Getting more electric vehicles on the roads in Europe can significantly reduce CO2 emissions and air pollutants within the European Union. If the share of electric mobility in passenger road transport increases to 80 percent by 2050, the CO2 emissions of the passenger road transport sector in Europe can be reduced by up to 84 percent compared to 2010. However, this can only be achieved when the electricity needed for operating the electric vehicles is predominantly generated from renewable energies rather than in coal-fired power plants. This is shown by the results of a recent study conducted by Oeko-Institut and Transport & Mobility Leuven on behalf of the European Environment Agency (EEA).
The experts of the joint research project analyzed in two scenarios the potentials for climate protection and the effects on electricity consumption arising from electric vehicles. The research team found that electric vehicles need substantial quantities of electricity throughout Europe and will therefore have an impact on electricity production capacities and the stress put on electricity grids in the future. The electric mobility share in Europe’s total electricity consumption can amount to approx. four to five percent by 2030 and increase to approx. 10 percent by 2050. However, the shares vary strongly among the European countries, depending on the number of electric vehicles.
Electric mobility and power generation: coal or renewable energies?
If the additional electricity demand of 138 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2030 and 448 TWh in 2050 is met with electricity from European power plants, the CO2 emissions of the power sector would increase by 18 million tons in 2030 and 30 million tons in 2050 due to the conventional power plant shares. Particularly in countries with a high share of coal-fired power plants, additional emissions would arise and the environmental benefit of the electric vehicles would be significantly lower than possible.
To cover the electricity demand of electric vehicles significant investments in additional production capacities are necessary. Only when the power demand of electric vehicles is predominantly met by using renewable energies can EVs play an important role in climate protection. The research team calculates an additional need for generation capacities of about 150 gigawatts (GW) by 2050. This includes 47 GW of electricity from wind power plants and 25 GW from solar power plants to ensure that the power supply needed for electric mobility is at least met with 50 per cent renewable generation. To ensure that electric vehicles are fully powered by renewable energy significant additional investments in wind and solar generation are necessary.
Grids and charging infrastructure – challenges for electric mobility
“Our analyses show that each EU Member State has different pre-conditions for climate-friendly electric mobility,” says Joß Bracker, a climate protection expert at Oeko-Institut and co-author of the study. “The crucial factors are the size of the renewable energy shares in their electricity mix and the robustness of the grid. An increase in highly fluctuating quantities of renewable electricity requires, first and foremost, an efficient and flexible electricity grid.”
Since the power demand of electric vehicles puts stress on local grids in particular, smart charging will play a vital role in the integration of electric vehicles in the power system. In the medium term, therefore, investments must be made in technological solutions for the smart charging of electric vehicles. Only in this way can excessive stress on electricity grids be avoided and grid stability can continue to be guaranteed.
“Overall, electric mobility can play an important role in climate protection in the transport sector,” says Peter Kasten, a senior researcher on sustainable mobility and project leader at Oeko-Institut. “However, further measures are needed to reduce noise levels and congestion and to bring about greater road safety. This requires a systematic transformation to a sustainable transport system that incorporates local public transport and reduces traffic overall.”
The study was conducted for the European Environmental Agency under the framework contract “Expert Assistance in the Areas of Air, Climate Change, Noise and in relation to certain Economic Sectors”. The framework contract is coordinated by Trinomics B.V.