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Are electric and hybrid cars better for the environment?

The top electric cars and best new electric models are often heralded as the solution to road vehicle pollution, thanks to their zero emissions, but how true is this claim? Will battery electric vehicles (BEVs) save the environment, or is it just clever marketing?

It’s certainly true to say that many scientists and environmentalists are deeply concerned about the future of the global climate, and the impact of greenhouse gases like CO2 on climate change.

Many of those gases come from exhaust emissions, as well as other modes of transport like air travel, and industrial processes. So at first glance, it seems logical to suggest that if the majority of motorists move over to BEVs with no tailpipe emissions, we will go a long way towards tackling GHG emissions globally.

At the same time, internal combustion engines (ICEs) consume non-renewable fossil fuels in the form of petrol and diesel. While renewable biodiesel has found greater use in recent years, it’s still true to say that a move away from petroleum-powered cars would also be good news for the world’s oil reserves.

Carbon Cost of Manufacturing Electric Cars

Much of the carbon footprint associated with electric cars is contained in the manufacturing process. A study in Energy Procedia in May 2017 found that building a new EV creates up to 14.7 tonnes of CO2, about 60% more than the 9.2 tonnes of an ICE vehicle.

The production of the lithium-ion batteries used in EVs was blamed for much of the discrepancy, with the researchers adding: “As the manufacture techniques of Li-ion batteries are growing and the material recycling industry is developing, huge reduction potential of CO2 emissions from EVs exists.”

Electric vehicles — both in their manufacture and recharging their batteries — rely on electricity supplied by the mains grid. As more renewable energy is put into the grid, the carbon footprint of EVs will drop, and during use, t they release no CO2 at all making them much better for our local environments.

Electric Car Noise Levels and Air Pollution

It’s not just about greenhouse gases, although of course climate change is the primary concern. But electric cars have found substantial uptake in city centres, often encouraged by clean air zones and low-emission zones that charge additional fees to ICE owners.

Electric cars run much quieter — in fact, some manufacturers add artificial engine noise to warn pedestrians that a vehicle is approaching. This means city centres are more peaceful, especially when traffic is passing at night.

Zero exhaust emissions not only means no greenhouse gases, but also no harmful particles entering the local atmosphere. In busy cities where rates of childhood asthma are higher than average, electric vehicles could have a measurable positive impact on public health in the years to come.

Are Hybrid Cars Good for the Environment?

So far we have looked at fully electric, zero-emission BEVs. But what about hybrids, which combine an internal combustion engine with a smaller electric motor? The most direct impact on the eco-friendliness of a hybrid is the size of its motor compared to its combustion engine.

  • MHEVs have only a small electric motor, which can help improve fuel economy by assisting the ICE during acceleration, and can recover a small amount of energy under braking, but will have minimal effect on the environment overall.
  • FHEVs can drive under purely electric power over short distances, allowing for zero-emission shopping trips and daily commutes. But they cannot be plugged in to recharge, which means you need to run the ICE to charge them back up.
  • PHEVs can be plugged in, and are the closest to a 50/50 ‘hybrid’ vehicle with both an ICE and an electric motor capable of covering a reasonable range of miles. Because they can be charged from the mains, theoretically PHEVs can run entirely on renewable electricity, although in practice this is rarely the case.

Plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, have the greatest potential to be driven in an eco-friendly way, using only electricity, without burning fossil fuels and without releasing harmful greenhouse gas exhaust emissions. But even these are not on a par with fully electric BEVs, which sever the dependence on petroleum completely and can be charged from fully renewable sources.

Financial Incentives for Eco-Friendly Cars

Over the years, governments including the UK have offered various financial incentives for people who drive electric and low-emission vehicles, as well as penalising those who drive more polluting ICE cars.

The latest changes to the MOT test rules mean that if a diesel car has any visible exhaust emissions at all, it should fail its test. It’s no surprise then that ONS figures show in 2021, there were 264,000 hybrids registered, but only 195,000 diesel cars.

It’s also worth noting that those 264,000 were ‘self-charging’ hybrids, that is HEVs with no charging cable. A further 114,000 plug-in HEVs and 190,000 BEVs were also registered, so HEVs, PHEVs and BEVs together amounted to over a third of the UK car market.

Low-emission and electric vehicles often qualify for grants to cover the cost of purchase, as well as reduced rates of road tax. They may also be exempt from congestion charges and low-emission zone fees.

Experience Low-Emission Driving

If you would like to experience low-emission driving behind the wheel of a hybrid or fully electric car, contact Synergy today to discuss the vehicles we have to choose from for personal or business use.

We welcome enquiries from businesses — so if you have a fleet of company cars and you want to know more about leasing electric cars for business use, give us a call and we can talk through the number and type of vehicles you need. We can also help to provide information on the low benefit-in-kind tax that business drivers enjoy on electric vehicles.

Leasing and electric cars go perfectly hand-in-hand, as the technology that powers BEVs is rapidly evolving and HEVs are gradually phased out along the road to net zero.

Leasing an EV ensures you always have access to the latest developments, including the best fuel economy, the greenest motors and the maximum range in miles on the top electric car models entering the market today.