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Cycling versus electric cars

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Not as climate friendly as think! Personal low-energy behavior is the next frontier

Not as climate friendly as think! Personal low-energy behavior is the next frontier

Cycling versus electric cars, by Lars Blikom !

Natural gas versus electric

There is a heated debate about electric cars in Norway these days. The background is quite simply that the Government has ensured that electric cars are omitted from all types of taxes and fees. As a result, electric cars are quite attractive, and the tiny population of Norway has become one of the top markets for electric cars globally. That was all fine until the Tesla S arrived, and created the image that lack of taxes was really subsidizing of the rich.

I took some interest in the topic as I will have a pretty long commute when I relocate back home to Norway in June. So I looked at all types of mobility. I’m not particularly interested in natural gas vehicles, but trying to pass as an LNG expert, of course I had to consider it. The conclusion was easy, though, natural gas is not available for fueling in Norway. As, based on my calculations, it shouldn’t be.

So I ordered a full-electric BMW i3 for delivery in May.

My commute will be 58 km each way, and I expect to commute around 150 days a year. Thats a total of 17 400 km traveled. The i3 will consume 12, 9 kWh per 100 km, or 2 244 kWh per year according to BMW. According to IEA, average emissions of CO2 per electricity produced in Norway is 17 g/kWh, so in total my commute with i3 will produce 38 kg of CO2, or 2, 2 g/km. I don’t know BMWs emissions from producing the car, but a study has estimated production emissions of 8, 8 tons of CO2 per electric car. BMW has certified efficiency in production, and I’ll give them some credit even if I can’t find quantified estimates. Let’s say 7 tons CO2 emissions for production of the i3. My family doesn’t have a habit of selling cars once we have them, so I am sure this i3 will serve us well for the next two decades (err!!! I’ll force my mum to take it over when the i5 is launched). So that means emissions from production contributing 350 kg per year, making my total emissions for the commute 388 kg per year.

If I instead selected a car using natural gas as fuel, I could probably get down to about 75 g/km plus the emissions from manufacturing, which for this car would be a little lower at 5, 6 tons of CO2. Again assuming 20 years life time, contribution from production will be 280 kg per year. In this case my total CO2 emissions would be 1 585 kg.

In other words, I can explain to myself every morning that I am driving this tiny car for the sake of the climate. I am saving more than a ton of CO2, compared to the second best alternative, which is not even available!

Many will try to bring me down from my pedestal by saying “if you really wanted to do something for the environment, you’d bike”. And to that I can say “it is with great pleasure I announce that you are wrong!”

According to a recently published report, the CO2 emissions from biking is 21 g/km, based on European average diets (and I guess average biking pace, average weight, and average everything else). Production of the bike adds 6 kg of CO2, so total emissions for my commute would be 371 kg per year. And I am pretty sure I am an above average consumer of Wagyu steaks from Japan, so my emissions are probably higher.

See? That’s essentially the same emissions from biking and driving the i3!

Clear conclusion: Diesel and gasoline are such big losers I didn’t even bother to calculate. Natural gas is a loser too, but that is Norway specific. Biking and BMW i3 shares the top spot. Public transportation was never an option as it is not compatible with my blood pressure.

One important caveat: In a more carbon intensive electricity generation mix, natural gas would come out much more favorable.

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