Skip to content

Germany’s plan for 100% electric cars may actually increase carbon emissions

February 28, 2017

By Paul Homewood




There’s an interesting article in The Conversation:


Germany has ambitious plans for both electric cars and renewable energy. But it can’t deliver both. As things stand, Germany’s well-meaning but contradictory ambitions would actually boost emissions by an amount comparable with the present-day emissions of the entire country of Uruguay or the state of Montana.

In October 2016 the Bundesrat, the country’s upper legislative chamber, called for Germany to support a phase-out of gasoline vehicles by 2030. The resolution isn’t official government policy, but even talk of such a ban sends a strong signal towards the country’s huge car industry. So what if Germany really did go 100% electric by 2030?

To environmentalists, such a change sounds perfect. After all, road transport is responsible for a big chunk of our emissions and replacing regular petrol vehicles with electric cars is a great way to cut the carbon footprint.

But it isn’t that simple. The basic problem is that an electric car running on power generated by dirty coal or gas actually creates more emissions than a car that burns petrol. For such a switch to actually reduce net emissions, the electricity that powers those cars must be renewable. And, unless things change, Germany is unlikely to have enough green energy in time.

After all, news of the potential petrol car ban came just after the chancellor, Angela Merkel, had announced she would slow the expansion in new wind farms as too much intermittent renewable power was making the grid unstable. Meanwhile, after Fukushima, Germany has pledged to retire its entire nuclear reactor fleet by 2022.

Germany’s grid is struggling to cope with all that intermittent power. Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH / shutterstock

In an analysis published in Nature, my colleague Harry Hoster and I have looked at how Germany’s electricity and transport policies are intertwined. They each serve the noble goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, when combined, they might actually lead to increased emissions.

We investigated what it would take for Germany to keep to its announcements and fully electrify its road transportation – and what that would mean for emissions. Our research shows that you can’t simply erase fossil fuels from both energy and transport in one go, as Germany may be about to find out.

Less energy, more electricity

It’s certainly true that replacing internal combustion vehicles with electric ones would overnight lead to a huge reduction in Germany’s energy needs. This is because electric cars are far more efficient. When petrol is burned, just 30% or less of the energy released is actually used to move the car forwards – the rest goes into exhaust heat, water pumps and other inefficiencies. Electric cars do lose some energy through recharging their batteries, but overall at least 75% goes into actual movement.

Each year, German vehicles burn around 572 terawatt-hour (TWh)‘s worth of liquid fuels. Based on the above efficiency savings, a fully electrified road transport sector would use around 229 TWh. So Germany would use less energy overall (as petrol is a source of energy) but it would need an astonishing amount of new renewable or nuclear generation.

And there is another issue: Germany also plans to phase out its nuclear power plants, ideally by 2022, but 2030 at the latest. This creates a further void of 92TWh to be filled.

Adding up the extra renewable electricity needed to power millions of cars, and that required to replace nuclear plants, gives us a total of 321 TWh of new generation required by 2030. That’s equivalent to dozens of massive new power stations.

Even if renewable energy expands at the maximum rate allowed by Germany’s latest plan, it will still only cover around 63 TWh of what’s required. Hydro, geothermal and biomass don’t suffer from the same intermittency problems as wind or solar, yet the country is already close to its potential in all three.

This therefore means the rest of the gap – an enormous 258 TWh – will have to be filled by coal or natural gas. That is the the current total electricity consumption of Spain, or ten Irelands.

Germany could choose to fill the gap entirely with coal or gas plants. However, relying entirely on coal would lead to further annual emissions of 260 million tonnes of carbon dioxide while gas alone would mean 131m tonnes.

By comparison, German road transport currently emits around 156m tonnes of CO2, largely from car exhausts. Therefore, unless the electricity shortfall is filled almost entirely with new natural gas plants, Germany could switch to 100% electric cars and it would still end up with a net increase in emissions.

Germany’s electricity sector in 2030? Denes Csala, Author provided

The above chart shows a more realistic scenario where half of the necessary electricity for electric cars would come from new gas plants and half from new coal plants. We have assumed both coal and gas would become 25% more efficient. In this relatively likely scenario, the emissions of the road transportation sector actually increase by 20%, or 32 million tonnes of CO2 (comparable to Uruguay or Montana’s annual emissions).

If Germany really does want a substantial reduction in vehicle emissions, its energy and transport policies must work in sync. Instead of capping new solar plants or wind farms, it should delay the nuclear phase-out and focus on getting better at predicting electricity demand and storing renewable energy.

