Driving Electric Vehicles In China Increases CO2 Emissions…Driving Gasoline Vehicles In China Reduces CO2 Emissions

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Electric Vehicle Emissions 27-50% Greater

Than Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles

Image: Qiao et al., 2017

Sales of electric vehicles (EV) in China have exploded in recent years.

According to the New York Times (October, 2017), between 2014 and 2017, annual EV purchases by China’s citizens more than doubled, from 145,000 in 2014 to 295,000 (projected) for 2017.   By 2019, the annual sales of EVs are expected to swell to 814,000 for China alone, which will eclipse the expected EV sales for the rest of the world combined (602,000).

Good news for the climate, right?  After all, driving an EV is green.  Driving an EV reduces CO2 emissions.   Driving an EV is sustainable.  Right?

Well, no.  According to recently published scientific papers, driving an EV in China dramatically increases CO2 emissions relative to driving an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV).

Why?  Because China’s electricity grid is overwhelmingly powered by fossil-fuels (i.e., 88% of China’s energy consumption  (2015) is derived from coal, oil and gas).   Therefore, the energy used to charge up an electric vehicle in China is derived from a rapidly growing fossil fuel-based electrical grid.

Fossil fuel-powered electricity grids are growing in prevalence across the world.  And this will continue to be the case as “1,600 coal plants are planned or under construction in 62 countries” which will “expand the world’s coal-fired power capacity by 43 percent” (New York Times, July, 2017).

As long as EVs continue to be predominantly powered by the growing fossil fuel infrastructure in China (“Chinese corporations are building or planning to build more than 700 new coal plants at home and around the world”), driving EVs will not reduce CO2 emissions relative to driving ICEVs.

Put another way, purchasing and driving a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle will actually reduce China’s CO2 emissions.

According to Barkenbus (2017), “when EVs receive electricity with emission levels exceeding 559 gCO2/kWh, they, unfortunately, are net contributors to climate change when compared with conventional vehicles.”

China’s EVs receive electricity with emissions levels of 712 gCO2/kWh, which is 27% greater than the emissions associated with driving the average ICEV.

Image: Barkenbus, 2017

Not only that, but as the introductory image above indicates, the manufacture of battery-powered EVs emit 50% more greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) than ICEVs do.

Qiao et al., 2017

“In this study, the life cycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of vehicle production are compared between battery electric and internal combustion engine vehicles in China’s context. … Greenhouse gas emissions of battery electric vehicles are 50% higher than internal combustion engine vehicles.”

“Electric Drive Vehicles (EDVs) are considered to be environmentally-friendly and have attracted much attention worldwide, and Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are the most popular vehicles among all kinds of EDVs. In China, the country with the world’s largest automotive market, the government is determined to develop BEV industry and produced over 250 thousand BEVs in 2015, and the annual growth rate was 420%. In addition, according to the production plan, the cumulative output of BEVs in China will reach 5 million in 2020, meaning that BEVs will gradually replace Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles (ICEVs).  BEVs [Battery Electric Vehicles] are designed to obtain more environmental benefits, but the energy consumption and GHG emissions of BEV production are much larger than those of ICEV [Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles] production in China.”

So why is it that advocates of CO2 emissions reductions so readily extol the explosion of EV purchases and use worldwide?

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38 responses to “Driving Electric Vehicles In China Increases CO2 Emissions…Driving Gasoline Vehicles In China Reduces CO2 Emissions”

  1. SebastianH

    Is there any way to actually read what Barkenbus and Qiao wrote? Both papers seem to be located behind a paywall.

    So just a short comment for now:

    Why? Because China’s electricity grid is overwhelmingly powered by fossil-fuels (i.e., 88% of China’s energy consumption (2015) is derived from coal, oil and gas).

    Primary energy consumption charts are not displaying the composition of the electricity gird power sources. Not the first time you get this wrong.

    According to Barkenbus (2017), “when EVs receive electricity with emission levels exceeding 559 gCO2/kWh, they, unfortunately, are net contributors to climate change when compared with conventional vehicles.”

    One should always doubt that such a claim has anything to it. It’s not possible to compute a limit like that, because the amount would depend on a) the EV and the ICE car gets compared with and b) the distance these cars will drive in their lifetime and c) on the lifetime of the cars itself

    So why is it that advocates of CO2 emissions reductions so readily extol the explosion of EV purchases and use worldwide?

    Because what you claim isn’t true. You can easily find better sources for comparisons between BEV and ICE cars regarding their lifetime CO2 emissions.

    Don’t believe me? Then let’s take that 559 gCO2/kWh figure from above. A Renault ZOE uses 16.60 kWh per 100 km (link). It’s counterpart the Renault Clio uses 7.01 l gasoline per 100 km (link). Assuming 20% of the power get lost in transmission and while charging the ZOE, it causes CO2 emissions of 11.14 kg per 100 km. The gasoline needs to be refined and transported to the gas stations which also adds around 20% to the 7.01 l figure, resulting in 19.60 kg of CO2 per 100 km.

