Wind and solar power will be the most important forms of energy for the transport system of the future. But the enormous energy consumption of the transport sector will require the generation of additional electricity if its CO2 emissions are to be reduced. The current rate of wind and solar capacity expansion – including the necessary expansion of power grids and storage systems – is too slow. While forecasts of future energy consumption in the transport sector differ significantly, it’s now apparent that the electrification of this sector will increase Germany’s total power consumption by 2050.
The interrelationships between the electricity and transport sector are more complicated than initially apparent. As kilowatt-hour production for mobility applications accelerates, the transport sector must take into account the limitations of the power system in its present form. Specifically, electric vehicles have to charge intelligently, based on the amount of electricity available. The simultaneous charging of too many electric cars could stretch the system to its breaking point. Smart charging requires not only the necessary infrastructure (i.e. charging points and high-capacity power lines). It also requires electricity service plans that incentivise practices of benefit to the power system. Digital technologies have the potential to facilitate these sorts of practices, though it remains unclear what if any role electricity generated by roof-top solar installations for private use will play in promoting smart charging. Other open questions include whether used electric vehicle batteries will see second lives as back-up power storage units and whether synthetic fuels produced with renewable electricity are good options for times when sunlight and wind are in short supply.