25 GW of new solar in Europe can steer sustainable EV growth, finds EEA

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For electric vehicles to account for 10% of all traffic on Europe’s roads by 2050, the continent needs to allocate approximately 25 GW of solar PV capacity to support this transition, according to a new study commissioned on behalf of the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Conducted by Germany’s Öko-Institut and Transport & Mobility Leuven, the study finds that for electric vehicles in Europe to reach a tipping point, their share in passenger road transport needs to increase 80% by 2050. To achieve this, the sector would require an additional 150 GW of new energy generation capacity.

However, if the positive emission reduction effects of these extra cars on the road are to be felt, half of that 150 GW generation capacity needs to be sourced from renewables, with wind accounting for 47 GW and solar 25 GW.

If Europe can increase the share of electric vehicles on its roads to 10% by that date, and with renewables supporting half of that growth, the continent could see its Co2 emissions reduced by 84% against 2010 levels.

An alternative, non-renewables scenario was posited in the study and found that CO2 emissions would increase by 18 million tons in 2030 and 30 million tons in 2050 if conventional fossil fuels were employed to generate the extra terawatt hours of electricity required.

Hence, the positive effects of more electric cars on the road would be constrained. "Only when the power demand of electric vehicles is predominantly met by using renewable energies can EVs play an important role in climate protection," said the EEA.

Of course, each European nation starts from a different penetration point for renewables, while some countries will see greater uptake in EVs than others.

"Our analyses show that each EU Member State has different pre-conditions for climate-friendly electric mobility," said öko-Institut climate protection expert and the report’s co-author, Joß Bracker. "The crucial factors are the size of the renewable energy shares in their electricity mix, and the robustness of the grid. An increase in highly fluctuating quantities of renewable electricity requires, first and foremost, an efficient and flexible electricity grid."

Last week, Tesla Motors CEO and SolarCity co-founder Elon Musk tweeted that the two companies are set to work on an integrated rooftop solar, storage and EV charging product for launch in the U.S. market, tapping into the growing trend for pairing a residential home solar array with a battery and electric car.

For EVs to fully realize their potential, renewable energy supply is just one hurdle. The creation of a more extensive infrastructure providing more public charging points and closer coordination between the road transport and energy sectors across Europe.

Currently, electric vehicles comprise just 1.2% of total passenger car sales in the EU, and EVs amount to a mere 0.15% of the total car fleet on Europe’s roads.