back to article Electric cars not as 'green' as advertised

Electric cars may be cheaper to run, but they're as guilty for CO2 emissions as the internal combustion engine. So say consumer watchdog Which? researchers, who compared the energy consumed when charging electric cars to that of several efficient diesel vehicles and concluded there was minimal difference. For example, the …


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  1. cliveski

    Electric & hybrid cars take more energy to manufacture too

    Don't forget that electric and hybrid cars take more energy to manufacture than their internal combustion engined equivalents too, mostly due to the exotic battery technology required to give them any sort of range.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh really

      How much more?

      Remember that the raw materials to make any car also get shipped around the world multiple times before being assembled, not just battery tech.

      And if we're doing life time costs, also factor in the life time cost of gasoline, from oil field discovery to the petrol tanker delivering its load to your petrol station.

      Its been cited down below (though who knows if its true) that half the co2 from a vehicle come from its construction. If that's the case then surly an additional few percent upfront will be made up for by the 50% saving from not using petrol? Or to put it another way the co2 cost of the batteries cannot equal that of the rest of the car.

    2. That Llewellyn bloke

      Oh, really

      Can you tell me where you got this piece of information you have posted with such confidence? Do you have a source for such a claim?

      Here's a couple of little mitigating fact you seem to have overlooked.

      A car with an internal combustion engine has around 6,500 parts, all individually manufactured.

      An electric car has about 3,800 parts, this is mainly to do with the engine.

      An electric motor is very simple, is about 80% efficient and has one moving part and will last for approximately 1 million miles.

      An internal combustion engine has around 400 moving parts, is about 25% efficient and will last, at best, about 200,000 miles with many services and overhauls, 100's of spare parts, gallons of lubricating oil and toxic coolant.

      The way we are measuring these two technologies is grossly unfair, to internal combustion engines. They are far far dirtier, far less reliable and take vastly more energy to run and maintain.

      The only time they are comparable is when they leave the factory, at that stage they are equal, but from then on it's a rapid downhill journey for the ICE car, creating more and more damage and they grind rattle and heave their way along, wasting vitally important and diminishing energy.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Efficiency of the engine is irrelevant.

        Remove all the bits about 'energy to run', 'efficiency' and 'coolant', then try again without the unwarranted claim of expected mileage and you might have a valid comparison to consider.

        Also, while you're right about the single moving part in the motor (assuming either a switched-reluctance or synchronous permanent-magnet motor), you appear to be including the automatic gearbox and geartrain in the IC parts count but not in the EV one.

        EVs still have automatic gearboxes - though I remain surprised by the 'single motor under the bonnet' approach instead of one for each powered wheel - thus no diff, lossless traction control etc.

        All that said, parts count is not much of an argument, given that modern IC engines run for several hundred thousand miles without replacing many of those parts - usually only a few gaskets, filters, exhaust system and timing belt/chains in the economic life of the vehicle. (When something bigger goes wrong, most people scrap the vehicle)

  2. jake Silver badge

    And the CO2 emissions for ...

    What's the CO2 cost, per vehicle, for the battery? And the various other "exotic" bits & bobs that go into producing these things? And the cost of recycling/disposal? Don't give me "per mile" crap, what's the TCO(2)?

  3. John Latham

    Air quality... destroyed by buses and trucks, not passenger cars.

    And the argument about power station emissions being easier to control at source or reduced by renewables is irrelevant unless those measures are actually taken.

    1. Kay Burley ate my hamster

      buses and trucks

      Buses and trucks do pollute more, but cars outnumber them massively, also buses and trucks pollute even more when stuck behind hundreds of passenger-less cars.

      EV's are not the only answer, they do not cut congestion. We need to ban all private cars from our city centres and invest in trams.

      Don't even get me started on Taxi's, you can see the pollution pour out of them fucktards.

      1. maclovinz


        Certain people in the States would have a field day with such a statement.....namely ONE specific news network....

        Commie...... :D

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I hate titles.

        Cars may outnumber buses and lorries on paper, but not in the numbers actually in use at any one time. A car not on the road isn't a big expense - a bus/lorry not on the road isn't making money.

        Not to mention the fallacy that buses are more CO2 and fuel efficient. You need a bus to be consistently used with a large number to make that work, which can't happen as passenger usage varies through the day (busy rush hour, versus nearly empty night buses), while people demand regular services.

        Banning cars from city centres kills them. It might work in London or other cities with massively expensive metro systems and little options for parking, but in most cities, it'll drive businesses to the out-of-town locations or to more sensibly minded towns.

        Not to mention the biggest problems with public transport - they aren't convenient (a car can go where and when you want) and you have to put up with *other* people.

        Ban taxis though. They are the root of all evil.

    2. David Kelly 2


      No matter the emissions are supposedly "easier to control", in the face of that easier to control they are still 544g/kWh, as if that is of any importance.

      Apparently the greenies are showing their hand in that they'd like to have only one source to bully around, the power station.

  4. johnnytruant

    if I had an electric car

    the CO2/km would be much lower than 81g. Because I pay a little bit extra for a 100% renewable (mixed sources, mostly wind) electricity tariff from ecotricity.

    As more renewable/low emission electricity sources come online, the emissions for electric cars will drop. Diesels - and much as I love my little 65mpg diesel car - may squeeze a little more efficiency, but at the end of the day, you're still burning fossil sunlight. Biodiesel, of course, is a different matter. That emits CO2 when it combusts, which can be measured at the exhaust, but is slightly misleading as the net atmospheric CO2 doesn't change.

    CO2 emissions aside, electric cars don't spray soot, NOX, SO2 and an assortment of fairly nasty hydrocarbons out of their exhausts into the local environment.

    1. Steven Jones

      CO2-free electricity

      "the CO2/km would be much lower than 81g. Because I pay a little bit extra for a 100% renewable (mixed sources, mostly wind) electricity tariff from ecotricity."

      You are being conned, and this is a fantasy. All that happens is they charge you a bit more and tell you your power comes from CO2 free transmission. Saying you are using CO2-free electricity off the national grid is like saying all you water only comes from one of two streams feeding the same reservoir. In any case, your electricty is not coming from renewables when the wind isn't blowing - it's comming from fossil fuels or nuclear.

      All that will happen is that those not on a "green tariff" will be counted as using less of the wind-powered stuff and more of that from thermal power stations. The proportion of renewables that has to be used comes from legislative rules, not the market (apart from the artificial one created for quotas). The electricity generators are just going to count your "green" quote in their overall target.

      Also, with biodiesel, quite apart from the issue issue of using up land and water that could be used for growing food (and driving up prices), you have to factor in the energy used in agriculture. Unless all that farm machinery, fertiliser, transport and refining for producing bio-diesel is also "green" the net CO2 saving is small.

      As usual, lots of gesture politics in this area.

      1. johnnytruant

        yes and no

        While most of the so-called 'green' tariffs are something of a con, ecotricity actually do produce at least one KW/h from renewable sources for every KW/h I use. It's not a long drive from my house to see hundreds of wind turbines installed by them, providing power. I'm not so naive as to think that a wind turbine rotates and the power it generates come down the wire direct to my house. But even if they are lying about how much power they produce, I support a company who's entire business is renewables - the more wattage they install, the more money they make. Wind is one option, but wind can power pumped hydro for when it's not windy, and it's often windy in one part of the UK when it's not in another.

        Biodiesel doesn't have to come from food land. It shouldn't, that's a silly thing to do. Plenty of advances being made in producing biodiesel from tanks of algae and so on. It's not there yet, but progress is happening. I wasn't necessarily suggesting biodiesel was a viable alternative at this stage, more that it has potential.

        On a small scale, I can just use the biodiesel processor in my garage and blag used vegetable oil off the local chippy. That's not scalable, obviously.

    2. Tim #3

      So ...

      On windless days like today you don't charge the car so can't drive anywhere? Isn't that rather like having a yacht?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        Windless in the centre of your universe

        As it is also today here in northern Scotland, let me assure you that the force 6 -7 outside at the moment is real. Britain's bigger than just the bit at the bottom, you know.

        And while I use the argument of manufacturing energy costs too justify running my 11 year old landie, even I understand that when electric cars are claimed as zero emissions, they mean at the point of use. It's really that bad a claim, and I doubt many people think electric cars are grown in a filed outside Sunderland and therefore, in common with other cars, they do, in fact, require energy to manufacture.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Shirley shome mishtake...

      "I pay a little bit extra for a 100% renewable (mixed sources, mostly wind) electricity tariff from ecotricity"

      If it's mostly from wind shouldn't it be CHEAPER !!!!!

      1. chr0m4t1c


        >If it's mostly from wind shouldn't it be CHEAPER !!!!!

        Ultimately, yes, but the idea is that you pay more now so they can build the infrastructure faster.

        Then, once the entire planet is running off wind power you will be rewarded with the opportunity to help the owner buy a new yacht.

        Maybe I'm just cynical, but if Dale Vince really is doing this for the good of the planet, how come he's worth £100m?

  5. pan2008
    Paris Hilton

    compariing oranges to apples

    How about you compare a small engine conventional car, not a 1.6 litre which I am pretty sure is much faster than the Nissan. As far as I know the Polo and others do less than 100g, so very close to this Nissan. In fact a better comparison will be to compare a conventional engine with the same power as this Nissan.

