How green are electric cars

Welcome to our ecology segment! Today, we will discuss the topic of green transport and examine whether it truly lives up to its environmentally friendly reputation, or if it is simply a marketing ploy. Together, we will explore the evidence and investigate whether green transport can offer a viable solution to the environmental challenges we currently face.

The motivation behind this inquiry stems from the growing trend of widespread car electrification, which is gaining popularity at a rapid pace. While I appreciate the idea of owning a speedy, efficient, secure, and technologically advanced car, at the same time I am concerned about the possibility of being sold a false sense of eco-friendliness, rather than a genuine solution that addresses the environmental concerns of our planet’s future.

Please note that the opinions presented in this piece are purely the author’s subjective viewpoint. My aim is to encourage readers to form their own individual opinions on the ecological realities we face.

Thank you for joining us today, and we hope you find this material informative and thought-provoking.

Launching point

To better define the concept of green transport, we must first understand that it refers to any mode of transportation that has minimal impact on the environment, promotes sustainable mobility practices, and reduces carbon emissions and pollution. This includes vehicles and transportation systems that utilize renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and (somehow) hydro power.

Green transport plays a vital role in sustainable development as it not only helps to create a cleaner and healthier environment but also contributes to economic growth and social equity. It is becoming increasingly important as cities and countries worldwide strive to reduce their carbon footprint and address climate change.

There are several types of transportation that can be considered green transport. Electric vehicles (EVs) are one such option, as they emit no pollutants or greenhouse gases while driving. Hybrid vehicles, which use both gasoline and electric power, offer better fuel efficiency and fewer emissions than traditional vehicles. Bicycles, which are a zero-emission mode of transportation, provide a healthy and environmentally friendly way to travel short distances.

Public transportation systems that use clean energy sources like electricity, hydrogen fuel cells, or biofuels are also considered green transportation options. Walking is another entirely green mode of transportation that promotes physical activity, improves health, and reduces air pollution. Carpooling, a form of ride sharing where multiple people share a single vehicle to travel to the same destination, reduces traffic congestion and emissions from multiple cars on the road.

Fuel-efficient vehicles, which use technologies like turbocharging, direct injection, or stop/start technology, are also considered green transportation options, even though they are powered by gasoline, because they emit fewer emissions and use less fuel than traditional vehicles.

In summary, any mode of transportation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and environmental impact can be considered green transportation.

Next stop is electricity

Terms such as “reduce carbon footprint” and “switch to green energy” have become ingrained in our minds, and the idea that a green energy future is no longer just a concept, but a reality, has become an axiom. While I personally support the initiative of clean energy, I also believe that it is important to avoid self-deception and evaluate things objectively.

As our primary goal is to understand how green electric cars are, let us start our evaluation process from examination of the production of “fuel” for electric vehicles. What are the main sources of it and how many CO2 emissions are generated during the production of the main fuel – electricity – for green transport?

Electricity production by source in the World, 2021

Let us take a look at the global sources of electricity production for the last decades. The total amount of electricity produced worldwide in 2021 was 27,812.74 TWh (TeraWatt-hours), which is equivalent to supplying the entire electricity demand of Germany for more than 55 years. (In 2021, Germany’s net electricity consumption was approximately 501 TWh [2] and the total production 583 TWh [3]). When we consider the primary sources of electricity production, we can see the following breakdown (in TWh): oil – 764.52, coal – 10,085.90, gas – 6,337.96, hydropower – 4,234.35, bioenergy – 666.28, nuclear – 2,739.32, wind – 1,848.26, solar – 1,040.50, and other renewables – 95.65.

In summary, the portion of green energy (including hydro, wind, solar, etc.) amounts to 7,885.04 TWh, which represents 28.35% of the total electricity production worldwide. It is up to individual interpretation whether this is a considerable proportion or not. However there has been a 9.28% increase in green energy since 2000 when it represented 19.06% of the total electricity production.

It is also important to consider that hydropower, while considered a form of green energy, is a controversial issue due to the environmental damage caused during the construction of hydroelectric power plants. Today, there is a growing movement advocating for the reduction or ban of hydropower plants around the world.

