Surge in EV sales during Covid-19

EV sales are booming but will put pressure on the electrical grid.

EVs charging their batteries
Evs charging their batteries (copyright:Nissan)

While global sales of traditional cars experienced a 15 per cent slump as the pandemic forced nations into lockdown, their electric counterparts bucked this trend, enjoying a record-breaking surge in popularity. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) report How Global Electric Car Sales Defied Covid-19, estimates that worldwide sales of electric cars climbed to over three million last year, reaching a market share of over four per cent.

Electric vehicles (EVs) comprise two main types. All-electric or battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have no combustion engine and rely on an on-board battery to provide energy to an electric motor. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) possess an electric powertrain and a small combustion engine.

As a result of this global uptake, there are now an estimated 10 million EVs on the road, their rise in popularity a perfect storm of existing policies to reduce carbon levels and targeted stimulus responses to the pandemic. In China, for example, the government pushed back the phase-out of its EV subsidy programme until the end of 2022, while last June in Germany a EUR 9 000 subsidy was introduced on BEVs and EUR 6 700 subsidy for PHEVs. Germany is also focused on the EV infrastructure - making plans for all petrol stations to provide charging facilities.

IEC International Standards and Conformity Assessment (CA) Systems are helping the various industries, regulators and experts involved to move forward and pave the way for EVs to be safe and performance-driven while being as green and as energy-efficient as possible. The IEC recently established a new technical committee, IEC TC 125, to prepare standards for personal e-transporters, such as two-wheeler transportation devices, intended for use on the road or in public spaces. It is working on a safety standard for those vehicles. IEC TC 69 prepares standards for electrical power/energy transfer systems for electrically propelled road vehicles,

Green drivers

The big driver behind the electrification of transport is the vital role it can play in lowering carbon emissions. EVs produce little or no local air pollution, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and therefore significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The latest data from the IEA shows that traditional transportation is still responsible for almost one quarter of direct CO2 emissions from fuel combustion (which includes cars, trucks, buses as well as two and three wheelers).

The Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) has partnered with six of the world’s leading transport and energy organisations, including the IEA and the FIA Foundation, set up by the Federation Internationale De L’Automobile, to set targets to reduce emissions from road vehicles in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which has a long-term goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.

Sheila Watson, deputy director of the FIA Foundation, predicts that when world leaders meet in Glasgow this November to discuss climate change, EV targets and promotion will become a key subject.  “As governments prepare for the United Nations 26th Climate Change Conference, at the end of the year, it’s clearer than ever that electrification plays a vital role in the race to zero emissions,” she says. Watson adds, however, that global sales of EVs will need to rise quite significantly - to 35 per cent by 2030 and 86 per cent by 2050, according to the GFEI’s 2020 status report.

Increasing EV sales will have a bigger impact if the energy sources they rely on are also carbon neutral. The GFEI predicts the carbon intensity of the global electricity grid will also need to decrease by at least 90 per cent between 2020 and 2050. As Watson states, “policies that support the uptake of electric mobility only really lead to fewer carbon and pollutant emissions if accompanied by renewable energy-based decarbonization of the electricity sectors - sustainable mobility and energy for all must come together.”  She recognizes, however, that electrical grids will have to accommodate the increased demand for electrical power that EVs will place on them, while simultaneously ensuring the carbon intensity is dramatically reduced - quite a tall order.

IEC TC 57 prepares some of the core standards relevant to smart grid technology and the integration of renewable or distributed energy resources (DERs), in the existing grid. It has published IEC 61850-7-420, which help DERs such as solar panels or wind turbines to be integrated in the grid. The committee is working on a second edition of the standard which plans to accommodate EVs.

At least five IEC TCs prepare standards for renewable energy systems. They help small and big renewable energy systems to operate safely and efficiently, on-grid or off-grid. They include:

IEC administers four conformity assessment (CA) systems, one of which, IECRE, is specifically designed for renewable energy systems. Another CA system, IECEE, provides testing and certification to show proof of compliance with IEC International Standards for photovoltaics, especially where components are concerned.

Initiatives in Asia

For their part, car manufacturers are increasing the proportion of EVs on sale. One US automobile manufacturer recently announced that its entire passenger vehicle range in Europe will be all-electric by 2030. GFEI is also partnering with United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to boost electric vehicle infrastructure in different parts of the world.

In South East Asia, where motorcycles, scooters and tuk-tuks are the transport choice for many, the programme is working with EV associations in Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand to develop policy that spurs the adoption of two or three-wheeler EVs. As a result, Thailand now has a target to produce 53 000 electric motorcycles by 2025 and is introducing a trade-in scheme to make electric vehicles cheaper.

The majority of EVs rely on batteries for energy: BEVs rely on one of the many chemistry make-ups that fall under the ‘lithium-ion’ umbrella and use liquid electrolytes; for EV hybrids that do not plug in, nickel metal hydride ((NiMH) remains the most popular choice. IEC TC 21 produces standards for secondary cells and batteries. These include IEC 62660 on secondary lithium-ion cells for the propulsion of EVs.  IEC 61982-4, meanwhile, specifies test procedures and criteria for the safety performance of nickel-metal hydride secondary cells.