  1. AlecM permalink
    February 28, 2017 11:15 am

    Fuel cell driven cars actually save emissions because hydrogen can be used as an intermediate storage process to soak up excess wind energy.

  2. February 28, 2017 11:19 am

    Whilst the politicians come up with more mad ideas, Tesla is on the verge of going bust.

    • Don B permalink
      February 28, 2017 11:59 am

      Philip, it can’t be said often enough…..

    • Gerry, England permalink
      February 28, 2017 1:48 pm

      Let’s hope so.

    • CheshireRed permalink
      February 28, 2017 5:44 pm

      Goddam you Bratby. I came over here bearing precisely that news and you’re years ahead of me. I’m really going to have to up my game.

  3. AlecM permalink
    February 28, 2017 11:36 am

    The Tesla Wall will morph into extra-Grid storage to keep it oscillating.

    The government is paying for this, apparently.

  4. rwoollaston permalink
    February 28, 2017 11:37 am

    Power generation energy efficiency for power other than nuclear, wind or solar (although I believe Matt Ridley said that solar panels take more energy to produce than they generate in their lifetime) is I understand about 40%. Add to this 30% grid transmission losses and you come up with a figure of just under 30% energy efficiency for electric vehicles. Germany needs also to consider tax revenue (fuel duty) losses and subsidy costs for electricity,

    • A C Osborn permalink
      February 28, 2017 12:30 pm

      Yes the loss of Tax Revenue is the Elephant in the room.
      Governments will have to find a way of replacing it and if that is to put it on Electricity it would massively increase the price.

      • R2Dtoo permalink
        February 28, 2017 1:47 pm

        Well, there is always a “reverse” carbon tax. Simply charge folks more as they reduce emissions!

      • Gerry, England permalink
        February 28, 2017 1:57 pm

        The EV crowd in the UK are whingeing at being charged road tax and that it will reduce the miniscule sales of EVs even further. But why should it be free for them and explain how the exemption on congestion charge works? Do they somehow not cause congestion? All incentives have to end at some point for financial reasons if nothing else. Take the claim to save 50% by having a water meter – to be honest I save way more than that but anyway. Everyone has one and saves 50%. Net result 50% less income for water companies. There may be a reduction in use but from the income they must fund investment. Likely result – large increases in charges.

        Note how the alternative car crowd love to only quote percentage changes in sales of them rather than acknowledge the tiny niche market they are. As quoted by the SMMT for January, around 500 EVs were sold. They hide these among the hybrids of course. Porsche sold nearly 700 cars and the Ford Fiesta nearly 8000 more than that.

        Until the charge time is reduced to the same as filling with fuel then EVs remain a limited mileage city based car, which is fine as their creation in California was due to smog back in the 80s where they do make sense. Even with a 45min charge time think of the space required at a motorway service station to allow that.

      • RogerJC permalink
        February 28, 2017 5:01 pm

        Sorry to be picky but the SMMT Pure EV numbers for January were 1010, but this was still only a tiny percentage of the 174,564 cars sold in the month. Your point though, is still well made, the quoted increase in EV sales over January 2016 was 74%. This looks good as a percentage but in truth is still a pathetically small number.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        March 1, 2017 2:05 pm

        Thanks for the correction Roger JC – picked last year by mistake. I see you were looking at the same category I was but has anyone any idea what the category ‘Plug-in Other electric’ could possibly be? Outsold pure electric and is not hybrid as they are clearly shown – I wasn’t even aware that diesel hybrids existed.

      • RogerJC permalink
        March 1, 2017 4:43 pm

        I think you will find that a Plug In Hybrid uses an Internal Combustion Engine to generate Electricity which is stored in a battery which then drives the wheels. The battery may also be charged by plugging into the mains. A pure EV does not have the ICE, simply relying on main power to charge the battery. This leaves “Other Electric Plug Ins” with a dual drive chain, one powered by an ICE and one by plug in batteries.

        However, there are other systems, such as “Mild Hybrids”, where the ICE generates more power than the car needs and it is stored In batteries which drive an electric motor that assists the ICE driven wheels when accelerating but is not powerful enough to work with the electric motor only. “Parallel Hybrids” have Batteries and an ICE either of which can work in isolation or they can work in combination to propel the vehicle through a single drive chain.

        I’m not sure how they would classify fuel cells, LPG, LNG, Ethanol, Solar or any of the other odd ball systems available around the world.

        Of course I could be wrong, but I’m sure someone will put me right if I am.

  5. NeilC permalink
    February 28, 2017 11:40 am

    From the picture the view is far more industrial than being environmently pleasant. Why do they build these monstrousities? – To be be environmentaly friendy, an oxymoron!

