EV Supply chain emits less CO2 emission than traditional fuel-run cars, New Yale study finds

With new major spending packages investing billions of dollars in electric vehicles in the U.S., some analysts have raised concerns over how green the electric vehicle industry actually is, focusing particularly on indirect emissions caused within the supply chains of the vehicle components and the fuels used to power electricity that charges the vehicles.

However, a recent study from the Yale School of the Environment [1] published in Nature Communications [2] found that the total indirect emissions from electric vehicles are very less in comparison to the indirect emissions from fossil fuel-powered vehicles. This is in addition to the direct emissions from combusting fossil fuels — either at the tailpipe for conventional vehicles or at the power plant smokestack for electricity generation — showing electric vehicles have a clear advantage emissions-wise over conventional vehicles.

Fig 1: Changes in model parameters (‘Increases’ and ‘Decreases’) due to full pricing relative to direct–emissions–only pricing in 2050 (green and grey colored bars)

The research team combined concepts from energy economics and industrial ecology — carbon pricing, life cycle assessment, and modelling energy systems — to find if carbon emissions were still reduced when indirect emissions from the electric vehicle supply chain were factored in. The study also considered future technological change, such as decarbonization of the electricity supply, and found this strengthened the result that electric vehicles dominate when indirect supply chain emissions are accounted for. 

The research team gathered data using a National Energy Modelling System (NEMS) created by the Energy Information Administration, which models the entire U.S. energy system using detailed information from the current domestic energy system and a forecast of the future of the electric system. The team completed a life cycle assessment that provided outputs of indirect emissions, which were then plugged into the NEMS model to see how a carbon tax on these indirect emissions would change the behaviour of consumers and manufacturers. Weber assisted in modifying the NEMS code. 

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The conclusions derived from this study are just another indicator pointing to the fact that electrifying our transportation is an urgent need of the hour in order to realise and achieve our emission goals. With many countries taking the lead for the same, more needs to be done in order to make EVs not just more viable, but also accessible to people irrespective of their economical or geographical background with regards to infrastructure and availability to access EV charging options. 

In such discussion a new solar trend, solar mobility, comes into the picture as it would reduce the need of Solar EVs to the infrastructure and could to some extent charge up vehicle batteries independently. Some examples for these can be seen in the upcoming and highly exciting segment of VIPV (Vehicle Integrated PhotoVoltaics), concepts of which have already been launched by organisations such as Hyundai [3], Sono Motors [4],and LightYear One [5]. In fact, in a recent article[6], Solar Edition found that VIPV could be one of the cleanest ways of powering our future vehicles. We found that the potential solar range differs greatly from vehicle to vehicle due to overall design and the bigger the surface is the more potential solar range. This puts the potential solar range at 1900 and up to 3400 km per year, which amounts to 13-26% of the average yearly driving distance (15000km) of a car in Germany, considering that all of the power generated by the modules is only used for propulsion! However, this too has its own sets of challenges which we expect will be dealt with as the technology matures.

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Fig 2: Schematic representation of Solar Carport and VIPV (Links to articles covered by Solar Edition on these topics are in the reference section below)

Additionally, another interesting way of charging your EV could be by using carports. In an article [7] we covered earlier, we found that carports do not just let you generate electricity by putting panels on top of the roof, but they also help in better space utilization, can act as a cool way to keep your car under a shade, and can help you save your electricity bills. We also found that [8] further benefits can be reaped from your system when combined with a battery storage system. This helps you store the energy generated when not in use, and also possibly can allow the use of electricity in other applications in addition to charging your EV, which significantly reduces your dependency on traditional energy. 

To make this long story short, switching to EVs, as the study done by Yale University suggests, can help us reduce our emissions drastically (be it current or future). We can go beyond this by combining more innovations such as solar panels with cars to create a robust, clean eco-system that can help us breathe cleaner air in the coming near future, and cal also help us leave behind a cleaner planet for our coming generations.

Author: Ayush Jadhav & Shahab Moghadam



[1]: YSE Study Finds Electric Vehicles Provide Lower Carbon Emissions Through Additional Channels | Yale School of the Environment

[2]: Pricing indirect emissions accelerates low—carbon transition of US light vehicle sector | Nature Communications

[3]: Say Hello to VIPV, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Enjoys Solar Roof & Extended Range | Solar Edition

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[4]: Sono Motor Aims to Utilize IBC Solar Cells in Their Commercially Available Solar Car, Sion | Solar Edition

[5]: https://solaredition.com/lightyear-unveiled-the-first-long-range-solar-powered-electric-car/

[6]: Vehicle Integrated Photovoltaic (VIPV) One of the Cleanest Ways of Transportation | Solar Edition

[7]: Solar Carports: An Innovative Way to Harness Solar Energy while Keeping Your Car Safe | Solar Edition

[8]: Solar Carports: Technical and Design Considerations while Designing Solar Carports | Solar Edition