AAFTER TWO YEARS of covid-19 restrictions hampering travel, the world is moving again. But the relief comes with an environmental cost. Transporting people and goods causes a fifth of global CO2 emissions. Many countries have drawn up ambitious roadmaps to replace fossil fuel-powered vehicles with battery-powered vehicles to help evade the worst of global warming.
Better batteries, improved charging networks and generous government subsidies allow electric vehicles (EV) are coming out of showrooms faster than you can say “lithium-ion battery”. Global electric car sales more than doubled to 6.6 million last year, about one in 12 new cars sold, according to a recent tally by the International Energy Agency (IEA), a global forecaster. About 30% were plug-in hybrids that also run on petrol, but can be twice as efficient as cars that only have an internal combustion engine (ICEs). Almost everything else ran on batteries, which are twice as efficient. A small proportion, about 15,000, relied on hydrogen fuel cells, an emerging technology that uses hydrogen to provide electricity. There are also 280 meters of electric two- and three-wheel vehicles on the road, according to BloombergNEFa data outfit.
Some countries are going through a rapid transition. Nearly nine out of ten cars sold in Norway last year were electric, thanks to high taxes on ICE cars and a decent charging infrastructure. Over the past five years, the number EVs sold in Europe has grown at an average of 61% per year, making it the fastest-changing region in the world. Sales in China are also accelerating: last year EVs accounted for 16% of total car sales; the Chinese market is so large that it accounted for half of global sales. But America, the second largest car market in the world after China, is lagging behind. Less than 5% of the cars sold there last year were electric; half of it is made by Tesla.
If governments want to achieve their climate targets, the sale of EVs will have to accelerate quickly. the 16m EVThe cars on the road today make up a tiny fraction of the world’s 1.2 billion most fuel-consuming cars. At current rates the IEA expects between 22% and 35% of car sales by 2030 to be electric. At best, only 14% of cars will be on the world’s roads at that point EVs. BloombergNEF expected EVs to represent nearly a quarter of car sales by 2025. But to achieve the global goal of net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, EVs will have to increase their share of new cars to 60% by 2030 according to the IEA†
That target is unlikely to be met. EV sales rose 120% in 2021, but global supply chain disruptions are likely to slow that growth rate. Shortages of minerals used for batteries will make matters worse. For example, heavily sanctioned Russia produces one-fifth of the high-grade nickel used in some countries EV batteries. And although the charging network for EVs is growing rapidly, in many countries it will not be comprehensive or smart enough – to manage the extra load on the grid – every 250 meters by 2030 EVIt is required to be on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050, in the unlikely event that the world achieves that target. The path to full EV adoption has many hurdles ahead.
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