What is the scope for switching from oilfuelled to electric vehicles

Electric vehicles continue to struggle to compete with conventional oil-fuelled cars and trucks. Although fuel costs for owners of electric vehicles are lower, the savings are not big enough to offset the much higher prices of the vehicles themselves. Fuel subsidies in many non-OECD countries also undermine the attractiveness of electric vehicles.

Yet electric-vehicle technology is advancing rapidly. Vehicle hybridisation, involving the addition of an electric motor and an energy-storage system (typically a battery) to a conventional engine/fuel system, has attracted most investment and has already proved commercially successful - in spite of relatively high costs. Further improvements to storage systems are necessary to boost efficiency and lower costs: despite significant progress in recent years, even the best lithium-ion batteries available today suffer from inadequate performance and high costs. Ultra-capacitors, which store energy in charged electrodes rather than in an electrolyte, are increasingly being seen as a complement to batteries; they store less energy per unit weight than batteries but are able to deliver energy more quickly. Research into these technologies is expected to yield further major improvements in the coming years. In the longer term, plug-in hybrids, fully electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells appear to offer the greatest potential for reducing or eliminating the need for oil-based fuels. Plug-in hybrids, in which the electric battery is recharged off the grid as well as through the vehicle's internal recharging system, combine the efficiency advantages of using an electric motor for short distances with the convenience and longer range of an internal combustion engine. How quickly plug-ins become commercially viable will hinge on substantial improvements in the performance of electric batteries. The prospects for fully electric vehicles are less certain, as battery capacity needs to be even greater than for hybrids. The need for quick recharging and related infrastructure is an additional barrier. A lot of research effort continues to be focused on fuel cells powered with hydrogen (stored on-board or supplied from a reformer using a hydrogen-rich feedstock). But, as with electric vehicles, a number of technical hurdles remain to be overcome in order to lower costs and make fuel-cell vehicles commercially viable. Neither fully electric nor hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles are expected to become widely available before 2030 unless research efforts are stepped up and technological breakthroughs are achieved (limited penetration of the former is assumed only in the 450 Policy Scenario). They could, however, be commercialised widely before 2050. In the lEA's most recent Energy Technology Perspectives, fuel-cell vehicles account for 33% to 50% of total car sales in the OECD and half those in the rest of the world by 2050 in scenarios that assume a significant increase in research spending over the next decade and rapid reductions in unit costs.

soared from a little over 1% in 1998 to around 4% in 2007. On current trends, that share is set to approach 6% in 2008, stabilising at around 5% over much of the Outlook period (Figure 3.8). For non-OECD countries, the share is even higher, reaching 8% in 2008 and falling back to above 6% by 2030. Only in the early 1980s has this share been so high in both OECD and non-OECD regions.

Figure 3.8 • Share of oil spending in real GDP at market exchange rates in the Reference Scenario

Figure 3.8 • Share of oil spending in real GDP at market exchange rates in the Reference Scenario

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2ooo

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World OECD Non-OECD

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