Fact versus fiction

15 June 2011

Cooling Towers. © GraphicObsession

Myth: We could end dependence on oil with electric vehicles within a few years.

Reality: Electric vehicles can play an increasingly important role over time, but even with rapid sales growth they will not save more than a few percentage points of worldwide oil use until after 2020.
Explanation: Countries around the world have set electric vehicle (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sales targets that, when combined, amount to about 7 million units per year by 2020. If this is achieved, it will result in more than 20 million electric vehicles on the road by that year, taking into account all sales over the next nine years. While this would represent tremendous success for EVs and PHEVs, 20 million is only 2% of the expected 1 billion vehicles on the road in that year. 

Myth: Current government commitments to tackle global warming are enough to limit the global temperature increase to 2ºC.
Reality: Even if all announced commitments were fully implemented, they do not go nearly far enough.
Explanation: The Copenhagen Accord – with which all major emitting countries and many others associated themselves – sets a nonbinding objective of limiting the increase in global temperature to 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. It also establishes a goal for the industrialised countries of mobilising funding for climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries of USD 100 billion per year by 2020, and requires the industrialised countries to set emissions targets for the same year. The commitments that have been announced, even if they were to be fully implemented, would take us only part of the way towards an emissions trajectory that would allow us to achieve the 2ºC goal.

Myth: Coal is an energy source of the 19th century and the world is close to getting rid of it.
Reality: Coal use has never stopped increasing and the forecasts indicate that, unless a dramatic policy action occurs, this trend will continue in the future.
Explanation: Coal is the second source of primary energy in the world (after oil), and the first source of electricity generation. For the past decade, coal has been the fastest-growing global energy source, meeting 47% of new electricity demand.

Myth: China’s National Oil Companies act under the instructions and in close co-ordination with the Chinese government.
Reality: They operate with a high degree of independence from the Chinese government.
Explanation: An assessment carried out by the IEA found that despite some instances of co-ordination with the Chinese government, National Oil Companies appear mainly to be driven by commercial incentives to take advantage of available opportunities in the global marketplace. This independent, commercially driven behaviour is particularly pronounced in upstream investments and operations. Those investments have, for the most part, helped to increase global supplies of oil and gas via the same international market that other importers rely on.

Myth: A concentration and lack of lithium supply will prevent mass commercialisation of electric vehicles.
Reality: There is a sufficient reserve base of lithium for widespread electric vehicle deployment at least through to 2030, probably much longer, even with rapid growth in sales.
Explanation: Though lithium (a metal which is a crucial element of batteries for electric vehicles) is mainly concentrated in a few countries in South America, there is more than enough supply for the next 20 years. Also, by around 2030 it is fair to assume that extraction of lithium will be much more efficient, and that batteries may very well not run on lithium by that time.