Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Age of Electric Vehicles

The electrification of the vehicle fleet is entering what can be called the third age of electric vehicles (EVs).The first age was in the early 20th century, when EVs were relatively popular until the internal combustion engine displaced them. The second age was in the 1990s, with interest rekindled in France through the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME) and in California with the state’s Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which spurred sales of some EVs but fell short of its billing (though it has recently been revised and enhanced).

Mitsubishi i MiEV- Electric Vehicle

Fast-forward to the second decade of the 21st century and the mainstreaming of lithium-ion technology. Last year saw the mass debut of two major EV models: Nissan’s LEAF, a full battery electric vehicle (BEV), and Chevrolet’s Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). The first data points of the third age of EVs are coming in and, in light of the continued economic crisis in 2011 and supply bottlenecks caused by the Fukushima disaster, the results are arguably impressive. About 40 000 EVs were sold, the most in any year in history and more than the sales of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs, such as Toyota’s Prius) during their first six years of sales combined. Since the nascent market is developing, with more new models being launched each month, it is clear that 2012 auto sales will be crucial in determining the road ahead for electric vehicles.

Motivation for EVs

EVs are a new (or revived, depending on your perspective) technology, and so must clear several stages of development, optimisation and scale-up. Today’s EVs are far better than models of a decade ago, but costs remain high and infrastructure is still being developed. In the next two or three years, conservative estimates see EVs passing the 100 000 cumulative sales mark worldwide, though this will represent only a tiny share of the more than 100 million cars sold over the period. This timespan will help cities establish infrastructure and help buyers get to know the technology, and perhaps allow for a much bigger expansion of markets towards the middle of the decade. By 2015, a global target of 1 million EVs on the road seems reasonable, and by 2020 – when there is a good chance EVs will be cost-competitive (or nearly so) with conventional internal combustion vehicles – the goal is 20 million EVs. This figure happens to align with what countries themselves are targeting. Even then, 20 million will represent only about 2% of the world’s cars; but that level will set the stage for EVs to play an increasingly important role: the IEA projects that EVs could account for 15% of the global vehicle fleet by 2030.

fisker karma- electric vehicle

Besides EVs, other types of new technology vehicles should continue to be developed; however, it will be hard to beat the potential of electric vehicles for cutting oil use and CO2 on a per-kilometer basis. With a moderately clean electric grid, EVs should be able to emit only 50 grams of CO2 per kilometer (g/km). Today’s efficient cars emit between 100 and 150 g/km; even HEVs have trouble going below 90 g/km.

IEA-led Electric Vehicles Initiative

The International Energy Agency is spearheading the Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI), a coalition of select IEA member countries and other major economies that have set combined targets of more than 20 million EVs on the road by 2020 (see boxed article). This will be very challenging but is achievable if manufacturers make the investments and produce the vehicles and also if consumers are ready to buy them in large numbers.

nissan leaf- electric vehicle

To get there, EVI partner countries are sharing information about research and development efforts; facilitating city-to-city interaction on best practices; and enhancing common data collection and analysis efforts using projected supply and demand trajectories of PHEVs and EVs based on national targets, city plans and announced manufacturing plans by car and battery companies.

As part of its effort to facilitate city-to-city interaction on best practices, EVI is coordinating a City Casebook that will showcase pioneering EV cities in EVI countries. The Casebook will include case studies from around the world, highlighting the national context and figures on the ground, but also approach the broader EV ecosystem to understand what has and has not worked so far.

The IEA’s Technology Roadmap

IEA scenarios for future energy supplies underline the need for low-emission vehicles such as PHEVs and EVs. Consistent with the targets set by countries (and somewhat coincidentally), the Agency is calling for half of sales by 2050 to be electric, plug-in and hybrid vehicles, passing through a 10% sales share point at about 2020.

Tesla Model S- Electric Vehicle

In June 2011 the IEA updated its Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles Technology Roadmap, originally published in 2009, with the latest analysis on achieving the Agency scenario that outlines pathways to halving global energyrelated CO2 emissions by 2050 compared with 2005 levels. That scenario envisions more than
1 billion EVs and PHEVs on the road by 2050, representing more than half of the global car fleet then.

What to expect in the next year

Besides cars from major automakers such as the Volt and the LEAF, there are also vehicles coming from Renault, Ford, PSA/Mitsubishi plus increased availability of Tesla’s Model S and Fisker’s Karma. Several models are entering the market this year, such as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which is already on sale in Japan and is expected to hit the United States market in June. Also entering the world auto market this year is Toyota with a plug-in variety of the Prius, and BMW is expected to release two EV models in 2014. The increase of models will have a profound effect on the market as pent-up demand is addressed, giving a better understanding of the market size, potential and geography.

tesla roadster- Electric Vehicle

There are many types of alternative vehicle technologies, and the IEA takes a technology-neutral position. But what is clear is that some type of action is necessary. EVs come into play not simply for the sake of energy efficiency but because they are a desirable high-technology consumer product. Those factors together make these vehicles one of the likeliest technological solutions to lowering CO2 emissions and local pollutant emissions in the transport sector in the next 40 years. And their time is now.

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