Electrification of vehicles is picking up pace

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Electric vehicles are set to account for around one in five car sales globally by the end of the year according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), a sea change in the automotive landscape.

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The pace of the electric transformation is remarkable – in 2020, electric vehicles (EVs) held just 4% of the global car market. In 2022, that figure rose by ten percentage points, with the 2023 share expected to hit 18%.

By 2030, the IEA predicts that 60% of all cars sold will be electric, marking a precipitous fall in the dominance of the internal combustion engine.

At least 5 million barrels of oil per day will be saved thanks to the global shift away from combustion engine vehicles, the IEA forecasts.

While EVs remain more expensive than other cars at present, by around the middle of this decade the price of smaller EVs should reach parity with their fossil fuel counterparts, according to the energy agency’s estimates.

Of course, discrepancies exist between regions when it comes to the EV revolution.

China has emerged as the global EV powerhouse. Over half of electric vehicles on the road are operating in China, with the country responsible for almost two-thirds of EV sales in 2022.

The Asian nation also dominates electric battery manufacturing and has established itself as the world’s hub for the raw materials needed for their production.

When it comes to EV uptake, Europe and the United States are in second and third place respectively.

While the “invisible hand” of the market played its part, the decisions of policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic helped to ensure the growing market share of EVs, according to the IEA.

The US’s Inflation Reduction Act, which provides subsidies for EV production, and the EU’s CO2 standards for vehicles, which mandates the end of new fossil fuel car sales from 2035, sent strong signals to the market and consumers.

“Electric vehicles are one of the driving forces in the new global energy economy that is rapidly emerging – and they are bringing about a historic transformation of the car manufacturing industry worldwide,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

“The internal combustion engine has gone unrivalled for over a century, but electric vehicles are changing the status quo.”

In other parts of the world, electrification is growing at a slower rate. 

In India, which recently overtook China as the world’s most populous nation, the share of electric vehicles rose to 1.5%, with a similar share in Indonesia, a country of almost 274 million people.

In developing economies, two or three-wheeled vehicles tend to outnumber cars, making them a prime target for electrification.

The overall EV picture suggests that countries whose manufacturers embraced electric vehicles are set to benefit, while those who eschewed the technology are set to lose out.

Chinese EV brands, such as BYD, are making inroads into global markets, while Japan, an automotive powerhouse that bet largely on hydrogen fuel cells to decarbonise driving, is expected to struggle.

Europe was also slow to embrace electrification, though the industry is undergoing a rapid shift (thanks in no small part to EU regulation). Whether it will be enough to keep its dominant position in an increasingly competitive global marketplace is yet to play out.

– Sean Goulding Carroll

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€49 ticket starts in Germany, but experts question climate impact

As of Monday (1 May), the new €49 ticket for all public transport across Germany is in effect.

The new ticket, which is available as a subscription that can be cancelled monthly, allows users to take all buses, trams, metros and regional trains, as well as some ferries, across the country, for €49 per month.

It comes as the permanent successor of last year’s €9 euro ticket, a temporary offer that allowed users to use public transport for only €9 per month in summer 2022.

So far, tariffs have been organised by regional transport associations, leading to a “jungle” of different pricing and subscription models.

More than 3 million of the new tickets have been sold, public transport operators said, most of which went to users who previously had a regional subscription. However, 750,000 have been sold to consumers who did not have a subscription before, according to the operators.

“I am pleased about the great interest in this important modernisation project,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted, adding that “it is a simple and inexpensive offer that makes public transport attractive and helps us to achieve our climate goals”.

The new offer is meant to motivate commuters to switch from car driving to public transport, but experts remain sceptical about whether it will make a big difference.

“For the €49 ticket to reduce traffic-related CO2 emissions, it would have to lead to a significant reduction in the distances travelled by car,” researcher Giulio Mattioli of Technical University Dortmund told FOCUS Online.

But as most people would choose the car over public transport due to shorter travelling times, not because of the price, the impact could be limited.

To effectively reduce CO2 emissions, the new offer would “have to be combined with investments in improving and expanding the public transport network and with measures that make using the car more difficult and expensive,” Mattioli added.

– Jonathan Packroff

Sustainable jet fuel to be part of all flights in Europe

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will soon become obligatory for all flights departing from EU airports, after EU member states and European Parliament lawmakers struck a deal late last Tuesday night (25 April). 

Under the ReFuelEU Aviation regulation, all flights must uplift kerosene blended with at least 2% SAF from 2025, rising to 6% by 2030, 20% by 2035, 34% by 2040, and reaching 70% by 2050.

The slow ramp-up is to give the market time to produce sufficient quantities of SAF to meet the legislative targets, whilst ensuring that the extra cost of the green jet fuel doesn’t see plane ticket prices skyrocket in the short term.

Much of the negotiations between MEPs and EU countries was spent thrashing out the details of what exactly qualifies as a green fuel, as only approved fuel types will count towards SAF targets.

The final agreement will see an array of second-generation biofuels used to displace oil, as well as electro fuels – synthetic fuels made with green electricity.

The airline industry was largely positive towards the outcome, saying it provides certainty for the industry. They now want to see the EU invest in ramping up SAF production.

But some environmental campaigners argue that the SAF mandate won’t be enough to rein in emissions from the expected growth in flights.

They want the EU to take stricter measures to curtail flying (a move that would arguably conflict with EU goals to boost connectivity across the bloc).

At present, the EU has taken a more cautious approach, imposing green measures on the aviation industry to reduce its climate impact whilst encouraging Europeans to take the train, a comparatively environmentally-friendly mode of travel.

Whether such measures will be enough, or if regulators (particularly at the national level) will take more drastic steps to rein in aviation’s carbon emissions in the future, remains an open question.

– Sean Goulding Carroll

Deal struck to make sustainable jet fuels mandatory for all EU flights

Every plane departing from an EU airport will have to partially run on green jet fuel from 2025, according to a deal reached by the European Parliament and EU member states late on Tuesday (25 April).

Railway companies turn to EU agency to get new trains on tracks

The European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) has overtaken national bodies as the primary authoriser for train vehicles, with a 60% share of all applications for new trains between June 2019 and April 2023.

Finland’s Fortum begins battery material recovery from EV ‘black mass’

Finnish utility Fortum said on Tuesday (25 April) it has begun recovering raw materials from the “black mass” of electric vehicle batteries at its new recycling facility in Finland.

Sharper safeguards and global thinking needed to make critical metals law work

The draft Critical Raw Materials act strikes a good balance between environmental and social safeguards, and the need for a quick ramp-up of critical metals supply. However, improvements are needed, writes Julia Poliscanova of Transport & Environment.

NASA chief sees Russians and Americans together on space station through 2030

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on Tuesday (25 April) condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but said in Ottawa that he expected Russians and Americans to work together on the International Space Station (ISS) until it is decommissioned.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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