The zero-emission fleet

Focussing on battery-electric vehicles will take the strain off the climate by 2050, according to the European Alternative Fuels Observatory.

In regard to international climate policy, the European Union has formulated ambitious goals. But without drastic measures being taken in the automotive industry, these will not be attainable. The transport sector will have to face a number of particularly challenging tasks: greenhouse gas emissions are to be curbed by 60 percent by 2050—at least this is what plans passed in Brussels propose.

How will that be possible? According to findings published in November 2017 by the Brussels-based European Alternative Fuels Observatory (EAFO)—a project by the European Commission—this goal can only be achieved if all passenger vehicles in the European Union are completely decarbonised in the coming decades. The report is intended to aid European decision-makers in preparing future climate policy agreements. In it, experts describe a scenario, where only zero-emission vehicles will be permitted to register starting in 2035. According to the experts, this is the only way that the climate goal for 2050 can be reached. Each car has an average service life span of 15 years, thus the European passenger car fleet would, from this date forward, virtually become a zero-emission fleet.

The goal: a carbon-free transport sector

The experts from Brussels consider transitioning to battery-electric vehicles an optimal solution in rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The authors consider plug-in technology, seen by many as a bridge technology towards a fully electric mobile future, a more of a hindrance. This technology would impede the growth of zero-emission vehicles so that greater efforts would be necessary later on to meet the stringent climate policy demands. ‘As passenger cars are much easier to decarbonise than other vehicles, the expectation is that these would make up a higher percentage of the decarbonised vehicles in the transport sector,’ the analysis says. In their study, the authors from Brussels focus mainly on passenger cars and put commercial vehicles in parentheses.

The experts from Brussels consider transitioning to battery-electric vehicles an optimal solution in rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions

If the plan is fully implemented, 1.74 billion barrels of oil could be saved annually in Europe by 2050, which would mean an overall saving of 78 billion euros (at the current price of 45 dollars per barrel), according to the EAFO report. What's more, between 2020 and 2050, 2.2 and 3.9 gigatonnes of CO2 would be saved. Once the European energy providers agree to a wide-ranging decarbonisation of their energy production by 2050, the environment will also reap further benefits. The EAFO’s current study has not yet taken this into account.

As part of this scenario, the sales of electric vehicles will pick up speed in the coming years—most likely because the price differences between electric and combustion engine vehicles, which are currently rather noticeable, will even out. The authors from Brussels expect the total cost to acquire a combustion engine or electric vehicle to even out between 2022 and 2026. Battery-electric vehicles may even reach a price level below that of conventionally driven models in the years thereafter, while overall operating costs may align two to four years before that. Financially speaking, the change would be overwhelmingly positive for European car drivers, the report indicates.

Furthermore, the EAFO calculations show that from 2030 onwards, every electrically driven kilometer will be four to six cents cheaper, due to the lower maintenance and repair costs for electric vehicles as opposed to petrol or diesel-powered models. Electric vehicles have fewer mechanical parts than variants with a combustion engine, and this has a positive effect on servicing costs.

Once the question of range is resolved, demand will rise

In terms of energy demand, the industrial consequences of an electrified European fleet would however be gigantic. A predominantly climate-neutral fleet of the future will require battery plants with a capacity of 400 to 600 gigawatt hours, which corresponds to between 10 and 14 production facilities, approximately—a size as yet unknown in Europe. For their calculations, the authors proposed an average battery size of 30 to 45 kilowatt hours and a battery price of 100 euros per kilowatt hour. ‘The transition’, according to the authors, ‘may also be additionally driven by demand, once the current obstacles—namely, price, range and infrastructure—have been resolved.’

Transitioning to zero-emissions vehicles will require major investments in the energy infrastructure for electric and fuel-cell vehicles.

The future of climate-neutral mobility won't come free of charge. ‘Transitioning to zero-emission vehicles will require major investments in the energy infrastructure for electric and fuel-cell vehicles,’ EAFO experts explain, though the authors of the study do not detail the magnitude of these costs.

With a rapidly growing electric fleet, the vehicles will become an increasingly important part of the energy storage ecosystem, the authors are confident. ‘With an increasing amount of energy being generated from renewable sources, such as wind and sun, demand for energy storage will grow. The batteries of electric vehicles connected to the grid could be used as a buffer to stabilise the network and store energy, which would increase the value of the batteries for users.’

The rise in renewable energies obtained from the wind and sun will create a requirement to store this energy. The batteries of electric vehicles connected to the grid could be used as a buffer to stabilise the network and store energy, which would increase the value of the batteries for users.

Besides alleviating the strain on the environment caused by greenhouse gases and fine particulate matter, a completely electrically powered passenger car fleet will ultimately improve the quality of life in cities. The noise level of traffic will decrease noticeably and will thus make urban centres worth living in again.

 

The European Alternative Fuels Observatory (EAFO) collects data on the sales figures of vehicles with alternative drive technologies and the associated infrastructure. The project is financed by the European Commission. The data collected also includes statistics for new drive types, ranging from hybrids to fuel cells. Data is gathered in all European countries.

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