Another important note is that biomass energy, which involves using organic matter such as wood, crops, and waste to generate electricity or heat, is often considered a renewable energy source because organic matter can be regrown or replenished. However, it is also controversial because the sustainability of biomass energy depends on factors such as the type of biomass being used, how it is sourced, and how efficiently it is converted into energy.

For example, some types of biomasses may be harvested in an unsustainable way, leading to deforestation or other environmental damage. Additionally, the process of converting biomass into energy can produce emissions and pollutants, which can contribute to climate change and air pollution.

Lastly, remember that this conclusion does not consider the ecological impact of the creation, construction, maintenance, and delivery of energy to the end-user. This is a complex issue that requires further study.

Where is the skeleton?

Okay, now we know how much electricity we produce, and which amount of it is “green”. But nevertheless, the main question is how much CO2 emission is produced by electricity generating?!

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the electricity generation sector (excluding heat production) was responsible for about 33% of global CO2 emissions from energy-related activities in 2021 [4] This includes emissions from fossil fuel-based power plants, as well as from renewable sources of electricity generation such as hydropower, wind power, solar power, and biomass.

Moving forward, it is obvious that the carbon emissions associated with fossil fuel electricity generation are significantly higher than those associated with renewable energy generation. The amount of carbon emissions associated with fossil fuel electricity generation can vary depending on several factors, including the type of fossil fuel being used, the efficiency of the power plant, and the emissions control technologies in place. For example, coal-fired power plants typically produce more carbon emissions per unit of electricity generated than natural gas-fired power plants. The amount of carbon emissions associated with renewable electricity generation is mainly due to emissions generated during the production and transportation of the equipment used for generating renewable energy, such as wind turbines and solar panels. These emissions are commonly referred to as “upstream emissions.” According to statistics of global CO2 emission by sectors and sources it can be assumed, that global fossil electricity generation (71.65% of total generated amount [1]) is responsible for around 94% of the total CO2 emissions from the power sector, while the remaining 28.35% of renewable electricity generation is responsible for around only 6% of the total CO2 emissions. It means that almost 2% of world global CO2 emission is provoked by “green” energy sector.

At the same time, according to the International Energy Agency, transportation accounted for 24% of global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion in 2019, with passenger cars alone accounting for about 8.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide or 18% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. [5]

Our World in Data – Global CO2 emission from Transport [5]

The percentage of electricity in the world used by electric cars is relatively minor compared to the total amount of electricity consumed globally. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2020, the total amount of electricity consumed globally was around 22,000 terawatt-hours (TWh). In the same year, the global electric car stock reached ten million vehicles, and the total amount of electricity used by all electric cars combined was approximately 58 TWh.

Based on these figures, the percentage of electricity used by electric cars in the world in 2020 would be around 0.26%. However, it is important to note that this percentage is likely to increase in the coming years as the number of electric cars on the roads continues to grow and more charging infrastructure is installed. [6]

The IEA projects that by 2030, EVs could account for around 5% of global electricity demand, and up to 14% by 2040, assuming a scenario in which countries meet their climate targets.

Long story short, let us finally decide whether electric cars are as green as they promise us.

The icing on the cake

To make a fair comparison, it is best to focus on a specific country. Germany is a suitable choice as it is the current residence for all of us. In 2021, Germany produced a total of 583 TWh of electricity [3], with the main sources being gas (96.14 TWh), coal (181 TWh), oil (19.28 TWh), wind (126.10 TWh), nuclear (36.51 TWh), solar (58.98 TWh), hydropower (17.45 TWh), bioenergy (47.30 TWh) and other renewables (0.24 TWh). Out of the total electricity produced, 42.89% was generated from “green sources” such as wind (21.63%), solar (10.12%), bioenergy (8.11%), and others. Wow, isn’t it!?

Let us estimate the “green” kilometers you can drive with your electric car but will dive a bit deeper, than just charge and go. To perform work, energy must be expended, and this also applies to the production of electricity. The principle of generating electricity has remained mostly unchanged over the centuries – something rotates a generator, which produces electricity. For fossil fuel power plants, steam from heating water due to the burning of oil or coal powers the generator, while the water powers the generator at hydroelectric power plants by itself. The turbine is a large generator itself, and energy losses occur during the operation. These losses include water heating, turbine rotation resistance, turbine efficiency, and a lot of others. The efficiency of power plants is around 35%, which means that from burning of one ton of coal, only 350kg would be really used by consumer, and 650kg were wasted for energy loses during operational processes.

