Could electric cars be the norm in just a few decades?
The Paris Agreement has sent a signal, but could society do enough to achieve the goals of this landmark climate agreement?
Powering more of the cars we drive with electricity is one of the keys to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The pace of change could be quite different from one country to the next, but electricity could – over time – replace fuels such as petrol/gasoline and diesel.
If the move to electric cars is to help society achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the electricity would need to be generated, increasingly, from sources such as wind and solar. This is the direction taken by Shell’s latest energy scenario, Sky, which meets the goals of the Paris Agreement by bringing global emissions to net-zero by 2070. Sky illustrates a pathway for the world to take that is technically possible but could be significantly challenging.
Consider that today electricity provides just 20% of the final energy the world uses in the global energy system. A lot more electricity will be needed to power cars and many other products and services society needs. However, an early sign of the shift to electricity in Sky is the switch to electric cars.
Progress will differ from country to country, but in Sky, most new car sales could be electric vehicles by 2050. By 2070 almost all cars could be electric vehicles.
Passenger road transport trends in Sky
This may sound slow, but it is a rapid transformation of the cars on our roads today. In 2017, electric vehicles represented about 1.5% of passenger vehicle sales globally, but growth in the sector is currently very rapid at around 40-50% per year. [Source: IEA Global EV Outlook 2018]
The Sky scenario builds on this trend, recognising that the cost of the necessary technologies for electric vehicles has dropped rapidly and should continue to do so into the 2020s. The energy modeling team in Shell took the view that battery costs could continue to decline, bringing the cost of electrical vehicles in line with conventional cars powered by petrol/gasoline or diesel.
Elements needed to see the electric vehicle trend in Sky emerge are visible today, but the new sector could face issues that require resolution.
The materials used in electric cars are different than those used in conventional vehicles. This could place new demands on global supply chain, such as a massive increase in demand for battery components, like nickel and cobalt. Battery chemistry may have to adapt, or perhaps new transport models could emerge to solve critical supply issues. The transition will also require new infrastructure for charging vehicles. None of these obstacles are insurmountable, so it is possible that by 2050 passenger vehicle sales will be largely electric.
Another route to electric vehicles is to use hydrogen. We will explore the potential for hydrogen electric vehicles, and other challenges such as electrification of ships and planes, in future blog posts in this series.
Read the Sky publication to see how the goals of the Paris Agreement could be met through a combination of technology, government policy and societal actions.
Could society achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement? What do you think?
The Sky scenario illustrates a technically possible, but challenging pathway for society to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Discover the Sky scenario through our latest content series, twelve questions addressing key topics found within Sky.
For over two decades Shell scenario thinking has incorporated the issue of climate change. The Sky scenario joins two previous Shell scenarios, Mountains and Oceans that saw rapid decarbonization but fell short of the goals of the Paris Agreement. To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the Sky scenario relies on a complex combination of mutually reinforcing actions by society, markets and governments. It adopts an approach grounded in current economic and policy development mechanisms, but then progressively becomes ‘goal-driven’ to achieve society’s ambition for net-zero emissions by 2070. At Shell, we hope it’s a helpful contribution to one of the world’s toughest challenges. You can explore all three scenarios at www.shell.com/Scenarios