Transportation in the EU is responsible for more than a fifth of all its green house gas emissions. Several European countries have announced bold plans to introduce electric vehicles (EVs) on a wide scale, including Germany who will be targeting to have 1 million electric cars on the road by 2020. With one of the most successful motor manufacturing markets in the world, an excellent transportation system and high sustainability credentials, it seems that Germany could hold the potential to lead the way in electric mobility.
However, high production and purchasing costs have resulted in a lack of significant growth in the quantity of EVs being purchased. With no dense network of electric charging facilities and also a limited driving range (sometimes as little as 100 miles per fully charged battery), German car buyers are yet to be convinced by the benefits of switching from fossil fuels to electricity.
While Germany is currently a leading maker of EVs, with an estimated 440,000 to be produce over the next 5 years, it still ranks amongst the lowest countries when it comes to driving them. It’s been argued that the Government must provide incentives in order to encourage German car buyers to consider EVs, however the Government have stated that this won’t happen within the current term, with a focus on road repair and construction being given priority.
In response, the Green Party argue “If we don’t create incentives, then the whole thing is going to fail”. This can be supported by the current success for EVs in Norway, where conditions have been created which allow purchasing an EV to become a rational and more affordable decision, for example, when buying an EV you will avoid having to pay a large sales tax of 23%. Furthermore, when Holland held a tax break in December 2013, sales for 2 of the most popular EVs, the Tesla Model S and little i3s, stood at 803 units during December and then crashed back to just 22 units sold for January 2014.
While EVs don’t produce pollution directly, electricity being supplied through the national grid is, in many cases, being generated from the burning of fossil fuels. Despite this, cars using electricity produced by coal-powered generators, as is common in the case of Germany, would still cut carbon emissions by roughly half, and would still be cleaner than gas-powered cars. As electricity generated from renewable sources becomes more common, carbon emissions have the potential to be reduced to less than one percent when using renewable energy to charge cars. Due to electricity being a domestic source, wide use of EVs and renewable energy would also lead to reductions in energy dependence from other countries.
It has been suggested by Volkswagen AG that these ambitious plans to have 1 million cars on the road is achievable as long as hybrid vehicles, which are capable of switching between battery power and conventional engines, are taken into account. Hybrid vehicles therefore have the advantage that daily journeys can be covered purely on electricity, while not having a problem when longer trips are required. Developing a wide network of hybrid vehicles would then help lead the way for further electric mobility and offer a possible solution to transitioning to EVs. BMW also believe that the hybrids have the most potential, with plans to eventually have one available in every model-line, with BMW’s Development Chief, Herbert Diess, believing that 5-10% of the automobile industry will be made up by some form of electric mobility by 2020.
Biofuels also have the potential to play a major role in sustainable transport solutions. While fossil fuels are the result of animals and plants which have been buried for millions of years, biofuels use chemical reactions, fermentation and heat to break down starches and other molecules in plants which results in a fuel for cars. As a result, fossil fuels are essentially ancient biofuels. As crops from the present day are used, biofuels offer a sustainable method where more crops can be grown and utilized rather than using a finite supply of fossil fuels which will be eventually used up. However, the production process leads to an extremely high level of energy consumption which suggests that it is necessary to further develop the methods used to make biofuels. With many developing countries already facing limits to land which provides agricultural production, it’s also important to not risk food security and instead try to develop win-win solutions where food-crop and biofuels won’t need to compete for land resources. It is stated by the Nationale Plattform Elektromobilität that fuel cell vehicles that use hydrogen also have the potential to contribute towards cleaner energy for transportation, however the issue with this is the high primary energy consumption that is related with the production of hydrogen and also its low overall efficency.
Share more, drive less
While the car-sharing infrastructure is still growing in Germany, it is also useful to look at the benefits of developing an EV car sharing scheme and comparing it to conventional cars schemes. CEO of Berlin-based Carzapp, Oliver Lunstedt, believes that rather than changing the type of cars being driven, that there should instead be more focus on reducing the numbers of cars being driven. Carzapp’s private car sharing network allows car owners to rent out cars by using their smartphones as an immobilizer, alarm and door unlocking system rather than manually handing over their car keys, and therefore utilizes existing cars more effectively. Carzapp has also developed a partnership with Renault, Peugeot, and various mobile providers as part of an electric car pilot programme, where EVs can be leased out for up to three years to customers, where they can also make some money back by renting it out through Carzapp while the EV is not being used.
What needs to be done?
If a similar amount of cars are on the road in 2050 as right now, our CO2 emissions must be reduced from 221g CO2 per km travelled to 43g per km travelled in order to restrict a 2°C rise in temperature. For electric vehicles to have a significant impact by replacing conventional vehicles, it’s essential to develop innovative business models to facilitate a major change in purchasing and mobility. Due to the continuous depletion of fossil fuels and the ever grow damage being caused to the environment, mobility patterns will need to be radically overhauled, whether we like it or not. This doesn’t mean we have to say goodbye to our cars, but it is does mean that it’s essential to start creating an infrastructure which will allows us to transition into a culture which focuses on clean and local forms of energy.