Furthermore, the energy must be delivered to the final consumer, resulting in another 2-4% loss under relatively ideal conditions, depending on factors such as the operation condition, age, and type of communication, weather conditions, network architecture, quality of materials, and more. However, the electricity must still be converted to the required value (210-230V) through transformers, resulting in an additional 1.5-3% of losses due to the same factors as above. Another 1-1.5% is lost during transportation from the transformer substation to the outlet. Huh…, and now, finally, we can use this electricity to charge our car.

But this is not the finish!

It is important to note that the efficiency of electric cars is also affected by factors such as the aging of the electric battery, losses in the operation of electric motors, losses in communications, the heating of the battery in cold weather and costs of powering related systems. As a result, only approximately 85% of the energy from the socket is used to power the “engine” of the car, which means that only 26.8% of the energy that we got by burning one ton of coil is used for real. Hm, sounds not enough green, isn’t it?

Certainly not. As we recall, 42.89% of the energy produced in Germany is from renewable sources. Although these sources of power have similar efficiency losses during energy transport to the end consumer and pose challenges in terms of energy storage and controlled production processes, 42.89% of the charge in your car will be much greener than the remaining 57.11%. Thanks to this, you will really be able to reduce the CO2 emissions produced by your car as a reality but not only on paper.

But the main issue with electric cars is not just the fact that approximately fifty-seven out of one hundred kilometers of your journey are still powered by significant amounts of CO2 emissions. The extraction of minerals and substances needed for battery and electrical appliance production causes far more harmful emissions than the electricity required to charge cars (we speak about electric car specific elements, e.g., battery, electric systems, additional cooling systems, electric motors, etc.). For example, most lithium for batteries is extracted from hard rock mines or underground brine reservoirs. In hard rock mining, for every ton of mined lithium, fifteen tons of CO2 are emitted into the air. The production of lithium through evaporation ponds uses around twenty-one million liters per day: approximately 2.2 million liters of water to produce one ton of lithium [7]. But how much is just one ton of CO2? About the same weight as a great white shark! [8] Moreover, this process also results in the destruction of our planet’s ecosystem on a global scale. It is worth noting that the problems surrounding battery disposal and the disposal of hazardous substances remain unresolved. Or not?

Photographer: Tom Hegen [9] – Lithium farms in Chile, 2021

What is next?

According to the 2020 German Federal Environment Agency Report, the average CO2 emissions of a newly registered gasoline-powered car in Germany in 2020 were about 149 grams of CO2 per 1km, while the average CO2 emissions of a diesel-powered car were about 131 grams of CO2 per 1km. In contrast, the average CO2 emissions of an electric car in Germany were about sixty-seven grams of CO2 per 1km. [10]. At the same time, to exactly understand the impact of electric cars on the environment, we need to consider not only the CO2 emissions during their use but also during their manufacturing process.

BLG LOGISTICS AutoTerminal is one of the world’s largest vehicle handling ports. It is an ordinary illustration of how the vehicle industry has influenced our planet. Bremerhaven, Germany, 2023 [11]

Continuing our speech about the main component of electric cars, the battery, after approximately ten years, the performance of electric car batteries tends to decline to below 80 percent, which can be a drawback for many people. However, there are developments in progress to address this issue. The fate of these batteries after their decline is also a topic of concern. Fortunately, specialized recycling companies have emerged, claiming recycling rates of over 80 percent, which is quite impressive, especially in the context of resources that are spent to produce one ton of lithium for example! Through recycling, rare-earth materials like neodymium, lithium, and other raw materials can be extracted from old batteries. Recycling can restore up to 96 percent of neodymium magnets to their original quality. Manufacturers also utilize cobalt (not classified as a rare earth material) as a key component in batteries. Moreover, in many cases, the battery of an electric car can be repurposed and given a second life as a stationary power storage device.

