Are electric vehicles better for car-buyers and the environment?

March 16, 2022
Article

EVs produce fewer emissions, but that’s not the whole story.

The electric vehicle (EV) industry is booming, and it’s got a lot to do with the state of gasoline prices plus concerns about air pollution and climate change.

Gas prices are unpredictable and, as we’ve seen recently, fluctuate significantly depending on the state of global affairs. Price-per-gallon aside, gas-powered vehicles are responsible for significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to Statista, passenger vehicles account for 41% of all global CO2 emissions in the transportation sector.

Calculate your carbon footprint for free

Measurement is the first step on the path toward net-zero.

Request a demo
Sustain.Life Leaf Logo

And all the recent attention surrounding EVs isn’t just thanks to Tesla—established automotive companies have responded to the increased demand for fuel alternatives. Audi, Ford, Kia, and new entrants like Rivian have hopped on the EV train, launching new models in 2022.

If part of you thinks EVs are a fleeting fad, think again. It’s expected that 52% of new car sales will be all-electric by 2030. With the relative environmental friendliness compared to gas-powered alternatives, you may be wondering if now’s the time to invest in one. In this guide, we’ll help you decide whether an EV is right for you and the environment.

How do EVs work?

Most vehicles use internal combustion engines powered by gasoline or diesel. EVs rely on electric motors, and their power is stored in large batteries built into each vehicle.

Charging aside, EV production creates carbon emissions, too. According to an ICCT report, EV battery production is associated with between 56 and 494 kg of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of battery capacity (kg CO2/kWh). To put things into perspective, that’s about 150–1,200 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle. And with an average capacity of 43 kilowatt-hours, simply producing an EV battery produces about the same amount of carbon emissions as driving a gasoline car about 50,000 miles. EV batteries also contain mined components and raw materials like lithium and nickel and have a limited lifespan—two factors that contribute to their embodied carbon footprint.

All that said, it has been estimated that electric cars are roughly 50% better for the environment than traditional gas-powered cars. With over 10 million electric vehicles already on the road, the world has come a long way to reduce its transportation emissions, but we still have a long way to go.

Pros and cons of EVs

There are a lot of factors to weigh when deciding whether or not to invest in an EV. Let’s examine the most common benefits and drawbacks.

Pros and cons of EVs


Pros

• Generally environmentally friendly, especially compared to gasoline vehicles, which are responsible for 41% of all global transportation CO2 emissions. Traditional internal combustion engines also release significant amounts of carbon dioxide, GHGs, and pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx), which are hazardous to human health and the environment. EVs don’t emit GHGs during operation.

• Less expensive fuel. Even in states with high electricity rates, like California, where the average cost for a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity is over 21 cents, you can charge an electric vehicle for less than half the cost of fueling up at the gas pump. The cost savings are even more significant in states with lower electricity prices or if you invest in renewable energy at home (e.g., solar).

• Excellent performance. Compared to EVs, gas-powered vehicles don‘t accelerate as quickly. EVs can reach their max speeds in just a few seconds because their motors can get full torque thanks to much simpler engines. They rely on fewer parts than gas-powered vehicles, which means easier maintenance. Many EV models also offer smoother handling, making for a comfortable ride.

Cons

• Expense. At present, most EVs aren’t very affordable for the average consumer. If you’re not ready to shell out a large chunk of cash ($56,437 on average), you might want to wait about five years for price parity between gas-powered cars and EVs.

• Charging isn’t always convenient. Charging stations aren’t yet as common as gas stations. You often have to plan charging stops ahead of time (and even have a Plan B if a charging station isn’t functional). Fully charging your vehicle can also take a while—between 30 minutes and 12 hours depending on the car’s battery and the charging station’s speed. There are about 113,600 charging stations in the U.S., with nearly a third located in California. There’s good news though, the number of stations will likely skyrocket thanks to the Biden Administration’s dedication of $5 billion to EV charging stations across the country via the bipartisan infrastructure law.

• Battery manufacturing processes still have an environmental impact. While much better for the environment than conventional vehicles, EVs contain parts that involve some unsustainable practices. The components of an EV’s lithium-ion batteries have to be mined, and electric car batteries aren’t easily recycled, which adds to a growing worldwide e-waste problem. 

How much better is an EV for the environment?

No vehicle is going to help the environment—they all produce waste and require components that, in one way or another, are responsible for CO2 emissions. But if your situation allows you to invest in an electric car over a gas-powered one, there’s certainly a right answer.

Again, electric cars are approximately 50% better for the environment than gas-powered cars because they produce fewer total emissions. According to ICCT, “Results show that even for cars registered today, battery-electric vehicles have by far the lowest lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.”

Photo illustration of vintage gas station with hand charging an EV

Deciding to invest in an EV

There are a lot of factors that should go into your decision to buy an EV. Income, convenience, and driving habits are a few. But remember, the farther away your home is from a charging station, the less practical it is to invest in an EV. However, if a greener commute is a top concern and you’re a two-car household, having an EV is great for shorter trips around town and allows you to reserve your gas-powered vehicle for longer road trips.

If sustainability, your carbon footprint, and clean transportation are key factors and you’re ready to invest in an EV, then it’s a great step toward a more carbon neutral lifestyle.


If you found this guide helpful and are interested in learning more about EVs, check out Lemonade’s infographic.

How Electric Vehicles Work
More from Sustain.Life
Author
Guest post: Lemonade
Tags
The takeaway

• Gasoline-powered vehicles are responsible for 41% of all global transportation CO2 emissions.

• It will be about five years before there’s price parity between gas-powered cars and EVs.

• Electric cars are approximately 50% better for the environment than gas-powered cars because they produce fewer total emissions.