The Economist Sounds Death Knell for the Internal Combustion Engine as Pathway Toward Carbon Emission Reductions Opens Wide

Earlier this month, The Economist prophetically declared that the “death of the internal combustion engine” is at hand. That the end for this inefficient fossil fuel burning monstrosity was “in sight.” And that, ultimately, “days were numbered” for a design that has so efficiently and so harmfully injected billions of tons of pollution into the Earth’s atmosphere.

(Gigafactories like this one being built in Nevada and numerous others being built in Southeast Asia are helping to enable a combined electrical vehicle and grid based renewable power revolution. Note that the Tesla gigafactory is still far from complete even though it is currently producing 5 GWh of lithium batteries per year. Production by end 2018 is expected to hit 35 GWh per year and ultimate production could hit as high as 150 GWh per year.)

The Economist notes that performance gains for electrical vehicles are quickly outpacing those of internal combustion engine based vehicles. That “today’s electric cars, powered by lithium-ion batteries, can do much better.” It finds that electrical vehicles are simpler to manufacture, easier to maintain, and easier to improve than traditional vehicles. It points to the fact that transportation based emissions alone result in 53,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S. vs the 34,000 who die due to car related collisions. And it cites research showing that transferring existing vehicles to electrical vehicles would reduce vehicle based carbon emissions by 54 percent using present grid sourced electricity generation. But it also rightly notes that as the grid becomes more and more dominated by renewable based energy systems, vehicle-based emissions will fall further — eventually reaching zero on a grid fully supplied by sources like wind and solar. Finally, The Economist notes that when mated with automation and ride share, EVs have the potential to reduce the number of vehicles on the road upwards of 90 percent (in the most optimistic assessments).

EVs are disruptive in that they’re becoming increasingly easy for start-up companies to produce — even if they are more difficult for traditional auto manufacturers who have heavily invested in fossil fuel based vehicle production infrastructure and parts chains. The result is that numerous independent EV shops are cropping up and that countries and industries who were not traditionally auto manufacturers are capable of making serious new entries. Tesla was an industry leader in this regard. But many such businesses are emerging all over the world from the U.S. to China to Europe to India and beyond.

(Increasing predictions for rate of EV build through 2040. Image source: The Economist.)

Moreover, the predicted rate of EV adoption just keeps rising. The Economist points out that UBS expects that 14 percent of all new vehicles in 2025 will be electric. And while UBS is among the more optimistic prognosticators, even traditional oil companies like Exxon are being forced to acknowledge that EVs will take larger and larger portions of the auto market. In just one year, from 2016 to 2017, Bloomberg adjusted its expected rate of new EV sales in 2040 upward from 400 million to 520 million, OPEC from 50 million to 250 million, and Exxon from 80 million to 100 million (see graphic above).

Such large and expanding build rates will certainly enable more and more rapid rates of global carbon emissions reductions. Not just through direct carbon emissions removal by replacing ICE based vehicles with EVs. But also by enabling the mating of batteries with renewable energy systems around the world. Tesla, which is today producing 5 gigawatt hours of battery storage in 2017 from its Gigafactory in Nevada is now starting to do just that. In South Australia, Tesla is involved in mating wind energy with battery storage even as it pursues a similar project in New Zealand and following its completion of a solar and battery based storage system for Kauai Hawaii.

(The amount of batteries available for both EVs and grid based storage is set to rapidly expand. Note that Tesla recently announced that its Nevada Gigafactory could eventually produce 150 GWh per year of battery storage. Image source: The Economist.)

By 2018, rate of battery production at the Tesla plant will accelerate to 35 GWh per year with the plant ultimately able to achieve near 150 GWh per year (according to Musk). Similar very large battery production plants are being built in Europe and China, with a number likely also slated for India in the near future. And the batteries produced in these plants can be used either in EVs or as a massive and growing energy storage pool that’s already capable of directly replacing coal and gas plants now operating on electrical grids.

Such was the economic reality for the Liddel Coal Plant in New South Wales Australia when AGL Energy decided it was more economic to replace the plant with wind, solar and batteries than to continue to burn coal and gas as a baseload energy supply. And this decision was made under present economic realities. Now imagine what those economic realities will look like when the world is producing more than an order of magnitude more battery storage each year at much lower cost and as wind and solar costs continue to fall. In other words, the electrical vehicle revolution is enabling the renewable power revolution and vice versa. And both are bringing forward the time when global carbon emissions start to consistently drop off. To support the advancement of one is to support the advancement of both — to the larger overall benefit of more rapid global carbon emissions reductions and a quickening ability to address the very serious issue that is human-forced climate change.


The Death of the Internal Combustion Engine

After Electric Cars, What Will it Take For Batteries to Change the Face of Energy?

Tesla Could Triple Planned Battery Output of Gigafactory 1 to 150 GWh

China is About to Bury Elon Musk in Batteries

Tesla to Build World’s Largest Lithium Ion Battery Plant in South Australia

The Economist Announces Death of the ICE

Liddel Coal Plant in New South Wales Will be Replaced By Wind, Solar and Batteries

Tesla Powerpack Will Join Wind Turbine at New Zealand Salt Factory

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