Electric Vehicles: Transitioning to a Sustainable Future

The US is a car culture. In 2010, 95% of American households owned a car and 85% of Americans drove to work each day. This is radically different from the lifestyle most Americans had after World War II, when 40% of Americans did not own cars.

China and India are rapidly adopting the US living standard, and cars are flooding the streets. In 2011, China had 100 million cars on its streets, or about 10 percent of the more than 1 billion cars on streets worldwide. On average, 9.51 million automobiles were added each year between 2006 and 2010, exceeding the government’s ability to add roads and prepare for the increasing demand on transport infrastructure. Reacting to this mismatch, cities are establishing car quotas to attempt to slow the growth. This year in Beijing, for example, a car-quota system was put into effect, allowing the registration of no more than 240,000 new cars annually.

Hummer Limo (Photo via Flickr, by kenjonbro)

Similar to trends worldwide, Chinese buyers have shown little interest in the clean car and electric vehicle technology. Instead, sales of SUVs and luxury cars have risen; in China, SUV sales surged by 24%.  With climate change’s severe implications on display in today’s environment, policy-makers must incentivize sustainable transportation technologies, such as public transportation or electric vehicles (EVs). In China, if the purchase price of EVs was subsidized by 57% to 67%, a recent report by the Deutsche Bank Group estimates that “66% of the end-market could be potential costumers compared to the 29% of the market now addressed by the current subsidies scheme.” However, in order for EVs to be truly sustainable, electricity generation must be less coal-based, and instead be generated by renewable energy.

This spring, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) released the EV City Casebook, detailing the importance of reforming the transportation sector. “In 2009, transportation accounted for approximately one-fifth of the global primary energy use and one quarter of all energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, with nearly half of those emissions originating from passenger vehicles” (IEA).

The report explains that if no major energy and climate policies are introduced, the number of vehicles and consumption of fuels will continue to rise, and will more than double by 2050. In order to prevent this growth and reduce the devastating effects of transportation’s CO2 emissions, the report argues that EVs must be integrated into transportation infrastructure, especially in urban areas.

Car2Go, Electric Vehicle shared car initiative (Photo via Flickr, by GriinBlog)

EVs increase energy security by decreasing dependence on petroleum, and using a more diverse mix of fuel. Additionally, EVs emit 50-75% less than CO2 per kilometer than even today’s most efficient cars. In order to maximize green technology, such as EVs, EV-friendly infrastructure must be incorporated into urban planning in order to catalyze the transition from a fossil-fuel dependent car culture to a more sustainable transportation model.

The report outlines city case studies to reveal the opportunities and challenges that city planners confronted during the planning and integration process. The report additionally provides resources for cities to share knowledge and network, thus furthering successful EV implementation. Some of the networks cited in the report include: the Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI), Project Get Ready, Implementing Agreement for Cooperation on Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Technologies and Programmes, and C40 Cities in partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative.

Cities are moving fast to adopt green infrastructure and clean technology. For example, by 2040, Amsterdam strives to generate all of the electricity used by EVs with renewable energy, such as windmills and solar panels. And in just three years, Amsterdam aims to increase the number of EVs on its road from 750 to 10,000 EVs.

The report provides a very useful overview of policy strategies, enabling readers to compare how municipal and national governments are seeking to increase EV fleet size, and learning about outside actors that governments are engaging to achieve their EV targets. One highlighted partnership is between Barcelona and SIEMENS, which will increase the number of hybrids on the roadways and build 100% electric routes in neighborhoods that have mobility difficulties.

Approved EV sign, Oregon (Photo via Flickr, by Oregon DOT)

In wake of Rio+20 and the commitment of $175 billion from the 8-largest multi-lateral banks, sustainable transportation initiatives will continue to gain momentum. EVs will be one part of larger, sustainable transport solutions. As EVs become more commonplace, prices will fall and consumers will purchase more of them. Cities and communities are already realizing the benefits of EVs; it is time national governments commit to greener transportation technologies as well, thereby ensuring a sustainable energy future.

(Written by Antonia Sohns)


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