EVs Are The Only Bright Spot In Global Efforts To Reach Net Zero Emissions
EV sales are moving at the right speed to reach net zero carbon emissions as outlined in the Paris Agreement. That achievement is revealed in a new analysis that shows that the EV sector is the only one of 42 indicators assessed that is on track to reach an agreed-upon 2030 target.
EVs hold the sole position as the only bright spot among power, buildings, industry, transport, forests and land, and food and agriculture that is on a trajectory to keep global warming limits within reach at 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). Together, these sectors account for roughly 85% of global GHG emissions. With all the negative press about EVs these days, it might be easy to forget how essential they are to achieving a net zero emissions world.
The State of Climate Action 2023 report offers a pathway to what’s needed by 2030 and 2050 to limit warming to the level scientists say is necessary for preventing increasingly devastating and irreversible impacts of climate change. The report offers the caveat that “EVs must quickly replace the internal combustion (ICE) engine.”
The report states that, “while accelerating modal shifts has proven challenging, the world has made considerable strides forward in electrifying existing forms of transport.” The target is for EVs to account for 75% – 95% of the total annual light-duty vehicle sales by 2030 and 100% by 2035.
What has contributed to this positive EV path?
- Declines in cost, including battery prices and the cost of the vehicles themselves;
- Improvements in range, so that EV driving experiences become more comparable to ICE trip expectations; and,
- Expansion of charging infrastructure, both private and public, which is seen as key to increasing uptake of EVs.
Norway, Iceland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and China have experienced the fastest increases in transportation electrification. The report calls on countries looking to scale up EV adoption from now to 2030 to look to Norway’s accelerated pace.
On a life cycle basis, EVs already emit less than internal combustion engine vehicles, even when accounting for battery production and vehicle assembly. As the power sector decarbonizes, the emissions advantage of EVs will continue to accumulate.
Yes, there is still room for improvement. Decarbonizing longer-haul transport like trucking, shipping, and aviation have not seen the robust transitions needed quite yet to reach their 2030 targets. The report outlines that, “for those modes of transport that cannot easily be electrified, such as shipping and aviation, meeting Paris-aligned targets requires the scale-up of zero-emissions fuels where modal shifts are not possible.”
Increased uptake of electric trucks do represent a meaningful improvement in progress, if not full success, toward net zero emissions over the previous historical trendline.
The US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has created hundreds of clean energy manufacturing facilities which have, in turn, sparked battery and EV production and created tens of thousands of new jobs. The IRA provides revamped subsidies for light-duty EVs in ways that exclude luxury EVs and the highest-income earners. To get subsidies for light duty EVs:
- the vehicle must be assembled in North America;
- the minerals for the battery must have been at least partially extracted in North America;
- the battery must have been at least partially assembled in North America;
- the vehicle must cost less than $80,000; and,
- the purchaser must make less than $150,000–$300,000 (depending on how they file their taxes).
These stipulations do mean that currently only 33 of the 73 available battery EVs or plug-in hybrid EV available in the US qualify for at least partial credit. Starting January 1, 2024, eligible buyers can take up to $7,500 in EV credits upfront instead of waiting until they file their taxes.
The success of EVs toward meeting zero emissions climate goals shows “that rapid change to address climate change is possible,” the report affirms. “Progress made in adopting zero-carbon technologies—solar and wind power, heat pumps, and electric vehicles, for example—shows that, fortunately, rapid, nonlinear change is not only possible but already underway in some sectors.”
The rising acceptance of EVs bodes well for related industries, too, toward reaching net zero emissions. “As complementary technologies (e.g., batteries) become increasingly available, they can boost functionality and accelerate uptake of new innovations (e.g., EVs),” the report continues. “These gains allow companies that adopt new technologies to expand their market shares, deepen their political influence, and amass the resources needed to petition for more favorable policies.”
Renewable energy technologies are innovative, often displacing incumbent technologies. Seen as data points, renewable energy progress in many iterations is hopeful.
- Over the last 5 years, the share of EVs in light-duty vehicle sales has grown exponentially at an average annual rate of 65%—up from 1.6% of sales in 2018 to 10% of sales in 2022.
- The share of EVs in two- and three-wheeler sales increased from 34% in 2015 to 49% in 2022. This is likely due to the lack of range anxiety, which is a smaller problem for two- and three-wheelers, as they are generally used for short, daily commutes.
- In the past decade, power generation costs have declined 80% for solar photovoltaics (PV) and 65% for onshore wind, making these technologies the cheapest sources of new-build electricity generation for at least two-thirds of the global population.
- The price of battery storage, a technology that enables greater adoption of many renewable power sources, also dropped by 89% between 2010 and 2021.
Final Thoughts about EVs & Net Zero Emissions
EV sales have continued to surge in 2023. The 554,140 EVs sold during the first and second quarter of this year represent nearly a 50% jump from the first half of 2021, and sales are on pace to surpass a record-breaking 1 million by the end of this year.
EV sales are expected to keep rising, with “the market firmly on track to surpass 1 million for the first time ever” in November, auto consultant group Cox Automotive states. A number of companies have followed Tesla in its sweeping price cuts made throughout the year, including Chevrolet, Hyundai, Nissan, Ford, and others. The price reductions on EV sticker prices have ranged from $3,000 to $19,000 across automakers, and many have stated that Tesla has waged a “price war” on the rest of the auto industry.
According to our CleanTechnica colleague, Jose Pontes, the global automotive market is firmly in the Electric Disruption Zone.
As internal combustion cars account for around a quarter of global oil demand and broader road transport accounts for nearly half, the exponential growth of EVs puts all of that oil demand at risk. Oil demand for cars peaked in 2019 and will be falling by at least 1 million barrels per day (mbpd) every year after 2030, eliminating expected growth in oil demand for cars, according to RMI forecasts.
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