Photo: Joachim Rode

Electric vehicles are the long-term solution

Monday 04 Jan 16

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Karsten Arnbjerg-Nielsen
Professor
DTU Environment
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  • According to Energy Technology Perspectives, more than 2 billion light duty vehicles (not counting two- and three-wheelers) are expected to be on the roads in 2050, an increase from the approximately 900 million today. 
  • If Denmark is to be fossil-free by 2050, the last passenger cars running on petrol or diesel must in principle be sold by 2034 as the life of a passenger car is approx. 15 years.
    Source: 'Fossil-free transport 2050' report published by the Danish Energy Association in 2013.
In the opinion of Niels Buus Kristensen, Head of Department at DTU Transport and a member of the Danish government’s climate advisory committee, electric vehicles hold the key to a transport sector independent of fossil fuels. Here is what he has to say about the role of electric vehicles in the future.

What role will electric vehicles play in the future?

“If we are to become a low-emission society, we will have to transform personal transport solutions to run independently of fossil fuels. As the situation looks now, electric vehicles constitute the only long-term solution with the capacity to have a serious impact on carbon emissions from road transport. The use of electric vehicles is still challenged by their relatively limited range, however. But as 80 per cent of Danes travel less than 100 km daily, electric vehicles can still cover the everyday transport requirements of the majority of the Danish population.”

Couldn’t investments in public transport save the climate?

“There’s a widespread misconception that improving the public transport system is a crucial aspect of the green transition. Studies demonstrate that if we broadly improve public transport, passenger numbers will indeed rise—but only one in six of them will be former car drivers. The others will be cyclists, pedestrians, passengers in other people’s cars, or new travellers. The share of personal transport covered by conventional cars is more than four times that of buses and trains put together. There is some potential in large towns and cities, however, where improving public transport services can also help lessen congestion.”

Can’t we simply develop the petrol engine to run further per litre?

“Energy efficiency has the greatest potential to cut carbon emissions from road transport in the short term. But if we are to become a low-emission society, carbon emissions from road transport will have to be reduced so markedly that in the long term, there is simply no option other than converting vehicles from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

Can bio-based fuel help transform us into a fossil-fuel-free society?

“The Climate Commission concluded that if land-based transport in Denmark is to be powered by biofuels produced from crops grown in the country, we would need to appropriate an area of land corresponding to that used for the whole of Denmark’s agricultural production today. Biomass is a limited resource viewed from a global perspective, and it is unrealistic to think that we can base an entire transport sector on biofuel.”

Can higher duties save the climate?

“Road pricing, toll roads, higher parking charges and other fees can help limit driving, but the reduction requirements are so stringent that vehicles will have to be converted completely to renewable energy if we are to reach the stated goals. Otherwise, driving will have to be reduced by an unrealistic amount, even with a significant increase in fuel efficiency. If we base our means of transport on renewable energy, however, climate challenges will not place limitations on mobility. Appropriate application of fees and duties may, however, appreciably boost the green transition of the transport sector—and of society as a whole.”

Content of the DTU theme on electric vehicles

Photo: Joachim Rode
  • "Electric vehicle of the future"
    Associate Professor Esben Larsen from DTU Electrical Engineering shares his thoughts on how electric vehicles will develop in the future.

  • "The car will be more than just a means of transport"
    The Japanese automotive giant Nissan and a team of researchers from DTU Electrical Engineering have become the first in the world to make a mass-produced electric vehicle return electricity to the grid.

  • "The battery—heart of the electric car"
    Batteries twice as powerful as those currently available may finally herald the breakthrough of electric cars. Developing such batteries is the goal of a European, DTU-led research project based on advanced materials research.

  • ”Economy is the key"

    Associate professor from DTU Transport, Stefan Lindhard Mabit’s assessment of the importance of economic factors for the spread and development of electric vehicles.

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