German car owners report on EV emissions is garbage

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Based on some 5 year old data and some contrived fossil-fuel-friendly assumptions, German car owners association ADAC has concluded that EVs are not always climate-friendly.

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Based on some 5 year old data and fossil-fuel-friendly assumptions, German car owners association ADAC has come up with the remarkable conclusion that “The electric car is not always particularly climate-friendly”.

Really? And you worked that how?

Well, let’s have a look at how they contrived to reach that conclusion.  Firstly the assumption that a vehicle only lasts 150,000km.

That’s 10,000 km a year for 15 years or 15,000 km a year for 10 years. Pretty low usage – you’d think the car would be in rather good nick and would still have a reasonable second hand value.

Or maybe the Germans don’t like used cars?

Who scraps a car after that sort of mileage? Even a petrol or diesel car with gazillions of moving parts should last longer than that. And an EV should last a lot longer than a petrol car because it only has a few moving parts; i.e. less to go wrong. Duh.

And then ADAC factors in the emissions from building and scrapping the car and uses old grid emissions data with no assumptions of improvements?

Naughty ADAC. Here’s why.

The Lithium ion battery, motor and cooling system require more emissions to manufacture than a petrol engine, gearbox and cooling system – about 4500kg of CO2-e emissions more in the case of the Nissan Leaf, for example – let’s call it the ‘production surplus’.

If the EV is charged from renewables, it should produce essentially no emissions during its lifetime and so can “work off” those production surplus emissions.

The longer the lifetime, the more chance the EV has to show a benefit, compared to the petrol car. So, shortening the lifetime is plain wicked.

In fact, an equivalent petrol car produces emissions from burning petrol and should produce an equivalent amount of emissions to the EV’s production surplus after 25,000km (if it runs at 8L/100km) or 50,000km (if it runs at 4L/100km; good luck with that).

ADAC claims that the petrol car and EV hit emissions-parity at around 50,000km. That’s a very generous assumption for the petrol car. Ah, but what about end of life for the two cars? Recycling the cars at 150,000km brings forward the recycling of the EV’s Lithium ion battery.

Fortunately, that’s only about 200kg CO2-e for a Leaf. The rest of the two vehicles will be substantially the same.

But bringing forward the end of life scenario to 150,000km brings forward the extra emissions from scrapping the battery prematurely and, again, makes the petrol car look better – although not much better, as 200kg CO2-e is only an extra 2000km or so for the gassy car.

In fact, the Lithium ion battery should be good for another 30 years’ use – so why scrap it, anyway? Why not re-purpose it and use it to power a home or a cold storage facility (nice steady discharge and re-charge, hopefully from solar on the roof.)

Alternatively, seeing that the EV drivetrain will still be as good as new after 150,000km, why not scrap the petrol car (if you insist) but keep using the EV for another 150,000km.

That would improve the lifetime emissions of the EV by more than 250,000km compared with the gasser.

That’s a saving of 50,000 kg of CO2-e.  Then the ADAC folks compare the emissions of the EV with old German grid emissions data (when it was more coal-dependent) and come to the conclusion that a petrol vehicle will be more efficient than an EV for the first 116,000km, leaving only 35,000 km for the EV to make a difference.

Worse still, the diesel car is calculated to be better than the EV over the entire lifetime. Heavens, who would have thought that diesel was better than an EV over an entire lifetime?

Nice work, guys. To give ADAC some due, they do acknowledge that – if charged by renewables – the petrol vehicle is only better than the EV for the first 50,000km and that, by implication, the next 100,000km are a win for the EV.

That’s 66% lower emissions, even with the 150,000km lifetime assumption. And charging from an old grid, not renewables.

And assuming that grid emissions will never get better. And, on that basis, the EV is not particularly climate friendly?

This underlines the problem with these sorts of reports – they add to the confusion about EVs, and will be used by lobby groups to push back on low emissions targets, as we are seeing already in the US.


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  1. neroden 1 year ago

    Yeah. This sort of dishonest garbage report is very frustrating. The UCS presents honest “State of Charge” reports for the US every year.

  2. George Darroch 1 year ago

    Not only that, but the German grid (which is similar to ours, with good renewables penetration and lots of aging black and brown coal) will get a lot cleaner over the next two decades. They have a lot of plants that are 30-45 years old which can’t be kept open indefinitely.

    • itdoesntaddup 1 year ago

      The problem for the Energiewende is that they have decided to phase out zero carbon nuclear by 2022. That is already resulting in higher emissions because at least some of it is being replaced by dispatchable fossil fuelled capacity. So I don’t think we can be so sure about phasing out coal and lignite, and gas is increasingly putting them at the beck and call of Russia.

      • MacNordic 1 year ago

        Decidedly OT, but emissions are not really growing – even though ~9GW of nuclear have been switched off in 2011.
        [source: Umweltbundesamt]

        Additional real& scheduled retirements 2012-2019:
        9.65GW of black coal
        7.77GW of gas
        2 GW of mineral oil
        2.5 GW of nuclear
        [source: bundesnetzagentur(dot)de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Sachgebiete/Energie/Unternehmen_Institutionen/Versorgungssicherheit/Erzeugungskapazitaeten/KWSAL/KWSAL_Statistik_2017_12.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=2 – note: 1.3GW of nuclear added above, as retired at end of 2017]

        Around 8GW of lignite power stations could be retired today, as they are currently only producing for export – surplus production is 8-15GW at any given time… Total remaining nuclear is ~9GW, so (nearly) completely covered even today.

        • itdoesntaddup 1 year ago

          I don’t think the lignite stations are “only producing for export”. They seem to be needed to maintain grid stability as well as backup when renewables aren’t producing on cloudy, windless cold days. Indeed, Germany has built new ones recently. Unfortunately, also they are often left as spinning reserve, increasing their emission per kWh sent out.

          The Energiewende really is achieving very little, and unlikely to achieve much more unless there is a big change in policy. You are ignoring that ALL nuclear must be shut by 2022.

          • MacNordic 1 year ago

            Definitely not all lignite stations, absolutely true – I was just refering to the 8GW I mentioned. Total installed capacity is around 21GW.
            These 8GW could be switched off today, as a study by Agora Energiewende found late last year – without any problems or significant shortfalls [agora-energiewende(dot)de/en/topics/-agothem-/Produkt/produkt/451/Kohleausstieg%2C+Stromimporte+und+-exporte+sowie+Versorgungssicherheit/ – German only]

            The lignite additions – 6 units with a total of 2.8GW mostly in 2000/2002 and 3 units with 2.6GW in 2012 – are indeed a problem. Planning& construction lead times are 15+ years, which might explain some of this stupidity….

            Nonetheless, I would not say the Energiewende is achieving little- expected fall in emissions by 2020 is around 30% (28%-32%, depending on the source) with the current trajectory.
            An additional ~7-8.5GW of RE will be added each year 2018- 2021 (2.5GW PV, 3.5/5GW onshore, 1GW offshore). More would of course be far better…

            Current political discussions are around an end date for lignite and additional RE capacity additions.

            With the existing RE capacity, 89% of nuclear could be replaced (8 out of 9GW*) even today. With the additions 2018-2021, the replacement will not enable coal/ FF generation to add net emissions.

            *Lignite and nuclear have very similar load profiles and CF in Germany. The 8GW surplus capacity from the above mentioned study should be similar for nuclear.
            Only 9GW of latter remaining online.

  3. Luigi Cirocco 1 year ago

    Unlike the benign road environments of Australia the lifespan of a vehicle in northern Europe is somewhat governed by corrosion of the chassis during winter driving, where roads are salted in order to prevent icing. For this reason I’d argue the lifespan estimates might be correct or even optimistic.

    The rest of the analysis is outside my expertise but just to be cheeky: If the power is all nuclear then no CO2, just running a risk of long lasting glow in the dark puddles.

    • nakedChimp 1 year ago

      Cars over there get coated with underbody protection. The salt is not a real problem.
      15 years are easily doable that way.