    Paris, as she made the comparison.

  6. gc_uk

    Hidden Costs

    Of course everyone knows that diesel ooves out of the ground under petrol station forecourts, so there's no reason to factor in costs for distribution, processing and oil extraction, which I'm sure are considerably higher.

    1. Kay Burley ate my hamster

      Dont forget the required wars

      Dont forget the required wars to obtain said oil.

      Now if there was a bore-hole with a geo-thermal power system at the charging station...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Wars? You aint seen nothin yet....

        So everyone goes battery powered.

        Where does your exotic materials for batteries come from? It certainly ain't Surrey. So not only will you still get wars for hydrocarbons, uranium or windy places (gotta juice the massively increased electric load somehow), but you're going to see more wars in Africa, South America etc too for battery materials.

        Still, it'll keep Mr Page's guns-r-us reviews going. We may even keep BAe afloat.

    2. Adam Foxton

      Ah, hell- how was that missed?!

      I mean the hydrocarbons we burn to generate electricity are from a TOTALLY different source, aren't they?

      And PV cells are just silicon, silicon's made from sand, sand's available at the beach, so PV cells have absolutely no negative environmental impact. No harmful chemicals from the etching plant or other component parts at all. Ever.

      And then there's mining and processing Nickel and Lithium for the battery packs. Amazingly, that whole process is actually powered by pure smugness and the feeling of self satisfaction. Same with the boats that pull the raw material across the seas to get made into batteries, which then need to be shipped back to the car assembly point. All powered by good wishes.

      What else do we have... massive devastation caused by both the construction of hydroelectric dams and the mining of materials for their construction (not to mention all the diesel that's used to move the raw materials about)? Not to mention the massive loss of life downstream if it fails.

      Wind power's a little nicer (some copper, some carbon fibre, little bit of diesel to move it all about and do some cable trenching, hey presto- electric!), but unfortunately now has to be built at sea because we can't build enough of it on land. So you're now using ships (powered by a billion gallons of diesel a minute) to pull it out and do prepwork on the seabed.

      And when you've got enough generators to make a decent amount of power you've used a stack of stripmined copper and carbon fibre!

      Nuclear's the way forwards. Relatively compact for a given power output, and modern ones are safe, clean (especially with Thorium reactors), efficient (especially with Breeder reactors)- not to mention awesome and a great way of bringing in jobs for skilled technical people.

      1. That Llewellyn bloke

        Ooops, you forgot to mention

        We are all so used to the endless devastation caused by drill and burn technology because it's normal, it's the status quo, let's not change anything, we know how this works, lets stay with it for ever... except we can't. Every single item you mentioned (I agree with all of them by the way) is also true for drill and burn, only a lot more so. Let's not even mention the amount of fuel needed again and again, day after day to drill, store, transport, refine and ship crude oil. Let's completely forget that because we all do, because it's normal. There is a cost in installing a wind turbine in the sea, it's a huge, complex process that requires us to burn fossils at present. Then what happens, the thing goes around and generates electricity, without any more drilling and burning, for many years. An oil platform in the sea, endless amounts of transportation, support, maintenance and then the oil field runs dry and you are stuffed.

        I am slightly more in favour of the nuclear option, the cost of building and then de-commissioning the power plant, the cost of storage of the waste, shipping the fissile material in the first place, all those costs have been hidden by government subsidy, but they are massive. They make installing 10,000 wind turbines look like pocket money. That said, I'd have a nuclear power station in my back yard, I think they now run safely and I think we will find more creative and less wasteful systems. In the mean time we need to reduce our dependence on drill and burn as soon as we can.

  7. Hayden Clark

    That's brilliant

    Conclusive proof (despite the whinging) that the generate-overhead cables-substation-house-battery-motor-wheels path for electrical power is actually more efficient than refine-explode-gears-wheels path for diesel.

  8. Raithmir

    Carbon costs for manufacture?

    What about the environmental impact in manufacturing these electric cars in the first place, mining lithium in Canada, shipping to japan to build...

    1. Parsifal
      Thumb Up

      Not to mention

      The environmental effect on disposing of used batteries.

      1. Alex Willmer

        Recycle em

        Why throw the battery away? Once it's down to 70% original capacity stick it in a big UPS-shed for load balancing/emergency backup. Once it's down to 30% shred it and recover all that valuable copper, aluminium and lithium.

  9. The BigYin

    Want economy?

    Get a full license, get a low capacity motorcycle/scoot. Don't get stuck in jams any more, use the bus lanes (some areas), park for free (some areas), reduce over all congestion, get up to 120mpg easy. I await production diesel and affordable EV PTWVs with eager anticipation.

    Or use a push-cycle.

    Or walk.

    (The above all assume you are able bodied, if not you may wish to speak to the like of NABD).

    I would suggest public transport, but it is an expensive, dirty, overcrowded joke in most places in the UK.

    1. Vic

      There are many alternatives...

      > Get a full license, get a low capacity motorcycle/scoot.

      Even a high-capacity bike, with performance to put a supercar to shame, will generally give fuel economy a damn sight better than most cars, and with a concomitant lack of emissions.

      But bikes aren't for everyone. You do tend to get cold and wet in the winter, and carrying luggage can be a bit of a problem[1].

      There was an excellent compromise around a few years back - they'd started with a K1, IIRC, and stretched the frame to give two full seats line astern. Then the whole thing was encased in a fibreglass body. So you've got a vehicle half the width of a car, capable of carrying two people (or one with luggage), with good performance and a small (for a car) engine.

      Only trouble was that it was *stupidly* expensive :-(


      [1] I had an interesting ride back from Bristol once, with an ATX PC on the back. I'm not doing that again...

      1. Vic

        Found it.

        > There was an excellent compromise around a few years back

        It is called the Monotracer - see (N.B.: site mostly in German)

        And they've got an electric version as well. Stats look really rather good.

        I reckon this sort of thing is the future of travel - excellent performance, with excellent economy/emissions, and not much of a compromise for most people.

        > Only trouble was that it was *stupidly* expensive :-(

        And still is. They *start* at 50 grand. But you'll want options.


  10. D@v3

    Not just charging

    Something else to consider with EV's is all the transport that is involved in the manufacture of the car, and the chemicals used to create, (and the fuel used to transport) the batteries, before they finally reach the car, and customer.

    {flames - fuel emissions}

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      So how much energy\money\emissions does it cost to discover an oil field, extract said oil, refine it, and finally deliver it to a petrol station and then have you drive to said station to fill up?

      Just curious.

      I'm not saying the production of batteries is a clean one, but it at least consider like with like.

  11. Andy Barker

    Not perfect, but a step in the right direction

    Hybrids and all electric vehicles have a number of negative points, such as their use of resources in the building of them. Their use does generate CO2, just the location changes. However I think they are a step in the right direction.

    Some people used to talk about how horrible diesel engined cars were, but now they are all the rage. The technology improved, so their acceptability improved. I think similar will happen with Hybrids / all electric.

    1. JP19

      In the right direction

      Yeah and if you are trying to get to America walking into the sea at Land's End is also a step in the right direction.

      Electric vehicles are fundamentally crap because batteries are fundamentally crap. Very expensive, limited life and low energy storage capability and despite huge effort they haven't got significantly better recently and won't in the future.

      So bring on the down votes from the technically illiterate eco green tossers who can't stand having their fantasies questioned.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    off peak?

    Presumably most people would charge their cars off-peak. And off-peak electricity is more likely to be nuclear etc. So in practice the C02 used by the 'leccy cars is probably being overstated by using "average C02".

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Adrian Lidington

    "- emits 108g/kg."

    So the diesel Bluemotion is *actually* powered by some 90-ish% matter-antimatter reaction? :P

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lies, damned lies, etc.

    "To produce these figures, Which? looked towards the Carbon Trust's measurements that 544g of CO2 is emitted for each kilowatt hour of electricity used. This was then converted to a grams per kilometre CO2 rating."

    Don't I recall that the Carbon Trust's figure of 544g/KWh was called into question last year and that the true figure was something like 300g higher. Or to look at it another way the emissions from that Leaf would be something like 125g/km. If that is the case then this story would have a completely different spin.

    "However, it's important to remember the CO2 emissions EVs do produce happen at the power station, where they're easier to control and energy can be drawn from renewable sources."

    CO2 emissions are *not* controlled at the power station in the vast majority of cases, they are simply pumped into the atmosphere just like they are from an IC car. The 544g/KWh figure is supposedly the average for every KW/h produced and takes into account all the renewables. All you can say is that whatever the figure, be it 544g/unit or 844g/unit, it will fall over time. So the CO2 emissions of your EV will be lower next year than they were this year. That's one thing you can't say for an IC powered car.

  16. steve 44

    Bad science is bad

    They won't be making extra electricity to power the cars, the electricity is already available. Therefor, no extra emissions wil be created.

    Bad science is bad, false logic is false

    1. Alan Jenney

      Bad science is bad - correct

      The comment that "no extra electricity" is needed, so "no extra emissions" may seeem a little illogical - the energy for these cars has to come from somewhere - but there some truth in this, as power-stations (especially coal-fired ones) struggle to cope with the fall and rise in demand cycling over the working day*. This inequality led to things like "economy 7" and storage heaters, to even out the usage patterns by offering cheap leccy off-peak. If cars can be charged overnight (some feature programmable timers to select the times it draws current), this will help a lot!

