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Report from Victoria EV Trial reinforces importance of source of electricity and EV efficiency in reducing greenhouse gas emissions
7 December 2012
The Victoria (Australia) EV Trial—a major 5-year initiative (earlier post)—has released a comparative lifecycle assessment of the environmental impacts of electric vehicles relative to conventional gasoline vehicles in Victoria from now until 2030.
The lifecycle analysis, “Environmental Impacts of Electric Vehicles in Victoria”, found that the impacts from vehicle operation far outweigh those from vehicle production—true even if allowing for an EV battery replacement over the vehicle life. Vehicle disposal impacts, including those of the EV battery, were found to be negligible due to the expected high rate of material recycling. The dominant influence of vehicle operation during the EV lifecycle thus highlights the importance of the source of electricity, how efficient the energy conversion in the vehicle is, and the way a vehicle is used, the report found.
The source of the electricity used to power electric vehicles is a key issue in Victoria. Despite various influences driving decarbonization of the stationary energy sector, projections indicate that for a vehicle operating on Victoria’s grid electricity, the breakeven point in terms of carbon emissions from vehicle operation is some years away. Conversely, an electric vehicle operating on renewable energy may provide a net benefit in terms of lifecycle carbon emissions within three years of operation.—“Environmental Impacts”
Efficiency. EVs are inherently more efficient than their gasoline equivalents at converting energy into motion, the report noted, with this advantage growing as the operating conditions tend towards more stop-start driving such as is found in cities.
Current typical ICE efficiency is around 28 to 30%, compared to 85 to 95% for electric motors—a significant advantage in terms of lifecycle environmental impacts.
As with ICEVs, the energy conversion efficiency of EVs is expected to improve as an outcome from extensive research and development into batteries, electric motors and power electronics, the report said. This improvement should also be taken into account as part of any evaluation of future vehicle technologies.
Given the strong influence influence of vehicle energy economy on overall environmental impacts, better information and guidance on the selection of vehicle technologies, particularly EVs, so as to be ‘fit-for-purpose’ could provide significant benefits, the authors suggested.
Key findings. Key—and Victoria-specific—findings from the report include:
Victorian EVs must be run on renewable energy to provide a total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions benefit relative to ICEVs.
If run on renewable energy, EVs will pay back the embodied greenhouse gas emissions penalty primarily associated with the battery production in the second year of operation, and are expected to provide around 29 tCO2e, or around 50%, saving over the vehicle lifetime even with a replacement battery.
The breakeven point in terms of full fuel cycle emissions from EVs and ICEVs in Victoria is expected to arrive around 2024, however this figure is highly sensitive to the relative improvements in both vehicle technologies.
EVs will deliver even greater benefits if selected preferentially for city-driving, however more information is required to guide vehicle selection both in relation to profiling the service duty and matching it to the vehicle technology.
Based upon the Victorian grid mix characteristics, demand charging during peak periods of electricity use is likely to be of lower greenhouse gas emissions intensity than smart charging during off-peak periods.
Renewable energy charging strategies that depend upon on-site energy generation are complicated by the likely mismatch between energy production and use, and by the electricity market arrangements that relate to grid-connected systems.
GreenPower or Renewable Energy Certificate purchases are the simplest, most effective path for renewable energy EV charging strategies.
Publicly-accessible EV charging outlets require transparency and assurances to support renewable energy EV charging strategies.
Charging network service providers who can provide a clear, independently-verified renewable energy supply commitment may be the simplest, most flexible path to zero emissions EV driving.
While EVs will provide an air quality benefit to the state that will mean improved health for Victorians, the continued tightening of vehicle emissions standards will deliver a greater benefit in the near-term.
EV uptake in Victoria creates a significant risk of environmental impacts from battery production being transferred elsewhere, however it reduces the existing risk in relation to oil extraction processes.
Within the existing Victorian vehicle reprocessing and disposal supply-chains, the environmental impacts of end-of-life EVs are likely to be minimal.
EV-related human health and amenity impacts are negligible due to electromagnetic fields, manageable as relate to their near-silent operation at low speeds, and beneficial as relates to traffic noise.
Shared service. Separately, the EV Trial entered a new phase partnering with GoGet to provide the trial’s first shared service program. The partnership will provide the benefit of gaining broader acceptance of electric vehicles in the wider community.
The arrangement means electric vehicles will be experienced by potentially thousands of Victorians who would otherwise have no idea of what an electric vehicle can do.
Under the trial partnership, GoGet will deploy electric vehicles at a number of locations around Melbourne, providing more Victorians with more opportunities to experience EVs first-hand.
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