Electric cars will only work with 'green' power

The conditions under which electric vehicles could play a significant role in reducing climate changing emissions from transport have been set out in a new study for T&E and two other environmental NGOs. It says the source of the power for electric cars is crucial to their potential to fight climate change.

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The report – prepared by CE Delft for T&E, Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace – says putting more electric cars on the road could increase carbon emissions unless they run on 'green' energy. If cars are powered simply by energy from national grids, it could increase greenhouse gas emissions, especially in those countries which still generate a lot of their electricity from coal.

The publication of the report coincided with a meeting of EU industry ministers earlier this month to discuss the future of the car. It was expected to lead to an EU action plan to help European car makers compete with rivals in Japan, China and America in the growing electric car market.

The study warns that the existing EU law on car emissions is flawed, because car makers who sell an electric car can sell 3.5 high-emission cars without it affecting their CO2 reduction target (so-called 'super-credits'). The aim is to encourage lower-emissions technology, but if electric cars are powered from fossil-fuel sources, they could have worse emissions than petrol and diesel engines.

T&E director Jos Dings says the biggest mistake on electric cars has been to view them independently of emissions standards for conventional fuels. Writing in European Voice, he said, 'The EU will be able to level the playing-field for electric cars – and move the entire market towards low-carbon technology – only if all producers are forced to make all new cars more fuel-efficient.'

The CE Delft study calls for all electric cars sold on the EU market to be fitted with 'smart metering' technology that allows vehicles only to be charged when surplus energy – mostly from renewable like wind and solar – is available on the power grid.

T&E policy officer Nusa Urbancic said, 'Every electric car should have a smart meter to show how much electricity has been used and, better still, whether or not that electricity came from a renewable source. Just plugging in thousands of electric cars like kettles would leave consumers and electricity suppliers in confusion and chaos.'