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.
Shortly before the Bundestag election 2021, topics are high in politics, which they looked at the past years only on the edge. But rinse strongly in the…
The trend in terms of e-mobility points upwards. And yet there is no occasion to euphoria. On the contrary: With the aim of the traffic light coalition…
In Luxembourg seems to be a lot to move in terms of e-mobility . Last year, the police Lower Saxony and TU Braunschweig closed a corresponding…
A recent study of the Yale School of the Environment (YSE) is concluded that the indirect overall emissions of electric cars, which are produced in…
The working group of the National Platform “Future of Mobility” (NPM) holds a much faster breakthrough in e-mobility in Germany to achieve the agreed…
Up to 28 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions as a lousy-class diesel, up to 42 percent less than a small car gasoline engine: If you buy a purely…
One of the most passionately discussed electric car topics is their environmental balance sheet. With the most turmoil, the “Sweden study” as well as…
The automotive industry is currently under pressure due to heated debates around climate change. Already years earlier, the European regulators had set…
Olaf Scholz has made clear decisions in German climate policy. It is not about waiving, but about the modernization of the industry, explained the SPD…
By 2030, ten million electrical cars are needed to achieve the climate protection goals set, the opinion of Federal Minister of Transport Andreas Scheuer…