Scary IEA Global EV Outlook For 2030 Is … Not So Scary

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Recently, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its yearly Global EV Outlook for 2030, edition 2021. Press comments on the publication scared me a bit. The report projected only 145 million electric vehicles (EV) would be on the roads by 2030. That is just 7% of the total vehicle fleet. That number includes both 100% battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plugin hybrid electric vehicles. Was this another “the IEA can not predict things” piece of misunderstanding? I decided to go to the source, all 101 pages of it.

The first thing I learned about the IEA: the IEA has no opinion. The IEA does not predict, at least not the future of the transition of the auto market. It collects data, orders it, tabulates it, and in the end consolidates it. It is the work accountants do, only the IEA does it with policies instead of money.

The IEA collects data on the policies that are in place as well as the policies that are announced to be put in place in the near future. The governments have expectations about the results of those policies. For example, a government has decided to give a trillion dollars in lower taxes to its billionaire friends and has promised the country that it would result in a growing economy and millions good paying jobs. At best, the IEA would insert a footnote for such a policy, to mention that the outcome was not very realistic. But the IEA would work with the implemented policy and the officially expected results.

The IEA and other such organizations and report writers often use three types of scenarios for the future. I have taken the liberty to add a fourth type that critics like me like to use.

  • CPS — The Current Policies Scenario is a baseline picture of how global energy markets would evolve if governments made no changes to their existing policies and measures.
  • STEPS — The Stated Policies Scenario provides a detailed sense of the direction in which today’s policy ambitions would take the energy sector. Previously known as the New Policies Scenario, it has been renamed to underline that it considers only specific policy initiatives that have already been announced.
  • SDS — The Sustainable Development Scenario maps out a way to meet sustainable energy goals in full, requiring rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system. This scenario charts a path fully aligned with the Paris Agreement by holding the rise in global temperatures to “well below 2°C … and pursuing efforts to limit [it] to 1.5°C,” and meets objectives related to universal energy access and cleaner air.
  • PBDO — The Policies Be Damned Outlook is the Tony Seba way of looking at the future. What is to be expected based on logic, history, and The Invisible Hand doing its job.

The above mentioned 145 million EVs on the road are based on the policies that are announced and now being put in place. In the past, these stated policies were often only partly put in place. Opposition by vested interests and political opportunism caused compromises that resulted in less effective laws and regulations. In this case, it might be a little different.

The policies in this report are intended to help reach the goals in the Paris Agreement, but they are not yet good enough. They should be the first round of policies followed up by second rounds that are more effective. There is international pressure and huge popular support to do more than just the policies now announced.

The IEA Global EV Outlook for 2030 does not stop by an inventory and tabulation of the stated policies. It also looks at what results are needed to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement in the Sustainable Development Scenario.

The STEPS does not only expect 145 million vehicles on the road by 2030. It also expects a well-to-wheel reduction of more than a third in GHG emissions. New vehicles drive a lot more than older vehicles and there is a greater effort to produce EV in a environmentally sustainable way.

For the SDS, the expectation is 230 million EVs on global roads and a reduction of two-thirds of GHG emissions. These are very positive outcomes that are possible.

It is followed by an even more positive observation by the IEA. Beside the policies and there intended and real world results, the report looks at what is happening in the economy.

They notice that OEM goals were in line with the Stated Policy Scenarios at the end of last decade. The recent more aggressive goals by many OEMs are bringing the automotive industry’s goals more in line with what is needed for the Sustainable Development Scenario. The trendline is growing from the STEPS results to the SDS results and could cross over around 2025 to be clearly above it in 2030. (extrapolation after 2025 by this author).

Osborne effect on the demand side of the market, makes any prediction on sales volume or fleet sizes too uncertain at this moment.

But when the IEA thinks we are going in the right direction, it might be true.


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