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Study offers further evidence about true impact of electric vehicles: 'We have to sustain that for another 20 years'

The data collected shows the reduction rate needs to be twice as fast to get to the net-zero goals.

The data collected shows the reduction rate needs to be twice as fast to get to the net-zero goals.

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A study of pollution levels in the San Francisco Bay Area has provided evidence that electric vehicles are helping to reduce the release of carbon in the California region.

UC Berkeley professor of chemistry Ronald Cohen set up a network of sensors in the Bay Area to record carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. As a university report posted by Phys.org detailed, Cohen began placing the sensors in 2012, and he now has around 80 recording posts.

The data from 57 of those sensors recorded steady declines in carbon dioxide pollution from 2018 to 2022, representing around a 1.8% reduction per year. With EVs popular throughout California, Cohen and graduate student Naomi Asimow believe the drop in carbon pollution is down to more EVs and fewer dirty-fuel-powered cars on the area's roads.

The research was published in the Environmental Sciences & Technology journal, and Asimow noted that the findings suggest a CO2 reduction each year of 2.6% per mile driven.

"We show from atmospheric measurements that adoption of electric vehicles is working, that it's having the intended effect on CO2 emissions," Cohen said, per the post on Phys.org.

While it's long been known that electric cars are far better for the environment than dirty-fuel-powered equivalents, this is among the first studies to have demonstrably proved their positive effects on reducing planet-warming pollution.

With California launching an ambitious target to achieve net-zero carbon pollution by 2045, the popularity of electric cars in the state should help to reach that goal. However, Asimow observed that the data collected shows the reduction rate needs to be twice as fast to get to that point.

"We're at 1.8% per year today. To get to the state's goal, we would need 3.7%," Cohen added. "So it's not crazy higher than where we are; we're almost half of the way to that goal. But we have to sustain that for another 20 years."

In addition to producing zero tailpipe pollution out on the roads, EVs are also cheaper to refuel than gas-guzzling cars and require less maintenance, providing benefits for EV customers' wallets and the planet. 

If carbon dioxide levels are dropping in California — where EV sales reached record highs in 2023 — imagine what could be achieved if takeup rates were matched nationwide.

The Inflation Reduction Act makes investing in a clean electric car much more affordable, while individual states might also offer incentives to switch to an EV.

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