Research Press Release

Sustainability: Net climate benefit from electric cars and home heaters

Nature Sustainability

March 24, 2020

Electric vehicles and heat pumps used for home heating are, on average, less emission-intensive than petrol cars and fossil boilers in 53 out of 59 world regions, according to a paper published in Nature Sustainability.

Passenger road transport and household heating generate 24% of global fuel-combustion carbon emissions. The electrification of both systems would curb tailpipe and on-site carbon emissions (direct emissions), but would result in indirect emissions from the generation of electricity. Life-cycle emission assessments, which estimate the environmental impacts of a product or activity, include both direct and indirect emissions measurements and can help determine the net climate change benefit of electrifying transportation and heating.

Florian Knobloch and colleagues analysed estimates from life-cycle assessment literature and used an integrated assessment model representing the electricity, transportation and heating sectors of the economy for 59 regions across the globe — including Switzerland, United States, South Africa and Brazil. The authors studied the full life-cycle emissions from electric vehicles and heat pumps over time. They found that current and future life-cycle emissions from electric vehicles and heat pumps — under different technologies and policy scenarios — are on average lower than those of petrol cars and fossil-fuel boilers globally, as well as in most individual nations.

The findings suggest that even if future electrification is not matched by rapid power sector decarbonization, shifting to electric vehicles and heat pumps could reduce emissions in most world regions, compared to fossil-fuel-based alternatives.

doi:10.1038/s41893-020-0488-7

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