Zero Emissions

Thursday 24th February, 2011
Do your light bulbs have little stickers on the box saying "Zero Emissions"?

How about your flat-screen TV?

How about you fridge?

Oh, they don't? But aren't they powered from electricity? Don't they plug in the wall like those fancy new electric cars?

Just because a car doesn't have an exhaust pipe does NOT make it zero emissions. Advertisements have been banned for making the claim and any vehicle manufacturer who makes such a claim is misleading you - there is always an environmental cost.

To help the environment, we've been encouraging people to turn off electrical appliances when they aren't in use. That's because electricity generation creates emissions. As I write this entry, just 5% of UK electricity is being charged from renewable means - 95% of it generates CO2 or other waste products. Renewable sources are maxed out and if you plug in your electric car, as instructed on this site, you will add to the demand and generate extra emissions. Even if you're on a 100% renewable tariff for your domestic electricity, it will just mean the existing renewable supplies are diverted away - in a virtual sense - from another consumer who isn't stupid enough to pay those over-inflated prices. In reality, it's done through paper and billing.

Zero emissions? I don't think so.

  1. 1) Alex Willmer Said: (24/02/2011 23:18:03 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Zero Emissions

    Driving an electric car uses energy, most of our current energy use causes CO2 emissions. Ergo electric car use isn't zero emission, no argument. I don't use the term for precisely your reasons. The critical differences are:

    - Moving the emissions away from roads, so improves air quality where people live. You recently tweeted about particulates in London - a lot of that is from ICE vehicles. Beijing this week suffered record high smog*.

    - Electricity generation is centralised - it's easier to monitor, maintain, filter and replace 100 gas/coal fired power stations than it is 10 million vehicles.

    - Well to Wheel, electric cars have lower emissions on current UK grid mix than the best ICE cars, as Mike's CO2 monitor page that you've linked to shows.

    Regards, Alex

    * I understand that Shanghai's smog is a mixture of coal power stations and ICE scooters/cars. China uses lower grade coal and has worse emission controls than the UK.

  2. 2) Ben Rose Said: (25/02/2011 07:24:19 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Zero Emissions


    Certainly not in any doubt over how clean EVs are, we've agreed on this before. Looking at CO2 alone, I estimated an EV to be some 5-10% cleaner than a 3rd Gen Prius { Link }

    If we include other possible emissions, maybe even cleaner than that - although it's hard to get those figures for power generation.

    Interesting argument about centralisation and, you're right, it should be easier. Often though, power stations are in service longer than a new car and (as far as I know) don't have to comply to the same emissions standards or have an annual MOT that checks exhaust emissions.

    Mike's page is an interesting one. In my observation, which admittedly isn't around the clock, it seems oddly most efficient to plug in your EV at the time of peak UK load. At these times, UK generation can't meet demand and we buy it in from France which is predomininantly nuclear and therefore the CO2 footprint is considerably lower - making it an optimum time to charge up.

    Sadly, Mike's page fails to include the nuclear waste resulting from this - by-products that take decades to break down. To offset a bit of CO2, we can just plant a tree. How do we offset nuclear waste? We can't...we just encapsulate it in glass and throw it in an underground water tank.

    This scenario isn't really ideal and I still feel we should be striving towards decreasing electrical energy use, not increasing it. In the right application, crude oil derived fuels like petrol can be a clean more practical solution than adding to load on the national grid.

    I see EVs as the future I just feel that, in the short term, we have better options of which there are known solutions for the side effects.

    I also see renewable energy as the way forward, we're just not anywhere near there yet.

  3. 3) Ben Rose Said: (25/02/2011 07:57:44 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Zero Emissions

    I waffled on so much, I forgot my main point!

    The target of this article was manufacturers, marketing and sales people. They are full of it and I want it to stop.

    It's not hard for consumers to work out they are being misled, the volume of hits on my blog every day searching for info on Nissan Leaf CO2 emissions show they already know. If you make buyers doubt these vehicles, they won't trust them and won't buy them - how are we supposed to win people over then?

    If the truth isn't enough, make the product better.

  4. 4) keith johnston Said: (25/02/2011 10:42:08 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Zero Emissions

    Isn't the point that electric cars superceed conventional cars that were not zero emissions at the point of use? I never heard of a fridge that emitted exhaust fumes.

