Electric Vehicles: Literature review of technology costs and carbon emissions

Published: 2016.07.18

Paul Wolfram and Nic Lutsey

This paper aims to inform the debate over how electric vehicle technology could fit into a lower-carbon 2020–2030 new vehicle fleet in Europe by collecting, analyzing, and aggregating the available research literature on the underlying technology costs and carbon emissions.

It concentrates on the three electric propulsion systems: battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (HFCEVs). The authors project that the costs of all will decrease significantly between 2015 and 2030: PHEVs will achieve about a 50% cost reduction, compared with approximate cost reductions of 60% for BEVs and 70% for HFCEVs.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy demand for electric and conventional vehicles are presented on a well-to-wheel (WTW) basis, capturing all direct and indirect emissions of fuel and electricity production and vehicle operation. The authors find that carbon emissions of BEVs using European grid-mix electricity are about half of average European vehicle emissions, with HFCEVs and PHEVs having a lower emissions reduction potential. A lower-carbon grid and higher power train efficiency by 2020 could cut average electric vehicle emissions by another third.

However, reductions in costs and CO2 emission will not be achieved without targeted policy intervention. More stringent CO2 standards, as well as fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for electric vehicles, can help the electric vehicle market grow and costs fall. Such efforts should also be combined with efforts to decarbonize the grid, or emission reductions will not be as great as they could be.

Although the analysis is focused on Europe, similar technology, policy, and market dynamics can be observed in electric-vehicle markets throughout North America and Asia.