Adoption of Electric Vehicles
According to a recent report from Deloitte, car buyers are giving increasing consideration to acquiring an electric vehicle (EV). In part they suggest that this is a result of manufacturers producing more attractive models, improved range and a more available charging infrastructure and greater affordability as battery prices fall (a 70% reduction between 2010 and 2016).
Projections for global EV adoption by 2040 varies considerably from 10% to 50% depending on the source data. According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association less than 1% of world-wide vehicle sales were plug-in electric vehicles in 2016 and, whilst for example, the US Energy Information Administration projects this figure being circa 12% by 2040; Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance Global report suggests an uptake closer to 60%.
There were 200,000 EV’s on UK roads at the end of 2018 representing about 0.5% of the car fleet (59% of the fleet were petrol and 39% diesel). To meet the government’s 2018 “Road to Zero Strategy” there needs to be 35 million EV’s on UK roads by 2050 and the “ambition” is that 50%-70% of new cars will be EV’s by 2035 with 40% of new vans being EV by that date too.
The Internal Combustion Engine is Dead
So, is the internal combustion engine dead? And how environmentally friendly are EV’s anyway?
Germany’s IFO Institute’s study found that, in Germany, electric vehicles emitted between 11% and 28% more CO2 than diesel counterparts when the manufacture of EV batteries and power station emissions for charging were taken into account.
Researchers compared CO2 ‘output’ from a Tesla 3 with a Mercedes 220 diesel saloon. The Mercedes produced 141 grams of CO2 per kilometre when exhaust emissions plus the CO2 emitted from drilling, refining and transporting the fuel oil were included. This compared to between 156 and 181 grams for the Tesla when battery charging and mining of the cobalt, lithium and manganese in the batteries were included.
Joanneum Research of Austria in their study found that when comparing a mid-sized EV with an equivalent diesel, the EV would need to drive 219,000 kilometres before it out-performed the emissions from an equivalent diesel car and yet the average life of a European passenger car is only 180,000 kilometres.
A 2017 study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that an electric car re-charged with electricity from a coal-fired power station produced as much CO2 as a petrol car that consumed petrol at 29 miles per gallon (only slightly higher than the average US fuel consumption of 25.2 mpg).
Clearly, the mix of power generation varies from country to country with a consequent variation on CO2emission data but these data do not seem to support a move from internal combustion to electric powered cars on emissions alone.
Meanwhile the thermal efficiency of the internal combustion engines used in cars could be further improved to reduce emissions.
Thermal efficiency is the measure of the engine’s ability to convert the energy in the fuel into “useful” work. A thermal efficiency of 20% means that only a fifth of the fuel is used to propel the vehicle, the rest being ‘lost’ in noise, heat, friction etc.
At present petrol car engines have a thermal efficiency of between 20% and 35% and diesel about 45%. By comparison Nicholas Otto’s 1876 internal combustion engine was about 17% efficient.
Compare this with the power units used in Formula 1 race cars. The 2.4 litre V8 normally aspirated engines used in the 2013 season had a thermal efficiency of 29%. The hybrid unit designed by Mercedes High Performance Powertrains used in 2014 had a thermal efficiency of about 44% and the 2018 season engine achieved, according to Mercedes, a ‘landmark’ figure of 50%. Over the same period, the energy store (battery) has increased in efficiency from 37% to 96% whilst its weight reduced by 80% – a 12-fold increase in battery power density. One may conjecture that the current engine is more efficient still.
In 2018, Toyota announced it had produced the world’s most efficient road car engine – the ‘Dynamic Force Engine’ with a thermal efficiency of 44%.
In recent years, the consumer’s choice of motive power for cars has been heavily influenced by political and fiscal pressures manifesting themselves via the taxation environment within which purchase decisions are made, seemingly grounded in Environmental Policy.
The EU Carbon Dioxide Regulations, which took effect on 17 April 2019 require that from 2030 average vehicle emissions must be less than 59 grams CO2 per kilometre. This translates to around 107 miles per gallon of (diesel) fuel.
In 2006 average EU car emissions were 161 g/km, falling to 118 g/km by 2016 but rising to 120 g/km by 2018 as demand for diesel cars fell following the “diesel gate” affair in which a number of manufacturers found themselves under scrutiny for allegedly installing defeat devices to produce favourable emission test results.
