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Wednesday September 04 General

Renewable energy holds the key to making electric vehicles truly zero-emission

By Steve Kukoda, ICA Vice President

As leaders from around the world gather for this year’s Climate Week NYC, one of the key topics of discussion will be sustainable transportation.

According to the International Energy Agency, a quarter of global emissions in 2016 came from transportation. These emissions were over 70 per cent higher in 2016 than they were in 1990, and the vast majority (nearly three-quarters) can be specifically attributed to road transport.

It has become apparent that as part of global efforts to address global warming, the transportation sector will have to undertake some drastic changes to be sustainable. This includes an accelerated phase-out of fossil fuel-dependent vehicles, alongside continued growth in renewable energy sources to ensure electric vehicles (EVs) run on the cleanest power. EVs have zero tailpipe emissions and are already low-carbon compared to petrol and diesel vehicles (due to their much greater efficiency), but their full potential will only be reached when the energy that fuels them is zero-emission too.

The sector is already going through changes that are expected to gather pace in the coming decades. In its 2019 EV Outlook, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) sets the scene, predicting that by 2040, 57 per cent of global new passenger vehicle sales will be EVs, and these vehicles will then make up 30 per cent of the global passenger vehicle fleet.

Transportation is moving in the right direction. There are now several projects looking to combine the benefits of electric vehicles and renewable energy. For example, EVgo, the largest public electric vehicle fast-charging network in the U.S., announced in May 2019 that it will use 100 per cent renewable energy for the power it delivers to its customers—the first EV charging network in the U.S. to take such action.

As another example, 82% of companies in EV100 – a corporate leadership initiative run by global non-profit organization The Climate Group - power their EV charging at least in part from renewable energy. EV100 member companies are making EV the new normal for business – and several of them are also doing the same for renewables through The Climate Group’s RE100 initiative.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the CleanMobilEnergy project brings together cities to integrate renewable energy sources, storage networks and electric vehicles under a smart energy management system to ensure EVs are powered by 100 per cent renewable energy.

The increased use of EVs and renewables will, however, require more resources, such as copper. It is a key component of renewable energy. Due to its efficient conductivity, copper is used to generate power from all renewable energy sources, including hydro, wind, solar and geothermal. In order to deliver a high level of energy efficiency, these energy sources require 4 – 12 times more copper than fossil fuel-based power generation.

Furthermore, every single EV charger needs at least 1.5 lbs (0.7 kg) of copper, while fast chargers may need up to 17.5 lbs (8 kg) of copper each. A battery EV contains nearly four times more copper than a traditional vehicle, half of which can be found in the battery system alone.

This greater need for resources is reflected in the World Bank’s 2017 report “The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future,” which says demand for metals could see a ten-fold increase by 2050, due to a multitude of factors, including the shift to EVs. Regarding copper specifically, research has shown that demand could jump by as much as 50 per cent in just the next 20 years.

More demand for resources will inevitably mean more mining, even with higher recycling rates. Therefore, it is vital that resources like copper are produced sustainably. For this reason, members of the International Copper Association (ICA) developed the Copper Mark, a program for assessing the performance of copper mines and refiners based on responsible production criteria so investors and copper consumers can make informed decisions on the materials they use.

Progress is being made. The rollout of EVs is moving at speed and is expected to accelerate even further as battery technology develops to give EVs greater ranges on a single charge. Switching to EVs today can make a major impact in reducing carbon emissions and toxic air pollution. With sustained investment in renewable power and innovative projects that link the two solutions together, EVs can deliver truly zero-emission transport.

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