Earlier this month, we wrote a story on Norway and how by 2025 it’s banning the sale of all gas-powered cars in favor of electric vehicles (EVs) or fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs).
Considering that 24 percent of new vehicles sales in Norway are already EVs, and more than 98 percent of their electricity is generated from renewable sources, it would seem that such a move is both feasible and within that country’s self-interest.
But for other countries trying to do the same thing, the picture is murkier.
The next-largest EV sales market share is around 6 percent, while all other countries have an EV sales market share of around 1 percent or even lower, which means that mass adoption is still a ways off. What’s more, many countries around the world still generate large portions of their electricity from coal, and EVs charged by coal-generated electricity are found to actually increase air pollution 2 to 5 times compared with conventional gasoline cars. And, according to the Department of Energy’s GREET Model, they provide minimal GHG emissions benefits as well. They can even be worse in that area, too, when compared to new, fuel-efficient gasoline cars.
With that in mind, what other countries are looking at banning gas-powered cars or their sales in the (relatively) near future?
The Netherlands is also shooting for the same target as Norway — no new gasoline and diesel vehicles sales by 2025 — but the Dutch have a slightly steeper hill to climb. Approximately 6 percent of new vehicle sales there are EVs, which is good enough for second place in EV adoption. A full 100 percent adoption by 2025 would be quite the feat, though not impossible, especially when you consider that hybrids will still be allowed. In terms of electricity generation, the Dutch are nowhere near as clean or sustainable as Norway, since coal is responsible for about a third of their generation, but they have plans to phase out coal entirely by 2020.
Germany is giving itself an extra five years and is not pushing for a ban on new gasoline and diesel cars until 2030, but the odds of meeting that goal are dicey at best. Only 0.6 percent of new vehicles sold in Germany are EVs, and of the 52.3 million vehicles in Germany, not even 1 million of them are electric. And 46 percent of the nation’s electricity is generated from coal, so switching to an all-electric fleet could create air-quality problems for parts of the country heavily reliant on coal-generated electricity. If the air gets worse, it could spark public outrage similar to that in parts of China. Is it technically possible that all new vehicles sales in Germany will be electric by 2030? Yes. Would I bet on it? Probably not.
Oh boy. While Norway, the Netherlands, and Germany are content with aiming for all-electric for new vehicles sales by 2025 or 2030, India wants to go one step further and have all vehicles in the country run on electricity by 2030. That’s quite the task, considering that cars are now lasting longer than ever, usually at least a decade. Even if starting today every new car sold in India was electric, they would still have a quite a few gasoline and diesel cars on the road in 2030. And to be clear, India is nowhere close to every new car being sold running electricity, with the most recent survey counting only a paltry 2,689 EVs driving on their roads. That’s not the only problem India faces: 21.3 percent of their population, nearly 300 million people, don’t currently have access to electricity. And of the people that do have access, 72 percent of that power is generated from coal, which again, would be even more disastrous for air quality than more conventional gasoline cars. While ambitious, India’s plan to electrify its fleet by 2030 is not just unfeasible, it could also cause more problems than it would solve.
While it might make sense for countries like Norway and perhaps The Netherlands to try to achieve near-ubiquitous EVs in the near future, the same isn’t true of countries like Germany, and certainly not countries like India.
EVs should be part of their drive to reduce air pollution and GHG emissions, but so should striving to clean up the conventional gasoline-vehicles they already have on the road. This means more alternative fuels like ethanol and methanol that can be made from biomass, natural gas, or waste. Those fuels not only burn cleaner, but in engines designed to take advantage of their high-octane content, they’re more efficient and powerful than gasoline or diesel.
Not all countries are the same, and different places will require different strategies in the struggle to reduce our oil dependence and the harmful environmental effects that it comes with.