      *Hydro-electric systems are often used to cope with things like everyone putting the kettle on at the end of a footy match or an EastEnders special.

    2. Chemist

      "They won't be making extra electricity to power ....... electricity is already available"

      I suggest you don't comment on something you clearly don't know anything about.

      What rubbish, electricity is generated to demand. More demand - more generation

    3. DaveyP

      Sure about that?

      Clearly if EV's become widely used (big 'if', IMO) we would need to up capacity. I don't think the Energy Co's are vastly over producing at the moment, are they?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I've never read such nonsense. If what you were saying was true we wouldn't be in the trouble we already are on the grid. There have been several occasions where voltage has been reduced to cope with demand outstripping supply. The supply isn't magically set at a certain amount, you know. The grid has to be managed with stations upping their output to cope with increased demand and even extra stations being brought online at times of high demand. Managing the national grid to cope with demand is quite a demanding job.

      A simple analogue to prove what you're saying is crap would be the alternator on a car. Set the car idling with no electrical extras switched on, now switch on every electrical doddad you can find lights, wipers, rear window heater. etc. and note what happens to the engine revs. If you happen to have a fuel consumption meter on your car try driving along a flat bit of road at a constant speed with all the electics off and note your fuel consumption. Now drive the same stretch of road, in the same direction, at the same speed with all your electrical accessories turned up to max. You will notice your fuel consumption has increased.

      1. Steven Jones

        Welcoime newcomer


        "I've never read such nonsense"

        You clearly aren't a regular reader of this site...

        1. Narg

          Worthless posts.

          "You clearly aren't a regular reader of this site"

          ...and from reading this article, that'd make you a looser. This site ain't worth reading often.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Thumb Down


            And you can't spell, so yah, boo, sucks...

  17. NikT

    Wider impacts apply everywhere

    If you're going to compare the cost of generating electricity then you also need to include the energy required to produce petrol. It doesn't just come out of the ground ready to use - it takes about 7kWH to produce a gallon of petrol (energy which an EV could use to drive 30 miles) and that's before you've started to distribute it.

    There's no such thing as a free lunch, so of course EVs use energy, but please try to compare like with like.

    1. Steven Jones

      That 7kwh is not electricity

      nope - that 7kwh is not going to drive electric cars 30 miles. That's because it's a measure of the total thermal energy used to produce a gallon of petrol which does not equate to 7kwh of electricity. Take the thermodynamic efficiency of UK thermal power stations and the distibution network (a bit over 30%) and you get about 2.2kwh. Typically electric cars use about 0.3-0.4kwh to travel a mile on flat ground (if you aren't using ancillaries) and you will get about 5-7 miles out of the 7kwh thermal energy. It's something, but certainly not 30 miles.

      In fact it's generally reckoned that the energy cost of extracting oil and the refining it is about 20% of the total energy content (10% extraction/transportation, 10% refining). The 7kwh is about right for a US gallon, so you might get another 8-9 miles on the electric car.

      Also, producing the production of coal and distribution of gas for thermal power stations takes energy too, and that's not factored into the 544gm/Kwh for UK power generation (which is measured by the thermodynaic efficiency of the UK power gen mix and distribution network).

      The other issue is the energy used in those batteries - I'm reading about a G-Whizz which needed it's batteries replaced every 8,000 miles as the range halves. Admittedly that's lead-acid, but the Lithium batteries in more advanced models also require replacement, albeit not so frequently. It would be interesting to know what the energy overhead of that is.

      1. That Llewellyn bloke

        Oh yes it is.

        I admit you are clever at using a mass of astoundingly erudite figures, I don't agree with any of them obviously.

        I spent 2 days in an oil refinery in West Pembrokshire, was given the figures by the staff as I stood next to their own sub station which was fed by their own string of pylons coming from the nearest power station. The quote I remember 'We use the same amount of electricity as a town of 250,000 people.'

        But let us leave that aside, your argument really collapses when you say ' it's generally reckoned that the energy cost of extracting oil and the refining it is about 20% of the total energy content.'

        Generally reckoned, by who I wonder? Why are the exact figures not known? In who's interest is it to keep these figures obscured. Not mine, not the general public or even the government.

        I question those figures very strongly, the most reliable reports I have come across are from the Royal Institute of Engineers who came up with the estimated figures I posted.

        Then your decision to use the wretched G-Wizz as an example of a relevant electric car reveals the true bias of your arguments, I will do the same.

        I'm reading about the 1969 Dodge Challenger, the engine is 15% efficient, it does 7 miles to the gallon, I am using that as a fair representation of a fossil burning car. Oh wait, is that not fair, has the technology moved on since then? Oh, well, I'll ignore that.

        2 years ago I drove a Toyota RAV E4 in California, a fully electric, battery powered car. It had driven over 100,000 miles on the same battery pack, in all that time the owner, Paul Scott, had replaced one shock absorber. Not even the brake pads.

        Fossi burning cars use out dated, steam age technology that has been proved beyond all doubt to be damaging, wasteful and inefficient. They are totally reliant on an unreliable energy source that is going to run out, no matter what figures you throw around, they don't add up.

        After sitting in a traffic jam for a couple of hours the other day, probably 10,000 cars, crawling along at 2 mph. All their engines churning away, a massive and pointless waste of energy. If all those cars had been electric, the gains in efficiency and lower energy use would be off the scale.

        And lastly, it is technically possible to charge an electric car with renewable or carbon zero electricity, not matter how you skew and obfuscate the figures. It's not easy, it will take time, but it is possible. You cannot and will never be able do that with a car that relies on drill and burn fuel.

        1. Steven Jones

          Some maths and references

          I've been doing some basic maths and research, never trusing anything to do some sanity checks. According to the AA in Q4 of 2009 sales of petrol (so not including diesel) were 3.666 million tonnes (down 10% from the year before - used to be over 4 million tonnes).

          Annualise that, adjust for the specific density of petrol, and it works out at 19,900 million litres. Back in old-fashioned imperial gallons, that's near enough 4.4 billion gallons per year (which sounds about right per head of population). Take your 7kwh of electricity per gallon, and that would imply refineries in the UK used 31 TWh of electricity to produce petrol alone. That's before also accounting for the energy used to refine diesel, kerosene for jet aircraft, fuel oil, chemical feedstocks and so on.

          According to government stats, total electricity generation in the UK in 2008 was 379TWh. So that would imply, for petrol alone, then more than 8% of all electricity generated is used in refineries? Add in all those other products, what would that come out at? 12%, 15%? In any case, this sounds a not wholly credible proportion.

          However, there are some more specific figures available. According to NationMaster, the total amount of electricity used by all UK oil refineries is 5,624,000,000 kWh (link below). That's 5.6TWh for all purposes (not just petrol) versus the 31TWh number that comes out if you work it out at 7kWh per gallon number. Either I've got my maths wrong, or that's a very large discrepancy. I think it's more consistent with the 7kWh being a total energy figure, not electricity alone.

          As for battery life, the G-Whizz is undoubtedly dreadful. From what I can find with the Tesla the batteries are rated for 100,000 miles, but will be down to 70% of the range by that time. Replacement would appear to cost about £25K. Given that cars like the Leaf have a range (and battery) capacity of a third of this or less, then they will have to go through proportionately more full charge/discharge cycles for the same range. Quite simply, the more batteries you can put in your electric car, then the more miles you can travel before they'll fail. A pro-rata of this might point to perhaps 30-35,000 miles, albeit with a lower replacement bill. Hopefully battery longevity will improve, but it has to be factored in. In the Tesla is amounts to a wopping 25p per mile which dwarfs the costs of electricity.

          Of course electic vehicles are proportionately more efficient in town. Stop-start is what they are pariticularly good at which is why dairies used them. However, for most of us it's verstality that matters.

          1. That Llewellyn bloke

            Very impressive

            I have been corrected by numerous people who have studied this subject for amny years and in great depth. I have been informed that I was underestimating. The 7.5 kwh is for a US gallon, in the UK it is 9 kwh and all the figures I have seen estimate the total amount of electricity used by the refining industry is very close to 20% of our total consumption.

            That said, I am very impressed by your breakdown and what ever the actual figure, we do use a lot of electricity to refine petrol. Is the carbon output of this figure included in the 'tailpipe emissions' of a 'super, eco, econobox diesel' No, of course not. My argument has always been that the C02 output figures are pure fiction, in just the same way as 'zero emissions' are fiction. My argument is, if we charge an electric car off the UK grid today, there is a carbon element in that power, but no where near as much as a rattle old internal combustion engine.

            Finally again, I like your thorough take on this subject, I think we could get along. if you're on twitter I'm @bobbyllew

            1. Steven Jones

              Yet more...


              thanks for that - It's the natural sceptic and physica graduate in me. You won't have seen my second posting with a much more definitive reference which rather confirms my interpretation that the kWh figure is total energy. It's not surprising that people associate kWh with electricity. In fact it's just a unit of energy (3.6MJ) and it would be helpful if the industry didn't keep mixing up units - BTUs, kWh, MJ, ktoe (kilotonnes of oilkd equivalent) and so on. That's not to mention units of mass (tonnes etc) with those of volume gallons (US & UK), litres (or liters if you are American) and barrels.

              However, on the refining energy the most notable link in my second post was this :-


              "In 2004, UK refineries consumed approximately 6,600 kilotonnes oil equivalent (ktoe) of energy (or 77,000 GWh) to satisfy their heat and power requirements (DTI 2005)."

              This 6,600 kilotonnes was used, in the same year, to refine 90 megatonnes of crude oil (in the same report). That's the equivalent of 7.3% of the original oil (which goes some way to justifying my 10% estimate). Coming up with figures for oil extraction energy overheads is amazingly difficult, and it also varies a lot by source. The Canadian oil sands have huge overheads - ranging from 10% to 30% at the extreme of what is extracted. However, go to Saudia Arabia and the extraction energy costs are tiny - at least until steam and other injection is required. Oil transport by sea is extremely efficient (just compare a tanker's fuel oil capacity with it's crude oil carrying capacity).

              I'll look you up on Twitter - my name is @Eulerid .

              nb. I'm planning to semi-retire to the Cotswolds some time in the next year, but it looks like I'm more likely to be run down whilst out on my bike by one of Jeremy Clarkson's gas-guzzling V8s than your lithium-powered whisper box (although I suppose I'll at least hear him coming).

        2. Steven Jones

          More maths and references

          OK Robert - some more references for you. According to this report from the government archives :-

          "In 2004, UK refineries consumed approximately 6,600 kilotonnes oil equivalent (ktoe) of

          energy (or 77,000 GWh) to satisfy their heat and power requirements (DTI 2005)."

          Note that's total energy consumption of the refineries.

          According to this report, total diesel and petrol production in the UK amounted to near enough 40 million tonnes in 2004 (about 19m tonnes each).

          (page 29).

          If we neglect the other products produced by refineries (kerosene, chemical feedstocks etc.) and say it is attributable all to just diesel and petrol refining we get (per tonne of output)

          77,000,000 mWh / 40,000,000 tonnes = 1.925 mWh/tonne or 1.925 kWh/Kg.

          If we take the average density of petrol & diesel to be approximately 850gm/litre (diesel is denser than petrol, but both are less than water) then, at about 4.5 litres/gallon we can derive an average refining energy use per gallon.

          1Kg = 1/0.85 = 1.18 litres avg diesel & oil

          therefore, one gallon (4.5 litres) = 3.8Kg

          Therefore to product 1 gallon of oil and diesel it will take, on average, 1.925 x 3.8 = 7.3kWh.

          Note that 7.3kWh is an overestimate. It excludes the other products of the refinery. It is also total energy input - not electricity.

          So that's the way I've worked out my figures. Where's the sources for yours? Unfortunately I have no privileged access to any data or organisations, but I'm well aware that interest groups distort and misrepresent figures for their own purposes. Personally I like to see the numbers myself.

  18. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    Real CO2 cost please

    But this still ignores the CO2 cost of manufacturing the damed things. Please can we also see how that compares.

    Here's an example. If everyone threw away their current car today, and got a brand-new, more efficient one, then CO2 would go through the roof manufacturing all those vehicles and getting rid of the old ones.

    If everyone threw-away their car after 1 year, to get the newest one, how exactly would that reduce the TOTAL co2 emissions? All the articles we see in the press suggests that the world would be better off if we did this!

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Real CO2 cost please

      "If everyone threw-away their car after 1 year, to get the newest one, how exactly would that reduce the TOTAL co2 emissions? All the articles we see in the press suggests that the world would be better off if we did this!"

      You must be reading a different press from me, then. The articles I've seen suggest that half the carbon footprint of a car is spent in manufacture, so the green approach is to keep cars going for as long as possible to amortise that footprint.

      But I don't have figures, and since most of the press demonstrate total scientific cluelessness every day, I don't expect they'll be easy to come by.

      1. Mike Dimmick

        Usual figures are

        10% in production, 5% in disposal, 85% in use. The more efficient the car, the lower the percentage emitted during use.

    2. Flossie

      Re:Real CO2 cost please

      I suspect the CO2 cost of manufacturing can be largely ignored, it's probably about the same for both since the only practical difference between an electric car and a petrol one is the engine and fuel tank/battery. An electric engine is simpler than a petrol/diesel one but batteries are more complex than fuel tanks, so I suspect they roughly balance.

      Now if you have a hybrid, which has both, then the CO2 cost is almost certainly higher.

      1. JP19

        roughly balance

        IC engines and fuel tanks don't need large amounts of rare earths and rare metals.

        Their high cost is a reflection of the high cost of extraction and refining these materials and I expect CO2 production roughly follows monetary costs.

  19. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Laws of Thermodynamics apply to cars - shock!

    "To produce these figures, Which? looked towards the Carbon Trust's measurements that 544g of CO2 is emitted for each kilowatt hour of electricity used"

    If, on the other hand, you concede that you don't *have* to generate electricity by burning fossil fuels, then the car emits 0g. Don't get me wrong. There *are* issues with electric cars, like re-charging (practical) and raw materials (environmental), but this isn't one of them.

    I assume the original Which? report makes this point. I mean, they surely aren't *that* stupid, are they?

  20. James Howat

    Zero emissions

    The premise of this article is ludicrous. When they say a car is zero-emissions, that's exactly what it means. It means that the car emits no exhaust fumes.

    I don't see how you can conclude that this means that someone is claiming that it gets energy for free.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Wrong title

    "compared the energy consumed when charging electric cars to that of several efficient diesel vehicles"

    And how efficient would these diesel vehicles be, if not for the push from leccy competition over the past 10-20 years?

    The correct title for this piece would have been: "Electric cars as efficient as the most efficient diesel cars, despite tech being 50 years youunger."

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    but surely (and stop calling me Shirley)...

    If I have a green energy tariff and/or a roof-full of solar PV panels (both hypothetical) then my e-car would be 0g of cee-oh-twos to run? And no displacement of cee-oh-twos!

    Even better yet - if I fitted a wind turbine to my e-car ... <off to patent office to submit yet-another-perpetual-motion-machine idea>

    Paris - because I would like to displace her cee-oh-twos ....

  23. nemo20000

    Top Sheep

    I’m staggered by the number of Clarksonites here, vapidly repeating his illogical nonsense in the vain hope they don’t have to think about an issue at all.

    Canada? Batteries? You have to pull something out of the ground and then transport it around the world to make batteries? Shock! Horror!

    Yes you do. ONCE. Whereas your petrol and diesel has to be pulled out of the ground every single day for as long as you want to carry on moving around.

    Get a flaming grip.

    1. S2S
      Thumb Down

      infinate battery life ! ?

      So these are new magical batteries last forever and have an infinite number of recharging cycles !! ??? I think you should do your home work .

      Nissan have conveniently refused /dodged the question every time they have been asked how long these batteries will last in every press interview .

      And they say it will only cost you 3 pence per mile or something like that, so much cheaper to run ! Well it is until 3 years later when you have to spend £5000 on new batteries and your fuel saving just goes out the window.

  24. Steven Jones

    Where's Robert?

    Is Robert llewellyn going to make another appearance? He's presumably going to accuse Which of being unreconstructed petrol heads as he did to those on this site who were unwise enough to question his judgement on this issue and that he might just have overstated the advantages of electric cars.

    To repeat the obvious using electric cars only saves a lot of CO2 emissions if you can use a much higher proportion of non fossil-fueled power stations.

    1. D Peilow

      I'm sure he'll be along in a minute.

      In the meantime, I'll ask: If the emissions are slightly better (according to Which, all of the EVs were 20% better than the diesels and one was 92% better than the comparison car), then what is the problem?

      The grid is being cleaned up, so the EVs will only get better.

      If you get an £8k solar PV system on your garage you can essentially get 10,000 miles a year for 25 years (that's the usual guarantee on them - they may work longer). That's a saving of over £22k on the diesel. The PV supplies the grid during the day, the car charges back from it at night - net saving £22k.

      If you don't have the option for that, it's still going to be a lot cheaper even when they start taxing it.

      Either way your not propping up Colonel Gaddafi.

    2. That Llewellyn bloke

      I'm here

      I love the slant of your post, you write as though one lone voice standing up to the deluge of nonsense spun out by these stories is a terrifying prospect. The hundreds of thousands of loud mouthed, opinionated men who will no doubt defend the drill and burn economy we live in to the death are cowering because one wet liberal piped up and said, hang on, this just isn't true.

      I have posted a comment, the gist of it is this.

      Where does the electricity come from?

      Where does the petrol come from?

      How much electricity is used to make petrol?

      How absurd and misleading are 'tail pipe emissions' figures

      And of course, electric cars are not green, or eco, they are just cars, made in factories. When they start their lives they are no different from any drill and burn car. However, from that day on they are viable, cheaper, more efficient, cleaner, they can be charged from renewable sources, they last longer, need less servicing, fewer spare parts, go further and waste far less energy.

      1. Steven Jones

        Nice to see your return

        Personally I prefer a more measured debate. I was a physics graduate, and have watched with some amazement misleading stats and ranting from both sides.

