Are electric cars environmentally friendly? A matter of weight

The question that titles this article, despite its apparent ingenuity, is at the heart of the consideration of the car’s transformation. The national agency Ademe publishes a statement on the ecological impact of the electric car. This inventory is neither completely white nor completely black and not necessarily green.


Max K

Published it

According to Ademe, the ecological virtues of electric cars depend on their weight.


The environmental agency Ademe, under the supervision of the Ministry of Ecological Transition, takes advantage of the imminent opening of the Paris Motor Show in 2022 to publish a statement on the ecological impact of the electric car, including the state of knowledge, comparison with thermal and perspectives. The institution continues to advocate the mass adoption of this type of vehicle with the aim of achieving the CO2 neutrality that France and the EU have set themselves as a goal for 2050. But this underlines the conditions on which the environmental benefits depend. the electric, and emits caveats as consequential as surprising that come from it. It must be said that the publication of this statement comes at a time of international tension about energy and calls on the French government to reduce electricity consumption for citizens and businesses. The main point that Ademe has made is that electric cars are less harmful than thermal cars for the environment if they remain light, which according to her corresponds to a battery not exceeding 60 kWh in capacity. Today, this allows you to travel just over 400km on a charge in the WLTP homologation cycle; less under real conditions.

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The weight/capacity/cost ratio of the batteries is decisive.


Libra, eternal enemy

It is important to note that Ademe’s analysis is limited to France, where electricity is low-carbon due to its main production processes (nuclear, hydraulic, etc.) and where significant purchase subsidies artificially lower the prices of electric cars. Furthermore, the possible consideration of emissions linked to fossil fuels from the well to the tank is not specified. Before an electric car hits the market, its production emits two to three times more CO22 than its thermal equivalent, according to the agency, due to the materials and manufacturing process of its battery. and ” The battery is a component whose weight, price and carbon impact of production increase with storage capacity she remembers.

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Red Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5, weighing less than a tonne at entry level but 100% thermal, is being pushed out by environmental regulations.


Compared to a diesel compact sedan, an electric model in the same segment with a 60 kWh battery” repays its carbon debt » after approximately 70,000 km. An electric city car with a 22 kWh battery reaches this before 20,000 km, while an SUV with 100 kWh must drive more than 100,000 km, always compared to a compact diesel. Over its lifetime, an electric car whose battery does not exceed 60 kWh has a carbon impact 2 to 3 times lower than a thermal car, according to Ademe, who also says:

With a larger battery, the environmental benefit compared to a comparable thermal vehicle is not guaranteed

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Ademe CO2 thermal electric

Comparison of CO2 emissions between thermal and electric in France.


Electricity, an economic advantage?

With regard to the budget, Ademe estimates that over a lifespan of 15 years with an annual mileage of 12,500 km, a compact electric vehicle with a 40 kWh battery costs €8,000 less than its petrol equivalenttaking into account a flat purchase price of around €22,000 (subsidy deducted) and lower energy, maintenance and insurance costs. The much higher purchase price of an 80 kWh battery electric car reverses the trend, costing around €60,000 over 15 years and 187,500 km compared to less than €50,000 for the thermal model. The charging method is not specified, but it has a strong influence on the price of electricity.

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Ademe electrical thermal costs

Comparison of the cost of ownership between thermal and electric in France.


A precision must be added to these time and mileage deadlines. Because if Ademe estimates that the 8-year warranty that generally applies to batteries provides between 1,000 and 1,500 charging cycles, i.e. between 10 and 15 years to drive 20,000 km/year without changing the accumulator that can be expected, the conditions set by the manufacturers are often formulated differently. In most cases, these guarantee 70% battery capacity after 8 years or 160,000 km. And Ademe states: ” An electric vehicle battery is considered “end of mobility life” when its aging has reduced its original storage capacity by 20 to 30%. The accumulator can therefore be considered out of use in a car well before the agency’s terms of reference, i.e. before the switch to electricity has provided a financial advantage for the driver.

Praise of slowness

Ademe favors the choice of compact and light electric vehicles equipped with batteries of less than 60 kWh, but also, the search for energy sobriety obliges, the adoption of charging habits that consume little energy. It is recommended to recharge at night, at home or even at work on terminals with an output of less than 7.4 kW.Recharging a 60 kWh battery in 2 minutes like refueling an internal combustion engine vehicle would represent a power consumption of 1.8 MW, i.e. equivalent to the average electrical power that 1,500 households call simultaneously. “Warns the agency. Today, electric cars make up only 1.5% of the French car fleet, but their market share is increasing rapidly (currently around 12%). Ademe calls for the establishment of a ” diffuse network » low-power terminals instead of remote stations offering high-performance units. The latter also requires a higher cost per kWh. ” Generalization of very high power charging (up to 350 kW) at the expense of the spread of normal current charging points will therefore lead to making access to electromobility more expensive “, warns the organization.

The “100,000 terminals plan” announced by the government for the end of 2021 has been delayed. At the end of July 2022, there were 66,960 public terminals in France, that is, approximately one per 1,000 inhabitants, of which 91% had an output of less than 22 kW. 90% of EV owners living in single-family homes charge at home; this rate drops to 54% for those living in apartment buildings.

Alternative means of transport as required

Ademe acknowledges that limiting itself to electric vehicles with modest performance, or even current production, ” meets everyday needs, but does not meet satisfactory needs for long trips » and believes that « plug-in hybrid technology may be relevant in a transitional periodprovided that all trips during the vehicle’s electric range are actually made in ‘pure electric’ mode “. In the longer term, it requires the development of alternatives to the car, starting with the train, together with lifestyles and habits that require less use of the car (distance work, local tourism, etc.) and the use of soft mobility such as cycling for short journeys. The answer, although indirect, is therefore as ingenious as the question: It is by consuming less that we will reject less.

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Citroen C5 Aircross white

Ademe sees the rechargeable hybrid as a transitional solution.



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