“The climate advantage of e-cars has grown significantly”

How can politics advance the decarbonization of mobility? 15 scientists from three renowned research institutes have been working on this question for two years. Involved: the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). The project was supported by Volkswagen’s independent Sustainability Advisory Board. In an interview published by the car manufacturer, Nicolas Koch (MCC) and Christian Bauer (PSI) explain the results.

A lot of research has already been done on climate protection and mobility – what exactly was the aim of your project?

Koch: The project idea came about three years ago. At that time it became increasingly clear that the transformation of the automotive sector could go much faster than expected. On the one hand, batteries for electric cars have become cheaper and cheaper. New players from China and the USA challenge established manufacturers. On the other hand, the transport sector moved up the climate policy agenda during the diesel crisis. Cities made local transport policies with driving bans and toll systems. What was missing were guidelines for a coherent overall concept. We wanted to create a scientific basis for this.

The Volkswagen Sustainability Advisory Board supports the project. How can you imagine the cooperation??

Koch: There were a number of joint workshops with the Volkswagen advisory board and sustainability experts. This helped us scientists a lot to better understand the decision-making problems faced by companies and politicians. We don’t want to do research in an ivory tower – our results should be socially relevant. We have therefore summarized our most important findings on selected decision-making problems in brief dossiers on just a few pages. In it, decision-makers will find answers to their questions – and what we think they should also know.

Bauer: Working with the company was particularly helpful in comparing our data and assumptions with practice – for example when calculating life cycle assessments. Despite cooperation, it was always clear that we work independently and do not conduct any contract research.

How can your findings advance the climate debate?

Koch: They can help calm discussions and make them more fact-based. This applies to many controversial questions: How can we make sustainable mobility decisions attractive to consumers? Do we need toll systems and driving bans?? Which vehicle technologies are the most environmentally friendly? We have heated debates on all of these topics – detached from the state of the art.

One of these debates revolves around the climate footprint of various drives. What are your findings on this?

Bauer: We need e-cars for effective climate protection. In science, this answer has long been clear. However, it has not been possible to sufficiently communicate the knowledge to the general public. As a result, there are always contributions to the discussion that are largely free of specialist knowledge. To put it bluntly: If Europe wants to be climate-neutral by 2050, then by then there can no longer be any internal combustion engines on the road – at least in passenger cars. At the same time, we must free the electricity sector from fossil fuels.

How do you explain that there is so much controversy about e-mobility??

Bauer: I see two points. On the one hand, there is the justified indication that e-mobility only makes sense in connection with sufficient low-CO2 electricity. That is indisputable – the restructuring of the transport sector and the electricity sector must take place in parallel. On the other hand, I still perceive major reservations about the transformation in the automotive industry because business models and product ranges have to be completely changed.

Koch: I always find it fascinating how much individual studies with the tenor that e-mobility is not clean get a forum in science journalism. From a scientific point of view, it is good that individuals question the state of knowledge and bring new data into the discussion. But science journalism would have to classify this in the existing knowledge that has arisen over the years. That often doesn’t happen.

They say: If you want climate neutrality, there is no way around e-mobility. why?

Bauer: It will never be possible to avoid CO2 emissions with petrol and diesel vehicles, no matter how economical the engines are. In contrast, e-cars have the potential to drastically reduce climate-damaging emissions. The key is CO2-free or low-CO2 electricity. E-cars now have a clear climate advantage over combustion engines in almost all European countries. Only Poland and Estonia use an electricity mix that does not give electric vehicles an advantage in terms of the climate balance.

A major controversy is: E-drive or hydrogen – what is your answer?

Bauer: I wouldn’t play battery and hydrogen cars off against each other. Depending on the intended use, one or the other makes more sense. A major advantage of battery cars is that they use electricity more efficiently during operation – by a factor of around 2.5. This is important because renewable electricity is scarce. Also over the life cycle, including manufacturing, battery vehicles use less energy than hydrogen cars. Where usage permits, cars should therefore be battery-electric. The advantages of hydrogen, fast refueling and a long range, are particularly important in truck traffic, where long distances are covered with heavy loads.

What new insights do you take away from the research project??

Bauer: The climate lead of e-cars over combustion engines has grown significantly in recent years. This is due to advances in battery production, longer battery life and the higher share of renewable energy in Europe. Compared to combustion engines, the production of e-cars still requires more energy. However, this evens out after a few tens of thousands of kilometers, provided that clean electricity is charged.

Koch: Our research has clearly confirmed the importance of carbon pricing as a political tool. To date, politics has relied heavily on efficiency standards for passenger cars. This is also necessary to bring new technologies onto the market, but does not offer any incentive to reduce mileage. On the contrary: If my car is economical, I even have an incentive to drive more than before. This rebound effect partially negates the benefits of better technology.

What demands on politics result from this?

Koch: Let’s take Germany: The planned CO2 price surcharge for petrol and diesel is a good start. In the medium term, however, there is great uncertainty as to how prices will develop. This is harmful because it delays investment. At this point we should make improvements – preferably with a cross-sectoral European solution. Incidentally, it is by no means the case that a CO2 price has to be socially unfair. On the contrary: a large part of the population can benefit financially if the state returns the income according to a fair system.

