Switching to an electric car

To be honest, not very much.

Alex moved to somewhere he can cycle or take the train to get around. He does not own a car but rents electric if he needs to rent one.

The great thing with renting is that you can try lots of different electric cars (taking a Tesla to Cornwall was ace).

As a new technology, electric cars do come with higher upfront costs and potential challenges surrounding driving range and charging. However, there is a whole community of businesses helping you find your electric car and charging solution.

If you lease, talk to your leasing provider about the electric vehicle options. If you don’t go to your local dealership and see what they are promoting. Talk to your energy company about what they offer to support electric car drivers.

If you prefer taking information from Youtube or podcasts, there is no better place to start than the Fully Charged Show, and if you are brand new to the tech, the Maddie Goes Electric series is a perfect introduction.

Most importantly, talk to someone who drives an electric car already. Don’t just go with what business or the media tell you, get an independent, honest view from a friend.

We recommend the EV Database website as the market leading website for information on what is available on the market – this is who Other Way used to source our list of electric cars.

It is no secret that walking, cycling and public transport (not flying) are better solutions for the climate than private car ownership. Other Way uses its data sources to show clients exactly how much.

Criticism of cars also goes beyond emissions – they are a major source of traffic and noise, impacting the wellbeing of those travelling through and living nearby.

We welcome progress in moving towards car-free economies but we do also acknowledge that cars are forecast and planned to remain a major part of the way we move around for decades to come. Other Way wants to ensure those are the most sustainable ones, used in the most sustainable way.

Using Climate Wheels

This is the first of its kind, to estimate the carbon footprint of each car in the UK, and then compare with every car that’s available to buy in the UK. To do this, Other Way built an LCA (Life Cycle Analysis) model onto some software. When you enter information about your car, your location, your usage and the potential electric car, the software looks up our database to find the right data needed for the calculation. What you get to see, is the summary of this LCA on the results pages.

LCA stands for Life Cycle Analysis (or Assessment). It is the process of calculating and summing up all the environmental impacts something has from the start of its life, to the end of it. If that something is a product (like a car) and you are just considering greenhouse gases, then this is often called a product carbon footprint.

The first phase is building the car. These are emissions linked to the sourcing of materials and manufacturing processes needed to make that car. The second phase is using the car. These are emissions linked typically to the exhaust pipe, but also include impacts from producing the energy – both refining fuel and creating electricity. We also included the impact of maintenance across the life span. The third phase is scrapping the car. These are emissions coming at the end of the car’s life, such as dismantling it and initial processing before it gets passed onto other products.

If you worked out the climate impact of everything you do over a year, this would be your personal carbon footprint. This differs from country to country. We used data from the Climate Change Committee to estimate that the average Brit is using 8.4t of greenhouse gases per year.

The climate break even date is just one way of indicating, and celebrating, the long-term benefit to the climate from making a decision today. When you get a product, the emissions associated with building it is the “carbon debt” of that product. Typically, with electric cars that carbon debt is larger than that of a petrol or diesel car. This debt is paid off over time by lower emissions from using the electric car. So, if we bought both cars today, at what point is it more sustainable to be driving the electric one? When is that carbon debt paid off? That point is the climate break even date.

Other Way uses a mix of public and privately accessible data sources including:

  • UK Government data to understand details behind each vehicle.
  • European Commission data to understand the manufacturing details of each vehicle.
  • EV Database to understand the details of new electric vehicles.
  • National Grid for regional grid mix scenarios for the future.

For calculations, we use official data of each car with a series of other emissions factors to get as close an estimate as we can:

  • Ecoinvent for manufacturing, maintenance and end-of-life emissions factors.
  • UK Government for fuel refining and electricity transmission emissions factors.
  • Assumptions from a series of expert consultancies, such as Ricardo and ICCT, for adjustments (such as real world uplift and plug-in hybrid drive ratios).

We want to make calculations that you can understand easily as well as trust. The models underlying the tool were built using an internationally recognised methodology in collaboration with LCA experts at London South Bank University.

Remember: the carbon footprint is, and always will be, an estimate. We help get ever closer to ensure we are not mismanaging our attempts to tackle climate change.

We don’t know about your car specifically. Instead we look up data to all cars that match the make, model, year and fuel type.

If your car was built before 2002, very sorry, we don’t have any of those.

If your car is listed, but not the right year, we suggest choosing the closest year for comparison.

If your car is missing, you can help us by filling out our short form here. We will endeavour to find the missing data on a case by case basis.