        No sure about all your points - in the round, do electric cars really need fewer spare parts? Sure electric motors and transmission will require less maintenance than their IC equivalent, but the elephant in the room is always the batteries. None of those last for ever. How long will they last before the gradual loss of range means they need to be replaced? Hopefully the lithium can all be recovered, as that's an energy intensive substance to mine in produce and supplies are limited.

        I'm sure there is a role for a certain amount of battery-powered vehicles. They are quite useful as a way of absorbing the inherent peaks in wind power, although to do so would require a very sophisticated smart metering and distribution system which will cost a huge amount to implement. Battery vehicles are probably most attractive for local deliveries as stop/start is where there are major advantages. The UK once had the world's largest fleet of electric vehicles in the shape of milk floats.

        As far as costs go, electric cars also have to be heavily subsidised - not only is there the £5,000 for purchasing the things, but they are also not paying a 200% tax on their base power costs as there's no duty and little VAT. For those limited to a single car, without easy access to charging they are simply impractical. If you want to be really efficient buy an electric-powered bike. Those things are way more efficient - indeed they are much more thermodynamically efficient than producing extra food to feed hungry cyclists.

        So I'm not against these things as such, just deeply suspicious about those who've made wild claims and make misleading comparison (eg NIssan Leaf vs 4x4 and the like). Buy a new electric car and compare it with the best equivalent diesel model and the gap is relatively narrow.

        My suspicion is that pure electric traction will never be the norm for cars and that liquid chemical fuels will remain with us. It may be that liquid chemical fuels will gradually move from fossil source to advanced bio (note, not from crops - maybe genetically engineered organisms) or other artificial means. Hydrocarbons are simply the most convenient way of storing large amounts of chemical energy for transport, and there's still much that can be done to eke out IC efficiency.

        nb. the "lone liberal voice" thing is surely not true. The BBC, C4 are full of liberal (with a small "l") journalists. It is, outside of the deliberately provocative Top Gear, rather difficult to find anything else.

  25. nemo20000

    We all know about Which? surely?

    I subscribed to Which? for a couple of years. They always had lots of really useful and well researched advice, except when it was on a subject I knew about, where their spectacular misunderstandings, misinformation and miscalculation made a mockery of their excellent work on all the other subjects...

    And then I realised.

    And then I cancelled my subscription.

    1. John H Woods

      This is true for ALL the press ...

      ... as my old Dad liked to point out, if you spoke to an expert in 'x' for long enough, they would eventually tell you how everything written about 'x' in the media was pretty much rubbish. As you went through life, and met more people, you found that this was true for a pretty large range of 'x'.

  26. Mike 125

    What magazine?

    Which?, oh you sad little mag for the baby boom generation. Opitome of selfishness and the me me me consumer. When I was a lad, 30 years ago, it was a sorry little affair. Can't believe it still exists. Good for toasters though.

  27. Mike Pellatt


    Oh look, lots of discussions about TCO (at least total Carbon cost) of an electric car vs hydrocarbon-powered.

    Seems just like the Windows vs Linux TCO arguments :-)

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    But at the end of the day

    it's impossible to design an internal combustion engine that doesn't produce CO2 and - bio-fuels aside - doesn't require a very finite and increasingly expensive resource to power it. It is however possible to run an electric car without any CO2 production and from entirely renewable energy generation.

    I'd rather we saved the oil left for making important stuff like aviation fuel. Whether or not powering a car via a coal fired power station is a good idea or not aside, I'm pretty sure you can't power a 747 that way.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    If only....

    If I could by a V8 that ran on liquidised baby rabbits or African orphans' tears I'd get it just to piss off the sanctimonious hippy green bastards that infest the media these days.

    As it is I'll have to make do with a 30mpg 2.0T petrol and run down as much wildlife as possible.

  30. Hairy Spod

    oranges and apples

    Does diesel come out of the ground as diesel where normal cars are garaged, or is a significant amount of CO2 also expended seperating it from crude oil and then transporting to your local garage as well?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Right back at you...

      Are you suggesting that the fuels used to generate the electricity appear at the power station by magic?

      Coal, for example, manages to cost much more CO2 per tonne than it used to. Time was most of the coal used in UK power stations was at least mined in the UK. These days most of it seems to be imported.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Sanctimonious bastards

      Takes one to know one, I suppose...

  31. Anonymous Coward


    These numbers only apply to the UK - France generates nearly 80% of it electricity from nuclear power so the CO2 emission of it's domestic electric car fleet will be massively lower.

    The electric car "argument" can't be conducted with exclusive reference to the UK's hopelessly outdated and dirty power generation infrastructure.

  32. irneb

    Oh Yippeee!!

    Yet another ... here we did some arb check on one aspect only ... never mind the possible faulty premise of is it "really" 544g or 844g?

    I still can't see EV / Hybrids being "the" answer (perhaps closer to the answer than ICE's, but only in some instances). As was discussed numerous times, there's several points to still consider in all scenarios, e.g.: manufacture / supply emissions and costs (for both EV and IC), other types of emissions (CO2 is hardly a "bad" thing in comparison to some of the others - just think of ICE's CO emissions which WILL KILL YOU, not just make you sweat a bit more), charging / refuelling times and costs, etc. etc. etc.

    IMO a first step in a "right" direction would be to combine the best points from both - and I don't mean Hybrid. I mean an ICE (probably Diesel) generating the electricity for the electrical motor(s). This removes the entire gearbox system (as you'd have to have with Hybrids), allows the ICE to run at its most efficient RPM (and not need to rev-up each time you pull away), the "battery" (or I'd think capacitors instead) would be much smaller than EVs' (or even those in Hybrids), refuelling becomes a non-issue in comparison to either EV / IC. And the technology is here and now, it's used in ... wait for it ... "Diesel-Electric" motors for trains and large trucks. So there's very little to be done except for miniaturizing the existing tech.

    After that we might start looking into fuel-cell technology. The H2 is a bit of a problem (even if you can use electrolysis to generate it, you're still stuck with EV's problem of where does the elec come from). Another option is using an alcohol fuel-cell, they're not as efficient as an H2 one, but have several advantages which may overpower the efficiency loss:

    1. Alcohol can much more easily be produced through fermentation than H2 from extremely high voltages. And for best results the alcohol need not be pure, about 50-60% proof seems to work best - so you don't need to distil it as much as you'd expect.

    2. It's not as dangerous to store liquid alcohol as it would be to hold enough H2 in a canister at thousands of atmospheres to get it into its liquid form (or at least smaller than your car). Imagine having an accident with the H2 canister rupturing - you'd take out a city block!

    1. Chemist

      "H2 in a canister at thousands of atmospheres to get it into its liquid form"

      Er, you can't. It needs to be cooled at great energy cost to liquify it

      Generating hydrogen by electrolysis doesn't need high voltages but it does have a low-ish efficiency. (OK if you can use the waste heat)

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Sorry, Chemist, but you're possibly wrong-ish

        You can't use cryogenic fuels in cars. Imagine coming back from a trip away/weekend where you haven't used it, going to start the car and realising that all your hydrogen has heated up by a couple of kelvin and exhausted through the vent valve (or, even worse, blown rather a large hole where your house used to be). And that you've frozen the neighbours cat who was walking past at the time (you wouldn't want to vent it into the car's body- even sprayed into somewhere unimportant seeming like the wheelarches you'd cause massive problems with the material going brittle).

        Pressurised is the only way to go with Hydrogen- and highly pressurised. You're talking 4500 or so psi before you can get anywhere near the volumetric energy density of petrol- and a 4500psi housing is pretty heavy.

        Then you have to make it able to hold that pressure after being deformed in a crash, while in the intense heat of a petrol fire and after 200,000 miles of being scraped going over speedbumps (not to mention being pressurised and depressurised a couple of times a week for, say, 20 years).

        You've suddenly added like quarter of a tonne of Aluminium (>$500 at wholesale aluminium prices) and a bucketload of sensors and other warning equipment to the car.

        So the small, light, cheap car is suddenly nigh-on impossible unless it's got a tiny capacity fuel tank.

        And for this reason, Hydrogen will fail.

        1. Chemist

          I wasn't supporting the use of cryogenic hydrogen...

          but irneb's post I was replying to said :

          " it would be to hold enough H2 in a canister at thousands of atmospheres to get it into its liquid form "

          I was merely pointing out that hydrogen can't be liquified by pressurization. Further even liquid hydrogen has a much lower energy density than hydrocarbon.

          By the way considerable research is being done into the use of cryogenic hydrogen by BMW and others

          I'm no fan of using pure hydrogen as an energy carrier unless the numerous practical problems can be overcome, maybe by on-board generation from precursors (formic acid for example -which brings it's own set of problems)

          Unfortunately even fuel cells have a low-ish efficiency (~50% tank-wheel) esp.when combined with the efficiency of hydrogen production. No doubt some considerable improvements remain to be made.

  33. nigel 15

    what about CO2 produced refining, transporting etc.

    the two figures do not compare the same thing.

    for electric it is considering the whole energy cycle.

    where as for diesel it is considering only that emitted by the car, not in refining, transporting the petrol etc.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    True costs for hydrocarbons

    Can someone please publish the true energy costs for extracting oil, refining it and transporting into your tank please (and name your sources), and translate that into a gm/km value? I'd love to, but I can't find any.

