Mythbusting – Electric cars are worse for the environment than “normal” cars.

Last week, I delivered another pre-loved 1st Generation LEAF to a customer at the other end of the country (in this case, it was near Brighton, East Sussex).

The LEAF journey down was fairly straightforward, with the exception that I set off much later than planned (3pm from Burnley), so I copped for all the traffic around Birmingham at rush hour. There were several car accidents in the rain, and so it took me till 8pm to reach Warwick Services on the M40. After that, the roads were clear, although the rain got torrential as I got down to the M25, and M23, so I didn’t arrive in Newhaven until 1am (a total of 10 hours). Premier Inn was my saviour in this case – the 24 hour reception service coming in very useful for a weary traveller like me.

IMAG2128The following morning, I met with the customer (John), and completed the paperwork before setting off in John’s old car – a 2007 Vauxhall Astra 1.9 CDTi SRI. The Astra was in good condition, and had recently had £1000 spent on a new timing belt, DMF, and clutch, but with a 6-speed Manual gearbox, and a diesel engine, it was quite a shock to my system after getting so used to drifting along in silence in the LEAF.

The traffic on the way back wasn’t much kinder, and the journey still took me from 10am through to 5pm (7 hours), despite not needing to stop to charge like I did in the LEAF.

As I drove back to Burnley, I started to think about the impact of the emissions of this journey, compared to my electric journey on the way down.

Many people who criticise Electric vehicles tend to use phrases like “it’s just a coal powered car”, as they say that because the National Grid uses a lot of dirty coal/gas power to generate electricity, then the electric car is really just shifting the emissions from the tailpipe to a power station. This isn’t actually true.

IMAG2122You see, the Ecotricity-provided “Electric Highway” rapid charge points on the motorway are all offset by Ecotricity’s Wind Turbines, so the carbon footprint of the electricity used is very small indeed. They are also all free to use, so the cost is very low too!

To give you an idea, this journey was 312 miles each way. On the way down, I stopped at Ecotricity rapid chargers several times, using a total of 74.88kWh of electricity. Wind turbines have an average lifetime grams of CO2 per kWh of 11. So for the whole journey, the amount of CO2 generated was 823 grams. Wind turbines do not emit Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), or Particulate Matter (PM), so they’re both zero grams.

IMAG2132By comparison, the journey back in the Astra used 5.4 gallons of diesel (this translates to 58mpg, which is down to my relaxed “eco-friendly” driving style, as the official combined mpg figure is 49!). 5.4 gallons (24.5 litres) of diesel costs about £27 at the moment (@£1.09 per litre).

The tailpipe emissions of the Astra works out as 63 kg of CO2, 12.55 grams of Particulate Matter, and 125.5 grams of NOx. Not only that, but the refining and transport of the diesel to the petrol station in the first place also adds a further 15 kg of CO2, and 38 grams of Nox and PM combined.

So the total CO2 emission of the Astra’s journey was 78kg, which is 94 times more than in the LEAF. If the Astra was driven by a less light-footed driver, the figures would be even worse.

As a footnote, I have to say that despite being stuck in some truly horrific traffic jams in the LEAF on the M6, I never felt stressed, whereas the stop-start traffic on the M25 in the Astra was horrible. Having to shift between 1st, 2nd, and then stopping, then back to 1st etc, really took it’s toll on my left knee (clutch foot). I’m so used to just driving with one-foot in the single-geared LEAF, that I found it really hurting after a while.

So the LEAF is easier to drive, costs less to run, and causes less pollution.

What’s not to love?


5 thoughts on “Mythbusting – Electric cars are worse for the environment than “normal” cars.

  1. Ken Collyer says:

    Hi Miles, Please could you explain why, when I input the same journey that you took from Burnley to Peacehaven, shows on your map that it took 5h 58min but on my Carwings route planner for the same journey shows, when starting with a 100% battery, that it takes 20h 16min with 5 charging stops?

    I am a new Nissan Leaf user and very worried about going on long journeys and the length of time it’s going to take and would very much appreciate your help!!


    • Miles Roberts says:

      I don’t know why your carwings route says 20 hours… I’ve just tried it again, and it says “305.88miles – About 7 Hours 24 Minutes”.

      In the detailed options, if you choose the following options:
      Charge Status – 100% (I’m assuming you’d charge to full before setting off)
      Driving Speed – Normal
      Use Climate Control – Tick
      Outside Temp – 10C
      Charge along way as needed – Tick
      Consider return path – No
      Search only using quick charger stations – Tick
      Prefer Motorway – Tick

      Carwings does tend to list a lot of Nissan dealer’s rapid chargers, which takes you off the motorway a little bit. I tend to charge on the motorway services using the ecotricity points, but it’s always good to know where the “plan B” points are.


      • Ken Collyer says:

        Thanks Miles, I did change the parameters in CARWINGS as you suggested and I got the same result as you so I will remember to use them when I am planning any future journeys. I did have one further worry which you could perhaps help me with. How do you cope if you are travelling down the motorway on a freezing cold night in the pouring rain and you encounter 6 mile traffic jam?


      • Miles Roberts says:

        The good news with a traffic jam is that the LEAF uses very little electricity if it’s going slowly. When I was driving down from Burnley, I wanted to stop at Charnock Richard, but both chargers were in use, so I set off to Lymm services, with 25% on the battery. It’s about 23 miles to Lymm. Got to Lymm with 4 miles range showing. There was heavy traffic before Lymm, and that helped me because crawling along uses very little power.


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