Renault Study Shows Electric Cars Far Greener Than Gasoline--In France

Follow Antony

Facelifted 2013 Renault Fluence electric sedan

Facelifted 2013 Renault Fluence electric sedan

Enlarge Photo

With relatively few electric vehicles on the market, drawing direct comparisons with regular gasoline and diesel vehicles is surprisingly difficult--not many vehicles are sold with all three drivetrains. The Ford Focus is one, and Renault's Fluence sedan is another.

Now, reports Autoblog Green, the French automaker has revealed findings from a study to determine which is greener over the vehicle's lifecycle.

Unsurprisingly, the electric Fluence Z.E. comes out on top, ahead of its gasoline and diesel counterparts--though not without a few caveats.

Bare numbers

The findings stem from an internal Renault study published in October 2011. It's based on series production variants of each Fluence model--gasoline, diesel and electric--and based on a vehicle lifecycle of 93,205 miles, or a nice round 150,000 kilometers.

Both the 1.5-liter diesel Fluence and 1.6 gasoline model are relatively efficient for their type. Although measured against the optimistic European drive cycle, the diesel's 4.4 liters/100 km economy translates to 53.5 mpg, with CO2 emissions of only 115 g/km.

A little number-juggling converts the Fluence Z.E.'s efficiency figure of 0.14 kWh/km into 22.5 kWh/100 miles--less than that of any electric car sold in the U.S. (a Leaf uses 29 kWh/100 mi) but once again, this figure is based on the European drive cycle, so isn't comparable to the EPA's ratings.

Quantifying impact

The Fluence's lifecycle assessment (LCA) was measured in six ways: Global warming 100-year potential, acidification potential, photochemical ozone creation potential, eutrophication potential, abiotic resource depletion potential and primary energy demand. Each of these was then measured over the four periods of a car's life--production, well-to-tank, use, and recycling.

That all sounds rather complicated (and you can read how each is measured at Green Car Congress) but the upshot is that over all but one of the six LCAs, the Fluence Z.E. was cleaner than its combustion cousins, vastly so on a couple, including global warming potential. Here, it's only around 60 percent that of the diesel, and less than half that of the gasoline model.

Where the electric car didn't score so highly was in the acidification potential category. This was mainly down to the Fluence Z.E.'s production stage, which results in higher oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dioxides.

Given that each car in the study is a Renault Fluence, the discrepancy is down to production of the car's lithium-ion battery pack, rather than other differences between the models.

2012 Renault Fluence ZE electric car (European model) at 2012 Paris Auto Show

2012 Renault Fluence ZE electric car (European model) at 2012 Paris Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

While many of the numbers are unsurprising and back up those of similar studies, Renault's findings also illustrate how important a clean grid is to an electric car's overall cleanliness.

This is illustrated in Renault's comparison between each of the above factors in France, to those of a European average and to the coal and gas-heavy Great Britain (GB) market.

France's largely nuclear-powered grid has just 70 percent of the global warming potential of Europe as a whole, while GB is around 140 percent of Europe. With production impact pegged level across the board, the vast majority of that difference is down to the well-to-tank impact in each country.

An independent review of Renault's findings revealed them to be fairly accurate.

While some factors were missing from Renault's investigation into electric vehicles, the review also pointed out that real-world emissions from internal combustion vehicles are often significantly higher than Renault's +15% corrections--something to swing the charts heavily in favor of the electric vehicles.

Ultimately, today's electric cars are already greener than their combustion equivalents in most key areas, even on sub-optimal grids. But run them in a country like France--or run them from your own renewable sources--and there's little to touch them.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+

Follow Us

Comments (12)
  1. Moral of the story?...Nuclear power rules!

  2. Yeah, just ask the people in Hanford Wa. State and in Japan, or Chernobyl

  3. Or San Onofre here in California, where because of stupidity in design, they are shutting down a nuclear plant 20 years early. Thanks to Southern California Edison and Mitsubishi, the costs will exceed $2 billion when the initial repair was only supposed to be $500 million. That's what nuclear stupidity will do.

  4. Nuclear power DOES rule, but only if the reactor is 93 million miles away.

  5. Loops sorry that was suppose to be a thumbs UP!

  6. Add an abundance of clean hydro power in France too.

  7. I'm always somewhat amused by arguments that EVs are dirtier than gas vehicles when the grid is fueled by coal. It never seems to occur to these people that this is an excellent argument for cleaning up the power plants, instead of dissing electric cars. If dirty electricity is such a problem for your electric car, why isn't it a problem for your refrigerator or TV? But as we all know, this isn't really about logic.

  8. Exactly. Not to mention that everyone can do something about that dirty grid or electricity source but nobody can doing anything about the gasoline or diesel fuels except for minimize its use...

  9. Norm - I have not heard that point made before and it is a very valid one.

    My stance on this argument is best made by giving some empirical data for my converted van (from petrol to electric - over the course of some 15k miles of doing my usual commute - a mix of about 14 miles of 55-60mph highway driving and another 2 of 40mph highway and then about 3 miles of stop/go traffic - I achieved an average mpg of 36.56. After the conversion over another 13.3k miles it achieved an average electrical energy consumption of 67.52mpge. This was measured at the wall and so includes the inefficiencies of the electric drive train as well as those of the charger and batteries when being charged (and heated) as well as discharged....

  10. ... With modern batteries and an AC drive train (with regenerative braking and single speed gearbox) the mpge would be 2.5 to 3 times the mpg.

    The cost saving are another matter. At todays prices, it works out roughly £6 per commute in petrol and £0.85 in electricity, but as I was able charge at work for free, it would be £6 Vs £0.42p!

  11. This is an excellent example on how to focus on idiosyncrasies when looking for reasons or excuses to debate the negativity of nuclear power generation. This could be discussed as to the lethality of vehicles on a global scale. Last time I checked figures it was around one million humans killed EACH YEAR by crashes of cars. Perhaps Mr. Brown can reply to how many did at Hanford or Chernobyl or in Japan due to atomic reasons. Simply stated, any one can twist figures for political reasons. The truth is the France has a successful nuclear program based on science, not politics. On one standard design, not personal or individual design and with full political approval of one government. Theirs works. ours not. That is why.

  12. The main point is to BREAK the monopoly of oil in the automobile industry. You can make electricity from all kinds of way. You use nuclear reactors, or burn wood. You can use coal or use solar collectors or windmills. The more choices a consumer has as to what kind of power he wants to use to power his vehicle, the better. Competition in power sources is good for consumers. The oil industry killed the electric car a hundred years ago, and they are trying every day in every way to stop it again. Hopefully, this time they will fail.

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.