    Assuming both cars drive 150000 km, we get 16.7 t vs. 29.4 t of CO2 emissions from driving alone. I am sure we can build a ZOE battery while emitting less than 12.7 t of CO2, can we? How does that compare to the claim of Qiao that BEV vehicles would emit 15.0-15.2 t CO2 and ICE vehicles just 10.0 t of CO2? Is that in total? How does that work? Even with 712 gCO2/kWh, one can’t arrive at those numbers.

    I’d really like to have access to a non-paywalled version of that paper to find out what is going on.

    I will come back to this later when the usual suspects have replied how wrong I am.

    1. SebastianH

      Found this:
      http://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.6b00830

      It’s from a source that should know how much CO2 is emitted per kWh battery that gets mass produced. 140 kg per kWh. They estimate 39% more CO2 emissions for manufacturing a BEV than it’s ICE counterpart.

      The Qiao paper seems to be only about the actual manufacturing emissions. Mayble that little detail got past your sharp interpretation skills.

      So the question is, can a BEV make up the 5 t CO2 difference during its lifetime? Definetly yes!

  2. Kenneth Richard

    “Primary energy consumption charts are not displaying the composition of the electricity gird power sources. Not the first time you get this wrong.”

    Consumption charts are not “wrong”. The energy actually consumed is the real number. The energy potentially available from renewable sources relative to fossil fuel sources based on hypothetical capacity figures is nice to consider, but it’s like comparing the intended budget to the actual revenue/expenditures.

    “Because what you claim isn’t true. You can easily find better sources for comparisons between BEV and ICE cars regarding their lifetime CO2 emissions.”

    It isn’t my claim. It’s the authors of peer-reviewed scientific papers who have reached the conclusions above.

    So when you read that the CO2 emissions from the manufacture of battery-powered EVs in China are 50% greater than ICEVs, your immediate assumption is that the authors must be wrong. And you expect us to just take your word for it?

    Other authors have reached the same conclusion for other countries regarding the electrical grid’s power sources. Are they wrong too?

    Onn et al., 2017
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1361920916308823
    EVs [electric vehicles] running with Malaysian electricity grid produce substantial GHG emissions. … [T]he benefits of grid-dependent EVs can only be harvested under the condition that their use is coupled with a low carbon electricity grid. Thus, it is an additional challenge for Malaysia’s that are largely dependent on fossil fuels for electricity generation. … Overall the GHG emissions produced through the usage of EVs are substantial based on the well-to-wheel analysis, as the environmental profile of EVs is linked with the national grid.

    1. SebastianH

      Consumption charts are not “wrong”. The energy actually consumed is the real number.

      I wrote that you are wrong, not the chart. Primary energy consumption isn’t equal to the electrical power mix as only a small part of that consumption actually produces electricity. This has nothing to do with capacity figures, where ever you got that one from.

      It isn’t my claim. It’s the authors of peer-reviewed scientific papers who have reached the conclusions above.

      I see, so when you write that driving electric vehicles in China increases CO2 emission, it isn’t your claim? But you clearly came to that conclusion on your own, because the first paper gives you a limiting figure (559 gCO2/kWh) and the second paper doesn’t write about the driving itself, but the manufacturing process.

      So when you read that the CO2 emissions from the manufacture of battery-powered EVs in China are 50% greater than ICEVs, your immediate assumption is that the authors must be wrong

      Not really, I just assumed that the author’s figures were still about the driving part. My later reply should have made that clear. Anyway, you seem to still ignore that the 5 tonnes gap between a BEV and an ICE vehicle is easily compensated by the fewer emissions during the driving part of the vehicle’s life, even in China.

  3. Pochas

    I don’t know about this. An EV uses electric power from coal. Efficiencies are Coal to electric: 35%; electric to battery :90%: battery to road 90%. Overall 28%. For an IC engine efficiencies are about 15%, and this does not consider energy to refine the fuel. It gets even worse for hydrogen powered vehicles.

    1. SebastianH

      This exactly. You could burn Diesel in a generator and charge your BEV with the electricity generated from it, and you could drive a longer distance with it than the same car with a Diesel engine. The difference is so large that it more than makes up for the increase in emissions on the production side (battery). And that increase is shrinking every year as more and more renewables are being added.

      Plus you don’t have all the other emissions (besides CO2) inside cities anymore.

      1. Nigel S

        I don’t think you’re saying much here except that the engineers did a good job in each case. In the real world your diesel-electric Renault uses about 18 kWh/100km, or about 5 l/100km. The most fuel efficient Renault Clio diesel claims 3.6 l/100km so it’s probably about the same in the real world. Around town your diesel-eletric wins. On a long winter motorway journey the diesel wins because it can make use of the waste heat. Of course the cost and depreciation of the diese-electric is higher than the diesel and you might make enemies of your neighbours too.

  4. Bitter&twisted

    Ha Ha Ha Ha Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!
    Whoda thought it?

    Any sensible person not blinded by green dogma and lies.

  5. Greg61

    Just to add to the absurdity, China has launched it’s first all electric river freighter. The range of this ship is only 80km, but it can be fully recharged while unloading it’s cargo at each stop. It’s only current use is transporting coal to supply all of the coal fired generating stations along it’s route on the Pearl River. It’s top speed is only 8 mph so it only has about 6 hours run time between charge. I wonder what % of each load is needed for it’s own recharge?

  6. Greg61
  7. The Great Walrus

    You also forgot how to spell “its” (six times in fact)…

  8. Kurt in Switzerland

    According to the World Bank, China’s electricity production has been more than 2/3 due to burning coal for the past two decades, averaging roughly 3/4 over the period.

    https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.COAL.ZS?locations=CN

    So if you’re charging your e-car in China, the battery is overwhelmingly being topped up thanks to coal combustion.

    1. Kurt in Switzerland

      … make that the last three decades.

    2. SebastianH

      Three decades ago, nobody had any significant amount of renewable power sources in their mix. Unimaginable that this could have changed in recent years, right? China is on track to reach 40% renewables in less than a decade from now. An EV bought now will actually be driving with almost half the emissions per km at the end of its lifetime than right after production.

      1. Kurt in Switzerland

        @ Seb:

        You wrote, “China is on track to reach 40% renewables in less than a decade from now.”

        Perhaps in your alternate world, it is.

        For realists, coal alone will provide 60-70% of electricity produced in China for the decade ahead. Gas, Nuclear and Hydro will be competing for second place. That leaves boutique “renewables” such as wind and solar competing for fifth place (low single digits). Sad, but true. Reality bites.

        Fossil fuels will be responsible for > 75% of primary energy in China a decade from now, even with an aggressive program to scale back.

        But do carry on. It is entertaining.

        1. SebastianH

          Hydro is generally counted as renewable.

          China’s renewable share was 24.8% in 2016 and they have a new 58% cap for coal in place (https://www.nrdc.org/experts/alvin-lin/understanding-chinas-new-mandatory-58-coal-cap-target).

          They have a plan:
          https://www.enerdata.net/publications/daily-energy-news/renewables-could-represent-86-chinas-power-mix-2050.html

          Don’t know the alternate world you are living in.

  9. nc

    When ever someone waves a flag jumping up and down for joy at the % of renewable s in a country the actual output compared to nameplate always seems to be ignored. % of renewables should always be an average of actual output not nameplate. Lets be honest, oh wait, honesty, now there is a chuckle.

    1. yonason (from my cell phone)

      And when that output is virtually zero percent of total output worldwide,…
      https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/05/wind-turbines-are-neither-clean-nor-green-and-they-provide-zero-global-energy/#
      …well, just ignore that inconvenient fact.

  10. cementafriend

    What a lot of nonsense written by some of the commentators here. Clearly they a) do not understand technology b) they do not understand economics d) they have never been to China e) they do not understand the Chinese
    The Chinese know as anyone who understands the engineering subjects of thermodynamics and heat transfer talking about CO2 emissions has no point. Note the president of China (Xi Jingping) has qualifications in Chemical engineering. The Chinese have a long term aim to diversify their energy supply and usage. As Japan grew they had also that aim and that is why they import coal from many countries and from different ports. That is why they built nuclear power stations (although more expensive at the time than coal) and that is why they have signed contracts for LNG supplies from different countries such as Australia.
    In the case of China their aim for electric power generation is 50% coal, 15% nuclear, 5% natural gas and LNG, and 20% so called renewables of which close to 100% is Hydro. Has anyone here visited the 3 gorges dam which has a capacity of 22,000 MW larger than the total generation in most countries. China has Tibet as a province. They have started on some hydro there. The schemes planed are multiples of the 3 gorges power station.
    Next realise that China plays politics. They have no solar or wind farms that are connected to the grid. They have some test plants so they can sell this junk to the stupid politicians in other countries where costs will escalate to make industry uncompetitive with Chinese produced goods. The Indians have worked this out also and are doing the same. TATA bought steel works in UK and closed them down getting credits for lower emissions but then import steel from their works in India.

  11. Fahren von Elektro­autos in China erhöht CO2-Emissionen … Fahren von Benzin­autos in China reduziert CO2-Emissionen – EIKE – Europäisches Institut für Klima & Energie

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