to your roof you’ll not only see those fantastic solar panels on the roof pumping renewable energy into your home but that you’ve joined the other 50% of the country in investing in renewable energy. Your electricity is coming from the sun. Now you can take pride in the fact that you are part of the green campaign against climate change to protect the environment. What is even better is that the amount of people using renewable energy resources is increasing faster than ever. In 2020, the National Grid Group reported that 43% of our power comes from a mix of wind, solar, bioenergy and hydroelectric sources. When your envious neighbour takes a look at your new car and solar panels it will only be a matter of time before they take the next vital step and turn green like you.

The only thing getting in the way of this important step lies in the turbulent times of our world in the United Kingdom in 2022. As we experience a cost-of-living crisis which is impacting far and wide across the country, the priority of many families is to simply feed their children, protect their livelihood and do their very best to heat their homes. Electric cars, on the other hand, are incredibly expensive to buy in comparison to combustion engine cars. With political unrest and turmoil with those in charge due to government grant schemes decreasing over time and a lack of support for those who need it most, electric cars remain simply too unaffordable for the average family household. Some may argue that perhaps over time that these electric emission free cars will be cheaper to tax and to fuel – but the lack of charging structures around the UK that still arguably poses a problem.

We can only hope that once the cost-of-living crisis eases, electric cars will inevitably become more accessible and will lower in price, but at the moment it is difficult to expect people to be green in their choices, even if they are green in thought. A step towards lowering our carbon footprint and a reduction in the emission of fuels is a step in the right direction but with the expenses and troubles associated with electric cars there remains a lingering question to be answered: is increasing our green credentials further even an option?

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