According to a new study published by the ifo Institue Center for Economic Studies (CESifo) in Germany, EVs will barely help cut CO2 emissions in the country over the coming years, as the introduction of electric vehicles does not necessarily lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions from road traffic given the current power generation mix. The researchers carried out their calculations based on a Mercedes-Benz C 220 d diesel and the new Tesla Model 3.
Electricity production in Germany, 2018.
It follows from our comparative calculations for the new Tesla Model 3 and the Mercedes C 220 d that even modern electric cars will hardly be able to contribute to the reduction of German CO2 emissions in the coming years. Unfortunately, due to our grid situation, electric cars are still too early for this strategic goal in the sense of German climate protection efforts.—Buchal et al.
According to the study, natural gas combustion engines are an ideal technology for transitioning to vehicles powered by hydrogen or “green” methane in the long term.
Considering Germany’s current energy mix and the amount of energy used in battery production, the CO2 emissions of battery-electric vehicles are, in the best case, slightly higher than those of a diesel engine, and are otherwise much higher, according to the study by Christoph Buchal, professor of physics at the University of Cologne; Hans-Dieter Karl, long-standing ifo energy expert; and Hans-Werner Sinn, former ifo president and professor emeritus at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.
In addition to CO2 emissions from battery production, the team looked at alternative energy sources for electricity in order to calculate the impact electric vehicles have on CO2 emissions.
They report that even with today’s technology, total emissions from a combustion engine powered by natural gas are already almost one-third lower than those of a diesel engine.
Over the long term, hydrogen-methane technology offers a further advantage: it allows surplus wind and solar power generated during peaks to be stored, and these surpluses will see a sharp increase as the share of this renewable energy grows.—Professor Buchal
In their study, the authors criticize the fact that EU legislation allows electric vehicles to be included in calculations for fleet emissions with a value of “zero” CO2 emissions, as this suggests that electric vehicles do not generate any such emissions. The reality is that, in addition to the CO2 emissions generated in the production of electric vehicles, almost all EU countries generate significant CO2 emissions from charging the vehicles’ batteries using their national energy production mixes.
The authors also take a critical view of the discussion about electric cars in Germany, which centers around battery-operated vehicles when other technologies also offer great potential: hydrogen-powered electric vehicles or vehicles with combustion engines powered by green methane, for instance.
… hydrogen- or methane-powered electric cars still lead to slightly higher CO2 emissions in today’s energy mix than battery-powered cars, but this disadvantage will turn into an advantage if the German electricity mix clearly moves in the direction of green energy, because then the lower energy efficiency is less and less important. Combustion engines powered by fossil methane already have very low CO2 emissions today. They are an ideal bridge technology for cars that can later use “green” methane.
The major advantage of hydrogen and methane derived from it is the ability to keep the excess current peaks for months, which will become increasingly important as the market share of wind and solar power exceeds 30%, and in the possibility of rapid refueling of the vehicles. The idea of providing the necessary storage of wind and solar energy with batteries is utopian, as the Leopoldina, Acatech and the Union of Academies of Sciences have emphasized. We have pointed that out. In this respect, the Federal Government can only be advised to promote hydrogen and methane technology in the sense of a technology opportunity.—Buchal et al.
Methane technology is ideal for the transition from natural gas vehicles with conventional engines to engines that will one day run on methane from CO2-free energy sources. This being the case, the German federal government should treat all technologies equally and promote hydrogen and methane solutions as well.—Prof. Sinn
Buchal, Christoph, Hans-Dieter Karl and Hans-Werner Sinn (2019) “Kohlemotoren, Windmotoren und Dieselmotoren: Was zeigt die CO2-Bilanz?”, ifo Schnelldienst 72 (08) (in German)