    That would be more reflective of the true cost of hydrocarbons, and thus form a valid comparison to electric vehicles rating used by Which?.

    Otherwise you'd need to revert to comparing *direct* emmission from the vehicle, and we're back where we started - with electric being "zero emission".

    PS - I'm a motorbiker, so I'm expecting to be downvoted simultanously by both the Clarkonsites and the tree huggers.

  35. RyokuMas Silver badge

    If/when I buy an EV...

    .. it won't be because I'm some eco warrior out to save the planet. No, it'll be because I can no longer afford petrol.

    I think I remember reading that it cost something like £2.40 to fully charge a Leaf, giving it a range of about 100 miles. Compare that to my current car (1.25 Fiesta), which I'm lucky if I get 200 miles out of what has recently become a £35+ tankful. I'll take paying less than a seventh of the price for my milage, thankyouverymuch.

    Go - and get an EV. Which I will, as soon as I can afford the base price.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      I think you'll find you're not alone. When it starts to hurt motorists the most (when filling up), that's when market forces will drive them to EV. I'm the same - I'd take EV now, and I'd serious consider the leaf - if it was literally half the price.

      Snag is, an insider for a big oil company he tells me that the market research shows people are willing to pay DOUBLE what we pay now before they consider alternatives. So EV still has an uphill battle for the foreseeable.

      Though the coming crunch be slightly delayed for me - a £45 tank in my recent-generation little diesel is good for 550 miles...

    2. squidy

      This is the wrong comparison

      I agree. In fact a review I saw of the Nissan leaf on channel 5's 'fifth gear' claimed that when you take into account the CO2 produced in the acquiring/refining/transportation of the diesel as well as the burning, the figure is a about 100g/km in favour of the electric car.

      I can't vouch for the accuracy of these values, but you certainly can't compare the CO2 involved in generating electricity with the CO2 produced by burning diesel and draw any valid conclusions. You have to look at the whole cycle (including the construction and destruction of the vehicles).

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      ~500 Charge cycles

      Most of the cost of an electric vehicle is replacing the battery when its charge retention falls to useless. Long lasting batteries survive 1000 charge cycles. If you want some other features like good energy/weight or good energy/price then you will have to accept a smaller number of charge cycles. At present, the battery life for electric vehicles is unknown. If running an electric car was cheaper the running a petrol one, then the manufacturers would increase their profit margins to compensate.

      The down side of electric is you are giving some money to the ROC farms. More money goes to battery and car manufacturers. On the other hand, petrol is a complete disaster. Try to imagine how much damage the government would do if you keep paying petrol tax.

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Think it through

      One reason that petrol is expensive is the fuel duty & tax. As soon as any government realizes that there's a significant swing to other fuel sources, it will simply hike the cost of that fuel to maintain the same level of income for the treasury.

      Add that to the cost of EV battery replacement every few years and your motoring will not cost you less.

      1. Adam Foxton
        Thumb Down


        Expect a minimum-price-per-kWh for batteries, coupled to a 500% level of tax on all replacement vehicle batteries.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      True Cost of Rare Earths

      The CO2 costs at the power plant are an direct comparison for CO2 cost of internal combustion. This cost is obviously highly dependent on your source of electricity though. If you want to get the cost of getting gasoline to the fuel station then you have to compare that to the cost of building and delivering a battery to your car. You also have to take into account the number of batteries used over the average lifetime of the car compared to the average number of gallons used over the cars average lifetime. As batteries become better this comparison will likely lean further and further toward the battery's favor, but I'm not sure where that is now.

      Also do you consider the non-CO2 pollutants in the battery production? If so how do you also include non-CO2 pollutants from refining petroleum? It's a valid comparison that should be made but it isn't easy to do.

    6. JP19


      Well you will pay more for replacement batteries than the electricity to charge them. You can't currently buy a battery that costs less than the amount of electricity (at current mains prices) it can charge and discharge in its lifetime.

      That problem will become less significant when we get a 300% tax rate on 'vehicle electricity' to match the 300% tax rate we currently have on vehicle fuels.

  36. justkyle

    Ultimately, doesn't the consumer decide?

    Especially with oil-based fuel prices climbing in recent days, won't the daily cost of operation factor into it, even if just a little bit?

    Heck, I thought I'd never own a Prius, but I do now. Matter of fact, I see a lot more of the 1st generation sedan style around than I have before. Believe this to be a factor of the primary reason why people buy automobiles in the U.S.-the looks.

    I'm all for bio-diesel, but only in the form of greasel. This doesn't impact anybody's food prices, where traditional bio-diesel flavored by corn or soy does.

    Ultimately, a bio-diesel (greasel) -electric hybrid would probably be the best of both worlds.

    And, of course, being a 'Merican, I can't resist the smell of fried foods, so that's another benefit of a greasel car.

  37. Rores

    108g/km - Really?

    What a lot of people fail to realise is that in order to get anywhere close to 108g/km in the diesel you have to drive like an old lady with very weak right leg muscles, who enjoys going on long journeys on empty dual carriageways. Due to the very high part and full load efficiency characteristics of electric motors you can drive it like you stole it all the time and still get close to the 81g/km.

    @ Steve 44 - Of course they'll be making extra electricity to power electric cars - it's not comparable to the "the bus is going anyway" scenario.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    People tend to forget ...

    that the tailpile is far from the only source of CO2 normal cars have. How much CO2 do you think was dumped to produce that diesel?

    Refineries aren't exactly carbon neutral.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Make your own petrol

    OK so we've all (hopefully) read about the plant that can generate a hydrocarbon fuel from water and CO2 drawn from the atmosphere running entirely on solar power. Sounds like a great idea, it's close to carbon neutral, it allows us to keep running the vehicles we have and it doesn't put any extra load on our already stretched electrical infrastructure.

    So why is more not being done with this particular technology? I suspect the real reason is that the motor manufacturers don't like it because it doesn't involve them making a load of money out of flogging us new cars* and it doesn't involve the energy companies making loads of money out of selling us more electricity. It involves the patent holders making money, but since they don't have the lobbying clout of the car manufacturers or energy companies it doesn't matter squat whether it will save the planet or not. </CYNIC>

    * Not, you will appreciate, new technology. There's no really new technology in an EV, no matter what the marketing men tell us.

  40. PowerSurge

    Green in not the only reason

    Electric trains are much nicer to travel on than diesel. They're quieter, accelerate better. They're also cheaper to maintain. Same is true of cars. The infernal combustion engine is noisy, smelly and requires high maintenance.

    It's a shame batteries aren't up to snuff yet. However, got to start somewhere.

    Also central electricity generation is greener and more efficient than lots of internal combustion engines and and has potential to improve. There's two new nuclear technologies on the way: TWR and thorium neither of which suffer so much from the bugbears of uranium fission.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The consumer?

      But the consumer never gets to decide, because the consumer never gets a real choice.

    2. Adam Foxton

      Yeah, I can see the problem with that whole "awesome solar car" thing.

      "Don't buy our car! It's only cheaper and greener to run! And if you want to screw over BP, then BOY are you in for a treat if you buy our car. Which you shouldn't."

      There is no motor industry lobby trying to keep the Electric Car down, except in that EVs aren't ready for production yet. Even if the acceleration/top speed weren't issues (within reason), the range is still a problem.

      The reason the Hydrocarbon from seawater/CO2 + Solar tech isn't deployed more is that the amount of solar energy you need is just not feasible. It's not like "ooh, we have a sunny day so I'll stick the generator by the window" and hey, presto- you've got a tank of fuel 10 minutes later.

      Saying that, Hydrocarbon from Seawater/CO2 IS the solution to our energy problems- there are 850Mn cars in the world and there isn't enough lithium to cover 1% of them, so battery electric's out, and Hydrogen's just plain dangerous. Plus remember aircraft need hydrocarbons, as do boats and lorries and trains and many people's homes.

      But "artificial hydrocarbons" are only really feasible if we use Nuclear power as this can provide a steady, dependable, carbon-free (and low waste volume) source of power for the chemical processes required to create the hydrocarbons. Solar and other renewables don't produce sufficient power or aren't dependable enough.

      The problem with THIS is that to build a massive nuclear hydrocarbon generation plant you've got to contend with a load of treehuggers and NIMBYs. My solution would be to use the UK's unparalleled experience in subsea engineering to drop the hydrocarbon generators to the bottom of the north sea. They'd be relatively safe from Terrorists, they'd be on one of the best-mapped and most studied pieces of sea-floor in the world (far away from volcanic faults), and they're in the middle of existing oil fields, so the existing pipelines can be repurposed. Plus there's almost infinite amounts of space down there, and it's shallow enough that in the event of a problem some cheap ROVs (or expensive SAT divers) can be deployed to repair them.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        'Artificial' hydrocarbons are feasible and exist already

        Bio-engineering has already 90% solved the problem - there are now engineered bacteria that excrete diesel fuel when fed cellulose:

        The issue left is 'normal' engineering - creating a suitable industrial-scale bioreactor for these microbes. That's a complex task, but quite feasible given that this has already been done for many other natural and bio-engineered microbes (eg yeast for penicillin, bacteria for insulin etc)

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mrs. Sybil Fawlty from Torquay. Specialist subject - the bleeding obvious.

