The rise of the electric cars just accelerated.

The number of electric cars on the road worldwide has passed the two million mark, after record sales of more than 750,000 last year, driven by falling costs and rising concerns about pollution.

However, electric vehicles account for only 0.2% of all cars and there is “a long way to go” before they make a significant dent in oil demand and carbon emissions, the International Energy Agency said.

There could be between nine million and 20 million electric cars in service globally by 2020 and between 40 million and 70 million by 2025 on present forecasts, the IEA reported. This would need to rise steeply, to 600 million by 2040, to achieve the goals enshrined in the Paris climate change agreement of limiting global warming to within 2C of pre-industrial levels.

China accounted for more than 40% of the electric cars sold last year, resulting in it overtaking the United States as the country with the greatest number on the road. It is home to about a third of all electrical cars, as well as more than 200 million electric two-wheelers and 300,000 electric buses, the IEA said.

About 86,000 electric cars had been sold in the UK by the end of 2016. Britain was one of only six countries where electric car sales exceeded 1% of the market last year, at 1.4%. Norway had by far the biggest market share for electric vehicles at 29%; followed by the Netherlands on 6.4%; Sweden on 3.4% and China and France at around 1.5%. Sales were much stronger in cities where pollution is a bigger concern, with electric cars comprising 7.3% of sales in Beijing.

There were fewer than 1,500 electric cars worldwide in 2005. The IEA said that the transition to clean vehicles was gaining momentum and “holds promise for a low-emission future… Research, development and deployment and mass production prospects are leading to rapid battery-cost declines and increases in energy density”. It added that electric cars would become more cost-competitive with conventional fuels cars. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that the cost of lithium-ion battery packs has fallen by 73% in six years.

The IEA’s forecasts of up to 70 million cars on the road by 2025 appear to be more optimistic than those by BP, the oil producer, which foresees only 100 million by 2035.

The IEA said that large-scale deployment would not be easy, requiring vast battery manufacturing sites, supplies of lithium, cobalt and other commodities and a rethink of electrical grid infrastructure. “As the number of electric vehicles increases, charging could have a sizeable impact on the capacity required by the grid at certain times and locations, with consequences for the adequacy and quality of the power supply, risks of cost increases for consumers and the potential for negative feedback on transport electrification prospects”, it said.

A study by the Green Alliance found that six cars charging in close proximity could cause localised blackouts.

(Article taken from The Times, 8 June 2017)