How much does all this affect the carbon footprint of an electric car? It is important to notice that one common issue with many studies is their reliance on outdated data and failure to account for the increasing share of renewable energy in the electricity mix. These studies often overestimate greenhouse gas emissions during battery production, assume shorter battery lifespans, disregard the potential for cleaner power generation over an electric car’s lifetime, or make unrealistic assumptions about energy consumption. Experts have pointed out these flaws, stressing the need for more up-to-date assessments.

Among the recent studies, the research conducted by Eindhoven University of Technology [12] and the comprehensive studies by the Fraunhofer Institute [13], [14] stand out. These studies employ robust methodologies and offer detailed insights into the life cycle assessment (LCA) of different car propulsion systems. According to the researchers, the production of one kilowatt hour of battery capacity now generates eighty-five kilograms of CO2 equivalents, which is a significant improvement compared to previous estimates of 175 kilograms. Additionally, the service life of electric cars was previously thought to be around 150,000 kilometers. However, the researchers suggest that many electric cars can now potentially reach 500,000 kilometers, albeit with a decline in battery performance. Considering this, the study used a more realistic value of 250,000 kilometers, which is also assumed by the automotive industry.

Furthermore, the average CO2 emissions during the production of electric cars have decreased, thanks in part to improved efficiency and the transition to renewable energy sources. According to a study by the ADAC, the so-called “CO2 backpack” of battery-powered electric vehicles is offset when compared to combustion engine cars after traveling between 50,000 and 100,000 kilometers. This value is expected to decrease further in the future, indicating a positive trend.

These advancements in battery production, extended service life, and reduced CO2 emissions during production contribute to the overall environmental benefits of electric vehicles when considering their life cycle. Experts in the professional world generally agree that electric cars contribute significantly less greenhouse gas emissions compared to combustion engines.

But this works worthy when we talk about the countries with a poor electricity mix. As the level of, so to speak, loyalty of an electric vehicle is still much dependent on the source of electricity production.

Electricity generation by source, 2022 [15]


You matter

To finish, I would add that the purpose of this brief overview was not to discourage you from using or buying an electric car as for sure, when we speak about countries with a high level of renewable energy, E-car is the right choice to save our planet. My idea was to highlight that the current trend towards electrification does not fully address our ecological concerns, as we still are highly dependent on fossil resources and our planet is dying faster than we change our usual way of life. It is important that we continue to seek solutions for global CO2 emissions, improve our ecological relationships with the Earth, and do so not just for tomorrow, but also for the day after tomorrow if we want to preserve the things necessary for our daily lives.

We should always remember how vulnerable our planet is and how our happy and healthy lives rely on fragile and inconspicuous processes. I hope that the information presented in this piece stays with you the next time you need to travel to the store or to a meeting. Instead of relying on your gasoline or electric car, I encourage you to consider using public transport, or better yet, dust off your old bicycle that has been sitting idle during the winter months. Let us all do our part to help protect the planet we call home.

Pale Blue Dot – iconic photograph of Earth taken on Feb. 14, 1990, by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, which shows how small and defenseless our planet is in the vastness of space [16]


Yours Serhei


[1] Our World in Data, Electricity production by source, World:
[2] Enerdata, Germany Energy Information, Power Consumption:,BY%(%C2%)
[3] Our World in Data – Electricity production by source, Germany:

[4] International Energy Agency (IEA), Global Energy Review 2021:

[5] Our World in Data – Global CO2 emission from Transport:

[6] International Energy Agency (IEA), Global EV Outlook 2021:
[7] International Energy Agency (IEA), Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions 2021 report, p. 214:[8] Massachusetts Institute of Technology “How much is a ton of carbon dioxide”:

[9] Artwork of Tom Hegen “The LITHIUM series I”, Chile 2021: https: //
[10] German Federal Environment Agency’s report on “Trends in CO2 emissions from new passenger cars in Germany in 2020”.
[11] BLG LOGISTICS, a seaport and logistics service provider:

[12] Eindhoven University of Technology, Comparing the lifetime green house gas emissions of electric cars with the emissions of cars using gasoline or diesel:

[13] Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, Analysis with a focus on sustainable drive technologies and digitalization:

[14] Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, Long-term environmental balance and Future potential of alternative propulsion technologies:

[15] Our World in Data, Per capita electricity generation by source, 2022:

[16] The Pale Blue Dot is an iconic photograph of Earth taken on Feb. 14, 1990, by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft: