Slowly but surely, EVs are displacing gasoline, and renewables are replacing fossil fuels

As every Tesla driver knows, electric vehicles are more reliable, more convenient, cheaper to operate, safer and more fun to drive than legacy vehicles. However, the most important reason for the transition to electric driving is to reduce the use of polluting petroleum products. As EVs proliferate, consumption of gasoline is expected to fall. It’s still very early days, but that trend is already observable.

Source: DOE / Argonne National Laboratory's Assessment of Light-Duty Plug-In Electric Vehicles in the United States, 2010–2018, ANL/ESD-19/2, March 2019 (includes only light-duty vehicles)

According to a recent report from the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (via Charged), plug-in vehicles displaced 323 million gallons of gasoline in the US in 2018. That’s still a mere drop in the gas can: it amounts to 0.25% of all gasoline used in the US in that year (another dose of reality: the increasing popularity of trucks and SUVs has more than wiped out all the emissions reductions from EVs).

However, the trend of falling demand for gas is gathering speed. The amount of gasoline displaced was about 42% higher in 2018 than in 2017, and about double the amount in 2016. Furthermore, the share of pure electric vehicles is growing. Gasoline displacement from pure EVs versus plug-in hybrids was evenly split in 2012 and 2013, but in 2018, EVs accounted for two thirds of the displacement.

As gas consumption begins to fall, electricity consumption is rising. Another DOE report shows that the amount of energy consumed by plug-in vehicles in the US has nearly doubled in the last two years, from 1.44 terawatt hours in 2016 to 2.85 TWh in 2018. Here we also see the trend toward pure EVs - in 2018, pure EVs accounted for 61% of electricity consumption from plug-in vehicles, while plug-in hybrids accounted for 39%.

Source: DOE / Argonne National Laboratory, Assessment of Light-Duty Plug-In Electric Vehicles in the United States, 2010–2018, ANL/ESD-19/2, March 2019 (includes only light-duty vehicles)

Battery production is on the way up, and costs are on the way down. Adamas Intelligence reports (via Charged) that the collective capacity of the world’s passenger EV batteries reached 9.76 gigawatt hours in March, an increase of 94% compared to a year ago. Predictions about when EVs will reach price parity with legacy vehicles creep forward every year. In 2017, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted that the crossover point would be reached in 2026. According to the company’s latest analysis, the magic moment will arrive in 2022 in some markets.

Contrary to what the anti-EV alligators would have you believe, plug-in vehicles produce lower emissions than dinosaur-burners over their full life cycles. That advantage is steadily growing as more and more electricity generation comes from renewable sources. A recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that costs for renewable energy technologies fell to a record low last year, and that cost reductions are poised to continue into the next decade. In many parts of the world, renewable power is already the cheapest source of electricity. IRENA says that over 75% of wind and solar PV projects due to be commissioned next year will produce power at lower prices than the cheapest fossil fuel options, without government subsidies.

Just one of the success stories from around the world: Germany, a major coal consumer, announced in January that it would shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants over the next 19 years (the Germans are already committed to phasing out nuclear power by 2022 - 12 of the country’s 19 nuclear plants have been closed so far). Renewables now account for 41% of Germany’s electric generation.

Source: Tesla

The advent of the new energy economy (Energiewende in German) will not be without human costs. Germany’s coal industry still directly supports around 20,000 jobs, as well as another 40,000 indirectly dependent on the brown stuff. The government’s plan to phase out coal includes $45 billion in investments to ease the impact in coal regions. The transition to EVs is similarly certain to lead to massive restructuring in the auto industry, and government and business leaders have a responsibility to consider the workers who’ll be affected.


Written by: Charles Morris