    I can’t wait for the revolution, when the masses are coerced into buying these cars, and then find there is no electricity to charge them when they desperately need it. I’ll laugh my socks off.

    The world, led by ignorant politicians, has gone truely mad.

  6. February 28, 2017 12:44 pm

    Recently, there have been pictures of lines of rail cars loaded with coal rolling out of WV. I just checked for coal mining jobs in WV and companies are hiring again.

    Of course, Germany was quietly building coal-fired plants according to reports on this very site. Looks like their little electric cars can plug in.

    Also, President Trump’s edict that pipelines will be constructed using American steel is good news on several fronts. I am close to the fairly new Long View Power Plant. A friend kept saying that the plant was having a lot of problems due to the poor quality of the Chinese steel used. A friend of mine owns coal, limestone and steel plants (in OH). I spoke with him and he will be giving a talk to our Wed. noon conservative luncheon in nearby Fairmont soon. If anyone knows about the problems with Chinese steel, John Raese does. Steel companies are beginning to open back up.

    • Ex-expat Colin permalink
      March 1, 2017 10:47 am

      “Poor quality of the Chinese steel”. I suspect that the production system was not under customer surveillance, so stock procured on spec (documents). I once did lengthy surveiilance/assessment for the UK military…doubt the Chinese would want the likes of me closely looking inside their factories. We (UK) are buying military tanks from Spain for some dumb reason? The steel is from China!

    • Athelstan permalink
      March 1, 2017 11:15 am

      Poor quality steel, then think poorly mixed concrete, aggregate – each functionary takes his cut and the end result is; brittle, flawed impure steel, crumbling concrete – I’ve heard from ex pats that, brand new railway lines, roads and buildings are falling down – only a number of months after they were built, laid whatever.

      Amost – well totally ignored by Obarmy and the illiberal classes who are still busy caning their fellow Yanks and European Empires’ [Well not even France, Italy and Germany – Britain really]………….modern nations…………… for blacksploitation………………….The PRC is plundering Africa like the Europeans never did and ruthlessly and amorally. Furthermore, the bloomberg corporate tosserati bbc et al never cease to amaze me when they rat on, talking of China as some sort of industrial miracle and totally ignorant of the reality but then lying is what the globalists do and the Chinese billionaires are now very much part of the Internationalists-global ‘controllers and bankers’ club.

      One day, during some very, very interesting times Chinese style democracy will come along and break the door, calling in on Peking-Beijing Then the gang of 20 will be history, always when you reaf of, an army of 2.3 million yes! it is used for peace keeping – in the provinces of the ‘middle kingdom’….. But, but – but when finally the people throw off the yoke of the Maoist elite, even if they had the terracotta army thrown in, there’s going to be no stopping the next people’s revolution, red liberation army or no.

      Meantime, at Hinkley and on HS2 Britain will glean the benefit of Chinese steel and concrete technoglogy.


      • Athelstan permalink
        March 1, 2017 11:17 am

        technology, and read.

        I need an edit facility – really I do.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        March 1, 2017 2:07 pm

        And French documentation where at Flammanville it is turning out that things are not what the certification claims.

  7. February 28, 2017 2:46 pm

    Do they want 100% electric trucks as well including the 44-tonners? No point moving massive wind turbines with diesel power in their glorious green future.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      March 1, 2017 2:08 pm

      I had read that when trying an electric truck the weight of the batteries needed to move it was almost equal to the payload. Just enough left for a box of Yorkie bars.

  8. rwoollaston permalink
    February 28, 2017 5:21 pm

    OK, just done some rough calculations for the environmental impact of electric vehicles. Figures are for the average of a Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, compared with a reference petrol vehicle doing 40mpg (imperial).

    I’m looking at a scenario where biomass is used to generate the extra power required by electric vehicles (as implied by current UK energy policy):

    For each 10000 miles, energy requirements are as follows:

    Electric vehicles: 3.2 tonnes of dry wood chip (= 3-4 50ft trees)

    Petrol vehicles: 1136 litres of petrol

    So a litre of petrol can be considered the equivalent of 3Kg of woodchip for the purposes of comparison to power vehicles.

    If I were a greenie I wouldn’t feel too comfortable with that kind of tree consumption!

    (This was done rather quickly so please feel free to correct)

  9. Gerry, England permalink
    March 1, 2017 2:10 pm

    Has anyone calculated the likely rocketing costs of the batteries with the amount of lithium required to make all the batteries required to achieve a huge shift to EVs? And do the motors use rare earth magnets as there is another cost that will rocket with demand.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: