How to minimize your EV’s carbon footprint
Driving an EV is already the clear climate choice. Here’s how to make it even greener!
Thinking of buying an electric vehicle (EV), or bought one already? Welcome to the green side. Over time, you’ll enjoy less carbon emissions and more savings in fuel and maintenance. That’s awesome — now think globally. You’ve joined a movement of several million individuals who are turning climate action into a tangible change, at home and in the garage.
But before we crack the champagne, a reminder: EVs aren’t net-zero vehicles. Not yet at least. So we encourage mindful driving and charging to shrink your car’s footprint even further. Let’s talk about it.
The winning team
Transport represents a fat slice of global emissions. 21%, to be precise. And three quarters of that is road transport, meaning the cars outside your window aren’t just loud and smelly, but hurting the planet as a whole.
So we have a problem. But are EVs better for the environment? The answer is almost always. The latest research shows that EVs are better for the environment in 95% of the world. Still, how green they are depends on the makeup of the grid that powers them. This can vary wildly between countries and states. For example: EV drivers in Switzerland, a country with advanced renewable energy production, save 100% of the everyday emissions they would've generated in a gas car. However, in a coal-reliant country like Cyprus, this plummets to just 4%.
So we just need to clean the grid, right? Totally, but there's more. Beyond their rolling energy use, EVs also create emissions via their production and battery lifecycle. We can’t do much about the former. That’s the manufacturer’s job. But battery life, like energy use, is a factor that the driver can influence.
Increasing EV range with mindful driving
One of the basic values of an EV is range — how far it goes on one charge. This figure is influenced by a bunch of variables. Many of these lie in your hand. Or under your feet. By using principles of fuel economy, a shrewd driver can maximize range and minimize recharging, and thus the EV’s fuel footprint.
Question: How can you increase electric vehicle fuel economy? Answer: Just like a gas car. The rules of physics don’t change if a car has an electric motor or combustion engine. So drive steadily, with gentle acceleration and braking, and stay below fuel-torching high speeds. Taking the highway where you can drive at a constant, medium speed is better than shorter routes with heavy stop-start traffic.
But if you can’t always avoid the traffic, and let’s be honest, none of us can, then use regenerative braking! The US Department of Energy calls it the most noticeable difference between electric and gas cars. For good reason. Given the right conditions, you can recapture a nice chunk of your charge — stretching your range to the fullest.
Also, just like homes, it takes power to heat and cool the inside of an EV. Consider rolling down windows in the summer, or simply running the fan without a compressor. And for the winter, know that heated seats and steering wheels use much less energy than climate control. Again, physics. Heat transfers more efficiently when applied directly to your body, compared to heating all the air inside your cabin. Finally, remove any unnecessary heavy items from the car before driving. The heavier your car is, the more energy needed to bring it to speed.
Extending your EV’s battery life
The beginning and end of a battery's life are an environmental headache. But with some conscious actions, you can slow down battery degradation, and reduce the amount of batteries needed.
Temperature is a biggie here. Understand that EV batteries enjoy the same weather that we do. So try to keep them out of extreme heat or cold for too long, which can easily happen when parked outside. And be wary of EV fast chargers (Level 3). While fast charging is attractive because it mirrors the experience of pumping gas, it can also sap your battery life. Use Level 1 or 2 home chargers as your primary charging, and Level 3 only when necessary.
Finally, while seeing our phone battery at 100% makes us feel prepared, overcharging irritates any lithium-ion battery — be it phones or EVs. Consistently using the ‘top’ of your battery will wear it out fast. So keep it under 80%. Most EV models include a charge limit or timer, letting you cap your maximum state of charge.
Charging your EV at the right time
EV ownership is exploding. But with all these newborn cars needing electricity, there’s a risk of stressing the grid. Realistically, that means many countries will build more fossil-fuel power plants to meet this extra demand — which is bad news for the environment. But charging your EV at quieter times can help distribute the load. It can even save you money, if you have a variable tariff where you pay less during off-peak hours.
While being mindful of when you charge is good general practice, in some places like Germany or Spain, it actually determines the emissions you save. That’s because these countries have invested heavily in renewable energy, but still lack storage to sustain output on grey or windless days.
So if you like your electricity green, google the peak electricity hours in your region and charge around them. This could be as simple as putting your EV on charge before you sleep, instead of when you get home from work. Alternatively, buying a smart charger will do this automatically. If everyone plays along, we could reduce or even eliminate the extra energy needed to support the electric revolution.
Green is a philosophy, not a purchase
Electric vehicles are the environmentalist’s choice. By removing another tailpipe from the road, you do your part in reducing emissions globally, and air pollution locally. Nevertheless, they’re not perfect yet. But with some forethought and consideration, you can collapse your driving footprint to its absolute minimum.