Internal combustion engines only convert a small part of the energy content of the fuel into mechanical energy for traction: around 20%. Battery electric vehicles have a much higher efficiency converting electricity into traction: above 75%.
As a consequence, enormous amounts of primary energy could be saved. Today in Europe the bulk of new electricity generation capacity is renewable. By mainstreaming electric vehicles, indigenous renewable electricity replaces imported fossil fuels, with the subsequent economic and environmental benefits.
This amount of oil would be replaced by ~800 TWh of electricity, which could be generated by a ~450 GW park of renewables (wind and solar). The investment required for this renewable capacity would be in the range of €500 billion, which can be paid back in about 7 years by the savings made in imports.
Going electric not only diverts money from imports to indigenous industry, but it generates net savings after a few years of operation.
To illustrate this principle, let’s compare two routes to use renewable power in mobility. Direct use of electricity in a battery electric vehicle shows an overall efficiency of about 70% (grid losses, electric motor and power electronic losses, battery use, mechanical losses). Indirect use through syn-fuel and an internal combustion engine shows an overall efficiency of 13%, more than 5 times lower (power to liquid efficiency, transport, internal combustion engine losses, mechanical losses).
The need for harmonised global efficiency standards has never been greater, but recent events suggest harmonisation is a distant goal.
For example, new EU standards are being proposed to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions from new heavy-duty vehicles.
However, at the same time in the US, President Trump is proposing to weaken the fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks set by his predecessor. The new proposal from the US Transportation Department and the EPA would freeze fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels through 2026, and require dramatically fewer electric vehicles as more people continue to drive gasoline-powered vehicles.
What is the carbon footprint of the internet? The ‘immateriality’ of the internet may be an illusion. Search robots and social media sites are big users of server energy. In 2007, ‘Greening the media’ reported that the energy use of information technology is close to 3% of all energy use, similar to aviation. But how to get away from this? Should we introduce a concept like “internet use efficiency”?
At least, contrary to aviation, computer servers use electricity, an energy carrier that is well on its way to decarbonisation.