How your car is powered makes a difference – the emission and cost benefits of electric vehicles materialise sooner than anticipated
Fully electric passenger cars cause less greenhouse gas emissions than comparable gas-powered cars in less than three years of use. Electric cars also begin to offer cost benefits in well under ten years if the size of the battery is moderate. When driving 30,000 kilometres a year, the economic advantages of electric cars can be reached in less than five years.
The background data has been updated on the passenger car emission and cost calculator published by the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom based on the Autokalkulaattori service created by the Finnish Climate Change Panel. “According to the calculations based on the updated data, on average mileages, fully electric passenger cars cause less greenhouse gas emissions than comparable gas-powered cars in less than three years of use. This is due to the emissions from battery manufacturing reducing by nearly 50% and the faster than anticipated emission reduction development in the production of electricity,” explains Jyri Seppälä, member of the Finnish Climate Change Panel and professor at the Finnish Environment Institute.
“The calculations of the passenger car emission and cost calculator show e.g. that compared to a medium-sized gas-powered car, the greenhouse gas emissions of an electric car in the same car type are nearly 60% lower after 10 years of use with an average amount of annual kilometres driven. Prior to this, the same emission advantage was reached only after 15 years of use,” explains Professor Heikki Liimatainen from the Transport Research Centre Verne.
Emissions from battery manufacturing are decreasing – price of batteries still a challenge
The high price of batteries and the emissions generated in their manufacturing are considered challenges in electric driving. It is indeed due to the batteries that the emissions generated during the manufacturing of electric cars are larger than the emissions of combustion engine cars of the same size.
The emissions from battery manufacturing have decreased rapidly in recent years. Just three years ago, based on scientific publications, the manufacturing of batteries was assumed to cause approximately 115 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per each manufactured kilowatt hour of a battery, when the current estimate is on average around 70 kg CO2eq/kWh. The positive development is due to the rapid emission reduction in the production of electricity used for battery manufacturing and the development of battery technology. Around half of the battery manufacturing emissions are caused by the emissions of the electricity used. However, the emissions from battery manufacturing vary greatly based on the manufacturing country, being the lowest in Europe.
As electric cars become more common, the recycling of the batteries will improve. Streamlined recycling is estimated to cut the life cycle emissions of batteries by around 7–17%. Car batteries can also expect a second life as electricity storages.
Battery technology is also expected to continue to develop positively. The energy density of batteries describes the energy capacity stored in a battery. In the future, the energy density of batteries can increase by 50% in less than ten years. The service life of batteries will also increase. Furthermore, we can expect novel types of battery technology suitable for vehicles (e.g. salt batteries) that are no longer dependent on critical minerals. They will enable the global scalability of electric cars in a new way, and the ecological and social impacts of batteries can be reduced in a significant manner.
Purchase prices of electric cars expected to decrease in the coming years
According to the example calculations, the role of electric cars in reducing emissions and minimising costs is highlighted when the distance driven clearly exceeds the average of 14,000 kilometres a year.
When comparing a gas-powered car and an electric car in the same type, the electric car begins to offer cost benefits in well under ten years if the size of the battery is moderate. When driving 30,000 kilometres a year, the economic advantages of electric cars can be reached in less than five years.
The purchase prices of new fully electric cars have remained largely unchanged in the past three years. The better availability of components and tightening competition are expected to reduce the prices clearly in 2024 at the latest. The lower purchase prices will further highlight the economy of electric driving. “As a result of the current purchase prices and settled electricity prices, the cost benefits of electric cars will materialise clearly already with the average kilometres driven, which is around 14,000 km/year," says Professor Heikki Liimatainen from Tampere University and Verne.
Domestic traffic produces just over a fifth of Finland’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Of the emissions, around 95% come from road traffic, and over 50% of road traffic emissions are generated by passenger cars. Reaching Finland’s climate objectives requires that the greenhouse gas emissions from passenger car traffic are at least cut in half by 2030. One key way of reducing emissions from road traffic is changing the driving power of passenger cars to low-emission alternatives and adopting climate-sustainable biofuels in heavy-duty transport.
Jyri Seppälä, professor, member of the Finnish Climate Change Panel and the Finnish Environment Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org (estimated life cycle emissions of vehicles)
Heikki Liimatainen, professor, Transport Research Centre Verne, email@example.com
Joonas Munther, researcher, Finnish Environment Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org (technical aspects of calculations)
Aki Tilli, Chief Adviser, Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom, email@example.com