Rhein on Energy and Climate

The 100-year old internal combustion engine will be phased out in the coming six decades or so. This is bound to happen for two concurring reasons:

  • Oil will become so scarce and expensive that driving vehicles on gasoline or diesel will no longer be affordable.
  • In order to successfully combat climate change, for which mobility accounts to the extent of one quarter, Humanity must find alternative energy sources.

But as long as most of our electricity demand is covered from fossil sources there is no ecological urgency for implementing the necessary technological revolution of land transport. Nor is there an economic urgency as long as e-vehicles are substantially more expensive, while being less convenient in terms of range and loading energy.

In order to reach the EU 2050 climate target of reducing C02 emissions by 80 per cent, the European transport sector will have to reduce emissions by 60 per cent.

This will be achievable by a combined approach of

  • further enhancing fuel efficiency of combustion engines
  • combining efficient diesel and plug-in electric engines;
  • improving battery technology in view of making them lighter, cheaper and doubling their range without recharging.

Presently the average newly admitted car in Europe must emit less than 127 g C02/km. This compares to 50 g/km for the latest models of hybrid plug-in diesel cars. That big difference demonstrates the huge potential for higher fuel efficiency through diesel and hybrid engine technology.

The EU should therefore fix much stricter emission standards for new cars, while leaving manufacturers the necessary respite for adjustment and technological improvement, say 95g by 2020, 70 g by 2025 and 50 g by 2030. By implementing such a medium-term road map the EU would dispose of a completely renovated vehicle stock by 2030 that would enable it to roughly halve its C02 emissions from road transport.

Fully electrical cars will most likely remain the exception until 2030, essentially used as a city and special purpose vehicles. Their market share is unlikely to exceed 10 per cent for new vehicles which is fine considering that more than half of EU power will still be generated from fossil plants

This analysis leads to five policy conclusions for the EU:

  • Toughen fuel efficiency standards for passenger and commercial vehicles. These will offer powerful incentives for improving battery, storage and engine technologies.
  • Target a 40 per cent share of electricity generated from non-fossil sources by 2030.
  • Negotiate comparable targets for automotive fuel efficiency and non-fossil electricity generation with USA, China, Japan, Korea and Brazil, to make EU measures globally climate-relevant.
  • Abstain from granting specific research support, let alone purchase premiums for electrical vehicles. Member states should be free to do so, if necessary to keep up with the technological developments in competing countries, especially China.
  • Promote effective public transport systems as the overriding priority, as e-mobility will not offer the answer to the ever growing urban and high-way congestion.
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