Electric vehicles support a green transport future – but how will they be powered?

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 1 October 2016

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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A wide roll-out of electric cars on European roads would cut greenhouse gas emissions and certain air pollutants – but their widespread use would present a challenge for Europe’s power grid.

These are the findings of a European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment, ‘Electric vehicles and the energy sector — impacts on Europe’s future emissions’, released this week (26 September).

‘Electric vehicles powered by renewable energy sources can play a bridging role in the EU’s plans to move towards a greener, more sustainable transport system, and in meeting its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80‒95% by 2050.

‘However, larger numbers of electric vehicles will not be enough for the shift to a low-carbon economy. Other problems such as growing demand for transport and congestion remain and need to be addressed as well.’

HANS BRUYNINCKX
Executive director, EEA

Powering EVs

The EEA briefing looks at the impact of increased use of electric cars, their effect on the EU’s energy system and on emissions of greenhouse gases and selected air pollutants.

In one scenario electric cars had an 80% share of the EU’s total car fleet in 2050, and additional electricity generation was required to meet the higher energy demand.

The need for extra power will be higher if other sectors like industry or households don’t follow through on planned energy efficiency improvements. The use of renewable energy in 2050 will also have an effect on emissions from the power-generating sector.

Overall, the research suggests the carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions in the road transport sector would outweigh the higher emissions caused by the continued use of fossil fuels in the power-generating sector.

Potential savings

In the EU, a net reduction of 255 million tonnes of CO2 could be delivered in 2050. This is equivalent to around 10% of the total emissions estimated for that year. However in countries with a high share of fossil power plants, environmental benefits would be lower. This would also lower the benefits of using electric vehicles in these countries.

An 80% share of electric vehicles would also significantly reduce overall emissions of certain air pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). For other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), emissions could increase due to the continued use of coal in the electricity generation sector.

Pressure on the grid

A larger number of electric cars on the road may pose future challenges for Europe’s power production capacities and put stress on existing power grids.

Under the 80% scenario, the share of Europe’s total electricity consumption from electric vehicles would increase from around 0.03% in 2014 to 9.5% by 2050.

A more extensive infrastructure providing more public charging points would be key – as well as increased power capacity able to handle a larger European car fleet.

The assessment stresses that closer coordination between the road transport and energy sectors on policy making and investments will be crucial.

Click here to read the EEA briefing ‘Electric vehicles and the energy sector — impacts on Europe’s future emissions’.

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