Last week the German government announced a step-up in their ambition to reduce emissions, with a new target date for net-zero emissions of 2045. This will bring with it an even faster transition in the coming decade to 2030, which the government outlined by sector as follows;

Sector 2019 reductions from 1990 2030 reduction goal relative to 1990
Electricity generation 45.5% 62.5%
Buildings 41.9% 66.7%
Transport 0.6% 42.1%
Industry 33.8% 50.7%
Agriculture 24.4% 35.6%
Other 76.3% 86.6%
Overall ambition 35.7% 56.5%

While most sectors have made significant progress to date, transport stands out as having not changed since 1990. The reality here is that the same basic energy service technologies are still in place for planes, trucks, ships and automobiles and that efficiency improvements have been broadly offset by demand growth, meaning no change in thirty years. In 1990 personal transport demand in the Eastern part of Germany would have been quite low, albeit rather inefficient, so the demand increase over the years would have been a factor. This is illustrated in the figure below (Source: Car ownership and usage trends in Germany – Response to the Commission on Travel Demand’s Call for Evidence: Understanding Travel Demand, Tobias Kuhnimhof, Institute of Transport Research at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), May 2017).

Key car stock and vehicle kilometres traveled trends in Germany since the early 1990

The goal for 2030 represents a very sudden and fast paced deployment of battery electric vehicles (BEV) or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEV), although the auto industry in Germany is not approaching this from a standing start. Over the past few years the likes of VW, Audi, BMW, Daimler and Porsche have been developing a new range of electric vehicles and releasing them into the market. In a recent statement by the CEO of Volkswagen Passenger Cars, he noted that 2020 was a turning point for Volkswagen and marked a breakthrough in electric mobility. Last year, the brand delivered nearly 134,000 battery electric vehicles (+197 percent versus 2019). However, despite a challenging market environment, Volkswagen delivered around 5.328 million vehicles across all drive systems to customers around the world, so this represents 2.5% of their production.

In Germany, transport emissions are 95% road based, with internal aviation, barges, coastal ships and trains making up the rest. Within the road sector, this breaks down to about 65% passenger vehicles, 25% heavy freight and 10% light commercial (N.B. this breakdown is approximate based on a variety of articles and EU data sources). As noted, many models of passenger BEV are now available to purchase and this is also becoming a reality for light commercial vans and small trucks, although the range isn’t as extensive at the moment. However, it is not the case for heavy freight trucks, where some BEVs and FCEVs have been demonstrated, but commercial availability is very limited.

So if we assume little change in the 5% non-road transport emissions and large scale rollout of heavy freight BEVs and FCEVs from 2025, the heavy lifting for the transport goal will have to be done by rapid uptake of passenger EVs and light commercial EVs. The overall picture from 2020 (pre-COVID) to 2030 could look like the table below;

Mode of transport 2019 total emissions (scaled to 100) 2030 emissions relative to 2020 scale
Passenger vehicles 62 30
Light commercial 9 5
Heavy freight 24 18
Non-road transport 5 5
Total 100 58
  (or 42% reduction)

Based on the above, the deployment calculation is relatively straight forward. In 2019 the sale of passenger BEVs in Germany was 65,000 units in a total market of 3.6 million units. However, in 2020 this number tripled to 194,000 units, so we enter the decade with BEV sales at around 5%. There are some 47 million vehicles on the road in Germany with, at best, 1% being electric (470,000 vehicles) at the start of 2021. Although sales of cars at between 3 and 4 million and a 47 million car fleet points to an average age greater than 10 years, assume nevertheless that 10% of the fleet is turned over each year – perhaps the German government will introduce policies to accelerate the retirement of older less efficient vehicles. The calculation will also assume, as a starting point, that 10% of the sales in 2021 are battery electric, or double the 2020 number.

The chart below shows how the fleet emissions change as sales change. As indicated in the table above, passenger vehicle emissions need to halve by 2030 such that Germany reaches its transport sector goal. That doesn’t happen until the deployment annual growth rate of BEVs reaches nearly 50%, or a doubling of sales every two years until 2027 when all passenger vehicle sales are BEV from then on.

A deployment rate that requires doubling production every two years is a formidable task. Although EV sales tripled in 2020 vs. 2019, this was from a very small base. Such a rate won’t be maintained as numbers climb. For rapid BEV growth it isn’t just about retooling the existing auto plants but also building new battery plants, sourcing the necessary minerals for the batteries (e.g. lithium, nickel, cobalt), ensuring sufficient infrastructure is available for battery recharging and most importantly, building customer confidence in the product. Should Germany fall behind this rate of deployment, the only remaining option will be much higher turnover rates for vehicles later in the decade, but that will mean temporarily producing new cars at a rate that is unsustainable in later years.

By 2025 Germany will need to produce nearly two million electric cars per year for domestic use, which will also mean battery production capacity of some 160 GWh (assuming an 80 KWh battery for each car). At the moment the battery ‘gigafactory’ pipeline for Germany has several projects, with the total approaching this sort of scale and there are plans for future production increases. The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, even suggests that EU production capacities of 300 to 400 GWh could be achieved by 2025. The website anticipates that the German market alone will account for more than 170 GWh of production capacity. By way of comparison, Europe currently has around 30 GWh of production capacity.This ambitious German plan for e-mobility is getting underway!

This article first appeared here