Often cited as the cleaner, smarter and seemingly better option, for many years, they were written about and spoken highly of, but ironically, continued to play second fiddle to conventional transport.
However, with high levels of pollution choking the air in most cities across the world, the role of electric vehicles (EVs) has become more significant than ever. In fact, some industry groups have set a global deployment target of 100m electric cars and 400m electric motorcycles and scooters by 2030, the Guardian reported.
Increasingly, global statistics and research are tipped in their favour as well. Bloomberg New Energy Finance for instance, is hopeful that EVs may represent 35% of new car sales globally by 2040. On the other hand, Greentech Media Research projects 11.4 million EVs on the road in the United States in 2025, compared to 7.5 million in the EIA‘s latest Outlook.
Very recently, in The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA’s) renewable energy transport roadmap, The Renewable Route to Sustainable Transport, the estimate is that “there could be as many as 160 million EVs on the road by 2030 (about 10% of the passenger car fleet). They would not just serve to lower levels of air pollution in cities, but also provide significant battery capacity in some markets to support variable renewable energy — like wind and solar — at significantly larger scale.”
These vehicles are also being patronized by policy makers with the latter supporting their extensive use. With London breaching its annual pollution limits in just five days in 2017, Mayor Sadiq Khan has made improving air quality one of his key priorities.
In accordance with the announcement made by him last year, 36 zero-emission electric buses which fall under the new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), will ride along 70 bus routes. Furthermore, the infrastructure required to park and charge these buses at Shepherd’s Bush depot will be developed by the operator RATP Dev. The aim is essentially to convert the West London site into the capital’s first
all-electric fleet bus depot.
Interestingly, RATP Dev already operates 243 hybrid buses in London, along with 630 similar models on the streets of Paris, where it aims to ply a 100% low-emission bus fleet by 2025.
Additionally, there have been campaigns by the Greens to espouse the cause of cleaner air in urban spaces. Groups such as ClientEarth, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FoE) have in fact encouraged the UK government to take “urgent action” on air pollution through the creation of a new Clean Air Act.
World events such as last year’s Paris climate accord and follow-up agreements insist that every signatory country must propose goals for climate protection, including those for the transportation sector.
In Europe, Norway leads as far as EVs are concerned, with around 500,000 electric vehicles. Currently, it has the highest per capita number of all-electric [battery only] cars in the world, more than 100,000 in a country of 5.2 million people. In 2016, EVs constituted nearly 40% of the nation’s newly registered passenger cars. By December, Norway reached the rare milestone of 100,000 all-electric vehicles on the roads despite its relatively small population, according to reports by electrek.
In the beginning of 2017, Norway witnessed record plug-in electric sales reaching 37% market share in the country’s passenger car market. Over 4,800 plug-in EVs were delivered in the country in January.
Globally, China has about 600,000 all-electric vehicles on its roads. Additionally, it has plans to deploy about 5 million EVs by 2020.
Even though national electric car manufacturers have enjoyed significant support from the Chinese government, they have competition in the low-speed electric vehicle (LSEV). Unlike their name, which is a misnomer, the LSEVs, with a top speed of 60kmph, are easy to maneuver in congested spaces. Priced at £4,000, these vehicles in China will now get a license plate, regardless of the brand or the size of their vehicle. This is being seen as a huge change, since till October 2016, there were no rules governing the manufacture or use of LSEVs.
With the government announcing its intent to oversee the sector, these vehicles are set to play a major role in China’s rapid urbanization, reports by City Metric said. China is currently home to about 300m electric scooters and they are the most popular alternative fuel vehicles in the country.
On the other hand, in the US, 400,000 people have paid $1,000 to be on the waiting list for Tesla’s $35,000 Model 3 car. It appears that the prevalent scenario, of less than 500,000 EVs and ranked third in the world, is all set to change.
Meanwhile, in India, the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways is planning to replace every type of commercial vehicle in the country with EVs. As per a high-level proposal created by the Ministry of Transport, around 5 million electric vehicles would be introduced on Indian roads by 2020.
Apart from replacing fuel based vehicles with EVs, there is also a move to install thousands of charging points on major highways. To begin with, a pilot project will include installing around 1,200 charging points on highways in central India. Out of these, 200 would be fast charging points wherein vehicles can be charged within 60 minutes, while the 1,000 slower charging points would take 5-6 hours to charge an electric vehicle.
The introduction of 5 million EVs is estimated to save 9,500 million tons of fossil fuel and reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses by up to 200,000 tons.
Scramble for cobalt
The booming business of EVs has pushed investors to make a beeline for physical cobalt, a key component of lithium-ion batteries used in these cars. It is likely that this will push prices to their highest levels since the 2008 financial crisis, Reuters reported.
“By 2020, 75% of lithium-ion batteries will contain cobalt, whose properties allow electric cars to extend their range between charges”, it predicts.
The prices for cobalt metal have climbed nearly 50% since September to five-year peaks around $19 a lb as stricter emissions controls boost the demand for EVs, more so in countries like China, which continues to be struggling with high pollution levels, the news agency adds.
Consultants CRU Group were also quoted as stating that “electric car and plug-in hybrid vehicle sales may hit 4.4 million in 2021 and over six million by 2025, an increase from 1.1 million last year.”
CRU senior consultant Edward Spencer was reported as telling Reuters that “EVs (electric vehicles) only consumed around 6.5% of refined cobalt in 2016, but this will increase to 16.9% in 2021 helping lift demand to nearly 130,000 tonnes.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that greenhouse gas emissions from transportation will “increase by 120% from 2000 to 2050 owing to a projected three-fold increase” in the number of cars worldwide.
Owing to increased urbanization and rapid development the world over, it is nearly impossible to halt the growth of cars and vehicles. However, what can definitely be done is to veer towards cleaner options in the transportation sector. With most countries taking the initiative to popularize EVs, a sensible move towards a greener Earth has most certainly begun. It’s only the momentum which needs to gather pace and be further popularized. Going by some of the instances cited above and the recent world trends, it appears that the future does have immense promise as far as EVs go.
Sapna Gopal is an independent journalist who writes and blogs on renewable energy/environmental issues