There certainly is. Take a look at a few extreme examples, perhaps a Lamborghini and then a Smart fortwo.

A major factor about the carbon footprint of any car is its size: the bigger it is, the more materials are required for manufacturing and the more energy consumed in moving that weight around.

No, not always. In some circumstances, the electric switch will actually increase emissions.

This occurs if you try replacing a small, efficient petrol car with a large electric car that has a big battery, and then only use it once a week.

A common conclusion made about the electric switch is that we are just moving emissions from the tailpipe to the emissions at the powerplant. While this is true, this is actually a positive thing to do.

The energy system of the UK is already decarbonising rapidly. Take a look at the data from the IEA: coal has reduced from 28% of the grid mix in 2010 to 2% in 2020. At the same time, wind has gone from 3% to 24%.

Even in the current energy crisis, the UK is planning to scale low carbon sources further so electricity will decarbonise further. This means that using an electric car just gets greener over time.

Note this is for the UK, each country has its own grid mix and those that rely on coal will have much higher greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts are not replicable.

This calculator focuses on the fully electric car because this is the direction of travel (excuse the pun) for the automotive sector and moving to electricity has the greatest potential for cutting emissions.

However, you can choose hybrids in the “current car” section of the calculator. We include conventional hybrids – those that are powered by the combustion engine only – as well as plug-in hybrids – those that can be charged up from a plug as well as fuelled by petrol or diesel.

Hybrids are an often neglected part of the transition to electric transport, especially so in countries that have electricity grids dominated by coal. They are commonly a cleaner solution than a non-hybrid petrol or diesel vehicle.

This calculator uses an average carbon emissions model for electricity. This means we have assumed that you will be charging your electric car with the average electricity grid carbon intensity every time. This is a standard approach for our calculator’s methodology – an attributional LCA.

Why does this matter? The reality is that the grid mix changes all the time. This is where the marginal model comes in. By calculating the impact of adding additional supply to match your additional demand. For example, if you charge up your car when renewables are unavailable and nuclear is already taken up, the energy system will need to turn on fossil fuel generators to make sure you can get charged up.

If this is the case, the marginal emissions are going to be greater than the average emissions we had previously assumed. At the same time, the opposite can occur and innovators in the electric vehicle sector are building software to make sure we charge up at the lowest carbon times of the grid.

As this calculator is providing a summary of the whole life span of the electric car rather than the impact of each charging session, we are happy to use the average model.

Essentially, we don’t expect any electric vehicle batteries to get scrapped.

An entire industry exists to provide “second life” products from them by installing them in buildings to help manage the energy system better. If they cannot be re-used, then they will get recycled. Car companies are legally required to take batteries back and many say they really want to do this too – over 90% of the metals inside that battery can be reprocessed.

This would displace demand for newly mined materials in a decade’s time. Or to put it another way, the battery of tomorrow’s electric car will be made from the battery of the electric car of today.

Very few people buy a brand new car and run it until it’s a write off.  So what is the point of calculating emissions as if we do?

Looking at the whole life cycle of both cars is important. This is the most transparent and fair way to compare them with each other. Whether you are the first, second or even seventh user of that car, the emissions associated with building that vehicle have enabled you to drive it. Choosing cars with the least impact help you influence purchase decisions before you.

Yes, simply go to the share page in the results to share your electric switch score via various platforms.

With limited availability of only two car models in the UK, we decided not to include this into the calculator.

Environmental regulation of cars has centred around the exhaust pipe, as the source of polluting fumes that impact our health as well as the carbon dioxide that impacts our climate. This is what cars are required to test and report.

Some electric car companies, such as Polestar, Volvo, Volkswagen and Tesla, are starting to release LCA reports too. We hope more will follow.

The postcode is used as a quick way to get to know your energy system region as defined by the National Grid. It helps us determine a local estimate for your electric car’s use emissions.

We don’t capture personal information, further details are available in our privacy policy.

This calculator tells us about the greenhouse gas emissions that impact climate change but many more environmental issues are affected.

What about air pollution? Without the exhaust pipe, electric cars avoid most air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx). However, particulates from the wear of tyres and the road surface still remain with all car transport.

Significantly, other issues are emerging around the production of vehicles and their batteries. Water consumption, toxicity and eutrophication are among many local impacts that companies should urgently seek sustainable solutions to.

Working with Other Way

Please get in touch with us at info@otherway.co to discuss that further.

We have lots of ideas and are exploring opportunities with partners.

If you have a request, please do get in contact at info@otherway.co.

Yes, we offer consulting and data services. Please get in touch: info@otherway.co.