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Widespread adoption of electric vehicles is already making some neighbourhoods cleaner, study finds

Widespread adoption of electric vehicles is already making some neighbourhoods cleaner, study finds
If you’ve survived waddling through Bengaluru’s escapable traffic woes for long enough, you’re probably aware of two separate green revolutions that are currently underway in the city: the tragic loss of tree cover and the recent boom of electric vehicles.

Studies have shown that electric vehicle sales in India have risen more than sixfold since pre-pandemic times. However, more than a growing concern for the environment, skyrocketing fuel prices might have given the necessary push to this transition. Nevertheless, it still begs the question: is moving away from planet-killing fossil fuel vehicles actually working?

For some highly-electrified parts of the US, the answer is a resounding — albeit slow and steady — yes.

In addition to being one of America’s technologically affluent states, California has remained a strong supporter of the imminent green transition, with ambitious plans to ban gas-powered vehicles by mid-century. San Francisco — one of the wealthiest cities in the state — in particular, has been witness to a monumental electric vehicle boom in recent times.

In order to assess the impact of such widespread electrification, researchers set up an array of sensors in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Teslas and other EVs are a regular sight. They found that planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions have been steadily dropping in the region every year.

The sensors were first installed in 2012, and have recorded a 1.8% annual drop in CO2 emissions since. This data was cross-referenced against vehicle registration information of the Bay area, leading the researchers to conclude that the local adoption of EVs was indeed having a noticeable impact.

“We show from atmospheric measurements that adoption of electric vehicles is working, that it's having the intended effect on CO2 emissions," explained study author Ronald Cohen. “1.8 percent per year is half the rate that we need to decrease. But I think it's an amazing down payment on our way to the right future."

However, the fact remains that San Francisco is definitely an outlier, and may not represent the average amount of progress that electrification can achieve. The aggressive manner by which locals from the Bay Area transitioned into greener vehicles is unrealistic to expect everywhere, especially in poorer cities.

“This is what a good news story looks like in the place that's most aggressive," Cohen remarks. "But it shows it's possible. It shows both how we can make measurements that allow us to report on how cities are doing with their policies, and it shows us those policies can make changes that are observable at scale.”

The findings of this research have been published in Environmental Science & Technology and can be accessed here.


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