Blog 4: The often misunderstood environmental impacts of green energy

BLOG27th Jul 2020

There is increasing drive towards greener energy – but what are the environmental impacts of the current options?

With significant renewable energy driven growth in the electrification of our homes, vehicles and infrastructure, this means there will be very large increase in demand for base metals, such as copper, in the manufacture of wiring and components. Other essential metals such as lithium and cobalt used in batteries are in extremely high demand and bring with them their own environmental and ethical supply problems. Then there is the serious environmental question around the source and supply of rare earth metals to make solar panels, electric car motors, batteries and wind turbines. Add to this the exponential like growth and very complex burden of decommissioning, recycling and disposal of used solar panels1, batteries2 and wind turbine blades3 – and the environmental impact of renewables electrification looks even more challenging. 

Electric cars are particularly interesting within the green agenda. It cannot be argued that reducing harmful exhaust emissions from our roads and streets should not be a major priority. Emissions are still produced however at the power station that generates the electricity. Furthermore, if the electric power transmission and distribution losses are factored in, the hydrocarbon consumption unit value of each Kwh point of usage in an electric car is more that its value at production at the power station, often some distance away. In other words, by the time electricity is used to run an electric car, its power value per unit of hydrocarbon consumed is less than when it leaves the power station.   

At the moment we are nowhere close to producing enough clean green electricity to power our electric cars, let alone the future which is forecast to see massive growth in the electric car market. We should also consider reports from international studies that show it not until an electric car has 290,000km on the clock, will it be become a greener alternative in terms of carbon dioxide emissions to a modern diesel. It is worth noting that the average car’s lifespan in Europe is 180,000km4 

This is the fourth blog in a new series from Alasdair Green, a senior member of the AAB Energy Team and Head of E&P; “Balancing the Green Energy Agenda”.

To discuss any points raised in this blog, or throughout the series, please don’t hesitate to contact Alasdair directly.

The next topic in this series is “Putting hydrocarbons into context.”

You can also learn more about meeting Green Targets and growing global energy demand in the first blog of this series.


1 International Renewable Energy Agency:

2 Nature:

3 Bloomberg:

4 Multiple sources quoted in the Guardian: