According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), UK sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in 2019 were up 122% compared to 2018.  The numbers are still low: pure electric cars accounted for just 1.3% of UK registrations in 2019.  But this is expected to rapidly increase due to growing concerns about climate change.  Recently, the UK Government announced its plan to bring the ban on new petrol and diesel sales forward to 2035.  So how green are electric cars?

Almost one quarter of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions are produced by transport vehicles.  Various research has shown that electric cars are better for the environment. Electric motors are significantly more efficient than internal combustion engines and so less energy is required to operate an electric vehicle.  They convert over 77% of energy to the wheels, while internal combustion engines convert only around 12% to 30%.  Electric vehicles can also use regenerative braking to convert kinetic energy back into stored electricity.  Producing batteries for electric cars does require more energy, so they can have a larger carbon footprint when new.  However, electric cars are mechanically much simpler and have a longer useful life.  They emit far less greenhouse gases and air pollutants over their life than a petrol or diesel car, even after taking into account the production of the vehicle and the generation of the electricity required to fuel them.

Another major benefit of electric cars is the contribution that they make towards improving air quality in towns and cities.  Pure electric cars produce no CO2 emissions.  Over a year, just one electric car on the roads can save an average 1.5 million grams of CO2, which is the equivalent of four return flights from London to Barcelona.

However, how green an electric car is, heavily depends on how the electricity is generated.  Of course, the greenest car uses electricity generated solely by renewable source power plants.

In 2019, an average of 29% of the electricity generated in the UK came from renewable sources.  In the third quarter of 2019, UK windfarms, solar panels, biomass and hydro plants generated more electricity than the combined output from coal, oil and gas power stations.  Fossil fuels dropped to their lowest share of the UK’s energy mix on record.  The dwindling number of coal-fired power stations contributed just 1% of the UK’s electricity.  Meanwhile, the UK’s growing fleet of offshore wind projects generated more electricity than onshore windfarms for the first time.  In 2020, to date, an average of 36% of UK electricity was generated from renewable sources.

Given the global investment in them, as well as increasing competition, electric vehicles can be expected to become more efficient and also less expensive.  More and more automotive companies are devoting greater efforts and money to develop electric cars. Recently, three major German carmakers (Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW Groups) committed investments of over EUR 50 billion to develop electric cars. Volkswagen has declared its intent of being the largest maker of electric cars by 2025. Mercedes Benz, parts of the Daimler group, plans to invest EUR 10 billion.

Since 2010, battery costs have decreased at a rate of almost 20% per year.  But this cost (inversely) depends on production volumes which have risen rapidly in the last couple of years.  So the cost is expected to decrease at an even faster rate in the next few years.  In particular, the capacity of Tesla’s Gigafactories to produce batteries is currently around 150 GWh per year, the equivalent of 1.5 million electric cars per year, and more Gigafactories are planned.

Consumers’ concerns over “range anxiety” (the fear that a vehicle has insufficient range to reach its destination) are expected to evaporate in the 2020s, although this depends on the driving distance per charge increasing from around 150 miles today to 400 miles and above in the next decade.

So, yes, electric cars are green.  And they will get greener.  But how green also depends on how the electricity is produced.  The good news is that the electricity they use increasingly comes from renewable sources.

The incentive to produce greener vehicles is a driver of innovation.  It has disrupted traditional vehicle manufacturing, forcing large established manufacturers to radically transform their operations.  And it has created room for new entrants to the market, both large and small.  Some firms will succeed while others will fail.  Tesla only released its first vehicle on the market 12 years ago but was ranked as the world’s best-selling plug-in and battery electric passenger car manufacturer in 2019.  On the other hand, Dyson has scrapped its project to build an electric car because it was not “commercially viable”.  There is plenty of opportunity for smaller firms to contribute to new battery technology, electronics and even software.  Morgan Stanley has estimated that in the near future the hardware will account for just 40% of the value of vehicles, with software accounting for 40% and content accounting for 20%.

Innovation requires research and development.  And to ensure that the benefits of the research and development are fully realised, it is important to have an effective IP strategy in place. If you are in such a position, please feel free to contact us at Scintilla via hello[@] scintilla-ip[.]com or via LinkedIn at