Electric cars cut emissions in half, analysis shows

Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson |

A calculator comparing the environmental impacts of electric, hybrid and petrol vehicles has revealed motorists could cut carbon emissions by as much as 60 per cent with their choice of car. 

The Electric Vehicle Council launched the tool on Thursday as part of an online information hub about battery-powered vehicles. 

The calculator comes after sales of new electric vehicles tripled during the year but also after the federal government warned a law to encourage their import could be delayed by months.

The council’s Lifecycle Emissions Calculator analyses electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and petrol vehicles across different categories, ranging from light vehicles to large SUVs, utes and vans. 

Total carbon emissions are calculated based on vehicle and battery production, their use of electricity and fuel, and recycling at the end of their lives. 

Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari said even though the calculator assumed all vehicles were being produced using minimal renewable energy, electric cars still won the low-emissions race.  

“Our calculator shows EVs are miles ahead of petrol vehicles in terms of climate impact,” he said. 

“Even with our conservative approach, the results show that on average EVs produce about half the emissions of comparable petrol cars over their lifetime and close to a 40 per cent improvement on hybrid vehicles across segments where hybrid vehicles exist.”

The biggest carbon difference between electric and petrol vehicles could be seen in small vans, with a saving of more than 60 per cent for the electric model, followed by savings of more than 50 per cent for small and light electric vehicles, and medium and small SUVs. 

Compared to hybrid models, mid-sized electric SUVs cut the most carbon, at 43 per cent, followed by small SUVs and large vehicles.

The council’s calculations used figures from the National Electricity Market but its report found motorists could cut emissions more by using solar power, with a medium-sized electric car producing 121 grams of carbon per kilometre from the national grid or just 73 grams if charged with solar.

“As electricity grids become cleaner and battery recycling and repurposing keep improving, the environmental footprint of EVs will decrease even further,” Mr Jafari said. 

Swinburne University future urban mobility professor Hussein Dia welcomed the launch of the new tool, saying consumers could find it difficult to judge the greenest transport options. 

“It will help inform people who might not realise their carbon footprint from using a petrol or diesel vehicle,” he said. 

“This could inform government policy about hybrid vehicles because when providing incentives, people who are buying hybrids should not get the same incentives as people buying electric vehicles.”

Australia has recorded triple the number of new electric car sales during 2023, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, although sales dipped in October to 5.7 per cent of new vehicles. 

The federal government also revealed a draft of its promised fuel-efficiency standard, which could encourage brands to import more low-emission vehicles, may not be ready this year.