    No shit Sherlock, who'd have thunk it....

    As for paying more for 'green' electricity... only one word for that...


  42. Dave Bennett

    Will somebody think of the kids!

    It's quite clear to most of us that there are huge parts of the picture missing here. And indeed that's likely to be the case with most studies on the issue.

    So for a true comparison we'd need at least the following:

    - The amount of energy used and emmissons produced in the production of the EV - including the battery and all logistics costs to get the finished vehicle to the dealership

    - The amount of energy used and emmissons produced in the production of an ICE vehicle of comparable power

    - The average life of EV and ICE vehicles (I beleive the average life of a car in the UK is 14 years... do the current batteries last this long? I heard the Prius batteries would last 10 years - but that may have been the warranty period?)

    - The energy used and emmissons produced in providing the fuel for the total life of the ICE vehicle (including all extraction, refining, transport / logistics costs to deliver it to the vehicle)

    - The energy used and emmissons produced in providing the electricity for the EV's battery (assuming the power is provided in the UK - since in this study this is where the vehicle will be used)

    What else is missing from this list?

    In my opinion, based on no evidence whatsoever, is that the ICE vehicle will have the lower production costs (energy and emmissons) due to the lack of battery, economies of scale and mature processes. The EV will have lower costs (energy and emmissons) to actually run the vehicle. However this may be offset significantly if the total life of the vehicle is a lot less than an ICE...? If your battery dies, do you replace it - probably at great cost, or ditch the car and get another?

    We have to assume that EV tech has a lot more headroom to improve than ICE. So in the medium term I'd expect a lot of gains to be made, but as things stand at the moment, I don't 'feel' they are the green alternative to ICE.


    1. Mike Dimmick

      Prius battery life

      Some first-generation (2000-2003, v1.1) batteries are failing after about 8-10 years. The second-generation Prius (2004-2009) is not yet old enough, but there have been very few failures so far. The current, third-generation, Prius uses the same battery as the 2G, but cooling has been rearranged to allow 8% more power (27kW vs 25kW).

      In some cases, the electrolyte has leaked and developed a short to the case, which can be fixed by cleaning up the leaked electrolyte - the dealer will probably replace the whole battery. The seals on the battery modules were poor on the original design, which required a Special Service Campaign to re-seal them all. In other cases, the battery is fine but the fairly delicate wires that sense each module's voltage level, or the tags that connect them to the modules, have broken. Again, fixable cheaply, but the dealer will replace the battery. There are other cases of misdiagnosed problems 'fixed' (or sometimes not) by replacing the main battery.

      Ironically the 12V auxiliary lead-acid battery, used to boot up the car and run the alarm system and preserve settings when the car is off, is much much more likely to fail. Mine has, after three years service (being replaced next week once stock arrives).

  43. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

    Being green

    Its simple really

    Walk (In bare feet obviously)

    Plant plants/trees/gubbins where you used to park the car


  44. Anonymous Coward

    "some power-stations struggle to cope with demand cycling"

    "power-stations (especially coal-fired ones) struggle to cope with the fall and rise in demand cycling over the working day*."

    Conventional fossil fired stations take a few minutes from hot standby to generating on the grid, or a few hours if starting from cold. (Think of it as boiling a kettle that boiled a while ago and been left full but switched off apart from an occasional blast to keep it warm, vs boiling a kettle full of cold water. Or boiling a pan of water on a stove and then turning down the heat to allow it to simmer).

    Nuclear stations take even longer to respond - days to warm up, and also days to shut down, and unlike fossil stations they have no "hot standby" capability.

    Nuclear stations have to run pretty much all the time, either for physics reasons, or for economics reasons. Frequent power cycling to follow the demand cycle results in excessive thermal stresses in unrepairable parts, thus shortening the station lifetime and also reducing the lifetime output, and the resulting expensive electricity (same lifecycle costs, less MWh to sell = more p/MWh) wrecks the economics.

    Please bear this in mind next time nukular electrickery is discussed.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      So your problem with nuclear

      is that the excess power can be funnelled into running Pumped Storage hydro-power, or generating easy-to-store hydrocarbons (that can also run our cars and lorries and infrastructure), or creating hydrogen for a fleet of airships, or doing other useful stuff?

      Yeah, sounds like a REAL problem there. I can just picture the PM fretting in a few years. "Oh no, we have all the power we need to stop the oil crisis dead in it's tracks AND bring back the most awesome of aircraft! Not to mention helping make us a world power again, ending the attraction of wars-for-oil and improving the economy of countries we actually like!"

      Bear THAT in mind next time Nuclear is discussed- it's not a problem with Nuclear, it's a problem with us not thinking "there's excess relatively-clean power being generated, what could I do with it to make a profit?".

      Especially when the alternative is "oh, crap. The lights went out again. Must be a windless night out at sea."

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same here

    I never subscribed, but you used to he able to look at them in libraries. My experience was identical: where it was something I knew about, I realised they were getting everything totally wrong.

  46. Jeff Cook

    But then the obvious solution is...

    build an electric car that can genereate it own electricity. You still have to have a battery to get it going but then it genereates enough to power itself. Why haven't we seen any cars being developed along those lines (obvious theories ,conspiricy or otherwise, aside)? Then the only green house emissons comes from the manufacture of the car itself and the starter battery.

    There's always going to be cost for obtaining the raw materials. The Leaf would never work for me because my cross-city drive would leave me stranded one way or the other (maybe for others who live within 10 miles of their workplace and few accidents slowing things down between). The head engineer at Nissan said the best milage you can get with 1 180 lb driver and no passngers with air or heat on would be 68 (winter with heat) or 54 (summer with air) and no cargo included. Oh yeah and that was at a whopping speed of 35 mph (sorry can't seem to locate my mph2kph converter right now). So did they test drive these with some small Asian woman who weighed 80 pounds soaking wet and not using any of the accessories and not carrying any cargo.

    EV's are a joke until they become self-powering.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Then the only green house emissons

      and pray what the hell are you going to power it with ?

    2. Grease Monkey


      Jeff, how does a car generate it's own electricity without consuming some sort of fuel? Do you know something about physics that the rest of us don't?

    3. Vic

      Cars with generators in

      > Why haven't we seen any cars being developed along those lines

      We have. Porsche probably made the first of them - in 1905.


  47. D Peilow

    The only "Quelle Surprise"... that the Register ran with this flawed study and only chose to highlight one of the comparisons.

    What about the one comparing the Mitsubishi and Suzuki where the difference was over 90%?

    What about the 9kWh it takes to refine a gallon of crude into fuel? Enough to drive your EV 30 miles and that's before the fuel even reaches you. If EVs produce emissions from power stations, then your own fossil fuel car produces more before you've even filled it up.

    What about the price of oil shooting up thanks to protests across the Middle East? You really want to see another British Prime Minister shaking the hands of some greasy dictator to guarantee the supply of the stuff?

    What about putting £8k of solar panels on your garage roof? A 6 x 3 metre garage roof could generate enough free juice for 10,000 miles a year, last for 25 years and produce no emissions. A 50mpg diesel would cost you £30,600 in fuel costs alone at today's rate during that time.

    I thought this was a technology site. Seems like it doesn't want to understand this technology. Wonder why?

    1. Drewc (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: The only "Quelle Surprise"...

      This is a short news article about a Which study, not a book.

  48. That Llewellyn bloke

    7.5 kilowatt hours per gallon.

    I'll try a different tack. 2 cars. One petrol, one electric.

    When they move along, nothing come out of the back of the electric one. Nothing. A large amount of noxious gas comes out of the petrol one. They are not equal, the electric one is cleaner in the immediate environment. It seems we can agree on that.

    But, what about where the electricity comes from! Straight away, in there, furious, indignant with rage. Eco-con, green wash, it's rubbish, how dare some tree hugging idiot claim it's cleaner.

    It's very important to know where fuel comes from. Any fool knows electricity doesn't just come out of the plug socket.

    Petrol, on the other hand, just comes out of the pump, that's what this and every other tiresome pile of drivel like it states. The argument here is flawed, a lie.

    Instead of 'where does the electricity come from,' let us ask, 'where does the petrol come from?'

    The journey from oil well to petrol tank produces two thirds more Co2 than the amount that comes out of the tailpipe.

    But this point is the killer, oil refineries use huge amounts of electricity, generated, as the pro drill and burn lobby endlessly harp on about, by filthy coal (actually only 30% of UK national grid) A refinery uses 7.5 kilowatt hours of electricity to refine one gallon or petrol. Where does that electricity come from, that's enough to power a Nissan Leaf 30 miles!

    The REAL Co2 output from a drill and burn car is generally agreed to be between 350 to 500 grams of Co2 per kilometre. No manufacturer is going to put that on the advert, we only measure what comes out of the tailpipe. Fair do's. Then that is how we have to judge electric cars. Nothing comes out.

    Don't tell me the Co2 output from an electric car is anywhere near that of a drill and burn car. It's not even absurd, it is a plain and simple lie.