  5. 5) Ben Rose Said: (25/02/2011 11:33:22 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Zero Emissions


    Gas ovens create emissions at the point of use. Do you see electric cooker manufacturers claiming "zero emissions"?

    Do you see people creating mass advertising for electric tumble dryers being "zero emissions" because they don't create emissions at the point of use?

    Do you see lightbulbs being "zero emissions" as they superceed the oil lamp?

    I think not.

    EVs aren't special in this area - they're just an electric appliance like any other and consume valuable resources whilst outputting emissions.

  6. 6) keith johnston Said: (25/02/2011 14:27:50 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Zero Emissions

    Congratulations you win the battle.

    I guess it is depends on what you feel is important really, issues or....

    I agree with you that zero emissions claims should be qualified eg 'at the point of use' and put in the context of a comparison with conventional cars. Who doesn't?

    Better still, show a CO2 emissions sticker that includes the power generation figure i.e. around 50g / km for EVs in the UK.

    Ah, If we do that however then the figure for electricity emissions for refining oil at the refinery should also be included in the CO2 figures for cars. And for transporting the refined oil to the pump. And for pumping it out of the ground. And for lighting the shop, powering the tills and getting the staff to work and back. And then we should insist on a true well-to-wheel figure, and then soon afterwards a dust-to-dirt figure.

    Lots of opportunities for blogs like this in that lot.

  7. 7) Ben Rose Said: (25/02/2011 14:51:23 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Zero Emissions

    Gordon Murray leads the way with his T27 info:

    { Link }

    CO2 emissions are clearly stated and major kudos to him for that.

    For the T27, 12kWh with 80-100mile range, his figure of 48h/kWh is about right. For a car like the LEAF, with double the battery for the same range, closer to 100g in my calculations ( { Link } ) and the same from Mike Boxwell's site I linked above.

    Well to wheel figures are nothing new and some of the most accurate are visible on Mike's page - he has the Prius within 5-10% of the LEAF. These stats would be even closer if comparing to the UK built Auris HSD which doesn't need importing from overseas on a car transporter than can emit around 5000tons of CO2 per year.

    I personally think, all in, there isn't much in it right now and it all comes back to price and convenience - very little of which is in the favour of the EV right now, although the Renault ZoE may well change that with its very competitive pricing.

  8. 8) AndyElvers Said: (25/02/2011 15:26:51 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Zero Emissions

    My issue with ONLY comparing CO2 is that you ignore the effects of NOX and PM10. In a city like London these are crucial factors to local air quality and health. Effectively EV's export the CO2 and any other emissions from the City to the Power Station.

    However ALOT more could be done in this area by moving diesel vehicles to petrol and/or hybrid. It's the rise of the diesel, and the fact it can officially pollute more, that has led to air quality not improving at all. (Even the Diesel Euro 6 standard (80g) allows for 33% more NOX than Euro 5 Petrol (60g)).

    My worry with the dash for EVs and hydrogen is that they do not meet everyone's needs and that we are skipping over a good middle position that would actually suit a lot more people and still make a big difference right now.

    The other item that can change is the amount of CO2 that is produced when you generate your electricity. Obviously the UK is not in a good position right now but I'm sure over time this will change and get better. I'm a reluctant supporter of Nuclear and hope that we can develop re-newables to take far more of the burden. So the EV CO2 figures will come down.

    Euro Emissions - { Link }

  9. 9) Paul McCulloch Said: (25/02/2011 18:07:53 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Zero Emissions

    Power stations are subjected to constant emissions monitoring under their environment agency permit to operate. Plus large combustion directive comes in 2015 limiting NOx on coal stations, a number are closing, some are fitting selective catalytic reduction kit to reduce NOx. Another directive is coming for gas fired, not sure on the date 2018 ish again NOx reduction

  10. 10) Robert Llewellyn Said: (26/02/2011 15:28:24 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Zero Emissions

    I'm afraid this falls for the same inaccurate science as every other deluge of conservative, "lets' stick with what we've got even though its incredibly inefficient"

    The comparisons you've made are skewed and illogical.

    Read this

    { Link }

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