Electrification & Vehicle Technology

Zero-emission mobility can be reached through various technologies. Each one comes with its own costs and infrastructure requirements.

Transforming the transport sector will succeed only if energy consumption can be reduced. Over the short and medium term, improvements in vehicle efficiency will suffice to do the job. But for long-term targets, alternative drivetrain technologies will be needed.

Of all the technologies under consideration, battery electric vehicles consume the least energy, making them the benchmark for clean-energy efficiency in the transport sector. Other technologies, such as fuel cells, also have potential. Even internal combustion engines can be carbon neutral if run on synthetic fuel produced with renewable electricity (though they are less energy efficient than electric batteries). Considering the many options available, it is important to explore the various technological paths that can lead to an energy-efficient and climate-friendly transport system.

The electrification of the transport sector brings its own particular challenges. For one, vehicles that run on batteries or fuel cells must be powered with renewable energy to be truly carbon neutral. Furthermore, the manufacture of batteries and power electronics must not exhaust available resources, which would lead to a whole new set of environmental problems. Finally, the creation of public and semi-public charging stations must accompany the expanded use of electric vehicles and be easily accessible to everyone. If electric drivetrain technologies are to catch on, these issues need to be addressed.

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Core results

  1. 1

    Technology openness is a prerequisite for a successful and cost-efficient achievement of a sustainable transport sector.

    This means switching to new drive trains and fuels in an undistorted competitive field factoring in all economic costs and benefits of the various technologies.

  2. 2

    Technology openness does not mean technology neutrality.

    Technology-neutral regulations do not discriminate against available technologies. They generate technology openness only when technologies compete against each other under undistorted conditions. However, in practice technology-specific regulations are needed as well to overcome path dependencies in the transport sector and to guarantee technology openness.

  3. 3

    Technologies that harm the climate must be curbed to make space for new climate ­friendly ones.

    Path dependencies and external costs bias technology competition towards combustion engines and fossil fuels. A key approach for correcting these distortions and supporting the market exit (exnovation) of fossil fuels is an effective carbon pricing. Other supplementary instruments are a carbon-based vehicle tax and strict fleet-wide emission limits for new cars.

  4. 4

    Technology-specific policies are needed to promote infrastructure for new drive systems.

    To find acceptance, drive systems require a sufficiently tight-knit and user-friendly energy supply infrastructure network. But the private sector can profitably build infrastructure only when the technology is widely used. Accordingly, the state should temporarily promote the expansion of infrastructure and create a regulatory framework that enables the simple usage of this infrastructure.

  5. 5

    Support new technologies’ competitiveness.

    In order to overcome remaining barriers, targeted and temporarily limited support programmes can facilitate the market entry and ramp-up of innovative technologies. The programmes should consider the state of development of technologies and their projected contribution to decarbonisation. More­over, it seems desirable that the necessary financial means are raised in the transport sector itself, e. g., by the means of a bonus-malus system.

  6. 6

    Generate investment security by a long-term political commitment to sustainable transport and ambitious policy measures.

    Effective political commitment requires setting and ­achieving explicit sector targets. Moreover, the state should signal the inevitability of a transition towards a sustainable transport system by making targeted public investments and enacting a broad instrument mix for the reliable achievement of the transport sector emission target. Furthermore, it must seek to build the broadest political consensus possible.

  1. 1

    The energy transition in the power distribution grids can be successful, even if all passenger vehicles are electrified.

    Grid-friendly charging reduces the peak loads created when vehicles and electric heat pumps are charged simultaneously. It can also shift electricity consumption to times with abundant generation from solar photovoltaics and wind turbines.

  2. 2
  3. 3

    Electromobility can finance the expansion of the distribution network until 2050.

    Electric mobility increases electricity sales, while the overall investment needed for power lines and transformers does not increase. However, it is important that the participants in the mobility transition pay their fair share of grid fees.

  4. 4

    Smart charging can be designed to ensure that users hardly notice any restrictions.

    To achieve this, grid-friendly managed charging must become the standard. We need secure information and communications technologies, incentives and, if necessary, obligatory managed charging. Precautionary indirect control, in the form of incentives for grid-friendly charging, should take precedence over direct control by the distribution grid operator.

  1. 1

    Lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite and platinum are available in sufficient quantities to enable the rapid, worldwide adoption of electric vehicles.

    Proven global reserves in each case greatly exceed forecasted demand, even when factoring in rising demand for these raw materials for other technological applications.

  2. 2

    Temporary supply bottlenecks and price increases are possible, particularly for cobalt and lithium.

    This is predominantly attributable to two factors: First, some new mining sites may not be operational in due time. Second, source countries may not be able to export raw materials in sufficient quantities at all times.

  3. 3

    The extraction of raw materials is inherently associated with environmental and social problems, and the commodities needed for battery technology are no exception in this regard.

    The problems in this area are multifarious and include the high energy consumption of mining operations, acid mine drainage, water conflicts between mining companies and indigenous peoples, and poor working conditions in mines. The artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where most known cobalt reserves are located, is a particularly egregious example of such problems.

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