Tesla has published its 2020 Impact Report. In it, the company presented the results of the Model 3 lifecycle analysis in the US, Europe, and China, and showed that despite some nuances, its electric vehicles (EV) are more environmentally friendly than vehicles with an internal combustion engine (ICE).
Tesla's lifecycle analysis was done for Model 3 produced at Fremont and includes the vast majority of Tier 1, 2, and 3 emissions including vehicle production phase, emissions from their supply chain, vehicle use, use phase emissions when charged from a grid with a generation mix that reflects the geographic distribution of Model 3 deliveries in each the US, Europe, and China and end of life. The result proved that electric vehicles are undeniably emitting less greenhouse gas emissions over their entire lifespan than ICE vehicles.
Tesla writes that the most important variable in a lifecycle analysis of a car is real-world fuel consumption or electricity consumption, as applicable, which impacts the use phase of the lifecycle. Various efficiency testing cycles such as NEDC, WLTP, or EPA do not truly represent real-world fuel or energy consumption. Therefore, for the purpose of this analysis, the company used average energy consumption over the more than 10 billion miles Tesla Model 3s have traveled as of December 31, 2020, including energy losses during the charging process. For ICE vehicles, Tesla used real-world fuel consumption data provided by Consumer Reports, which reports that model year 2020 mid-size premium sedans achieve 24.8 MPG on average. This translates to 400 grams of CO2 per mile, once accounting for emissions generated through the extraction, refining, and shipment of oil.
It is worth paying attention to the fact that the carbon impact of ICE vehicles remains the same every year of use, but for EVs, it should improve every year. Based on publicly available sales and fleet data, Tesla estimates that an average vehicle in the U.S. is driven slightly less than 12,000 miles per year for about 17 years before it is scrapped. Furthermore, as an ICE vehicle ages, its fuel efficiency only remains stable if serviced properly. On the other hand, electricity generation to charge EVs has become “greener” over time with the addition of cleaner energy sources to the grid. Thus, emissions generated through EV charging should continue to decline over time.
The company notes that energy generated by renewable sources has grown rapidly. In 2021, wind, solar, and battery storage are expected to account for an estimated 81% of new electricity generation capacity in the U.S. Many U.S. states (such as New York) have been making significant investments in renewable energy, as these sustainable options become more cost-competitive compared to fossil fuel resources.
Even when charging a Tesla in Michigan, where approximately 60% of energy comes from natural gas and coal, the emissions from the Model 3 still equates to the emissions from an ICE vehicle with 59 real-world MPG (considerably more in terms of EPA rated MPG). Keep in mind that no such ICE vehicle is on the market. As more regions adopt sustainable energy solutions to generate power, emissions related to charging an EV from the grid will decrease even further.
In Europe, the U.K., and EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland), larger portions of energy generation come from either renewable sources or nuclear, which means that in Europe, the use phase emissions gap between ICEs and EVs is even wider than it is in the U.S.
Tesla used Austria as an example of how use phase emissions should evolve once the European grid becomes greener. As seen in the chart on the right, in Austria, all-in lifecycle emissions of a personal, grid-charged Model 3 are more than 4x lower than all-in lifecycle emissions of an equivalent ICE vehicle.
In China, much of the grid is powered by coal, but even in this scenario, charging a Tesla Model 3 is still less emission-intensive than running an ICE vehicle, which proves the real advantages of electric vehicles.
In summary, the company concluded that even in 2020, charging a Tesla Model 3 in any of its major markets is cleaner than burning gasoline. Given that cars last 17 to 20 years before being decommissioned, it is reasonable to assume that the emissions per mile gap between EVs and ICEs will only widen in the coming years.
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