    • MacNordic 1 year ago

      Uh… well, the AVERAGE age of cars in Germany – where the report originates from – is 9.7 years. Near to 100% of cars are exported, not scrapped after they leave the German register. Younger cars eastwards, older ones to Africa. Complete car carrier lines have made a business out of that – check Grimaldi lines…

      Rust and corrosion have – for the most part – no impact on lifetime since the zinc- conservation of the chassis has been introduced around 30 years ago. Only the occasional VW or Merc model line with defective (too thin) conservation…

    • Bob Fearn 1 year ago

      Here in Canada where governments are more than generous with winter salt vehicles last an average of 11.2 years and drive almost 15000 kms per year = 168,000. If you are driving and aluminum electric car it should last much longer.

    • Alexander Hromas 1 year ago

      Few European countries salt any more, environmental pollution, they use rock grit instead and most new European cars are well finished to exclude under body rust which is a problem in freezing conditions regardless of salt. English cars were notorious for rusting but they are pretty much extinct now-days.
      Regardless of CO2 footprints EVs have an important advantage, they do not produce air pollution in our cities which are all being choked by exhaust fumes

    • Hettie 1 year ago

      It’s not only salt that destoys cars. Many of our roads are so poorly maintained that the cars are shaken to bits.

  4. Joe 1 year ago

    This is a little off topic but I was watching ‘Deutsche Welle’ ( Germany’s National Broadcaster ) the other day where they had a story about what happens to Germany’s used / second hand diesel cars that the M/Vehicle manufacturers have been buying back…..they are shipping them across to Eastern European countries that have slack air quality laws….the Dirty Diesel Dumping ground where the Dirty Diesel’s can have a second life so to speak. There are no words!!!!

    • Jo 1 year ago

      They could send them to Australia. We have no regulations on car emissions at all!

      • nakedChimp 1 year ago

        Too expensive to convert them to RHD..

        • Nick Kemp 1 year ago

          One thing to be thankful for

      • Joe 1 year ago

        Hmmm, Australia…perhaps a ‘third life’ then for Dirty Diesel’s?

    • nakedChimp 1 year ago

      Our old VW Passat 1996 model did go to Africa, turned out the tree stump was too much for the front wheel going over it backwards 🙁

    • Wallace 1 year ago

      I think the settlement that was made in the US required the cars to either be upgraded or crushed. They are not allowed to be sold ‘as is’ anywhere on the planet.

  5. My_Oath 1 year ago

    It would be pretty hard to find a car older then 10 years in a country that salts its roads in winter… Perhaps that is what is driving their claim?

  6. nakedChimp 1 year ago

    You should read some German public comment forums when news on BEVs come out.. like a lynch mob.

    The only ones getting it are probably the Greens and car manufacturing workers over there. Everybody else is anti BEV (probably thanks to media influence by the car lobby).

  7. Nick Kemp 1 year ago

    I look at it this way. There would be no problem at all producing ICE and EV using (say) solar power so the manufacturing argument is moot. Once the car is made EVs run on electricity but ICE vehicles burn fossil fuels. That’s about as much analysis as this needs

  8. RobertO 1 year ago

    Hi All, I expect to see the ADAC (German version tranlated to English) on our emenent Member of Parliment web site shortly (possibly 2IC of RWNJ’s and Monash spokesperson for Shockjock on Skynews) Crag Kelly. This misleading (**ap) is perfect for him and given that he specialises in misinformation (out right lies comes to my mind).

  9. Hettie 1 year ago

    My dear old 1996 Mitsi failed it’s rego check last year after 280,000 km, because of too much play in the rear suspension.
    Parts no longer available, car not registerable. But it was still going strong. Everything else in good order. What a waste.
    Hey ho. Taxis are cheaper.

  10. MaxG 1 year ago

    I haven’t read the ADAC report; but have to say, if the assessment here holds true, then it is very disappointing to get this sort of rubbish from the ADAC.

  11. MaxG 1 year ago

    I haven’t read the ADAC report; but have to say, if the assessment here holds true, then it is very disappointing to get this sort of rubbish from the ADAC.

    OK, I read the German source… in parts not what the author here claims or makes of it; and old data has been stated. Is the original helpful to the cause of EV promotion? Not much, I’d say… however, a 2013 energy mix is just that, 2013. It has changed since, and at the end of the day, each journalist reports with a certain bias — despite training to the contrary — it is simply human nature.

    The way I read the graphic (below), without paying to much attention to the type of emission, the EV comes out on top (the lowest); the rest is based on the assumption made, which can be called into question.

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