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GOOD NEWS IN TRANSPORT - The ZEV Revolution (Zero Emission Cars)

Road transport accounts for 15% of global emissions and 45% of this comes from cars and buses, so given that new technology is now available to remedy this, this is the next important frontier for getting our Green House Gases (GHG's) down and limiting climate change. The most popular type of Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) at present is the Electric Car (EV) which has the potential to reach a 90% market share by 2030, but only if strong policies support this direction. It also  presupposes that there will be sufficient renewable energy available to support so many electric vehicles. Otherwise emissions will continue to rise. Emissions are also created in the manufacture of such vehicles - an estimated 40 -58% of the emissions which would have been  produced over the lifetime of a non EV car, so unless this energy also comes from renewables, the switch is not as rosy as it looks, though it is certainly less damaging than building new cars and burning fossil fuels to drive them. 

The other major contender is the Hydrogen Powered Car which is still pretty much in the early stages of development making it very expensive and having few refuelling stations, but given the rapid evolution of the EV we can expect big changes here too.  At present most hydrogen is still produced with fossil fuels or nuclear energy making it less desirable from an environmental viewpoint, but this could also change rapidly in the near future. We'll discuss this further when we come to shipping and aviation.

A Caveat

Of course if we really wanted to stop CO2 emissions rising we wouldn’t be building new cars at all, especially if they aren’t built with renewable energy or don’t use renewable energy to charge. This may work in regions where there is ample public transport, or places which are compact and densely populated enough to support it, but in a less than ideal world, where private transport is a necessity or regarded as such, the electric or zero emission vehicle is the only way to go. Added advantages include improved air quality and noise reduction. [While the latter is generally an advantage, some EV makers are considering adding appropriate sounds, to make drivers aware of things like the speed at which they are travelling]. There is also less need for repairs because there are very few moving parts. 

Globally (EV) sales are certainly booming. Around 2.65 million new low emission cars were bought during the first half of 2021, 168% more than in 2020 and making around 10 million EVs worldwide in addition to one million vans, trucks and buses.

Sixty -three per cent of all cars sold globally so far this year have been battery or hybrid vehicles. Some regions such as Norway have reached impressively high penetration - 78% by September 2021 and 92% if you include hybrids. (Hybrids use some fossil fuel, but charge their own battery while driving, thus reducing emissions by 50%). Norway also expects to phase out diesel and petrol cars altogether in the near future. We shall briefly look at how Norway was able to achieve this and what lessons could be applied elsewhere.


Due to a prank by members of a Norwegian pop - group, Norway started off in 1997 by making EVs exempt from tolls. In 1999 it added free parking and in 2003 it allowed EVs to use bus lanes. It also dropped its VAT (Goods and Services Tax) on EVs (a massive 25% on all cars) which put the price of EV’s on a par with conventional vehicles. It also dropped a number of other taxes such as company car tax, registration fees and import taxes, while keeping the cost of fossil fuels high. 


Other leaders in the field include Iceland currently at 50%, Sweden at 32% and the Netherlands
with 25% penetration. Norway introduced subsidies as early as 1990, the USA in 2008 and China in 2014.

EUROPE and the UK

In Europe electric car sales boomed by 40% in 2020, with Europe officially overtaking China, spurred on by subsidies and tighter fuel standards. Growth looks set to continue, with sales in the first quarter of 2021 more than doubling from the same period in 2020.CO2 emissions standards have played a major role in the EU which had the largest annual increase and whose EV fleet now totals 2.1 million. Mandatory emissions targets such as this have been in place in California since 1990 and in China since 2017. 

Electric cars in Germany, Europe’s largest auto market and the fourth largest in the world, had hit 26.6% of the market share by December 2020 - a significant jump from 3% in 2019. The sudden jump in EV sales in Germany is attributed to rebates being offered since 2016 for the purchase of electric or hybrid cars, whereas previously it had it relied on common sense and environmental concern to drive sales. The cost of the rebates is jointly borne by the German Government and the car makers. The German Government also offers incentives for the conversion of diesel vehicles to electric. 

Initially there were also concerns that EV demand for electricity would overwhelm electricity grids, but now, due to some innovative energy management systems, it looks as if EV’s might do the opposite - that is, helping to balance out loads. Several companies are in the running to provide this. Software company Tibber for example, begun by PayPal’s co – founder Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, was already well established in Norway but now plans to expand into the rest of Europe. Several other companies have also entered this market and are now operating in Sweden and the Netherlands. 

France also has subsidies of up to €10,000 on EVs and also offers incentives for the conversion of diesel vehicles to electric. The UK is using rebates, tax cuts and purchase grants in the order of £2,500 ($AU 4,700) to encourage EV uptake. As of 2030 it will institute a fossil fuel ban which will even include hybrids by 2035. These measures have collectively pushed up EV sales to 14% of the total. The UK will also roll out 190,000 public chargers by 2030 which will provide overnight street charging.

Spanish oil company Repsol  is investing 42.5 million euros in 610 fast-charging points at its petrol stations in Spain and Portugal and the Spanish credit institution ICO will subsidise the roll-out with 40.7 million euros.

Now there’s barely a carmaker in Europe that isn’t on the EV bandwagon. Volkswagen will stop making combustion engines in Europe by 2035, Ford and Volvo said they would start all-electric production in Europe by 2030, and Audi has declared that from 2026 it will no longer launch new combustion engine models, not even hybrids. Only pure battery vehicles will be developed. Fiat will no longer make non EVs after 2030, along with the Mini, Jaguar, Lotus and Bentley. Land Rover and Maserati and Mercedes will do so by 2022 and that's just to name a few.


Government Regulation

At least seven countries have also set deadlines for the phase out of non - electric cars.
Norway was the first to announce its plan in 2016 and expects to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2025. It’s adopting a ‘Polluter pays” principle, by charging more on toll roads and ferries according to emission rates. My one quarrel with this is that it will be the poorer sections of the community who are least able to buy a shiny new EV who will be penalised most. 

Germany announced it’s plan to phase out fossil fuel -based cars in 2017 and expects this to occur by 2030. Though it didn’t go so far as to ban such cars outright, it gave the go ahead for individual cities to do so. Hamburg was the first city to oblige.

France has penalised purchasers of high emission vehicles since 2008 and plans to phase them out completely by 2040. Paris will be doing so by 2030. It will no longer source its power from coal after 2022, another important consideration. Norway has been using renewable energy throughout.
The UK has banned the purchase of new petrol and diesel cars as of July 2017 and expects half its fleet to be ultra -low emission by 2030. The remainder to be phased out by 2040. The UK became an early mover because of concerns about being fined by the EU for having illegal levels of some pollutants.

As well as phasing out non -electric vehicles by 2032, Scotland has fines for driving high emission vehicles in low emission zones (LEZs). While this includes buses, delivery vans and trucks, there are some exemptions for residents’ cars, emergency and service vehicles and those who work outside public transport hours. Also initially intended to curb air pollution, Glasgow became the first to have such a zone in 2018, with Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and other cities to follow by 2023. Scotland is also rolling out more charging stations. 

If everything goes to plan Ireland will have no fossil fuel driven cars by 2045. There will be no sales of new ones after 2030 and buses in Dublin were switching to electric in 2019. Ireland also plans to divest from coal, oil, gas and peat holdings within five years and invest in more renewable energy.

The Netherlands expects to have phased out oil and diesel vehicles by 2030. New vehicles must be electric and its incentive scheme longer includes hybrids. Amsterdam has also invested in 100 electric buses to encourage emission free travel. 

Read about what's happening in other countries next time.
Next up – the USA, CHINA and AUSTRALIA