    1. Adam Foxton

      The thing is

      go back further and you find that the electricity from that generator providing power for the Leaf is coming from a power generator. So the oil and gas still needs to be refined to provide power for the power station.

      Given that there's a pretty high % inefficiency in generation, transmission (and in any local energy storage) I bet the Leaf is still not that far ahead of the Diesel.

    2. Alex Willmer

      Source of 7.5 kWh

      Hi Robert, I'm not bashing, or even disagreeing, but what's your source for 7.5 kWh/gallon refined. I'd like to use it and be confident I can back it up. My email is if you'd prefer to discuss off-forum.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Robert Llewellyn

      It seems you are as reluctant to provide your figures as those who claim leccy cars are more environmentally damaging to make than IC ones.

      And just as unwilling to accept any facts or reasoning that contradicts your view.

      At the moment leccy is generated mainly by burning fossil fuels. Whilst this continues the argument about whether leccy cars are greener than IC ones is as point-full as discussing whether you would like to bleed to death by having your right leg cut off or your right arm. Either way you die horribly but with the arm it just takes a little longer.

      However, Newton's third law of thermodynamics kind of puts really big question marks over using renewables, and the shenanigans we have seen with respect to the environmental catastrophes of bio-diesel suggests that growing our fuel will just result in lots more starving people in the developing world. Granted if they can't afford food they won't be buying boxed sets of Scrapheap Challenge (so will miss out on seeing your joyful enthusiasm everytime anyone built anything using a petrol fired V8* - remember those times?) but I suppose that is a different issue altogether.

      Now, we all know leccy doesn't just automatically appear at the wall sockets, just as we all know that fuel isn't summoned to petrol stations by a band of poorly paid Hogwarts dropouts continually chanting "accio petrol, accio diesel" until the tanks are full. So why don't you give us the figures - not "generally agreed" or other weasel words but real figures, based on today's numbers (so no assuming leccy cars will only cost £10,000 each or that all leccy is produced by nukes, or that taking shit loads of energy out of the environment won't have any affect).

      Remember, _you_ want _us_ to go leccy, not the other way round. We already have IC and we are kind of cool with that - if you think we need to change you need to convince us to change, using reason and facts rather than insults and clear bullshit.

      But, I tell you what, buy me a Tesla and I will apologise profusely for doubting you and then save the fucking planet.

      *I mention this for two reasons: (1) it is a cheap shot in response to your overbearing arrogance and holier-than-thou attitude with respect to leccy cars and (2) it calls your credentials and authority into question - V8 = good when the public want it (and you get paid) but bad when the green lobby is ascendant.

      1. Steven Jones

        Newton's third law of thermodynamics!!!


        "Newton's third law of thermodynamics"?

        Now you made that up didn't you. Newton had nothing to do with thermodynamics. Indeed nobody knew much about thermodynamics at all in the 17th century, and certainly that branch of physics barely existed at the time, and not at all in name. Boyle and Hooke did some work correlating pressure, temperature in the late 17th century, but thermodynamics itself didn't really start going until 18th century with Carnot and this was developed into a mature model into the middle of the 19th century.

        Newton had a third law of motion, but I fail to see what that has to do with this. Of course, if you are thinking of the first and second law (of thermodynamics), may I point you at Flanders & Swann who said it all.

        That's not to say that I think Robert's figure of 7kWh (of electricity he says) per gallon of petrol is supportable. From sourceable figures I can find on UK petrol usage and electricity used in UK refineries it's out by a factor of at least five. However, the 7kWh figure is feasible if it is the total energy used. That's even if UK refineries were producing only petrol.

  49. anaru

    How is this news?

    An electric car is only as "clean" as the power station its plugged into. Who would have thought?

    Is there really anyone out there who's stupid enough not to have realised that?

    As the article states, going electric doesn't remove the pollution, it gives you one big fixed polluting thing instead of millions of mobile polluting things.

    One big fixed polluting thing is much easier to re-engineer into a non-polluting thing.

    Electric is still a bloody good step in the right direction even if its not the instant cure to pollution that nobody ever actually claimed it was.

  50. Spongebob

    I Just Posted This Somewhere Else - Overhead Power Lines

    Strategic Plan: Replace Oil by Electricity

    Challenges: Profiteers of Oil + War (Exxon, Lockheed, Boeing, BP)

    Solution: Convert the Profiteers of Oil into Electric Energy/Technology Providers

    Details: Use Electric Cars with Overhead Lines (OHL) to replace Oil-propelled cars. Replace oil heatings with Electric Heatings (already practised widely in France). Electricity comes from Nuclear Power.

    Details of Electric Cars and Operational Concept: Cars will primarily be powered by OHLs, but have a short-range energy store like a small battery (range up to 20 miles), a generator-motor-flywheel, or a pressurized-air energy store. This means that OHL coverage must not be complete, but can be rather spotty. The recharge rate of the automotive energy store should be in the order of 150kW or more. Cars would normally connect to the OHL/electric grid after driving a few miles from home (e.g. on the highway), recharge the energy store and then drive a few more miles without an OHL. At the destination, short strips of OHL would be above employer's, supermarket's, government office's parking lots to allow recharging the small energy store.

    About 30 % of american highways and significant portions of the other road network must be equipped with OHLs.

    Details of Economic Concept, Cars and OHL: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler would team up with GE to build the cars and energy stores. Large Public Construction Projects will build the OHL lines throughout the country. OHL Whip technology and power management will be developed in a National R&D project including companies like Microsoft, Lockheed, Boeing and General Electric (GE).

    Details of Economic Concept, Nuclear Generation: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop, Westinghouse and GE to retool for the building of 700 nuclear reactors. Initiate R&D programs for breeders like CANDU and THTR Thorium/U238 breeders. Leverage Sandia and Los Alamos to speed up the design process.

    Details of Economic Concept, Power Generation and Network Operations: Exxon, Shell, BP will collect capital for building 700 1GW-class reactors and the corresponding high-voltage, direct-current electricity grid. After building the reactors, they will operate them. Close cooperation with the technology companies (former defense contractors) to Design For Safety, Security and Economic Operation and Maintenance.

    All of this will create Jobs For Americans In America and Reduce the Need For Oil Wars. Go for it !

  51. Anonymous Coward

    @AC 21:40 re AC re demand cycling, energy storage, etc.

    "the excess power can be funnelled into running Pumped Storage hydro-power"

    It can indeed. Now do the numbers and see how many GWh you need to store a meaningful quantity of electricity overnight. Then calculate how many Scottish or Welsh counties would need to be flooded to provide that capacity. But we could certainly use more than we have already, no disagreement there. is always worth a look (and a visit, if you're in the area).

    "generating easy-to-store hydrocarbons (that can also run our cars and lorries and infrastructure)"

    Actually there's a more important use for hydrocarbons than transport - it's as a raw material for the petrochemicals industry, and as a raw material for agricultural fertiliser. Oh, that's two uses. Anyway, as an energy storage medium the round trip efficiency of converting to hydrocarbon and back again to electricity leaves a lot to be desired but if the overnight energy is effectively zero marginal cost, it's in with a chance. Will there be lots of profit in it? How? If there won't, it won't happen.

    "creating hydrogen for a fleet of airships"

    How's your 20th century history? Not very good, by the look of it. Hydrogen for fuel cells is often suggested but I seem to recall hydrogen is a bit of a challenge to store and distribute; certainly nothing much ever seemed to come of trials in California and Iceland.

    "there's excess relatively-clean power being generated, what could I do with it to make a profit?"

    I dunno. Night storage heaters for domestic and commercial space heating and hot water? A bit more pumped storage?

    A worthwhile bidirectional link to Norway so we can use them for pumped storage?

    Use it off peak for charging the batteries on huge numbers of electric vehicles, and use them the other way round for peak lopping, suggests Professor Mackay (he knows more than I do) at

    Other sensible suggestions welcome.

  52. a_j_b
    IT Angle

    How can the advertising be green ?

    surprise, it's just an advert.

    The car runs on batteries, not gas. I plug in at home rather than drive to the station for power. The car is almost silent and gets me from point A to point B with a few packages. I can feel OK about gaseous emissions during transit as they will only occur when I open the passenger compartment to the outside; the coal plant far away produces the primary byproduct of my power source-- we're going to focus on making that cleaner v. millions of moving targets, right ?

    And, you know, its like, a new car.

    *** Buying new cars is not a green activity

    But this one might make city life more enjoyable.

    1. Chemist

      "there's excess relatively-clean power being generated, what could I do with it to make a profit?""

      Just reinforce your argument. Where is this so-called excess power going ? What's getting very hot ?

  53. T J

    This is UTTERLY irrelevant.

    The cars are a necessary part of the system. The real issue is the power generation, which is a separate problem.

  54. Crover

    Nissan Leaf

    Would you buy an electric vehicle? Here are some things you might not know about the Nissan Leaf:

  55. VonMises


    Who gives a flying what the CO2 costs of anything are? These "costs" don't exist! THERE IS NO AGW! It's a hoax! Will it help if I say it's a conspiracy of the military-industrial complex?

    Seriously, though, grow up you watermelons. People in the third world are suffering and dying due to lack of cheap energy (and associated infrastructure), and your answer is to make first world energy more expensive. How European. And stupid.

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