The number of electric and plug-in hybrid cars on the world's roads exceeded 3 million in 2017, a 54 percent increase compared with 2016, according to the latest edition of the International Energy Agency's Global Electric Vehicles Outlook, released on May 30.
China remained by far the largest electric car market in the world, accounting for half of all units sold last year, IEA said. Nearly 580,000 electric cars were sold in China in 2017, a 72 percent increase from the previous year, while the U.S. had the second-highest sales figure, with about 280,000 electric cars sold in 2017, up from 160,000 units in 2016, the group noted.
IEA also projects that if "current and planned policies" regarding electric vehicle propulsion are maintained, the number of electric cars worldwide could reach 125 million units by 2030. Should policy ambitions rise even further, the number of electric cars on the road could be as high as 220 million in 2030, the group said.
Yet demand for electric-powered propulsion is not limited to just cars, IEA emphasized. In 2017, the population of electric buses increased to 370,000 units from 345,000 units in 2016, while the population of electric "two-wheelers" reached 250 million units. The electrification of those two modes of transport, however, is being driven almost entirely by China, the group said in its report, which accounts for more than 99 percent of both electric bus and two-wheeler stock.
But one downside to this rise in electric vehicle sales centers on how they'll reduce global oil consumption – and thus the fuel taxes collected by governments around the world.
The Financial Times calculated that, under the IEA's "most ambitious" scenario – in which 30 percent of new car and truck sales would be electric models by 2030 – world governments would lose $92 billion worth of fuel tax revenues, as that number of all-electric vehicles would displace 4.8 million barrels of oil per day worth of gasoline and diesel demand. Under a more conservative outlook, the Financial Times figured that the displacement of 2.6 million barrels of oil per day of gasoline/diesel demand would slice fuel tax revenues by $47 billion by 2030.
Yet boosting sales for electric vehicles could be problematic going forward as "innovations in battery chemistry" will be needed to maintain EV population growth, IEA stressed, as there are "supply issues" with core elements that make up lithium-ion batteries, such as nickel, lithium, and cobalt.
The supply of cobalt is particularly subject to risks as almost 60 percent of the global production of cobalt is currently concentrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, IEA noted, while 90 percent of the capacity to refine and process raw cobalt controlled by China. Even accounting for ongoing developments in battery chemistry, cobalt demand for EVs is expected to be between 10 and 25 times higher than current levels by 2030, IEA said in its report.
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