In March 2001, the UK Government introduced a graded vehicle tax to reduce the CO2 emissions from cars to help to meet the Kyoto climate change commitments. This drove demand for diesel powered vehicles in preference to petrol due to their lower CO2 emissions, but ignored the fact that diesel engines produce more nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulates. From April 2018, a supplementary tax on diesel cars was introduced to seek to combat this.
Incentives have also been offered to encourage consumers to purchase electric vehicles by governments in a number of territories with, perhaps the most generous being Norway (which has the world’s highest market share for EV’s at 39% in 2017).
In Norway EV’s are exempt from import tax, VAT, annual road tax, toll fees, have a 50% reduction on ferry prices, free municipal parking (in some cities), access to bus lanes if passengers are car-pooling and a 40% reduction in company car tax.
Where Does the Electricity Come From?
Approximately 37% of global electricity requirements are derived from coal. China produces 66% of its electricity from coal; the US 30%; The Netherlands 29% and the UK (in 2018) 5%.
Many countries have announced their intention to ban the sale of fossil fuelled vehicles. For example: Norway in 2025, Germany, India, Israel, Ireland and the Netherlands in 2030, Scotland in 2031 and the United Kingdom and France in 2040 (with the UK having an ambition to bring this date forward to 2035 or earlier).
Power demand: Bloomberg estimates that the growth in EV adoption could drive a 300 fold increase in electricity consumption from 6 terawatt hours in 2016 to 1,800 terawatt hours by 2040, by which time EV’s may account for 5% of global electricity demand.
Such an increase is unlikely to result in an overall generating capacity problem, but it is likely to challenge distribution networks and charger deployment initiatives.
Electricity demand is already becoming more volatile with increasing power use in the late afternoon or early evening and an increasing take up of electric vehicles may be expected to accelerate the trend as drivers return home and plug in their cars, bikes or scooters each evening.
It follows that time of use charging tariffs may result as electricity suppliers seek to spread the power demand curve. An upside, however, is that an increasing demand for off-peak power will result in a less ‘peaky’ demand distribution enabling power stations to run for longer at their peak output efficiency rather than being brought on and off-stream in response to demand change.
EV’s Are Not Truly Clean
Setting aside the emissions and any particulates produced by electricity generation, or the car fabrication processes; the vehicles themselves still produce some pollution in the form of tyre, brake and road dust.
As automotive power moves from internal combustion to electric, driven by the notion of clean energy, demand for some materials will increase – lithium for batteries, silver and copper for solar power and charging infrastructure, rare earth materials (nickel, cobalt, neodymium) and graphite for electric motors as well as aluminium and manganese. Conversely demand for platinum, rhodium and palladium will reduce.
These changes will affect supply chains and geo-political alliances. The world’s largest known reserves of lithium are in Australia, cobalt reserves in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whilst 95% of rare earth materials are sourced from China.
We Still Want Personal Transport, Don’t We?
For one hundred years, the car has provided a means of personal transportation, the desire for which is likely to continue. Electric cars, bicycles, scooters etc. will, no doubt become part of the mix.
Deloitte suggest that, particularly in urban areas, a growth in ride sharing or ride hailing services, with or without autonomous vehicles, may promote a “Mobility as a Service” offer and an autonomous vehicle “Mobility Eco-System” leading to a wider adoption of electric vehicles.
The objective is to reduce global warming and the “received wisdom” is that the widespread adoption of electrical vehicles is a key way of achieving that objective.
It seems to me however, that decision-makers are ignoring (or choosing to ignore) wider elements of the conundrum:
How should we generate the electricity and what are the implications of those choice(s)?
What are the impacts in global pollution terms of the increase in demand of precious metals and rare earths to meet EV demand?
What are the implications in energy and pollution terms of the need to dispose of end-of-life EV’s?
What are the geo-political implications of the conclusions to each of the above?
… and, no doubt many more.
I’m not suggesting, necessarily, that there should not be a move towards electric vehicles. What I am saying however, is that the term “zero emission vehicle” is inaccurate and that all of the data needs to be rigorously examined in an wholistic way biosphere-wide.
It not enough (nor is it acceptable) for interest groups or politicians to cherry pick subsets of data to support their argument, because to do so will result in, at best, sub-optimal decisions and, at worst, an irretrievably wrong decision.
Future generations and our planet deserve better…
A downloadable copy of this paper, together with the references is available from Martin Stevens Academy
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