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Cruising the Future with Electric Vehicles

Cruising the Future with Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles are gaining in popularity fast. There are many different opinions and speculations about their role in the future. We will try to touch upon some of the basic definitions and topics pertaining to this subject.

Electric Vehicles and Their Types

The term “electric vehicles” is used as a generic term for vehicles that use electricity either partially or fully as their fuel. At the outset, there are four main types of EVs that we can talk about: Hybrid Electric Vehicles, Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles, Fully Electric Vehicles and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles.

Hybrid electric vehicles are vehicles that have internal combustion engines, and use conventional or alternative fuel, along with electricity stored in a battery. The battery does not require charging, and is fueled by the internal combustion engine, as in conventional cars. These cars can travel comparably short distances at low speeds when only the electric motor is engaged. The actual load is handled by the gasoline motor. The system in these vehicles causes the energy normally lost by applying the brakes (thus causing friction) when the car is moving to be converted into energy for charging the battery. The electric motor also supplies additional power when necessary. The main rationale of these vehicles is to use less gasoline and conserve fuel.

These vehicles work just like hybrid vehicles with both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. Where it differs from hybrids is that the electric motor can be charged via an external electrical source when needed. The electric motor present in plug-in hybrids is more powerful than the regular hybrids, and the battery is bigger. In certain models, contrary to normal hybrids, the combustion engine takes the assistant role to the electric motor. Some plug-ins can travel about 70 miles (112 kilometers) on electricity alone, and all models, like conventional hybrids, can also travel with just gasoline. Particularly at long distances, at high speeds or in the event of failure to charge, the internal combustion engine acts as the main driver.

These vehicles, also called as “100% electric vehicles”, only have one electric motor and battery. Since battery is the only power source, it needs to be charged. There is no mechanism here to use gasoline or an alternative fuel. The distance on a single charge varies from model to model. FEVs have a higher performance and a lower maintenance cost.

Unlike other electric cars, Fuel Cell EVs store energy in hydrogen tanks in the form of hydrogen. It then passes the hydrogen through the fuel cells, transforming it to a power source that the electric motor can use. Significant disadvantages of these vehicles are the need for establishing some hydrogen station infrastructures, and certain safety issues due to volatile and flammable nature of hydrogen. Fuel Cell EVs have a lower performance than that of ther battery-powered vehicles. And since hydrogen is not a primary fuel, but a secondary fuel that has to be obtained from other fuels, it is still very expensive to produce.

Current Status of Electric Vehicles

The number of electric cars sold around the world in 2016 reached a new record with 750,000 cars. Norway leads the world in the electric vehicles used for passenger transport, with 29%. It is followed by Netherlands with a 6.4% share and Sweden with 3.4%. In China, France and the UK this rate is around 1.5%.

With a population of 1.38 billion, China ranks first in the number of electric vehicles sold (648,000) and its share in the global stock tops the rest of the world with 32%.  The United States comes second with 563,000 vehicles sold and 28% share in worldwide stock. China also has the advantage in terms of public charging stations with 81% of the world’s total fast and slow charging units.

In 2016, China was the biggest market for electric vehicles, taking 40% of sales (336,000 vehicles). Total world stock for electric cars in 2015 was above 1 million, in 2016 the number shot up to over 2 million. The United States had the world’s largest stock of EVs up until 2015. China, however, managed to account for 1/3 of the world stocks in 2016. China currently leads the world in electrification of the transportation industry with 200,000,0000 2-wheel EVs, 3 to 4 million low powered EVs and over 300,000 electric buses.

However, compared to previous years, annual electric vehicle growth rates have been relatively low in the last 5 years. In 2016, the rate of increase was 60% compared to 77% in 2015 and 85% in 2014.

On a global scale, the ratio of electric vehicles to total vehicles in passenger-carrying light duty vehicles is only 0.2%. Therefore, it should be emphasized that electric vehicles have yet to reach a meaningful adaptation level in order to reduce global oil consumption and reverse climate change.

(Notes: The electric car stock shown here is primarily estimated on the basis of cumulative sales since 2005. When available, stock numbers from official national statistics have been used, provided good consistency with sales evolutions.)

Thanks to R &D, an increased market share and prevalent mass production methods, battery costs have gone down while energy storage capacities are on the rise. These factors are helping electric cars compete with vehicles with internal combustion engines. According to the International Energy Agency, global EV stock may reach to 9-20 million in 2020 (based on different scenarios) and 40-70 million in 2025.

On the Future of EVs and Their Incentives

These are all optimistic numbers; however, the future of electric vehicles will be significantly influenced by applied policies (constraints, incentives, developments in alternative vehicles, etc.).  We can summarize the main support mechanisms for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure (can be) as follows:

  • Electric vehicle markets are buoyed by policies that propagate the use of EVs (such as: constraints, incentives, developments in alternative vehicles, etc.) as well as market-based RD new technologies, regulations and financial incentives. Opting to use EVs for public transportation is another effective method in setting an example. We see a larger percentage of EVs in government owned vehicles, buses, police cars and garbage trucks where this policy is implemented.
  • It is important that an operating system that includes legal and economic regulations and one that is capable of operating on a global scale is established for promoting the building and using of EVs. It is also essential that an integrated system with standardized charging infrastructure and payment methods are put into place.

Some cities (and local governments), are taking the lead in spreading the use of EVs whether they be hybrid or plug-in buses and two-wheel vehicles. These cities set a positive example in the adaptation of electric vehicles for the rest of the world while presenting them with various methods to choose from.

Amsterdam is one of those cities. The city will ban fossil fuel-powered vehicles starting from 2025 and it has established charging stations for its residents. The Hague municipality, similarly, is pioneering a program where they have transformed three street lights in a city park into charging docks for EVs. They have installed two plugs on each street light providing enough juice for 6 EVs to simultaneously charge themselves. If the project is deemed successful, the city will convert more street lights in to electric plugs. The project called “charging lights” serves both as an incentive to choose EVs and a more effective use of public space.

Norway, a major producer of crude oil, has been implementing an ambitious program which aims to completely eliminate the sales of automobiles with internal combustion engines by 2025. The government pays high incentives for “environmentally friendly cars” and levies high taxes on fossil fueled vehicles while environmentally friendly cars require almost no tax at all. Furthermore, people with electric cars get free highway use, ferry rides and parking, and they are allowed to use the preferred lanes normally reserved for buses.

Increased electric vehicle sales are triggering an increase in demand for lithium, cobalt and other elements used in battery manufacturing. This makes it necessary to develop supply-side policies that are geared towards the geography and location of these strategic materials. The strategic values of the resources naturally create supply risks. These risks have to be contained by getting better at price anticipation and timely procurement. This also makes it more essential to develop technologies that will allow us to recycle used batteries and their components. The increased use of EVs bring some legal challenges as well, such as those pertaining to ownership of batteries, etc.

Over the next 10-20 years, we are expecting a transition from “Early Dissemination” to “Mass Market” phases in the electric vehicle market. All signs whether they be EV stock targets or production numbers point to a positive future for EVs. Total world stock for EVs is expected to reach between 9 to 20 million in 2020, and 40 to 70 million in 2025.


The advantages of electric vehicles are their high energy efficiency, environmental friendliness and performance advantages compared to conventional fuel vehicles.  There are also those who also consider negative contribution to global warming and reducing energy dependence (saying “electricity is a local product”) as added bonuses. These last two “advantages” are debatable. Those who oppose them argue that electricity is still mainly derived from fossil fuels and that the first “advantage” cannot yet be applied on a global scale, and also that oil dependence of importing countries that are also producing fossil fuels wil not go down for the foreseeable future.

In order to be able to make the most accurate comments, it is necessary to evaluate the advantages of EVs in more detail. For example, electric vehicles can effectively use 59-62% of the power it gets from the electricity network while gasoline vehicles have a conversion ratio of only 17-21%.

The exhausts of electric vehicles contain no polluting substances. However, the sources from which electricity is generated must also be taken into account.


About The Author

A. Necdet Pamir

Petroleum engineer (METU graduate) and senior energy strategy and policy expert on world energy politics, energy security, sustainable energy policies and energy management. Worked for the national oil and gas company TPAO for 26 years; more than half of it being in managerial positions to include the Deputy General Manager status. Contributed to the successful implementation of Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan Crude Oil Pipeline as a top level public servant for the Republic of Turkey with his dual capacity in TPAO and Prime Ministerial Pipeline Coordination Team. Lectured in 6 different universities and still teaching on energy policies, scenarios, strategies, sustainable energy, energy security and related matters in Bilkent & Atılım Universities, Ankara. Member of the Scientific Committee (Responsible for Subsea Resources), KOÇ University Maritime Forum (KÜDENFOR). Writes a column in monthly magazine Bütün Dünya (a Başkent University publication). Senior lecturer and prominent invited keynote speaker on intarnational conferences. Frequently interviewed by local and international TVs, radios and a well known writer on energy politics. Experienced top level manager both in public and private energy companies. Co-directed Deputy Chairman and General Coordinator) Turkey's first and most prominent think thank (Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies-ASAM) between 2000 (its establishment date) and 2007 as its Deputy Chairman and General Coordinator.

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