Electric vehicles: How close are we to closing the global emissions gap?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Electric vehicle uptake is predicted to sky-rocket once costs reach parity with ICEs. [Photo: Shutterstock]

Electric vehicles are a massive talking point on the agenda for tackling climate change but what are the challenges facing large-scale deployment and how far can they take us to close the global emissions gap? Lucy Craig explains the situation.

Lucy Craig is vice president of technology and innovation at DNV GL – Energy.

50% of all light vehicle sales worldwide are expected to be electric by 2032, according to DNV GL’s Energy Transition Outlook report.

Dependent on a wide variety of economic, social and geographical factors – including cost, the standard of public transport and existing electricity infrastructure – this means that, by 2050, the world’s fleet of passenger road vehicles will have transformed to 73% electric and 27% internal combustion.

The current state of play

Transport accounts for 28% of global energy demand today, with road transport responsible for over 80% of that amount. When it comes to what’s on the roads, 97.5% of passenger road vehicles are internal combustion, while only 2.5% are electric.

However, industry experts estimate that by the end of this year there will be over four million electric vehicles deployed globally.

While Norway has been leading the way in Europe, a much bigger impact can be made in the world’s largest countries.

China has been busy investing in electric vehicles for some time – over US $60 billion in the last decade. In fact, there are more electric vehicles on the road in China than in the rest of the world combined, with over 100 manufacturers currently operating within the country.

As such, Chinese businesses are now looking at the export market as other countries move away from the internal combustion engine and embrace clean vehicle technology.

This includes the Chinese SAIC motor corporation, which recently announced that it is planning a $350 million investment in India through MG Motor, its British subsidiary.

This means that electric vehicles will be manufactured in India by the end of the year, and it follows the government’s FAME India Scheme (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India), which aims to foster greater demand for electric vehicles, as well as promote a greater supply of them in future.

Home to some of the most densely populated and congested cities in the world, the introduction of electric vehicles to India will allow for a huge reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, as well as greater overall efficiency.

In China and South East Asia, we foresee this rapid electrification continuing, with 90 per cent of two- and three-wheeler sales expected to be battery electric vehicles by 2030.

As with India’s FAME policy, government-led awareness is fueling the move towards decarbonisation, with many manufacturers including Ford, VW, Renault-Nissan and Volvo all prioritising the electric car push.

BMW announced that it aims to double electric and hybrid sales in the next two years, with 25 electrified models on sale by the end of 2023. This is in part due to strict EU rules coming into force in 2021, which require manufacturers to ensure average emissions from new cars are below 95g of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven, or else face huge fines.

Overcoming the obstacles to wide-scale adoption

With the current investment in electric cars and battery technology, we’re seeing the associated costs start to come down. DNV GL’s 2019 report found that electric vehicles are expected to achieve cost parity with the internal combustion engine by the mid-2020s, making them a much more viable choice for consumers.

However, while plunging costs will be the main driver of uptake, other factors are important too, not least the ability of EV technology to address range anxiety.

But improvements are being made all the time – a new carbon-ion battery by ZapGo Ltd, for example, was recently piloted and found to charge an electric vehicle in just 35 seconds, providing a 350-mile range comparable to traditional combustion engine vehicles.

In some regions, average range is expected to triple from today’s levels owing to cost and weight compression per kWh.

While battery technology is advancing, this needs to be supported by government policies that aim to reduce both local and global emissions.

More work can be done to provide incentives to communities that choose to live sustainably, and our analysis shows the importance of preferential treatment when it comes to EV uptake.

Norway and China are two examples of where government policy has played a key role in electric vehicle adoption. The EU’s comprehensive emissions reduction plans are also a major factor in the shift towards EV’s among vehicle OEM’s. Incentives and industrial support are even more critical in the case of commercial vehicles, where batteries are bigger and costs substantial.

Is change really on the way?

While electric vehicles are important, electrification of transport by itself is not enough to stop the planet from warming. In fact, here at DNV GL we forecast that, if we remain on our current trajectory, temperatures will rise by 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

The transition from fossil-based to zero-carbon is therefore not happening fast enough to meet global objectives around global warming. While the decarbonisation of road transport is certainly helping to slow this down, extraordinary policy action is required to ensure we reach 100% renewables as soon as possible.

Among these measures we need to see an even more rapid growth in both wind and solar power, as well as more storage and balancing solutions to enable a higher penetration of renewables. So, for example, a 50-fold increase in the production of batteries to match the 50 million electric vehicles that will be needed on the roads by 2030.

There is no single action that will prevent climate catastrophe. It will take a mix of extraordinary actions working together to close the gap between the current trajectory and the future we want to see. We need policies that will make this happen – electric vehicles being just one of them.

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