Bauer: The state should be even more involved in expanding the charging infrastructure. And he has to create better framework conditions for charging at home. It can’t be that the co-owners in an apartment building can forbid me to install a wall box.

What do you expect from car manufacturers?

Bauer: When it comes to passenger cars, we need a complete switch to battery vehicles. If all manufacturers did this, an important part of the problem would be solved. It is just as important that affordable e-cars are on the market. With vehicles for 100.000 euros you will not achieve a mass effect.

Koch: Even in the economic crisis, we shouldn’t fall into old reflexes, as was observed in the discussion about a scrapping premium. A scrapping premium for combustion engines is not helpful for shaping the future. Other approaches are much more refreshing.

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12 thoughts on ““The climate advantage of e-cars has grown significantly””

  1. Nice cover-up lobbying post for VW, which is fully committed to electro. It doesn’t really surprise me that the mercator foundation, which is exempt from inheritance tax, appears in unity with the spade. There is an amazing overlap in personnel. The family that owns the Mercator Foundation is probably trying to significantly improve the long-term course of their vw shareholding compared to Tesla.

  2. Consistently direct answers to important questions. Many thanks to the editors.
    @Peter griffin: the inheritance tax is an envy tax!

  3. As I have already written here several times, electromobility only has a chance – if at all – with exchangeable batteries (with a capacity of around 100 kWh, 500 to 1000 volts, a maximum weight of 600 kg, with a built-in battery management system and thermal management), which in Battery changing stations are exchanged, e.g.B. by pushing through directly above the car floor. In the changing stations, the batteries act as virtual storage power plants. Because of the electricity price differential, one would at least drive for free. The system was introduced many years ago by the Israeli-Danish company Better Place, which soon after – arguably for good reasons – went bankrupt..

  4. To this day, at least. 80% of drivers are neither concerned about their drive system nor about climate change. In order to break a change of heart from the fence, it is only possible with violence from the state governments. Crises like Corona help optimally. So keep it up with driving bans and lock downs in the future…….Etc.

  5. Interesting finding that only 20% of all people are smart enough. It goes without saying that these 20% have to make rules for the others. But only if Green provides the chancellor.

  6. A Green Chancellor, do you really mean that or is that meant ironically? Where were and/or are the Greens actually when it comes to e-mobility? Where are the Greens when it comes to the insane cruises? Should I continue?? This party hasn’t been green for a long time and doesn’t deserve its name. But no matter which political direction we take, most politicians don’t give a damn about environmental protection, when I think specifically of Ms. Wagenknecht with her YouTube video, every sentence is wrong when it comes to e-mobility. If Corona no longer affects us all, then we will fly again several times a year, sometimes for a longer weekend, or take another cruise, we don’t care about the mess we cause with it.
    The E-Technician (E-Smart for the city, Tesla Model S for the route)

  7. I’m quite relaxed about it – horses weren’t replaced by combustion vehicles overnight either. Today I don’t see anyone riding to work anymore. The first HPC chargers are set up in inner cities – charging can only be canceled there by the person who started it, 25 cents per kW at each CCS socket, cashless with just one prepaid card with an annual average consumption of 13.5 kW per 100 km – I am already a satisfied electric vehicle driver, although the development is just really picking up speed.

  8. Nothing necessary – Tesla has been showing for a long time how easy it can be, the world is still resisting. In ten years you will plug in the BEV, almost no matter where you are, without a card, the pillars register your vehicle (already now) – the operator can assign the vehicle to the owner and via the state-mandated payment method/data at state-regulated prices settle up. The column tells you whether electricity is currently free because there is an oversupply, or how much money you get if you let your battery feed into the power grid. For a few years, petrol was only available in a few pharmacies. Battery-electric 40-tonners are practically never seen charging in public, because this happens incidentally when charging/discharging with 1MW+x at the company’s own pillar with cheap / self-produced electricity. Tesla’s semi will soon surpass Tesla’s cars in terms of revenue, and because hardly anyone believes that, Tesla doesn’t have to fear any competition, and fuel cell trucks don’t have to fear it at all.

  9. Kasch, but there is still a lot of wishful thinking on your part. Even if that were to happen, you don’t (yet) have the 80% “bad guys” on your side. You have to bring out the heavier artillery. Jurgen, apart from the Greens and the Left, the other parties do practically nothing in environmental protection. Lyphard, your explanations suggest that the electric cars probably didn’t grow on your crap.

  10. Electric cars only have an overall climate-related advantage when no more coal is used to generate electricity. The sole comparison with combustion engines just totally depends.
    We must first use every newly generated renewable KW to avoid coal-fired power generation, as this achieves the maximum climate effect.
    And don’t “waste” it in e-cars.Whereby in cities other advantages prevail and it certainly makes sense there. So in the medium term I see 20% e-cars in the city, and then 100% in the long term, but only when we can access 100% renewable energies.

  11. The electric car is not responsible for the fact that the electricity is still not completely clean.
    Jurgen, good for your constant advertising for two brands. But as soon as all the new ones that are coming in Europe are on the street, a market in between will be the biggest.


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