Time to push e-mobility

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Four spaces in the car park for charging electric cars in Inverness, Scotland. [Glen Wallace/Flickr]

Electric vehicles are an essential part of the solution to meeting Europe’s climate and energy targets and the issue is becoming increasingly urgent, writes Kristian Ruby.

Kristian Ruby is Secretary General at Eurelectric.

Being three to four times more energy-efficient than conventional cars, but also enhancing air quality and noise levels in cities, electric vehicles will play a growing role in mobility, not only substantially reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency.

Today, transport is responsible for about a quarter of EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and it is almost exclusively dependent on oil products for fuel. It is actually the only major sector in the EU in which GHG emissions are still rising. In order to achieve the planned emission cuts in transport (-60% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels), electrification of road transport plays a crucial role.

Decarbonisation of transport calls for EVs

Battery electric vehicles reduce drastically the GHG emissions of road transport. They do not have any tailpipe emissions and all emissions linked to power generation are subject to the EU ETS and thus capped. Even when counting these emissions as transport emissions, with the current European power mix, electric passenger cars emit 50g CO2/km, already significantly less than the 2021 fleet emission limit for new cars of 95g CO2/km.

In 2016, the average emissions of new cars sold were still 118g CO2/km. Although there might still be some room for improvements in internal combustion engines, these will not bring us close to the needed emission reductions. Moreover, other pollutant emissions, such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, a major cause of smog in our cities, can be drastically reduced by switching to electric cars.

This issue is becoming increasingly urgent. According to the 2016 EEA Report on air quality, nine out of 10 EV citizens living in cities are exposed to air pollution at levels above the WHO guideline value. Poor air quality needs to be addressed. It causes serious problems to human health and it is the number one environmental cause of premature death in the EU. In 2013, health-related costs of poor air quality in Europe were in the range of €330–940 billion, according to the European Commission.

EVs are already a reality

This year, several countries took the initiative. France announced this summer that it plans to ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 and the British government followed soon after with a similar announcement.

And China, the world’s largest car market has just announced ambitious sales targets as of 2019.

This triggered an avalanche of announcements from car companies about their intention to produce more EVs. Numbers are expected to grow rapidly as Volkswagen Group announced 80 new electric models by 2025, BMW announced 12 different EV models by 2025 and Honda announced that 15% of its annual sales will be battery electric by 2030. But the question is whether it will be enough to keep up with international competition.

Considering that EVs are getting ready for mass deployment, the industry and policymakers must ensure that these technologies live up to their potential and help transform the energy system. While there have already been some positive signals from policymakers, a clear framework is needed.

Zero emission mandates needed

From a consumer point of view, there is a lack of choice in the car market today. Consumers with a preference for clean, electrified transport are at a disadvantage both in terms of vehicle choice and access to charging infrastructure.

From the policy side, ambitious CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans are therefore necessary. That will lead to the accelerated uptake of zero-emission vehicles.

And these standards will send a strong political message to manufacturers and consumers while ensuring long-term investment signals. Needless to say, these standards must be properly verified and test cycles should be backed up by real-world driving tests.

In addition, mandatory quotas on vehicle manufacturers are needed to ensure that a proportion of car sales is made up of zero-emission vehicles.

Such a provision is needed to provide customers with choice and to give a necessary boost to EVs early deployment, offering both manufacturers and infrastructure providers a clear signal on the direction Europe is taking. This will lead to important investment decisions, also in neighbouring sectors, like battery manufacturing.

If we can be sure that electric vehicles deployment will speed up in the coming years, investments in charging infrastructure will equally speed up. There is a huge potential in deploying smart charging infrastructure.

Automated management of the charging process will not only help to optimise grid usage but also facilitate the integration of intermittent renewable sources as EV charging can be scheduled for times of high feed-in of renewable generation. This will help to mitigate necessary grid investment and also reduce curtailment of renewables.

Finally, it is critically important for policymakers to realise the need to avoid the risk of working in silos.  Transport policy-making needs to increasingly work together with energy and environmental policymaking. Policy coordination needs to rapidly evolve in seamless policy integration to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement goals. It’s time for policymakers to act. It’s time to give consumers choice and let them drive the change.