Sustainability Electric Vehicles and the Environment
In the face of a changing climate, governments across the world are exploring ways to reduce carbon emissions and reduce society’s reliance on fossil fuels. In Australia, nearly 87% of commuters travel to work by car, making transportation our second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions1.
It’s easy to see how widespread adoption of electric vehicles may have major environmental benefits, but let’s take a look in more detail.
Electric vehicles can improve air quality in densely populated cities.
Carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, benzene and other carcinogens—the emissions from petrol and diesel engine exhaust pipes are known to contribute to respiratory illnesses as well as cancer2.
‘Air pollution is an invisible killer and we need to step up our efforts to address the causes. In terms of air pollution, road transport emissions are often more harmful than those from other sources, as these happen at ground level and tend to occur in cities, close to people,’ said European Environment Agency Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx3.
In addition to the physical discomfort felt by the individual, the illnesses and early deaths connected to air pollution also burdens society with huge financial costs. If electric cars, scooters and buses are widely adopted, there could be noticeable improvements in air quality in major cities, leading to an increase in quality of life for millions around the globe.
Electric vehicles will help reduce the impact of climate change
As well as the direct health benefits of having less pollutants in the air, reducing emissions overall is vital to society’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. Governments around the world are placing electric mobility and renewable energy at the core of ambitious targets to reduce the effects of climate change4.
Electric vehicles will lower Australia’s oil dependency
Australia uses over 34 billion litres of petrol and diesel per year, and over 90% of this is imported. This leaves the country at the mercy of international market fluctuations or shortages due to war, sanctions or environmental disasters. A shift away from petrol and diesel engines would reduce Australia’s dependency on imported oil, enhancing the country’s self-sufficiency in potentially turbulent times.
Electric vehicles reduce noise pollution as well as air pollution
While modern cars are much quieter than they used to be, many buses used in public transportation networks continue to operate with loud diesel engines. Electric buses, on the other hand, are comparatively silent. Over 40% of China’s one million buses in operation are electric, Paris has just announced an order of 800 to replace its ageing diesel buses, and the NSW government also announced a plan to switch to an all-electric bus fleet5. Australian-made electric buses are also in production, and a large-scale adoption would dramatically reduce both air pollution as well as noise pollution on our city streets.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), long-term exposure to high environmental noise levels such as traffic, above 53 decibels (dB) can result in adverse health effects such as elevated blood pressure, coronary artery disease, hearing loss and even heart attacks6.
To educate audiences on this growing health concern, Nissan measured and compared the sound levels of a standard urban street, to that of a street with the sound level of a 100 per cent electric vehicle (EV), using a sound level meter. The results showed noise levels peaking at above 90db on the street, as compared to 21db the running noise of a Nissan LEAF powertrain, even quieter than a library (around 30db).
When compared to the average noise of a stationary petrol or diesel engine at around 76db, EVs are shown to present a viable option to help decrease traffic noise pollution. The benefits of which at a societal level can include higher property values and increased levels of pedestrian street activity and social interaction.
Electric vehicles could contribute to a more sustainable power grid
Second-generation Nissan LEAF batteries don’t just draw power from the electricity grid—they also have the potential to be able to send power back into it (once Australia’s compatible technology catches up with what this electric vehicle can do). This means an electric car may also be used as a back-up power source for any home that has a solar battery system in the future. Australia already benefits from the strongest penetration of household solar in the world, additionally a network of electric cars has the potential to stabilise the energy grid, by drawing power from renewables or during off-peak periods and returning power to the network when electricity demand spikes.
The second-generation Nissan LEAF is the first battery electric vehicle in Australia to have vehicle-to-home capability from the factory. The power to actually utilise this built-in technology is still in its infancy, with this compatible technology only starting to emerge in overseas markets across Japan, Europe and the US. While it’s not available in Australia just yet, Nissan is working closely with partners across the academic, business, government and utility sectors to implement local testing to validate and realise this exciting future-power-sharing potential in Australia. Most importantly, ensuring the bi-directional units meet both Nissan standards and Australian regulations.
To demonstrate this concept, Nissan Europe partnered with Amsterdam’s largest stadium, the 55,000 seat Johan Cruyff Arena, to install 148 new and used Nissan LEAF batteries. The batteries created a 3 Megawatt system that captured and stored energy from the 4,300 solar panels installed on the stadium’s roof, and demonstrates the potential for re-appropriating and recycling EV batteries if they need to be replaced in a vehicle. Although with car manufacturers offering warranties of 8 to 10 years on an EV’s lithium ion battery, replacing a battery isn’t going to be a regular occurrence for electric vehicle owners.