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The Other Side of Electric Vehicles

For almost a decade now, the future of transportation and particularly the role of electric vehicles (EVs) has been the subject of intense discussion in both media and industry.

During which, government bodies, industry leaders and consumers all appear to have maintained conflicting opinions on EVs viability as an alternative to traditional transport methods. Noteworthy examples include Exxon Mobil projecting that even in 2040, EV’s would only comprise 10% of new car sales, followed by Bloomberg putting the figure at 54%, while the UK and French government announced that by 2040 the sale of new petrol/diesel vehicles would be banned altogether.

Evidently nobody can be certain of the future of EVs, but more concerningly- is the future of EVs going to be an environmentally friendly one? Despite lathering of praise from governments, enthusiasm from manufacturers and adoption from consumers, it’s becoming increasingly more understood that the production, operation and disposal of EVs comes with various new environmental implications.

In terms of operational footprint, the electricity powering EVs is only as green as its source, in most cases this will stem from fossil fuels or nuclear energy, neither of which could be regarded as ‘green’. Furthermore, projected electricity requirements based on even conservative estimates of EV adoption are cause for alarm. As stated in National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios report “if not managed carefully the additional demand will create challengers across all sections of the energy system”.

Similarly, in a recent report published by Policy Exchange, author Matt Rooney states “We are going to need previously unthinkable levels of new low-carbon electricity capacity for charging electric vehicles and to replace coal and gas. There is no other low-carbon energy which can match nuclear power for scale and reliability”. With such a dramatic increase in the need for electricity, many would suggest that meeting these requirements would only further stimulate the use of non-renewable production methods.

Transport for London estimates privately used EVs could demand up to eight gigawatt-hours per year, requiring five times the energy draw of the whole London Underground Network. When comparing energy requirements to existing methods of transportation in this manner, it seems feasible that perhaps shifting reliance away from private vehicles entirely and instead putting much more investment into developing cleaner and more efficient mass transport networks might offer a much more practical means of accomplishing environmental goals in this industry.

Operational footprint and energy requirements aren’t the only environmental issue clouding over EVs, their lithium batteries also carry significant environmental threat, relying heavily on nickel and graphite mining (both requiring harmful extraction processes) for their production. Furthermore, their end-of-life disposal is frequently overlooked, with only 5% of lithium batteries currently being recycled in the EU.

Government and consumer interest in EVs primarily comes from a place of concern for the environment, and Dashboard strongly believes it is imperative for the future of EVs to defined by these parameters. Replacing one assortment of environmental burdens for another (albeit more cost-effective and government/regulation-friendly) does not constitute a success in any environmental context. This problem of misaligned regulation and policy is compounded further as research bodies, government organisations and indeed public perception often trails several steps behind industry/technology trends, particularly those developing as rapidly as EVs.

It therefore seems paramount that thorough and frequent analysis of the environmental footprint of EVs is conducted across all stages of the vehicle’s life-cycle.

Criticism aside, EV technology is in its relative infancy, and Dashboard remains firmly optimistic that continued innovation will provide solutions and alternatives which enable substantial reductions to current EVs environmental impact. Furthermore, Dashboard is enthusiastic and curious to see just what role EVs will play in reshaping and revitalising the transportation industry of tomorrow.