Electrification is driving the energy revolution in transportation

After widespread recognition that swift CO2 emission reduction was imperative to mitigate global warming, a transition from fossil fuels sources to electricity is environmentally beneficial. This has significant influence on the major energy systems around the world. Technological advances in power, transportation, and renewable energy are advancing with the goal of CO2 mitigation in mind. There are multiple aspects to consider in each sector as they try to implement electrification.

Within the transportation sector, there is the addition of electric vehicles (EVs) and their complementary chargers. This transition to EVs serves as a direct replacement of fossil fuel burning cars. On the surface, this seems like an impactful change; there are no direct emissions from electric vehicles. However, studies vary greatly on the conclusions about emissions when EV production and manufacturing location are accounted for.  Within a 2019 analysis in Germany, it was found that their EVs run on electricity that was at least 50% produced by coal and natural gas. Also, many of the battery cells within Germany’s EVs were outsourced from countries with high energy consumption and emissions in cell production when compared to the fabrication of a combustion engine. Findings like these instill doubts on the actual environmental benefits of EV use. However, this is constantly improving over time. There is obvious variation from region to region, especially as different countries are carrying out decarbonization efforts in their electricity generation. The German study found that despite these doubts, the EV has a climate advantage in any scenario over its entire life. This benefit grows with renewables being used behind the EV component manufacturing as well as in the electricity used to charge the EV in operation. The main conclusion was that cradle-to-grave transparency would benefit everyone in understanding the true carbon footprint.

The study in Germany compiled data from multiple EV analyses over time. Using this information, they were able to create the infographic shown above which compares the emissions of a compact class gasoline vehicle (purple) to a similar size EV (green) in an urban setting over the lifetime mileage. At approximately 38 000 kilometers, the cars reach an equivalent emissions level. The study made sure to point out that urban travel varied from vehicle use profiles studied which is why they emphasized the difference of 29% at 100 000 kilometers. This aligned with some of the battery life spans within the various studies compiled. Per the graph above, for those EV designs that can supersede that limit, the projected emissions difference reached nearly 43% at 200 000 kilometers. From information like this, it is easy to see the direct benefits of replacing fossil fuel transportation with electric vehicles.

To support the growing EV demand and truly integrate them into society, there is a need for strategically placed chargers to be incorporated, to start, in all urban areas. For the public to fully embrace this transition, the infrastructure needs to be created to not make owning an EV a burden. If the sources of electric charging are limited, then the potential for an EV lifestyle is diminished. The transition to EVs can lead to a 38% increase energy consumption by 2050, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. To achieve an increase like this while also striving for carbon neutrality, there is a need to expand the electrical grid to ensure it can handle the increased load by introducing renewable energy resources but also ensure this integration of intermittency is not problematic by embracing energy storage for dispatchability.

It is easy to identify these needs, but it is not simple to actually make them happen in practice. Transmission lines will need to be built out and fortified for greater capacity to accommodate prevalent renewables and increased electrification. Microgrid networks will need to be expanded to help with power reliability on a utility level, especially in remote areas.  The integration of energy storage is vital to address any time-of-day constraints imposed by renewable generation as well as providing wholesale arbitrage, balancing and flexibility. To achieve the benefits of energy storage integration, the industry as a whole needs to standardize the approach to energy storage at least to some level. In the US, there are states that do not even address energy storage as a concept which leads to uncertainty for installers, where other parts of the country set unrealistic expectations leading to dissatisfaction. This kind of regional variation leads to inconsistent system design and evaluation. In multiple countries, resources are being dedicated to aligning the variety of stakeholders for a consistent approach to these infrastructure needs. The hope is that this foundational framework will allow expedient integration of energy resources to mitigate climate change.

At Nilar, we see the increased interest in electric vehicles and the associated infrastructure upgrades as a step forward for the environment. Our battery can serve as one of the contributors to the future, powering a strategic network of EV chargers and providing flexibility for grid management challenges. There is a belief that any step forward will further encourage decarbonization efforts. There will be increases in recyclability and circular economy design, which Nilar embraces in our battery development. Continuous innovation will drive the industry towards improving performance and efficiency. Electrification is the future so let’s get it right.