‘Electric driving is insanely polluting,’ ‘You’re better off going for a gasoline-powered car.’ These are statements that people are only too happy to raise during a birthday celebration. But to what extent are such claims actually true? Are electric vehicles (EVs) really that bad for the planet? We asked sustainability expert Auke Hoekstra, better known on Twitter as “Debunker-in-Chief,” to debunk the most persistent myths about electric driving.
Why is there so much resistance to electric driving?
“Every time we go through a major transition, the establishment, the status quo, is reluctant. Surely, with the advent of EVs, you knock a sacred cow off its pedestal. The entire automotive industry is changing. You can compare it to the meat industry and the advent of meat substitutes. Farmers suddenly had to go in a completely different direction and then resistance arises. Now that the mobility industry is on the upswing, a counter-movement is also emerging in this sector. Some sort of BBB (red. ‘Boeren Burger Beweging’, a Dutch party) of mobility, so to speak.”
Myth 1: Electric driving saves virtually no CO2
“Nonsense. You emit about seventy percent less CO2 compared to fossil fuel cars. That’s a factor of three less, a significant difference. People who claim otherwise often assume outdated figures, about emissions from battery production, for example. Emissions have already been greatly reduced over the years, thanks in part to gigafactories that can produce batteries much more efficiently. Or they assume that the amount of CO2 released from electricity generation remains the same over the years when it does not. Also, many critics forget to include CO2 emissions during fuel production in their calculations, which unfairly makes combustion engine cars look better.”
CO2 emissions per km (in grams). *Calculations and visualizations are based on data from Transport & Environment. The calculation takes into account all possible criteria, such as the amount of CO2 emitted when electricity is produced or fuel is burned, as well as the carbon impact of extracting raw materials for batteries or building a power plant.
Myth 2: Electric driving creates grid congestion
“Yes and no. Right now electric driving does not cause grid congestion, but it may do so in the future. There are more and more EVs coming, and many people want to charge their electric car at the same time at six in the evening, exactly when the peak demand for electricity is highest. This is very unfavorable.
However, we have done extensive research on smart charging. This means that, as soon as you plug in, the charger knows: okay, I can start charging now, but wait a little while before max charging until the power is cheapest and there is enough space on the grid. At night, for example, we hardly use any energy. Grid operators have been working on this solution for years, and in the Netherlands, this way of charging is being implemented more and more.”
*Number of charging points in the Netherlands. Source: RVO
Myth 3: Electric driving creates huge amounts of battery waste
“The simplest answer to that question is: used EV batteries are not actually waste. Recycling batteries is much easier than mining raw materials from the ground. The concentration of valuable, reusable materials in a battery is very high.
Therefore, a recycling plant for old batteries is going to be very profitable in the long run. However, right now there is not enough effort going on in this field. The reason is simple: there are currently very few batteries that have reached the end of their life. They typically last fifteen to twenty years.
We simply have to be patient until more batteries become available. JB Straubel, former CTO of Tesla, has left the company to start a recycling plant. Once enough batteries are available, many more will follow. I am convinced of that.”
*Battery recycling (global total). Source: McKinsey & Company