If anyone is still wondering whether electric cars are the future, the future of EVs may be tied to the future of us all, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Citing scientific and market data, the influential Paris-based intergovernmental agency’s Global EV Outlook 2016 recommends 20 million zero-emission vehicles by 2020 to contain average temperature increases to 2 degrees C.
At present, the cumulative global count of plug-in electrified vehicles (PEVs) sold since 2005 is approaching 1.7 million. By year’s end, it may be at 2 million.
If 20 million EVs sounds ambitious, the agenda for a sea change in how people get around further calls for as many as 100-150 million electric cars which today consist primarily of PEVs, although fuel cell electric vehicles also qualify.
The goal has actually been in circulation at least since the 2009 Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI). And, the need is great says the IEA representing 29 member nations, and progress is underway said co-author of the study Pierpaolo Cazzola in a phone interview from France today, and via email.
While odds look long, the document builds on outcomes from last December’s historical agreement in Paris on climate change more formally known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The IEA’s report cites also the Paris Declaration on Electro-Mobility and Climate Change and Call to Action last December.
Just this past Saturday, President Barack Obama and China’s president President Xi Jinping agreed to the Paris accord’s broad goals for all sectors including transportation to cut greenhouse gases, adding to the strength of what is gaining momentum.
The Paris agreement itself is not yet fully in force worldwide, but the signatures of the heads of the world’s two largest economies adds strength to what advocates believe is a matter of time. Under the agreement, the New York Times reports countries accounting for 55 percent of global emissions are required to present formal ratification documents to make it so. China and the United States combined generate almost 40 percent of worldwide emissions.
“Despite our differences on other issues, we hope our willingness to work together on this issue will inspire further ambition and further action around the world,” Obama said.
When asked whether the IEA’s aggressive goal for 20 million zero-emission cars by 2020 was an actual expectation, or an aspirational goal, Cazzola said the latter, while the former would be what is best.
“I would say aspirational goals, or milestones needed to limit the average global temperature increase to 2 degrees centigrade, against which actual developments can be benchmarked,” said Cazzola. “Twenty million is a value that, according to our analysis, could be coherent with a pathway that is clearly meeting a 2 degrees C scenario.”
Cazzola conceded others had their doubts the target would be hit in time, but said the study outlines how 10-15 million PEVs was less unrealistic, and could be achieved by 2020.
Like other reports of its kind, the IEA’s Global EV Outlook 2016 goes through what has been an admittedly modest start in a global market wedded to petroleum in which 72 million passenger vehicles were sold last year.
Forces that both “push” and “pull” the adoption of PEVs include the usual list of charging infrastructure rollout, incentives to manufacturers and consumers, and special perks besides.
The IEA says things are falling into place, including major implementation of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) to date, and planned, as well as amongst industry, governments and early adopters which have started EVs are feasible.
“There’s still lots of policy support required to make it happen,” said Cazzola. “In order to be on track several steps are needed: Governments need to maintain the current policy support and cooperate with the car industry on further battery technology improvements.”
One huge plus is the cost of batteries – simultaneously the enabling and limiting factor for plug-in cars – has been slashed by four times. Last year, GM revealed it is getting cells from LG Chem for $145/kWh and, citing HybridCars.com whose data was cited in the EV outlook, the IEA noted Tesla says by 2020, the cost will be $100/kWh or less.
“Battery costs will need to be cut by more than half in the next decade,” said Cazzola. “Moreover, the electricity industry needs to roll out a smart recharging network that addresses range anxiety and enables the flexible charging of cars to help renewable integration. We’re not there yet, but there are encouraging signs.”
Shoot for the Stars
In 2010 the first major-manfacturer plug-in cars were offered against resistance in the U.S. and today more than two dozen models are sold, albeit some only in limited U.S. markets. Worldwide, there are over 50 models sold.
Whether the world is ready to buy another 18 million plug-in cars between now and 2020 is beyond the estimates of even optimistic analysts, but the need is there, says the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“EVs are a critical technology to reducing transportation sector emissions, and it’s important to have ambitious goals to motivate policymakers and countries to put strong policies in place to support the deployment of EVs,” said Media Team Manager Lisa Nurnberger on behalf of analysts with the UCS.
The IEA itself knows the challenges are real, but the high-level target could itself highlight what is being portrayed as an equally critical need to slow climate warming.
“I do think 20 million by 2020 is ambitious, but is the right target to avert a climate catastrophe,” said Roland Hwang, director of the energy and transportation program for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The IEA analysis is a strong ‘call to action’ for the world’s three major auto markets, U.S., EU and China. It’s clear the U.S. needs to move faster on its key policies — next generation of strong vehicle standards, extension of federal tax credits and billions more in public and utility infrastructure investments.”
The plug-in electrified vehicle market has grown in spite a raft of backlash, cheap gas in the U.S., consumers sitting on the fence or unaware, and initial lack of commitment by manufacturers. The IEA, which does also track fuel cell vehicles, focuses on PEVs, and to date, FCVs have not gained much market share at all.
Things are still wide open for all technologies, however, and of them all, battery powered plug-in vehicles have the head start.
Tesla has said by itself it wants to be producing half a million cars annually by 2018, and as many as one million in 2020. Whether this will come about, or it is a kindred aspirational goal in its own right is also up for debate.
Today 80 percent of the PEVs are clustered in the U.S., China, Japan, the Netherlands, and Norway. Seven countries have market shares of over 1 percent, with the outlier, Norway, having reached 23 percent. In the U.S., plug-in cars are at 0.9 percent, and now match the market share for low-emission diesel passenger diesels and light trucks.